Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Achtung Baby

“It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky
It’s no secret that our world is in darkness tonight”


“Exercising their God-given freedom to disobey God, first the woman and then the man overreached their grasp and overstepped their boundaries by stealing fruit from the one tree God had reserved for himself, setting off an ecological catastrophe of eternal proportions.  Having polluted the garden with the taint of their selfishness, Adam and Eve earned for themselves – and for us, their spiritual children – a one way ticket out of Eden.  The cost of reentry being more than they or we could ever afford, we remain in exile to this day, still touched and enchanted by the scents and echoes occasionally wafting from God’s garden but still dancing in the dung to the devil’s discordant tune.”  Stephen Catanzarite

Achtung Baby is the story of how the greatest modern rock band in the world found salvation at the darkest point of their career.  It is not that the members of U2 became Christians during the making of this album.  It was already clear from their earlier works (The Joshua Tree, The Unforgettable Fire, etc.) that U2 were adherents to the faith, but it was during the making of this album that their faith was tried and tested.  It’s possible that U2 could have broken up during this period of their career and never gone on to create some of the best albums of the 1990’s and 2000’s.  They were reeling from the disappointment of their movie Rattle and Hum, and were experiencing turmoil in their personal lives and within the band.  Instead of giving up they locked themselves in a recording studio in Germany, and the result was one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

Achtung Baby is very different from their earlier records.  This is partly because of what one band member calls their “baptism by fire.”  U2 did not come through their many trials unscathed.  They were wounded and scarred, but they used this opportunity to transform into the iconic band that people know today.  Bono put it this way, “You have to reject one expression of the band before you get to the next and in between you have nothing.  You have to risk it all.”  U2 did risk it all and came to be a better band because of this.  Throughout the years they have been able to remold and reshape their image and remain relevant while doing so.

Many of the bands that were popular in the 1980’s failed to maintain their popularity throughout the 1990’s.  Music changed, many believe, for the better.  Alternative music took over the airwaves and some bands became insignificant almost overnight.  U2 was not one of those bands.  Although America was the inspiration for some of their previous albums, this time they turned their attention to Europe.  The influence of European industrial and club music can be heard on some of the tracks, but it is still very much a U2 album.  Where U2 looks for inspiration never distracts from the final product.  The Edge’s experimentation and superior guitar playing can be heard throughout, as on all classic U2 albums.  The guitar riff on Mysterious Ways may just be the best rock & roll guitar riff ever.  The rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. is solid, and Mullen finds new ways of incorporating his unique drumming style into songs containing beats produced by drum machines.  U2’s fearlessness to explore new territory and challenge themselves as a band pays off.

The story of Achtung Baby is not the story of one masterpiece, but two.  The first is the album itself.  The second is a book published in 2007 entitled Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall by Stephen Catanzarite.  It is a brilliant book in which Catanzarite puts forth his thoughts on why he believes Achtung Baby is a concept album about the fall of man.  Anyone familiar with U2 knows that many of their songs are infused with reflections on theology and the Christian faith, but I don’t believe they set out to make a concept album about the fall.  I’m not even for certain that Catanzarite believes this, but that doesn’t matter.  His book makes sense, and it should be viewed on its own terms.  What Catanzarite does is similar to what some preachers do with the psalms.  It’s easier to preach the psalms if you have a background to go with it.  For some of the psalms we know the background, but for many we do not.  In those instances preachers often invent a background where they imagine the psalm could have come from.  Catanzarite does this with the songs on Achtung Baby.  He vividly describes situations and conversations where he believes the songs came from.  He makes the songs come to life.

Catanzarite’s book is not simply a meditation for Christians, it is also an apologetic for those who have yet to accept the faith.  It is not an apologetic like McDowell’s or Stroble’s that is often easily ignored by the modern skeptic.  It has more in common with the apologetics of Chesterton, Lewis, and Sayers.  In fact, I believe Catanzarite’s book shares a lot in common with Dorothy Sayers’ book The Mind of the Maker.  In both cases neither author set out to write an apologetic.  Sayers sets out to make sense of the Trinity by comparing it to the creative writing process, and Catanzarite sets out to tell us about the fall by examining the work of a modern rock band, but both eventually work their way through the deeper tenants of the faith.  I highly recommend reading Stephen Catanzarite’s book if you are a fan of Achtung Baby or U2, but I also recommend it on its own.

In our current society we often divide the secular from the spiritual, which I believe is a big mistake.  How can we put off being a Christian?  When is it ever appropriate to leave our faith behind?  U2 is the greatest modern rock band there is.  They have reached this status not by hiding their faith, but by embracing it.  Achtung Baby is simply one example of this.  May we seek to do the same in our own professions.


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