What is your religious belief today? What is your concept of God?
If I could put it simply, I would say that I believe there's a force of love and logic in the world, a force of love and logic behind the universe. And I believe in the poetic genius of a creator who would choose to express such unfathomable power as a child born in "straw poverty"; i.e., the story of Christ makes sense to me.
How does it make sense?
As an artist, I see the poetry of it. It's so brilliant. That this scale of creation, and the unfathomable universe, should describe itself in such vulnerability, as a child. That is mind-blowing to me. I guess that would make me a Christian. Although I don't use the label, because it is so very hard to live up to. I feel like I'm the worst example of it, so I just kinda keep my mouth shut.
Do you pray or have any religious practices?
I try to take time out of every day, in prayer and meditation. I feel as at home in a Catholic cathedral as in a revival tent. I also have enormous respect for my friends who are atheists, most of whom are, and the courage it takes not to believe.
How big an influence is the Bible on your songwriting? How much do you draw on its imagery, its ideas?
It sustains me.
As a belief, or as a literary thing?
As a belief. These are hard subjects to talk about because you can sound like such a dickhead. I'm the sort of character who's got to have an anchor. I want to be around immovable objects. I want to build my house on a rock, because even if the waters are not high around the house, I'm going to bring back a storm. I have that in me. So it's sort of underpinning for me.
I don't read it as a historical book. I don't read it as, "Well, that's good advice." I let it speak to me in other ways. They call it the rhema. It's a hard word to translate from Greek, but it sort of means it changes in the moment you're in. It seems to do that for me.
You're saying it's a living thing?
It's a plumb line for me. In the Scriptures, it is self-described as a clear pool that you can see yourself in, to see where you're at, if you're still enough. I'm writing a poem at the moment called "The Pilgrim and His Lack of Progress." I'm not sure I'm the best advertisement for this stuff.
What do you think of the evangelical movement that we see in the United States now?
I'm wary of faith outside of actions. I'm wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world. In 2001, only seven percent of evangelicals polled felt it incumbent upon themselves to respond to the AIDS emergency. This appalled me. I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me. I used my background in the Scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it. And they had better get to it quickly, or they would be very much on the other side of what God was doing in the world.
Amazingly, they did respond. I couldn't believe it. It almost ruined it for me -- 'cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity. But they actually came through: Jesse Helms, you know, publicly repents for the way he thinks about AIDS.
I've started to see this community as a real resource in America. I have described them as "narrow-minded idealists." If you can widen the aperture of that idealism, these people want to change the world. They want their lives to have meaning. And it's one of the things that the Democratic Party has missed out on. You know, so much of the moral high ground in the past was Democratic: FDR, RFK, Cesar Chavez. Now I suppose it's Hillary's passion for cheaper medical care. And Teddy Kennedy, of course.
God and Bono
I don't know a lot about the band U2, or Bono, but I have heard from various sources that they are Christ-followers. I do respect the work they do speaking out for those with AIDS and other causes. I came across a Rolling Stone interview with Bono today that I thought was interesting, and pretty cool: