The Spiritual Journey of U2 -- 2/7/02
The Spiritual Journey of U2
RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
David E. Anderson, Editor
Copyright 2002 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be reproduced without written permission.
Thursday, February 7, 2002
By JASON WHITE
(UNDATED) More taboo than drugs or sex, God is a most unwelcome
guest in the world of rock 'n' roll. But that's precisely why Bono, lead
singer of U2, finds God to be such a powerful and provocative subject
for the band's songs.
"I sometimes think I have a kind of Tourette's syndrome, where if
you're not supposed to say something, it becomes very attractive to do
so," he once said. "You're in a rock band -- what can't you talk about?
God? OK, here we go. You're supposed to write songs about sex and drugs.
Well, no I won't."
From the band's origins as four dreaming teen-agers in Dublin,
Ireland, in the 1970s to its current status as among the greatest rock
bands on the planet, U2 has written and performed music shot through
with a religiosity that defies easy categorization.
Most recently, on Sunday (Feb. 3), the band brought its brand of
soaring and sublime rock 'n' roll to the halftime show of the Super
On its most recent tour, the 2001 Elevation Tour, U2 sold out arenas
and stadiums around the world, making use of a surprising amount of
religious imagery in the process.
Most nights, the band closed with "Walk On," a song from its newest
album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind." Toward the end of the song,
Bono would shout "Unto the Almighty, thank you!" and lead the crowd in a
chorus of hallelujahs -- which means praise the Lord.
In describing the mood of these concerts to Rolling Stone magazine,
Bono suggested that rock 'n' roll's most unwelcome guest was crashing
"God is in the room," Bono said in May 2001, "more than Elvis. It
feels like there's a blessing on the band right now. People are saying
they're feeling shivers -- well, the band is as well. And I don't know
what that is, but it feels like God walking through the room, and it
feels like a blessing, and in the end, music is a kind of sacrament;
it's not just about airplay or chart positions."
With words like these, Bono and the rest of U2 would seem to fit
comfortably within evangelical Christianity and its musical offspring,
contemporary Christian music. That placement, however, is resisted by
both the Christian establishment and the band itself.
U2's band members -- Bono, guitarist The Edge, drummer Larry Mullen
Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton -- drink and smoke and swear, causing some
pietistic Christians, especially American evangelicals, to question the
authenticity of the band's beliefs. In addition, U2's music has moved
over the past decade from a focus on overtly Christian themes to more
secular subjects such as politics and human relationships, leaving some
Christians to wonder whether this reflects a move away from Christianity
For its part, U2 doesn't seem to care whether it is accepted by the
Christian community. Over the course of more than 20 years of making
music, U2 has grown increasingly uncomfortable with organized religion,
calling churches "claustrophobic" and blaming Christianity, at least in
part, for splitting Ireland in two.
"I have this hunger in me ... everywhere I look, I see the evidence
of a creator," Bono has said. "But I don't see it as religion, which has
cut my people in two. I don't see Jesus Christ as being any part of a
religion. Religion to me is almost like when God leaves -- and people
devise a set of rules to fill the space."
The question of U2's religious beliefs, and the ways band members
have expressed them over the years, is the subject of a new book, "Walk
On -- The Spiritual Journey of U2," by Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian
minister in Ireland (Relevant Books, 2001). Stockman mines U2
interviews, books about the band and U2's music to write a spiritual
companion to the band's career.
Stockman says that in U2's early days in Dublin, Bono, The Edge and
Mullen embraced a charismatic and evangelical form of Christianity
unusual for the Ireland of that time. They found community with
like-minded believers in a small group called the Shalom fellowship.
In the early 1980s, one of Shalom's leaders declared that U2 would
have to give up rock 'n' roll to please God. It was a crossroads for the
band, and after deciding that God would rather have them play rock music
than stay in the fellowship, Bono, The Edge and Mullen left. Never again
would any members of U2 be formally aligned with a religious group.
"For Bono, The Edge and Larry, the God that they met and have
pilgrimaged with down the amazing road is a God who is bigger than
church or religious boundaries," writes Stockman. "They discovered him
outside of the straitjacket of traditional religion, and they have
continued to see a God who has gotten bigger and bigger in every way."
Through over two decades of making music, U2 has never failed to
bedevil those who try to pigeonhole its religious beliefs. Some of this
is an intentional attempt to maintain an element of privacy behind an
ironic public face. But some of this is also an artistic and public
working through of private religious struggles.
For example, one of Bono's most direct statements of faith can be
found in a mid-tempo, gospel-like song from U2's 1987 album "The Joshua
"You broke the thorns, and you loosed the chains. Carried the cross
of my shame, of my shame. You know I believe it," Bono sings in a
But these lines stand in tension with the song's chorus, a
meditation on the incompleteness of earthly life, even for those who,
like Bono, believe in the cross of Christ: "But I still haven't found
what I'm looking for."