For Bono, God is Always In On the Act
Not everyone is a fan of U2's religion. Singer replies to detractors in recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine
Montreal Gazette, November 26, 2005
The musical landscape was pretty daunting when a scruffy group of Dubliners, once known as the Hype, decided to bring God on their musical journey.
A quarter century ago, any rock 'n' roller using the G-word was courting either commercial suicide or a one-way ticket to the Christian-rock ghetto. During that post-punk era, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison were still singing about spirituality, but nobody hip was listening.
When the now-rechristened U2 announced its presence with the insistent guitar phrase that ushered in "I Will Follow" -- the opening track on its first album, Boy -- the group was laying the groundwork for a very non-rock challenge: love me, love my God. If you look at their album and ticket sales, you might argue that the fans accepted those terms.
Bono might have been singing about his late mother in that song, but when he boldly spat out "I was lost, I am found," he was invoking Christian language to drown his sorrow. Matters of faith, doubt, spiritual joy and even dark nights of the soul returned with each of the next 10 U2 albums.
The closing track on War (1983) was "40," an allusion to Psalm 40 of the Old Testament. On Zooropa (1993), the group had fellow Christian Johnny Cash sing "The Wanderer," inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes. Its latest disc, last year's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, closes with Yahweh, a prayer by Bono and guitarist the Edge.
The song, sometimes a concert-closer, is a particular favourite of Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian minister and a chaplain at Queen's University in Belfast. Stockman's book Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 explores the religious content of the group's work.
Bono "finishes rock concerts by asking God to 'take this heart and make it break.' It's an upside-down look at rock music. The Rolling Stones aren't in it to have their hearts broken for other people," Stockman said.
Objections to U2's brand of Christianity come from sources both predictable -- rock fans who prefer their decibels without the preaching -- and less obvious: fundamentalists who complain about the group's language, smoking and drinking, not to mention the lack of evangelical content in its lyrics. "They have been at the heart of the wicked rock 'n' roll scene for two and a half decades," writes David Cloud on the fundamentalist Baptist web site Way of Life Literature. "They are one of the most popular rock 'n' roll groups alive today, and this certainly would not be the case if they were striving to obey the Bible in all things."
An unrepentant Bono took on his detractors in a recent Rolling Stone interview. "People are always forcing you to make decisions between flesh and spirit," he said. "Whereas I want to dance myself in the direction of God. I go out drinking with God. I am flirtatious in the company of God. I am not a person who has to put God out of his mind to go out on the town. It's a key point. The divided soul of Marvin Gaye, Elvis -- these conflicts tore them apart. And they don't tear me apart. I reckon God loves all of me."
Stockman concurs, praising Bono's work on debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries. "Jesus doesn't seem to be saying to (the apostle) Peter, 'Here, you shouldn't go out and have a drink,' but he is saying to Peter 'You should go out and look after the poor,' and so Bono is doing more of the Christian thing than those who are blaming him for saying the f-word," he said.
Detractors also point to the 1987 opus "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" as proof that the group's faith is weak. Stockman said the naysayers are not getting it. "If you listen to that song at all -- 'You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains / Carried the cross of my shame / You know I believe it' -- there's really nothing there that's ambiguous. This is the theology of the passion and the atonement of Christ at No. 1 on the U.S. charts for four weeks," he said, laughing.
It might simply be the possibility of doubt in the lyrics and the unorthodox arena-rock approach to faith that has made U2 more palatable to those who aren't looking for salvation just yet. Bono's beliefs also come as part of a social-justice agenda that even an atheist can embrace, even though the singer uses his knowledge of scripture to speak to church leaders and evangelical politicians about responding to the AIDS crisis and poverty.
In the Rolling Stone interview, he was hardly looking to make things easier by keeping his faith non-specific. "As an artist, I see the poetry of it. It's so brilliant. That this scale of creation, and the unfathomable universe, should describe itself in such vulnerability, as a child. That is mind-blowing to me. I guess that would make me a Christian," he said. "Although I don't use the label, because it is so very hard to live up to. I feel like I'm the worst example of it, so I just kinda keep my mouth shut."
Elsewhere in the piece, Bono compared the Psalms of David to blues music. Discussing two of his favourite styles of music, he said blues was running away from God, while gospel music was running toward God. "Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the centre of the jaunt," he said. Such statements exemplify what St
"I think they keep God in the conversation of culture, where many of us as church leaders have actually put God up some blind alley that nobody wants to come and visit," he said.
© The Gazette (Montreal), 2005.
One of the things that I have always admired about the BMan was that he made "uncool" seem "cool"
He came to Montreal... he saw... he conquered!
Or, at least, he criticized the Canadian PM...!
Bono did conquer his fans there all over again, of course!
And he sure does make it "hip to be square"... no, wait, that's Huey!
Bono Knows: It is cool to be uncool
Bono knows - not Bo knows! (For my money, Bo knows... diddley! ).