When listening to the deeply spiritual, electrical and post-punk music of U2, one cannot help but realize the eery similarities between this band and Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard. The band’s lead singer (Bono) lost his mother at a young age, which deeply impacted him, as well as his songs’ lyrics. Bono abandoned the idea of organized religion, even disparaging it, embracing his own personal faith in God. His writings often incorporate gospel-like teachings, on human truths, life and faith and happiness. His writings are intended to prod people to action, to make them become humanitarians, altruists. He also explores love’s many facets; which is where he and Kierkegaard create a connection.
Kierkegaard similarly used his wit to delve into morality, religion, love and life. In one of his lesser known writings, Works of Love, Kierkegaard espouses that erotic love, comes deep from within our hearts. Unlike our contemporary approach toward erotic love, Kierkegaard did not see its as solely tethered to sexual love. Kierkegaard propounded that the poetic love, the love which is used in literature as well as songs, differs — or is even a counterfeit — to genuine love. Most literature outlines erotic love as one’s preference for their “beloved”. Erotic love essentially relates to loving one person in distinction to another person. Erotic love here thus mainly focuses on how intense one’s sentiments, and impulses are towards a specific thing/ individual. However, Kierkegaard argues that this form of love is selfish, a self-love as he coined it, veering away from the beloved toward the lover instead. He writes:
“Now, to admire another person is certainly not self-love, but to be loved by the one and only object of admiration, must not this relationship turn back in a selfish way to the I which loves – loves its other I?…
Is it not an obvious danger for self-love to have a one and only object for its admiration when in return this one and only object of admiration makes one the one and only object of his own love?”
Rather than wishing for the welfare of our beloved, we are instead too pre-occupied with their love for us; we expect something in return. This is not authentic love; failing to create true felicity in a person’s life. Furthermore, this poetic love, also eventually turns into despair, as the lover and beloved change attitude over time. Hence, the initial yearning and passion fades away as time passes, due to our constantly changing needs.
Steve Stockman predicated, in his book Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, that “U2 inhabits that dangerous and exhilarating space that connects spiritual and physical, mortal and divine.” Kierkegaard similarly attempts to solve this dilemma on love, through reconciliation. He does not indict or disparage the aforementioned characteristics of poetic love. He attempts to situate erotic love in something less sporadic and fluctuating than our preferences and desires. He believes it can be achieved by basing romantic love in divine love. Once this is achieved, can someone truly achieve authentic erotic love.
Yet, to achieve this endeavor, we must first visualize love as a moral duty. By basing our love as a duty, we are indirectly rooting it in the eternal; God. Kierkegaard saw God as unchanging, unlike our feelings and emotions. Authentic love, must also incorporate partial renunciation of oneself and perseverance.
Kierkegaard believes that authentic love can only be formed through divine love, which allows it to become something more laudable and fulfilling. Like Bono, Kierkegaard sees divine and romantic love as essential to living a felicitous life. It is through marriage that the divine has been able to transform the erotic love into married people’s conscience. Although this does not eliminate impulses etc… it nonetheless does make them committed to each other; as a matter of conscience.
To epitomize the relation between U2 and Kierkegaard, in his song “A Man and a Woman”, the lyrics reads “I could never take a chance, of losing love to find romance, in the mysterious distance between a man and a woman.” This excerpt shows a strong connection between our perception of married love and how it interrelates to stages on life’s way.
Furthermore, Bono also wrote “never take a chance of losing love to find romance”, which seems to suggest that authentic love cannot exist within a relationship, but only marriage. This seems alien to a person whom lives in an aesthetic sphere of life, wherein pleasure and self-gratification preclude this objective from being achieved. Once we have moved passed this purely physical, aesthetic stage and into a religious stage will we be able to experience love, unlike ever before. It should be for this reason that both U2 and Kierkegaard object to aesthetic love, and advocate for true erotic love.
In U2’s song, Luminous Times, the song goes as follows:
“I love you cause I need to
Not because I need you
I love you cause I understand
That God has given me your hand
Holds me in a tiny fist
And still I need your kiss
Hold on to love
See the sunlight in her soul.”
Kierkegaard would wholly agree with Bono’s feelings. Kierkegaard believes that Bono is married because he wants to be loved, but rather because he needs to love. Once two partners have bonded through marriage, they can escape the despair and faux love, which literature has promulgated.
Both Kierkegaard and U2 corroborate on the idea that one’s beloved is unique. However, authentic love is nonetheless not necessarily about their uniqueness. It is actually grounded in the divine; in acknowledging and accepting that God is a key element in one’s relationship. Love, as Kierkegaard argues, is something shared between three parties; a lover, a beloved and God. Therefore, both the philosopher and this oh-so popular rock band, attempt to inform their beholder about the true form of authentic love. Finding authentic love as human entities, can only be achieved by carrying one another, acting as one, with God at our side.
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Source: Philosophy Now.