How Mick Jagger points me to Jesus
British philosopher Aldous Huxley once remarked: “There comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’”[i] This year, Sir Michael Philip Jagger, having pioneered the concept of rock 'n' roll frontman, will turn 80 years old. His music has endured the arrival of the internet, the cell phone, the EU, Brexit and the infiltration of social media.
To some, his refrains still feel poignant and fresh — indeed, timeless. Howard Stern, in a New York Times Magazine interview, called Mick Jagger his dream interviewee.[ii] Jagger, said Stern, was a prophet of his youth who taught him more than any religious training ever could.
Jagger’s Rolling Stones were propelled into fame in 1965 with their first single, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The song continues to resonate. One can’t help, however, but ponder the source of the frontman’s dissatisfaction. Not enough money? Jagger’s net worth today exceeds $360 million; in 1965, at 22, he already owned his own home and toured in a private jet.[iii] Not enough fame? By 1964, the Stones had already joined the Beatles in infiltrating the United States music industry in the British Invasion. Not enough sex? Hardly.
Perhaps Huxley and Jagger are prophets with the same message. A quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton captures it well: “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain, but it comes from being weary of pleasure.”
The universal longing
Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, argues that every natural, innate desire within us corresponds to something in the real world.[iv] He is not referring to artificial desires like the desire for a sports car or a vacation to Hawaii — these artificial desires result from outside influences like advertising or culture. Kreeft is talking about natural desires that spring up from within, of desires we seem born to have — for things like friendship, knowledge and beauty.
For these natural, basic desires, we have words to describe their absence: loneliness, ignorance and ugliness. We do not have a word for “sports car-lessness,” but we do have a word for the human condition: alienation. We will get back to this.
There exists, argues Kreeft, a natural, inner desire nothing earthly can fulfill. A desire for something more. Call it “transcendence.” Call it “Paradise.” The desire is as familiar as it is fleeting. It is sand through our fingers. It is the dust in the wind.
The novelist C.S. Lewis compared a person to a duckling. Why does a duckling desire to swim? Because such a thing as water exists for it to swim in. Similarly, why does a child hunger? Because such a thing as food exists for it to eat. Why do we desire sex? Because sex exists as a thing to be experienced.
But what about the oracles of Huxley and Jagger? What about our yearning for transcendence? “If we find in ourselves a desire,” Lewis famously observes, “that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”[v] Perhaps there is something to the logic of Lewis and Kreeft. Perhaps “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is universally acclaimed, in part, because it is reflective of a universal sigh — a widespread sense that something is fundamentally unfinished and broken. That life is an incomplete sentence with a full stop. And perhaps, just perhaps, even the Rolling Stones cry out.
[i] Huston Smith, The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions (Harper: San Francisco, 1991), 19.
[ii] David Marchese, “How Stern says he has changed. How much?”, New York Times Magazine (May 9, 2009). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/05/09/magazine/howard-stern-change.html
[iii] Keith Richards and James Fox, Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010), 178-179.
[iv] Peter Kreeft, “The Argument from Desire.” Retrieved from http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/desire.htm
[v] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Fount, 1997), 113.
Luuk Vandeweghe has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from the University of Aberdeen, has written several books, and has publicly debated skeptics on issues of faith. His work has been published in preeminent peer-reviewed journals such as New Testament Studies, Tyndale Bulletin and Bulletin for Biblical Research.