SMC Class Explores the Spirituality and Politics of U2

Rock Band’s Lyrics Draw Inspiration From the Bible

U2 At first glance, U2 may seem like just another average rock band, but looking closer into their songs and their message, it’s clear that they’re much more.

The popular Irish rock band is revered not only for their music but for their promotion of peace, justice and love. But many people don’t realize that their songs are often imbued with spiritual messages and references to scripture.

Not surprisingly, the Jan Term course “Spirituality & Politics of U2” attracted lots of music lovers. But by the end of the course, which was taught by CILSA Director Marshall Welch, they had learned about much more than music. They also gained a critical understanding of how music can positively influence people’s lives.

Welch had heard U2’s music but said he never really listened to the lyrics until one day during a long drive when he was listening to “Until the End of the World.” It was then that he realized the song was a conversation between Christ and Judas.

U2’s band members — Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen — are all Christian, but the band has never been labeled as Christian rock, although much of their music contains spiritual messages.

Broadening Awareness of Issues

Welch explained that music can “open the door” for students to widen their awareness of social issues, such as poverty, hunger, AIDS and war. He sees spirituality as the awareness that there is “something bigger than you, which could be God or a cause.”

During the class, Hannah Schade discovered the meaning behind U2’s song “Still Haven't Found What I Am Looking For." She says it “speaks to everyone because we are all reaching for something that is higher and more meaningful than ourselves.”

Another song with a spiritual message is “Crumbs From Your Table,” which Bono wrote during a visit to Ethiopia. It describes the lack of support he had received from wealthy groups in America, which initially balked at funding anti-AIDS programs in third world countries.  Some of the lyrics are based on Matt 15: 26-28.

From the brightest star
Comes the blackest hole
You had so much to offer
Why did you offer your soul?
I was there for you baby
When you needed my help
Would you deny for others
What you demand for yourself?

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
Three to a bed
Sister Ann, she said
Dignity passes by

And you speak of signs and wonders
But I need something other
I would believe if I was able
I'm waiting on the crumbs from your table

Putting Words Into Action

U2 supports its humanitarian efforts by building awareness with their lyrics and by creating and funding nonprofits. They have been involved with efforts to help people during the famine in Ethiopia, the civil war in El Salvador, the siege of Sarajevo and Hurricane Katrina, and have worked to combat AIDS in South Africa.

Their thoughtful lyrics represent an understanding of politics and spirituality that many other bands don’t seem to grasp. The band challenges listeners to view the world from a critical standpoint and become involved in creating solutions to global problems. 

Music is often dismissed as a simple pastime, but U2 challenges this form of thinking. In this class, Welch helped his students understand how “music can be a tool to bring about social justice” and challenged them to follow in U2’s footsteps and ask: “What can we do to change the world?”