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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?”

Originally printed as part series of "Body Language" series. Used with author's permission.

Christopher West

Written by

Christopher West is a renowned educator, cultural commentator, and popular theologian who specializes in making the dense scholarship of the late Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body accessible to a wide audience. He's also the best-selling author of several books including Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing (Image, 2013); Theology of the Body for Beginners (Ascension, 2009); and Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teaching (Charis, 2000). Many of Christophers' books are also integrated into the Logos software. Christopher has appeared on Fox News, ABC News, MSNBC, and EWTN, and has been teaching graduate and undergraduate courses on the Theology of the Body and sexual ethics since the late 1990s. Follow Christopher at ChristopherWest.com.

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  • Randy Gritter

    To me that is so amazing. The touch of the divine. The incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection are the ultimate artistic statement. Not to say they are nothing else but looked on as art they are awesome. The sheer beauty of it causes the truth to penetrate deeply. But it keeps happening. In the saints, in the sacraments, in this story of a rock star weeping in a Cathedral. It's beauty. Love demands the word become flesh not just once but constantly in so many lives and in so many ways. Amazing but inevitable. What yuo would expect if it was really true.

  • dabhidh

    When I first read the statement that "this is a man on a sincere quest to integrate eros with agape", I must admit that I feigned vomiting. But reading his explanation to the interviewer, I'm very impressed. Thanks for sharing this.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Eros that isn't in service to Agape is just the mortal sin of lust, which far too many relationships in our society are based on to begin with.

    But when Eros is limited in service to God's Agape in the Sacrament of Marriage, from that the entire world and everything in it that is good comes.

  • GreatSilence

    Bono is a wonderful example (to me at least) of a real human being, living his Faith in the real world. He inspires me.

  • drock2289

    Perhaps the next article on the Incarnation could address the following question: Why is the Incarnation not a logical contradiction? Notably, this is an argument commonly leveled at Christianity by Islam.

    Essentially, the problem is that Jesus is stated to have been, simultaneously, fully God and fully man. Qualities of God include immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, etc., while qualities of man include mutability, contingent causality, limited knowledge, etc. It is literally a logical contradiction to say that one thing/person could maintain both immutability and mutability, say, or omniscience and non-omniscience, simultaneously. It is like saying that a shape can be simultaneously a circle and a square. They are mutually exclusive qualities.

    I have found one answer to this which states that Christ was one person with two natures--one divine and one human--and that it is in this sense that He was fully God and fully man. I don't really understand what this means, though. If it is the "nature", and not the "person", which is human or divine, then what is the person? Where does our "identity" lie? Thanks.

  • Doug Shaver

    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.

    I think that tells us a lot more about Assayas than it does about Bono.