Have you heard the “Paul is dead” rumor that started around the time of the release of the Beatles’ 1969 Abbey Road album? Paul McCartney had supposedly died and been replaced by a lookalike several years earlier. Fans eager for confirmation discovered clues in this and earlier albums.
- The cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) shows the four Beatles dressed as if to a funeral. In flowers in the foreground is “Beatles” and a guitar—Paul’s instrument. The back cover shows the four Beatles with Paul the only one facing backwards.
- The song “Revolution 9” on the White Album (1968) contains the phrase “number nine” repeated many times, but this becomes “turn me on, dead man” when played backwards. There are also clues in other songs.
- The Abbey Road cover of the four Beatles crossing a street shows Paul (second from left) portrayed differently once again. He’s taking a step with his right foot, while the others are all stepping with the left foot. And here again, we have the elements of a funeral: George, wearing jeans, is dressed as a grave digger; Paul, with bare feet, is the dearly departed; Ringo, in black, is a mourner or the undertaker; and John, dressed in white, is the preacher or a heavenly symbol.
You tend to find what you seek, and fans have found many more clues, though Beatles publicists rejected the story.
What could explain this? Could there have been no deliberate clues at all in these albums? Of course! The covers could simply be enigmatic or artistic, with motivated fans cobbling together what seems to them to be clues. They could find their own meaning, even if none was put there by anyone.
Comparison with the Bible
We see this with Bible interpretation: you find what you seek. Anything that contradicts the Christian’s particular view of the gospel can be reinterpreted and made captive to that view.
- The idea of the Trinity took four centuries to congeal, with many (now) heretical views discarded along the way. Still, the modern Christian might see the Trinity plain as day in the New Testament, even seeing Old Testament polytheism as instead referring to the Trinity.
- Jesus talks about secrets: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand’” (Luke 8:9–10). “Secrets”? Mystery religions like Mithraism or Gnosticism have secrets available only to the initiated, but what aspects of Christianity are secret?
- We find the influence of Marcion. “No one has seen the father but the son” (John 1:18) contradicts the stories of Abraham and Moses seeing God, unless you accept Marcionite thinking in which the father of Jesus is a different god than the one in the Old Testament.
- Also consider Jesus’ comment to a mob: “Is it not written in your Law …” (John 10:34). “Your law”? Wouldn’t Jewish Jesus say that it was our law? Not if he comes from a different god.
- John 20:26 says, “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” This isdocetism, the heresy that Jesus had a spirit body and only seemed to be human.
- Or consider the curious “the last will be first, and the first will be last” from Matthew 20:16. Sure, some bad people are at the top of pile, but aren’t there any good people who became rich or powerful by honest toil? Not according to apocalypticism, in which our world is ruled by the bad guy and the next world by the good guy. Anyone doing well in this world can only be doing so by being in league with the bad ruler, which is why everything is turned upside down in the next world.
Religious belief as conspiratorial thinking
Professor Stephan Lewandowsky talks about something similar, the “self-sealing” nature of conspiracy theories. Imagine an inflatable lifeboat in which any puncture would quickly seal itself: “Any evidence against the conspiracy is interpreted to be in actual fact evidence for the conspiracy.”
For example, consider the statement: The arguments claiming that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job are pretty laughable. Ah, that just shows that the 9/11 Truth movement itself is part of a bigger conspiracy!
If the U.S. moon landing was a hoax, the Soviets had the technology to discover it and would’ve been eager to point out the lie. Ah, that just shows that the Soviets were in on the hoax!
The resurrection of Jesus just steals an element from the stories of prior dying-and-rising gods. That it wasn’t new suggests that it was made up. Ah, but that’s exactly what Satan wants you to think! And why he put those stories into history—just to fool you. (This was Justin Martyr’s argument).
But what about the verses above that are nicely explained by our New Testament being a mosaic of ideas, the aftermath of a tug of war between many different ideologies? Ah, God is simply trying to test us! His message is plain to those with the right faith.
Someone determined to hold onto their presuppositions ride in a self-sealing ideological lifeboat, but they’ve also insulated themselves against any information showing their initial views to be wrong. This is not someone following the evidence.
I reject your reality and substitute my own.
— Doctor Who television show (1974)?
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/15/13.)
Image credit: John Hoey, flickr, CC