A few VERY random takeaways mostly from Neil McCormick's talks at/after the U2 conference, purely because he is the most recent thing in my mind.
First, I was struck by McCormick saying flat-out that U2 are not an Irish band. One knows that only half the band are actually from Irish families, and that The Edge is Welsh and Adam Clayton is English, but McCormick's suggestion that the proper term would be "Anglo-Irish" made a penny drop for me.
Second, McCormick's assertion that the importance of U2's Christian commitment to both their work, and their career arc in general, simply cannot be overstated (and he says this as a skeptic himself.)
Third, this side anecdote. McCormick attended a paper presentation on conservative aspects of U2's work by Steve Catanzarite (who wrote that book on Achtung Baby grounded in Roman Catholic theology) and was critical of it as "hearing what he wanted to hear." Neil picked up the book at the conference and, during a conversation with Bono on Sunday, critiqued it to him, saying that the idea of approaching Achtung Baby as an extended working through the idea of the Fall was, again, inappropriately reading ideas into the album, simply an example of how listeners hear whatever they want to hear in U2's music. Bono responded, "It sounds to me like he's bang on."
Both this anecdote and the previous assertion Neil made ("cannot be overstated") tied in for me (personally) with working through a (completely unrelated) comment from a theologically trained acquaintance who said roughly that it was annoying hearing people "read too much Christian theology into" U2's lyrics. In thinking that over, my response would be that while I very often share a similar annoyance, I'm not sure that the problem is exactly quantity: "too much." I've been shocked a few times myself by the abstruse Christian ideas Bono has cited in connection with or as the actual source of U2 lyrics -- things that, had I heard them from someone else, I'd likely have responded to with "You're reading way too much theological content into that."
I'm annoyed when people choose bits of U2 lyrics as excuses to say something they want to say about theology without stopping to notice what the actual preoccupations of the whole text are. I'm annoyed when people highlight nothing else in U2 lyrics than the kind of material that would of necessity appear anywhere any Christian content is in play. I'm annoyed when people use U2 lyrics to claim U2 for their theological team. I'm annoyed when people pick a few U2 lyrics out of context to check off the "pop culture" box in their largely unrelated Christian talk. I'm annoyed when people act as if every U2 song must somehow be in code, a secret message that's "really" "about" some inner-circle Christian topic. I'm annoyed, in other words, when Christians interact exploitatively, superficially, thoughtlessly, or in a partisan way with U2 lyrics. And yeah, that happens a lot.
But I'm beginning to question if there's such a thing as claiming "too much" theological content for U2 per se. Maybe the real problem is just people claiming that content poorly.