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In a somewhat bizarre recent interview with the National Catholic Register, the aging rock star, Sting, who eons ago had been lead singer of the rock band The Police, waxed in a bemused and confused way about his relationship with the Catholic faith, in which he was raised but which he has abandoned. He gave the interview in Rome on July 28, explaining to his Catholic interlocutor that he continued to admire the music of the Latin liturgy, confessing that “there’s something in the cadences and in the rhythm of the music in Latin that is very special,” and that the Church’s “music and the liturgy fed this artistic soul”: “I was an altar boy and I learned the Latin Mass but I loved plainsong, I loved Gregorian chant, the Sung Mass. I still think I carry some of those cadences in my composition when I compose. So I’m grateful for that.”

Putting this love of his Catholic roots into practice, Sting recently composed a Dies Iraethe ancient hymn describing the Last Judgement which is sung customarily at the traditional Requiem Mass. His composition was commissioned for Giudizio Universale—Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel, a one-hour, multimedia spectacle that Sting describes as a “wonderful educational tool”. The show was produced in consultation with the Vatican Museums and is currently showing at the Auditorium Conciliazione in Rome.

Born in 1951, Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, to give him his pre-celebrity name, is only a few weeks away from his sixty-seventh birthday, and therefore only a few short years from the proverbial three-score-years-and-ten allotted to the life of a man. One would have thought, or at least hoped, that working on the Dies Irae at his time of life might have served Sting as a timely memento mori, a reminder of death and the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Not so. He boasts that his version of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) has altered the text and the meaning of the ancient hymn, removing any trace of judgment from the Last Judgment:

[The Dies Irae] is normally done in a very minor key, a very doom-laden key, and I lifted it to a major key so it would be hopeful. I excised a lot of the very dark verses about Muslims being burnt in hell, and I thought it should be much more ecumenical. And then I love what Pope Francis said about God: he said “God is mercy,” and I thought that was a profound and simple statement that people had kind of forgotten over the years. So with the Last Judgement, if God is mercy, then there’s no judgment at all, just forgiveness. I don’t know if that’s heresy or not, but it works for me. So at the end of it, I put Deus Misericordiae [God’s mercy]. It’s not in the original text, I just added it and took liberties. I was surprised that the authorities seemed to like it and let it go.

From Sting’s perspective, which is one of unabashed pride, to ascribe to him the correct theological term for the sin he is committing, he and we can do no wrong because we are all gods, creating reality, including religion, in our own image. This is made apparent in his own words:

I think for me religion is an act of imagination. I think it’s one of our greatest creations. We actually create God in our likeness, it’s not the other way around. The Catechism says God created us in His likeness, I say we create God in our likeness. So if you’re kind and generous and forgiving, that’s the God you’ll create. If you’re the opposite, it’s the God you create, too. So I think we have a huge responsibility to create a God that is compassionate because it’s very troublesome when we don’t. History and the present day would tell us that’s true.

And yet there’s hope, even for this prideful soul. “You just have to look at the sky at night to feel a sense of wonder,” he says, indicating that he has the modicum of humility necessary to feel the sense of gratitude that opens the eyes to the gift of wonder. And his favourite music is sacred music. “I listen to a lot of Bach,” he says, “I love his Mass.” He also admires the music of the contemporary Russian Orthodox composer, Arvo Pärt, “I love the minimalism, there’s a mystery to it that I work to which is fascinating.”

And in spite of his claim that we create God in our image, he does not rule out a return to the practice of the Faith. “I’m not going to say no [to the possibility],” he states, adding with a laugh that he was making Pascal’s wager. “I’d probably seek out the sacraments at the end of my life,” he says, indicating that he continues to be Christ-haunted, even if he refuses the promptings of the Holy Ghost. “I’m grateful for my Catholicism but also—I don’t know, I’m not ready yet, like St. Augustine [laughs].”

What are we to make of this elderly man’s conflicting and self-contradictory musings? On the one hand, he believes that death has no sting because God’s mercy means that there will be no judgment of souls. God does not judge and therefore everyone will go to heaven. Hitler will be there presumably, which will make for interesting conversation at the celestial banquet. He will not have to admit that he was wrong of course because, after all, who are we to judge?

And then, having declared that everyone will be saved, he declares that presumably nobody will be saved because God doesn’t exist. He is only a figment of our imagination. We create him in our own divine image. Note the complete lack of logic. It’s not that either we are all saved or that nobody is saved, which is a question worth considering, but that we are all saved and none of us is saved, which is a logical fallacy, and therefore complete nonsense. In falling to such a ludicrous level of illogicality, Sting is guilty of what George Orwell called “doublethink”, the farcical and tragic ability to hold mutually incompatible beliefs simultaneously.

And what of Pascal’s wager, which Sting throws into the conversation with casual jocularity? It is, in fact, no laughing matter at all but, on the contrary, is a matter of life and death, and not merely mortal life and death but eternal life and death. If God exists and we live our lives in defiance of Him, doing what we want and not what He commands, we risk being condemned to Hell. We risk, in fact, the Dies Irae, the Day of Wrath. If we choose this option, which Pascal insists is the wrong and ridiculous choice, we can make ourselves feel better by saying that God doesn’t care about what we do (He is merciful and even Hitler has nothing to worry about) or we can try to convince ourselves that He doesn’t exist and that He is a human invention, in which case we’d better hope that we’re right!

And finally, what of Sting’s comparing of himself with Augustine? His reference is of course to Augustine’s famous quip, in the days before his conversion, that God should make him holy but not yet. “Give me chastity and continency,” he writes in Book VIII of the Confessions, “only not yet.” The fact is that Augustine had his wild youth. He sowed his wild oats. He did his own thing. He lived the life of a fourth-century rock star. And then, having got such wretchedness out of his system, by the grace of God, he converted to Christianity at the ripe old age of thirty-one, less than half the age of the procrastinating Sting. Regardless of what license should be given to the follies, fallacies and fantasies of youth, at some point we are meant to grow up. And growing up is meant to be connected to growing in wisdom; and growing in wisdom is synonymous with sanity; and sanity is synonymous with sanctity. Augustine understood this at the age of thirty-one and spent the remainder of his life trying to be a better grown-up, succeeding to such a degree that he eventually became a saint.

As for Sting, he really needs to get his act together before the final curtain falls. He needs to face the reality of death, choosing the death which dies for others by taking up the Cross of Christ, or choosing that other darker death which refuses the Cross in order to make gods in its own image. It’s a choice between the death that leads to resurrection or the death that leads to the Dies Irae. O Sting, where is thy death?

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10 replies to this post
  1. Thank you, Mr Pearce. I read the original article and was confused. Are we supposed to feel good because the rock star may come back to the Church?

  2. Brilliant last line. “Oh Sting, where is thy death?” I had much in common with Sting in regards for the love of the tradition and liturgy of Catholicism, even as I wandered about the world seeking the ruin of my soul. But having discovered the waste-land of the present age disappointing, I found my way back into Holy Mother Church through the work of the Holy Spirit who led me to the brilliant writings of the likes of Augustine, Chesterton, Hahn, Sheen, JPII, Ratzinger, and also to Joseph Pearce. Thank you

  3. Sting will always be the Bell Boy in the movie Quadraphenia, regardless of the success he had in the 80s and 90s.

  4. An interesting perspective. That said — you consider age 67 to be “elderly”? Though now in my upper 50s, since my 30s I haven’t thought of the upper 60s as “elderly” — perhaps 75 or 80 and above, but one’s 60s? Do reconsider your application of the term. Save it for those who are in the latter part of their “senior” years. And get off my lawn. 😉

  5. I saw that interview too. You nailed it Mr. Pearce. I had the same reaction. Frankly all these rock/pop stars are purely superficial, even someone like Sting who ventures beyond the run-of-the mill. I found Bono’s push to legalize abortion in Ireland to be appalling.

    • Appalling, but not surprising. Indeed, I don’t really envy “Bono” or “Sting” at all. They’ve both been practically worshipped by the entertainment press all their lives, and when you sit at the Popular Kids table, there are certain things you have to believe if you want to stay there, things like being pro abortion, pro gay rights/marriage, global warming and all the rest.

  6. It seems to me….now i’m a 60 yr old male, that mr sumner’s thinking is pretty 20-ish. I dont mean 1920. I mean his thinking is the way I thought before I saw the world. His philosophy doesn’t seem very … i dont know….very mature. I have taught 8th grade catechism and this is what i hear from them. So maybe i’m wrong. Probably am.

  7. Having not seen or heard the interview, my view of Sting, from reading this engaging essay, is that Sting is not a coward. He did not hide or lie about his beliefs. He showed no fear to speak his own confession about God; not embarrassed at all concerning his unbelief, that great unforgivable sin, Unbelief.

  8. Growing up as a teenager in the early 80’s, pop music was hugely influential to me. I credit U2 with helping to lead me to my own Christian faith, and I got (and still get) so much out of the music and lyrics of bands like The Clash, The Police, The Jam, The Waterboys, Big Country, The Smiths, Simple Minds, etc. Just from my own experience, intelligent, creative pop music like this really moved me to expand my horizons and “look for more” in the world.

    That being said, as a reasonably well-educated, middle-aged man, I of course no longer look to rock stars (with little formal education) as my main source of profound philosophical and theological wisdom. I may not always agree with them, but when these artists talk about their craft of making music, I take them seriously. That’s where their expertise lies. When they talk about politics and religion, well, I take their opinions as seriously as I’d take the opinions of any other average person–no more, no less.

    Now, I read a lot of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, and when you see the brilliance and intellectual coherence of their worldviews, it’s a bit depressing to read the muddled thoughts and non-existent logic of artists like Sting in this interview. And I certainly agree that when someone like Sting starts rewriting the lyrics of existing religious works and strips out their original meaning in favor of his own dim-witted understanding, it’s not going to be great art. But if you put things in perspective, it’s really not that surprising. And hey, I guess you could argue that neither Chesterton nor Lewis ever wrote a guitar riff on par with “Message In a Bottle.”

  9. We have forgotten that mercy can not exist without…(gasp) judgment. These are the two sides of the same coin which is truth, objective truth. Without judgment there is simply nothing about which to be merciful! There is nothing brave about choosing elements of reality (truth) and rejecting others in this new world. The truly brave embrace it all, which will lead to humility, contrition and the real hope for mercy.

    Illustrative article, professor Pearce. Poignant conclusion.

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