U2's Bono Challenges the Faithful
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
February 2006

I have always appreciated the music of U2. The Christian roots of this Irish band, and particularly its lead singer, Bono, are generally well known. Many Christian fans of rock music are probably also aware of the times Bono arguably strayed from ideal Christian behavior. However, like a searching pilgrim, Bono and the band’s music invariably returns to the same Christian themes.

Whatever one thinks about Bono and U2, Catholics should find much to praise in Bono’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2. Yes, Bono was the invited speaker for the annual event, which is organized by an evangelical Christian group and was attended by the President, members of Congress, and other dignitaries.

Many of Bono’s remarks sounded as though they came out the
Catechism for the Catholic Church or the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Catholic teaching, for example, emphasizes the difference between charity and justice. Both are important, but too often we give in the name of charity that which is due as a matter of justice. Bono praised the recent increases in American aid to Africa, but added that there remains much more to do, especially since the situation demands justice. His remarks are worth noting in length:

[I]t’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it.

Another comment from Bono that could have come out of Catholic teaching playbook was his recognition that lobbying by people of faith can and does make a difference. The Gospel, in other words, is not a just private matter. Nor should our public actions be limited to personal acts of charity. Since justice is primarily the responsibility of government, Christians must lobby government officials for justice to be done.

Again restating a classic principle in Catholic teaching, Bono reminded the attendees that the laws of man should reflect the laws of God and that we cannot retreat to man-made laws while the demands of justice remain unmet. By way of example, he referred to certain laws protecting patent rights, debt collection, and certain industries.

Perhaps the reason for the similarity between Bono’s comments and Catholic social teaching is that both are rooted in Biblical principles. Not surprisingly, Bono appeals to the prophets of the Old Testament, particularly the call to bring justice to the poor, the importance of the least among us, and the Jubilee. Bono, however, reads these passages in the light of Christ’s own life and ministry, especially Luke 4:18. In that passage, Jesus begins his public ministry by invoking the Jubilee message.

Bono used the occasion to draw attention to the One Campaign, a project urging the United States to allocate an additional one percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water, and food in the poorest countries. The idea, as Bono put it, is a form of tithing in the belief that where you live should not determine whether you live.

While some may disagree on the specifics, it is an idea that is integral to our faith, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Bono reminded the prayer breakfast attendees, however, that Isaiah 58 tells us that if we do what is just and right, God will be our “rear guard.” He will, in other words, “watch our back.” What greater comfort could we have?