Since she first burst onto the scene in 1987, Sinead O’Connor has never been afraid to take on controversial topics both on and off the stage. This week, the outspoken singer returns to New York to promote her latest double album, “Theology”. From her home in Dublin – the singer who once shredded an image of the pope on TV – talked with the Resident about religion, God, and the difference between the two. —Heather Corcoran
What can concertgoers expect at the performance at the Beacon Theatre?
SO: Well, it is all older songs, well pretty much older songs; there’s a couple of songs from this new record that I’ve just put out. But mostly it’s just kind of a retrospective. I think they can expect an underwhelming stage presence, and some very bad dancing on my part. I don’t dance; I have an underwhelming stage presence, I’m told. However, I can sing very nicely. So if they come along and close their eyes, they’ll probably enjoy it more than if they look at it.
The title of the album is “Theology” and in the past you’ve been quite vocal about religion; what is the difference between religion and theology for you?
SO: Well, if I could rephrase the question I would say what is the difference between God and religion? Theology, what it means, basically, is talking about God. So obviously there’s a big difference between talking about God and religion. I would say I would ask the question: What’s the difference between God and religion? Simply, the answer is that God loves unconditionally and religion loves conditionally.
Do you identify with any religion?
SO: I guess I identify with lots of them. I love lots of them. I’m fascinated by them and I could spend lots of time reading scriptures from all different religions, but I wouldn’t identify with one in particular. I would probably identify with all of them, really.
Why did you decide to tackle this theme?
SO: I suppose that in light of the things that are going on in the world for the last seven or eight years. I mean to be honest, I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid really also, since I’ve been in love with those particular scriptures, some of them, for a very long time. It was something that I always thought about doing, but I suppose the impetus became because a lot of what’s going on in the world – I think – is about people being confused about the difference between God and religion. A lot of the violence, for example, that’s going on in the world is going on by people who claim to be representing God, when in fact they’re only representing religion. I guess that I’m interested in this idea of rescuing God from religion. It shouldn’t be a black or white option, that if you don’t believe in religion that means you can’t have God. I suppose musically, in my own tiny, insignificant way, that’s what I was trying to do.
You’ve also said 9/11 was an event that inspired you to write this album.
SO: If you take just that day, there you have the most evil manifestation of what happens when people confuse God and religion. It may be very corny, but I’m a little Irish woman and I was brought up to really believe in God and really be in love with the idea of God, with the understanding that God is a loving energy. So I get upset when I see people misrepresent God, as I see it. To me that was an evil thing to do not only because of what it did to people, but also what it did to people’s idea of God. And in fact it didn’t serve the religion of Islam well, at all. And now everyone in the world thinks that Islam is a violent religion, when it’s not. It has few crazies in there, but the essence of it is not what it was represented to be that day. Anyway, it wouldn’t have mattered what religion the people were who did that, but for anyone to do that and claim they’re representing God is – you know – major malfunction. So that obviously, would have been a big spark; I would have been thinking of this stuff before, but that made me angry that anyone would do that for any reason, but to blame it on God and not even take responsibility for it yourself is pretty lame, you know?
Sinead O’Connor plays the Beacon Theatre on Oct. 23.