January 15, 2008

God's Warriors

U2's third album was called War. But who is the War with? What is the War about? Which War and when?

In a compelling 1983 New Musical Express article and U2 interview entitled "War and Peace", writer Adrian Thrills states that "(War) is different in that U2 are now facing out rather than inwards; they are now coming to terms with the outside world, and that means coming to terms with the horror of the Falklands, Beirut, Central America, the nuclear threat and the strife of their own battle-torn backyard in Ulster - coming to terms with war."

The Edge explained "October and Boy both had a key to the songs in the title and this one is no different. Not all the songs are about war, but it's a good general heading."

War tackles many of the above topics exposing their horror and human toll but it does not stop there. It continues with a solution, an answer, and even a War of its own. It's the fight invoked in the album's opening track "Sunday Bloody Sunday", and it's the fight that Bono has been fighting ever since through his crusade against AIDS, Live Aid, third-world debt relief, etc... His song states "The real battle yet begun. To claim the victory Jesus won" and the album continues along this fight's path just as Bono has with his own life. The album invokes Martin Luther King, Lech Welesa, and Jesus. Those are the album's role models and warriors.

In the same 1983 NME interview Bono continued "You have to have hope. Rock music can be a very powerful medium and if you use that to offer something positive then it can be very uplifting. If you use your songs to convey bitterness and hate, a blackness seems to descend over everything. I don't like music unless it has a healing effect."

And what U2 is offering is Christianity. A glimpse away from the negativity and towards a more positive light. A belief in the pure love of God, agape, 1 John 4:8. Bono added "I think that love stands out when set against struggle. That's probably the power of the record in a nutshell. (War) is about the struggle for love, not about war in the negative sense."

Bono's belief in God's goodness and everlasting love mark an overarching thread through all U2's albums. This theme is the key to U2's success, fervent crowds, and universal appeal throughout the Western world. We've all heard their message before, it's our most desirable interpretation of our most important and most holy book. They tell us and reinforce what we want our God to be. They are the perfection of hope, the perfection of religion, and the perfection of ourselves.

In War, U2's message of God's love is told so passionately (small p) and so earnestly that it's difficult to resist. Whether offering musical excuse or acknowledging U2's true power, Bono admitted "We believe that passion is more important than technique." On War Bono is so rarely in tune that the listener must assume that his Bono Vox alias, (Latin for good voice), is an in-joke. The band's shortcomings are covered by copious backup vocalists, trumpet solos, ornate violin arrangements, and ample atmospherics. Larry Mullen even admitted that on War he began wearing headphones in an attempt to keep better time.

Not that any technical misgivings mattered. U2 understood that the message of their militant Christian pacifism is beautiful. War is bad, love is good, God is love, God is good. Accept God and wars may not cease but they should become marginalized. Music should heal. Music will solve problems. God's love solves problems. Everything is tied together.

War naturally ends with a song based on an Old Testament song, based on Psalm 40. Bono's interpretation of his chosen Psalm casts himself as a messianic figure who is called on by God to crusade for His goodness. It's a tale of redemption and calling

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of the miry glade.

that moves into a holy warrior's quest and an an unerring life path.

He set my feet upon a rock,
and made my footsteps heard.
Many will see,
Many will see and fear.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?

Bono and U2 have not strayed. We want to believe in them, we want to believe in their God, we want to believe in their message, their God's message that Christianity's natural quest and natural state runs towards social justice, an end to strife, and an everlasting love.

We want to believe that his lyrics on "New Year's Day" are true, that "Gold is the reason for the wars we wage." But deep down we know that that is not true. All four "Sunday Bloody Sunday" sides felt God was on their side - the Irish Catholics, the Northern Irish Protestants, the Selma Peace marchers, the Selma police and citizenry - and none fought for gold. We know that the atomic bombardiers in "Seconds" aren't killing for gold either.

We look outside to present-day horrors of Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, the nuclear threat from China and Pakistan and the strife of our own battle-torn backyard in lower Manhattan and we see that we fight for our passions and we fight for our gods.


There are a number of good U2 articles and websites that discuss the band's relationship with Christianity. Here are a few:

The website u2sermons.blogspot.com serves as a companion piece to the book, Get Up Off Your Knees, Preaching the U2 Catalog, which is linked in the slide show to the right. The book is a collection of sermons that draw on U2's songs.

The article Bono: Grace Over Karma appeared in ChristianMusicToday.com in August 2005 and consists of excerpts from the book Bono: In Conversation. The article collects a few of Bono's interview responses that deal with Christianity.

A third, extended article, Cathleen Falsani's Bono's American Prayer, appeared in Christianity Today and is an enlightening look at life, musical career, and mission.

However, in the same issue of Christianity Today appeared this editorial, Bono's Thin Ecclesiology. The title explains it all.

1 comment:

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