George Harrison’s Approach to God

     I think it is worthwhile to examine George Harrison’s thoughts about God, ethics and the afterlife. This might seem like a trivial investigation into pop culture, but I think it illustrates much of what passes for religious thought in the populace of our day. Whether or not the Beatles and Harrison are responsible for the ‘theology’ of our day, or whether they were just riding the wave (as John Lennon said) I will leave for others to decide. I do think that Harrison’s theologizing stands in sharp contrast to what God has revealed to us in Scripture and also that Harrison’s version of Hare Krishna is much more amenable to our way of life.


Harrison as a Born-Again Krishna Devotee

     Harrison was born into a Roman Catholic household. His portrayal of Christianity seems to be stiff and stereotypical, not corresponding to what he might have discovered if he had studied the riches of the faith. Harrison’s advocacy for chanting in a Hare Krishna temple contrasted the experience with his Christian background in the Catholic Church. He said:

But part of Krishna consciousness is trying to tune in all the senses of all the people: to experience God through all the senses, not just by experiencing Him on Sunday, through your knees by kneeling on some hard wooden kneeler in the church. But if you visit a temple, you can see pictures of God, you can see the Deity form of the Lord, and you can just hear Him by listening to yourself and others say the mantra. It’s just a way of realizing that all the senses can be applied toward perceiving God, and it makes it that much more appealing, seeing the pictures, hearing the mantra,smelling the incense, flowers, and so on. That’s the nice thing about your movement. It incorporates everything–chanting, dancing, philosophy, and prasadam.

Let’s consider Harrison’s thoughts: first, he contrasts experiencing God through all the senses vs. just experiencing him on Sunday on your knees on a kneeler. Coming from a former Catholic, this strikes me as particularly puzzling. Catholic churches use incense, statues, pictures, rosaries and the ritual action of the liturgy as means to experience God. Harrison goes on to mention pictures, incense and movement as part of the appeal of Hare Krishna! You would think he was coming from some sort of harsh background that forbid pictures in worship, but he wasn’t. The only conclusion I draw is that he was very poorly catechized in the faith of his birth.
The only practice he mentions that I can see being absent from Catholicism is dancing (in worship). And I’m sure that there was a sense in the 60’s that Christianity was dead and formal whereas the new religions were full of life and light. That is the sense I get from reading anyway. 1950’s Protestantism and Catholicism don’t strike me as particularly exciting. They seem to have lost the excitement of the Christian story in the fervor of the modern Atomic Age. This is a generalization of course. Currently, on the other side of the massive revolution that occurred in church music and experience it is hard to imagine the contrast in formality and dress that the Krishna movement (or the Jesus People for that matter) presented to someone in 1968. So maybe the more uninhibited nature of Krishna worship impressed people like Harrison, but his characterizations of the Church are not accurate.

[To be continued]

4 thoughts on “George Harrison’s Approach to God”

  1. I was raised Irish Roman Catholic in Dublin Ireland, in the 50’s and 60’s (I’m 61, 2 late next month). Part of what you say is true about both Catholicism and Protestantism, but in many other ways, this is a certain easy stereotype. For even in the 60’s came both Pope John the 23rd, and Vatican II, and also the movement theologically to people like Barth and Bonhoeffer, etc. So we must be careful with “generalization”. But I get where your going, but not every young person was a radical, and a pop-head. I was later a Royal Marine Commando (over ten years, broken time..enlisted to officer), and fought in the Nam, attached to the American Marine 3rd Force Recon. in ’68. And later too went to Gulf War 1 in my 40’s. But certainly we went from so-called modernism to postmodernism, from the 60’s to the 90’s, etc.

  2. I just don’t get the points that Harrison was making here. I guess I can understand a more “easy going” and dedicated ambiance about Hare Krishna versus 50’s Catholicism, but theologically, his comparison doesn’t seem to make much sense.

  3. I agree about GH, he was caught-up in the worst of the times it seems, drugs, Hrishna, etc. One cannot help but wonder where he soul resides? Certainly the Roman Catholic Church was very authentic in the 50’s and even 60’s, at least for the most part.

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