Bono-fied Controversy

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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.

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11 responses to “Bono-fied Controversy

  1. Bono is most definitely not a Universalist by any stretch of the imagination. Read “Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas” and it’ll answer any questions one may have regarding Bono’s faith. He is very explicit and clear in the book, which is essentially a long interview drawn out over a few years with Assayas.

    My Lord, I remember when that article was published a few years back, the internets was all in a frenzy. All of my online hangouts at the time were buzzing. I was very critical of Cobble on another blog I used to read, and she actually responded with another comment. A U2 community I was extremely offended and shocked at what they viewed was the entire “Christian reaction” – trying to put out those e-fires was difficult, and I think a good number of those folks still have a bad taste in their mouth unfortunately.

    Sorry for the wall of text! Also just thought I’d say hello, fellow Bel Air member here!

  2. the thing is…the statement is uttered during a political song. That alone brought me to interpret it as ….it’s true- they are all sons of Abraham…..Seriously though, I believe that the grand majority of the U2 audience is bright enough to make up their own minds in regards to universalism……

  3. So what about “progressive, culturally savvy” Christians who think that churches embracing U2 is beyond cliche at this point, and really wish they didn’t have to hear Christians extolling the virtues of a band believed by many to be well, well past their prime, if not completely overrated? I don’t see why churches that like U2 can be seen as appealing to the “young and hip” demographic. Isn’t it about 25 years too late? I just don’t get it.

  4. I’ve seen U2 in the flesh more times than I would like to admit and saw the film last night. (Wow. Isn’t it great? Despite having to look like Bono–wearing the glasses–it was a great 90 minutes of visual overstimulation. The audio was disappointing at the local IMAX, but forgiveable due to the great visuals).
    It doesn’t really matter if Bono is an orthodox Christian or a has-been rocker. He’s sparking conversations about the most pressing issues of the time. Whether you like his personality, his politics, or his theology (or lack thereof), you can’t deny he’s working hard for the good of many.
    When I see him in a concert (in the flesh or in 3D), I am reminded that we are called to live life passionately and without reserve. When Bono sings the opera portion of “Miss Sarajevo,” he shakes almost violently (in the film you can see this VERY well). I hope I can live my life with that kind of passion.

  5. i actually can’t believe people are debating about bono. you know, i don’t know where he stands in his faith and for some strange reason, i don’t really care.

  6. Ballsy?! That’s funny. LOL. If Bono is as intentionally neutral on faith as he seems to be to this distant observer, it’s obviously for the sake of political and recording success. I doubt we could consider that “ballsy”, at least in light of the quintessential ballsy stand Jesus took for his cause. Of course, all of us fall pretty fall short on that standard. Nonetheless, kudos are due the man for positive efforts in areas without concern for faith. Doing good doesn’t have to wear a Christian label to be valuable, but it sure would help the label.

  7. European christians in general are not as hung up on these questions of who’s in and who’s out: exclusion/inclusion. That seems to be more of a product of american protestantism.

  8. hola
    es absurdo discutir cuestiones de un cantante de rock
    yo amo u2 por su musica por su pasion,son un gran espectaculo y acompañaron muchos años de mi vida con su misica.
    debatir sobre alguna expresion o creencia personal es estupido.
    todos los humanos tenemos contradicciones y mas notorias son los personajes publicos.
    me necantaria seguir todo el dia a algunos periodistas para ver la clase de vida q llevan alejada de lo q escriben!!!!!!!.
    bono es un gran cantante q utiliza su fama dinero poder o lo q sea para ayudar lo mejor posible.
    creo q eso en si mismo es un gran gesto!!!!!

  9. What Bono was actually saying is that all of those religions… Christianity, Islamic and Judaism, are all stemmed from the sons of Abraham and that much is Biblically sound and true. I think people give a lot of undue criticsm to Bono, who I believe is one of the more radical Christian minds of this generation.

  10. To the author of the piece; May I suggest that it does not matter what you believe as far as Bono’s relationship with Jesus! “And on some level I believe him when he says he’s a Christian.” Your article lost any and all integrity/credibility it may have had due to the previously mentioned statement.

  11. What is so bad about suggesting that all three are Abrahamic? How does that equate with universalism? Maybe he was just trying to build common ground–and common ground does exist in some places! You don’t have to be a universalist to be a pragmatic, peace-builder. Sheesh.

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