CHICAGO, Aug. 11 — John Lennon, leader of Britain’s Beatles, said tonight that he was sorry he had ever compared the popularity of the Beatles with that of Jesus. But he insisted it was true that the quartet is more popular.
Speaking before television cameras at a Near North side hotel, Mr. Lennon said:
“I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have got away with it. I am sorry I opened my mouth.”
He said that in making the statement in an interview recently reprinted in this country, he was deploring what seemed to be a decline of religious zeal.
“I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not knocking it. I was not saying we are greater or better,” Mr. Lennon said.
At this point, another of the Beatles, George Harrison, said of Mr. Lennon:
“I know him. He believes in Christianity. But I do agree with him that Christianity is on the wane.”
The four Beatles — the others are Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr — agreed that public reaction, which included record burnings and a ban on playing their records by some radio stations in this country, worried them.
“But I think it’s a bit silly,” Mr. Lennon said. “If they don’t like us, why don’t they just not buy the records.”
The Beatles are here for their fourth signing tour of the United States, beginning tomorrow night at the International Amphitheater here.
They landed at O’Hare International Airport this afternoon, disembarking at a maintenance hangar. A crowd of about 250 teenagers, mostly girls, waited in vain for them at the international terminal.