Okay, so I thought we were through with this controversy… but with the release of the new IMAX film, U23D, we apparently are not.
What is the controversy, you might ask? Well, for a brief refresher, you can peruse the now infamous article by Tara Leigh Cobble from several years ago. It was an article that ignited a firestorm of debate on the Relevant magazine comment boards—probably the single most debated article Relevant has ever published. Why? Because Bono is a touchy subject among Christians.
Progressive, culturally-savvy Christians (let’s call them the “progs”) embrace Bono as the brave and fearless leader of their socially-conscious brand of Christianity. They’re the ones who do “U2-charist” services, for example. The other side are the Christians who maybe like U2 (maybe even LOVE them), but are not so thrilled with Bono and his somewhat shaky “Christianity.” The two sides have been at war for several years now over a few lines Bono uttered during concerts on the Vertigo tour… and the debate only goes on with the release of U23D.
But what’s it all about? For a full rundown and context, read my Christianity Today review of U23D, specifically paragraph five. Essentially it comes down to a semantic issue in one phrase that Bono repeats during “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Here’s the phrase as I heard it during the film:
“Jesus, Jew, Mohammed, is true. All sons of Abraham.”
Here’s how others have interpreted the line:
“Jesus, Jew, Mohammed. It’s true. All sons of Abraham.”
And here’s how Tara Leigh Cobble heard it:
“Jesus, Jew, Mohammed—all true. All sons of Abraham.”
Now we can debate all day about the various meanings that might come out of the minor semantic shifts and differences between these lines. Fine. But to my mind, they are all alluding to a sentiment that is equally disturbing, regardless of is or it’s or all… And the fact that so many of us—regardless of how we heard it—are riled up about it says something about Bono and his methodological provocation. I doubt he’s a raving Universalist (or maybe he is?) as much as he is a proven provocateur.
In making such vague and rabble-rousing statements, Bono is trying to have it both ways: playing the rebel rock star but also the “world activist/champion for all people.” I wonder if he has ever considered that one might be undermining the other? And at least in terms of the “Jesus, Jew, Mohammed” line—that he might be making more enemies than friends?
In any case, I still love U2 and Bono (who is currently off in Switzerland warning the world of climate doom alongside Al Gore). And on some level I believe him when he says he’s a Christian. But whatever he meant to say on stage that night (and even whatever he did say) makes little difference in the long run. Because it’s all about what the audience hears, and what we heard was confused, pandering, probably well-intentioned gobbledygook. Note to Bono: if you are ballsy enough to make Universalist claims, please do so clearly so we can all understand.