God, Sex, and Bono
As demonstrated in his encyclical God Is Love, and more recently at the Fifth World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, Pope Benedict XVI, like John Paul II before him, is intent on helping the world see the connection between divine love (agape) and sexual love (eros). To help us reflect on these themes, I’d like to turn to what may seem an unlikely source: Bono, lead singer of U2, which I consider the biggest rock band in the world.
You’ve probably heard Bono sing about that “fever” he gets when he’s “beside her . . . desi-i-i-i-re, desi-i-i-i-re” (drums in the background: boom-badoom-badoom, badoom-doom). But he is no normal rock-n-roller glorifying lust. Bono may still not have found what he’s looking for, but this is a man on a sincere quest to integrate eros with agape.
In a book-long interview with Michka Assayas, Bono reflects at length on his unconventional Christian convictions. And Assayas simply cannot understand how the world’s biggest rock star could believe Jesus is the Son of God. Nor can he understand how Bono has remained faithful to his wife of 25 years.
In the portions of their dialogue that follow, Bono responds to his incredulous interviewer’s suggestion of “incarnating” lustful temptations by turning it on its head. Bono meets Assayas right where he is and, with a stroke of genius, directs the conversation towards a reflection on the relationship between eros, agape and the incarnation of God’s Son.
Assayas: “But you’re the singer and frontman in a band, and it’s not just any band. I’m sure you’ve been tempted. Don’t you ever feel that no matter what you have decided [about fidelity to your wife], love needs to be incarnated?...Think of groupies.”
Bono: “We never fostered that environment. If you mean groupie in the sense that I know it, which is sexual favors traded for proximity with the band...Taking advantage of a fan, sexual bullying is to be avoided, but the music is sexual...Sometimes...the erotic love [we sing about] can turn into something much higher, and bigger notions of love, and God, and family. It seems to segue very easily for me between those.”
Assayas: “I’m surprised at how easily religion comes up in your answers, whatever the question is. How come you’re always quoting from the Bible? Was it because it was taught at school? Or because your father or mother wanted you to read it?”
Bono: “Let me try to explain something to you, which I hope will make sense of the whole conversation...I remember coming back from a very long tour...On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral...It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty...a child, I just thought: ‘Wow!’ Just the poetry. Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was.
I was sitting there, and...tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh. Wasn’t that your point earlier?”
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