Life, the Universe and a U2 Song

What sort of universe do we live in? We live in a universe that has U2. And I don’t think there will ever be a universal explanation in terms of the laws of physics that allows one to account for the existence of this band. It is a combination of law and chance, which if we wound the clock back, would never arise again in precisely the same way.

More importantly, I don’t really think that I’m looking for explanations any more. Not that explanations don’t interest me – they do, very much – but they aren’t what is of ultimate interest. I have a rough sense of what sort of universe I live in now, and the best I can do is keep up to date on the trickle of information coming in that offers explanations of how things work, and how the current state of things came about.

We live in a universe where people can try to make a difference, and sometimes succeed. I lived for a while with a family in Dublin, one member of which went to school with the members of U2. The claim to fame of the mother in the family was that she once saw the person now known as The Edge as a child, messing around on top of a skip/dumpster with a guitar, and asked ‘Who does he think he’s supposed to be?’ I doubt even The Edge guessed the answer to that question at the time, in the way it can be viewed with the benefit of hindsight.

We live in a universe that had given rise to people who make music. And a universe in which people like me hear U2 play a song like “Bad” and are moved somewhere deep down in that part of us traditionally called the “soul”.

I admit, I’m interested in understanding what this part of me is, that is almost certainly not a separate spiritual substance inserted into my physical being. Understanding has its place. It is not at all unimportant.

But I want to focus my attention on living in a meaningful way in the sort of universe I experience this to be. I cannot live in the future aboard a starship exploring strange new worlds. I cannot live in the past and inhabit the sort of world the Biblical authors perceived themselves to live in. I live in a different world, an in-between world. It is a world that is fully of joy and sorrow. And it is full of music. And there may be explanations of why certain music moves us the way it does. But it is not enough to take the car apart and understand how it works. I want to be driven somewhere. I don’t just want to understand the process of composition that led to the song, to analyze the chord progressions. I want to let myself be inspired.

U2 โ€“ Bad

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  • Richard M

    James-I was skimming through some older posts and found this one. I enjoyed it for two reasons. One, I am pleased to find another U2 fan! I think “Bad” is one of the best arguments for the existence of God I can think of. Its a really, really haunting, achingly beautiful song. Are you listening to the live or studio version? If you dont have the live version (on “Wide Awake in AMerica”) — get it!Ive been listening to U2 for a long time. Actually, they were quite instrumental for me, back in the days when I was stewing in neurotic misery as a fundamentalist, in helping to lay the foundation for leaving it. As Im sure you know, one of the early albums, October, is quite religious. But it stuck with me because it was a very different kind of religiosity than I was used to in my church. Their songs were full of faith and passion. Their songs had anger and frustration, longing, sadness, loneliness, and yes, exultation — a mirror, in effect, of what I was going through. Yet they were Christian. This was a far cry from the endless miles of warm fuzzies that characterized so much of my church’s music. The folks at my church never seemed to struggle with those emotions, which to some degree alienated me from them, though I could not have said that at the time. I was pretty unhappy then (I was a teenager) but clung to my fundamentalist faith, trying to make it fit rather than accepting that it just didnt seem to speak to my experience. U2, however, did speak to my experience. Anyway, U2 showed me that there was another way. That one could be a person of faith and yet struggle with, rather than deny, the “ugly” side of their humanity. It took a lot more than that album to eventually leave, of course, but it was something of an early harbinger.The other reason I liked you post was the way you kept intellectal understanding in its place. I arrived at this same conclusion thorugh existentialist philosophy, which, as I understood it, taught that life is lived in the living, not in understanding it. Yes, as you mentioned, understanding has its place. But at the end of the day, you need to stop thinking about it and start living it. Too many out there (atheists and religious folks alike)spend too much time trying to think about life rather than letting go and immersing herself in their life.This mattered to me quite a lot during the midst of my “deconversion” because one of the things I struggled with a lot was, what meaning can life have without God? My answer, ultimately (this has been refined over the years), is that immersion in life is its own justification. After all, if you stop asking (i.e., thinking) “what is the meaning of life?” and just *live you life*, then the question of meaning, well, stops.ANyway, very nice post!Richard

  • James F. McGrath

    What you wrote sounds like something I would say…wait a minute, I did! :-)Someone is going to write something about us for the National Enquirer based on our recent posts and comments: Identical twins separated at birth. One believes in God, one doesn’t, yet both seem to nonetheless believe the same things… :-)

  • Richard M

    Would it affect your feelings about that if I told you I was the Bat Boy? ;)(

  • James F. McGrath

    Wow, we even look alike… ๐Ÿ˜‰