How to dismantle death, basically

Scans of the book that will accompany the deluxe box set of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb have been posted online. It's a long book, and getting a real sense of it from these scans is perhaps a bit much to hope for, but I'm going to take a shot at talking about it because it is so theologically rich. Overall, the trajectory of the artwork is exactly the same as the description Bono recently gave on the BBC of the trajectory of the album itself: an arc from fear, in "Vertigo," to the "joyful noise" of trust in "Yahweh."

That claim obviously needs unpacking, so here we go: the book opens by showing a world in blackness and chaos here, with a quotation from Hindu scripture. The verse, in which death is identified as ultimate (it's the god Krishna saying "I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world," a paraphrase of Bhagavad Gita 11:32) was famously quoted at the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Although the verse is out of context, it's used here to create the effect of death and evil, war and destruction, throwing down the gauntlet on page 1, proclaiming their "truth" -- death is final, God is as much evil as good, might and power are found in the ability to crush and destroy the enemy.

Well, the rest of the book, in brief, dismantles these claims and constructs alternative ones. In fact, it literally dismantles the quote bit by bit, taking each word back for goodness, back for God, back for the Kingdom. Thus, scattered throughout the first half of the writing and painting and reflection we find the exact words of the opening quote, subjected to U2's faith-filled midrash, redefined and reworked in an artistic alchemy.

I AM: if you've wondered about who's being addressed in the "All Because of You" lyrics, this page answers the question. These words don't belong to death, but to the One who told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground.
DEATH: Yes, death is real, the writer has seen it and been wounded by it, but the words rendered in large print prefer to evoke resurrection: the Lazarus effect. And the last word: "miracles are possible." We've also got THE on the facing page, as we meet a crudely sketched, horned devil-goat who's identified as our enemy. Oh, is that all? Not much of a THE, is he?
MIGHTY DESTROYER: Who is really mighty? What does power look like? Read the prayer to find out. And it's not God who works for destruction, it's the fallen brightest star who became the blackest hole (with "Crumbs from Your Table" being quoted here.)
"OF" is set in a target highlighting a textual image of love as battling misery from "Mercy," and THE concretizes one example of love's power as it gently undoes personal loss, using recollections of Bono's father.
And then we see the WORLD: It's surrounded with the symbols of the great monotheistic religions, the same basic device that was hidden on the wall in one of the live videos of "Vertigo" -- read as letters, a commenter informs me, they spell out what we all must do, no matter how stongly we may be personally committed to our own faith: COEXIST.

Constructed like a Pauline epistle, the text has made its theological points and now moves to action, using dominantly more positive images from this point on. (In the hard copy of the book, you actually have to turn it upside down here, reversing your point of view to step into a new reality.) If you have dismantled the lie that death and destruction hold the cards, what then do you do with the truth you've seen? The answer is embedded in another quote, which now reads backward to the end of the book.

What do you do? Maybe you work for fair trade..."IN THE"; maybe you seek mercy or honor the body..."TO SEE". Maybe you work against AIDS..."WE WANT"; maybe you share a vision of giving 1% of national income to end poverty..."THE CHANGE", or you try to find your own unique vocation... "BECOME". Perhaps you argue for compromise... "MUST," or freedom and equality..."WE."

So the last word, the quote we've been creating in reverse, goes (elegantly) to another Hindu, Gandhi, as we see a globe no longer in chaos as on page 1, but subsumed into the shape of a cross. We must become the change we want to see in the world.

Overall, we're bookended by two versions of reality, one about death and one about hope, and with these images U2 dismantle the first and get us to the second. I'm really struck by the depth and power of this vision, and hope I've said enough for it to be clear why. I would welcome conversation with anyone who has comments.

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