Reporter Maureen Cleave, a friend of John's, published an article about him in the March 4th 1966 edition of the London Evening Standard. The article contained a small handful of quotes from a recent conversation she had with him, including John's view of the current state of religion:
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I am right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first - rock and roll or christianity. Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
The quote was taken out of context in America, and spread as a ridiculous egocentric headline: "John says the Beatles are bigger than Jesus." Reaction in the southern parts of the United States ranged from banning the group's music on certain radio stations, to Ku Klux Klan protests, and Beatle record burnings arranged by christian radio stations.
Chicago was the first stop of their 1966 American tour. This was the Beatles' first opportunity to answer questions personally for the American press regarding the 'Jesus' controversy.
(Following this August 11th meeting with the Chicago press, the Beatles would hold an additional press conference in Chicago the next day, preceding their August 12th International Amphitheatre concert.)
John: "If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it. You know, but as I just happened to be talking to a friend, I used the word 'Beatles' as a remote thing - not as what 'I' think as Beatles - as those other Beatles like other people see us. I just said 'they' are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus. But I said it in that way which is the wrong way. Yap yap."
Q: "Some teenagers have repeated your statements - 'I like the Beatles more than Jesus Christ.' What do you think about that?"
John: "Well, originally I was pointing out that fact in reference to England - that we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion, at that time. I wasn't knocking it or putting it down, I was just saying it as a fact. and it's sort of... It is true, 'specially more for England than here. I'm not saying that we're better, or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is, you know. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong. and now it's all this."
Q: "There have been threats against your life, there have been record burnings, you've been banned from some radio stations - Does this bother you?"
John: "Well, it worries me."
Paul: "You know, it's bound to bother us."
Q: "Do you think you're being crucified?"
John: "No, I wouldn't say THAT at all!"
Q: "What do you think about the record burnings here in the United States?"
Paul: "Well, I think it's a bit silly. It seems a bit like a publicity stunt on their part, you know. I think they're not going to gain anything by doing that."
John: "If they just didn't buy the records, or threw them away, but burning them is..."
George: "It's the same old wrong mess. They've just taken it the wrong way, and that's just the pity that... It's this misunderstanding which shouldn't be."
Q: "Mister Starr, you haven't said a word."
Ringo: "Well, I just hope it's all over now, you know. I hope everyone's straightened out, and it's finished."
Q: "Is this an attempt to raise your flagging popularity?"
John: "I could think of a much easier way..."
Q: "Such as?"
John: "...to raise flagging popularity. I don't know, if you think of stunts. But we don't do stunts. I think we've done one in our lives that's been completely a stunt."
Paul: "But anyway, that's not the kind of thing that's gonna..."
Q: "Are you sorry you said it?"
John: "I am. Yes, you know. Even though I never meant what people think I meant by it. I'm still sorry I opened my mouth."
Q: "Did you mean that the Beatles are more popular than Christ?"
John: (sighs) "When I was talking about it, it was very close and intimate with this person that I know who happens to be a Reporter. and I was using expressions on things that I'd just read and derived about christianity. Only, I was saying it in the simplest form that I know, which is the natural way I talk. But she took 'em, and people that know me took 'em exactly as it was - because they know that's how I talk, you know."
Q: "It was quoted, a recent statement by you, that the Beatles were anxious for what they called the downfall - that is, the time when they would no longer be on top. Are you anxious for it?"
John: "Well, I don't know what that is. No."
Paul: "I don't think that we ever said that."
George: "If we were really anxious, we'd just do something to..."
Paul: "We'd DO it, you know."
George: "...end it."
Paul: "That's the thing. If we really wanted to get out..."
John: "People say, 'Oh, they must've done it on purpose. They must have a reason,' you know. But I made a mistake, and I opened me mouth, but there was no alterior motive in it, either way."
Q: "Are you concerned that your image may be changing and diminished in the eyes of the kids?"
George: "We change all the time, really - our style."
Ringo: "I mean, we look different every time we come to America, if you look at the old photographs. We never keep to a strict fashion."
John: "You can see how we've changed."
Q: "Do you do that on purpose?"
John: "No. (giggling) We're just growing old."
Ringo: "No, it's just that we don't control ourselves that much. We just look the same for twelve months."
George: "If you look at a photograph of yourself last year, you probably changed..."
Q: "It hasn't been done by any design?"
Paul and Ringo: "No."
Q: "Does that mean your hair is longer?"
John: "Probably, yeah."
Ringo: "It could be. I don't think mine is."
Q: "Do you chaps want to go into SHORT hair?"
Ringo: "No, I don't like short hair, you know."
John: "We don't follow fashion anyway."
Q: "When are you gonna make another movie?"
Ringo: "Umm, maybe January, with any luck."
Q: "Do you have any idea what it's going to be about, or..."
Ringo: "It's just a small idea. There's no script yet."
Q: "What's the most enjoyable thing for you four about this adulation - this almost 'Godhood' on earth that you've achieved?"
John: (looks away distastefully) "Don't say that."
Paul: (pointing to the Reporter) "It was him. He said it."
John: (to the other Reporters) "Now, you all SAW that."
Q: "Can we talk about your music a little bit? You've gone a long ways from 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' to 'Eleanor Rigby' and the raga and so on. What direction are you trying to move your music?"
Paul: "The thing is, we're just trying to move it in a forward direction. and this is the point - you know, this is why we're getting in all these messes with saying things. Because, you know, we're just trying to move forwards. and people seem to be trying to just sort of hold us back and not want us to say anything that's vaguely sort of, you know, inflammatory. I mean, we won't if, really - If people don't want that, then we won't do it - We'll sort of just do it privately. But I think it's better for everyone if we're just honest about the whole thing."
Q: "How are you going to respond after tonight? Are you going to try and explain yourselves every time somebody asks, or what?"
John: "Well, I'll try if they keep asking me, you know."
Q: "It's very important to you?"
John: "I'll try... I'll go on and on trying until they get it straight, you know, because I just don't like to be sort of thought of as what I'm really not, you know. It's nothing like me - the thing they're putting 'round is nothing to do with me as a person, you know."
Q: (to George) "What about you? What was your reaction to what he said, and the reaction TO what he said?"
George: "Well, in the context that it was meant - it was the fact that christianity is declining, and everybody knows about that, and that was the fact that was trying to be made."
Q: (to George) "Do you agree with it?"
George: "I do agree. I agree that it's on the wane."
Q: "What do you think about that fact that you believe that it's true? What's your reaction to that truth?"
John: "Well, my reaction is that I was deploring it, you know. I was pointing it out. I mean, if somebody like us says it, people sort of do take notice, you know - even church people are trying to be 'with it' with pop groups and things. They're still doing it the wrong way, and I was just stating a fact as I saw it. and I wasn't trying to compare me or the group with Jesus or religion at all, but just only in that way - the way I'm trying to tell ya."
Q: "Can I have just one more question? I'd like to ask your reaction to the fact that at London Airport this morning, some of the girls were crying, 'John, not Jesus.'"
John: "Well you know, I don't take that seriously, either."
Paul: "They're taking it the wrong way like everyone else, you know."
Q: "Are you unhappy about that?"
John: "No, you know - It'll get straightened out, because... I mean, I could have stopped there and said, 'Now listen, that's wrong, what you're saying,' but I couldn't do that - I had to come over here anyway and do all this, and try and straighten THIS out first. So, if it does get straightened out, it'll be straightened out for THEM."
M.C: "Okay, that you very much."
Beatles: "Thank you."
Reporter: "Thank you, John."
Source: Video and audio recordings of the press conference