What to say about Bono’s little book, On the Move? Actually, the book is Bono’s speech at the February 2, 2006 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. (video and audio here). Thomas Nelson Publishers felt that the speech needed to be published in an accessible and attractive format, and to this end they’ve succeeded admirably.
The book is comprised of the text of Bono’s speech as well as numerous pictures that Bono has taken during his trips to Africa over the last twenty years. It’s a small hardback volume that costs around $12 retail. All of the royalties go to the Onecampaign, a grassroots effort seeking to bring much-needed assistance to the continent of Africa.
Bono, the lead singer for the great Irish rock band U2 is a well-known and occasionally irritating philanthropist. He seems to realize this about himself, as do others. He begins his speech with some self-deprecating observations about his “messiah complex” and the odd irony of a rock star with a luxury home in the south of France (an interesting tidbit that he offers) lecturing others on alleviating poverty. His methods have been criticized by some, and there does seem to be some merit to at least some of the concerns, but by all accounts Bono seems to have a sincere and earnest desire to see a very real wrong addressed in Africa.
In his speech, Bono bemoans the indifference that too many wealthy people in the West have concerning the fact that 6,500 Africans die of AIDS every day. He recounts how a friend’s observation about the year 2000 being “the year of Jubilee” really got his wheels turning about how wealthy nations could help Africa by forgiving debt and working to alleviate avoidable calamaties by sending medicine and promoting economic development in Africa. In this speech, Bono calls on the President (who was present) to push for the United States to give an additional 1% of the federal budget to Africa.
Bono seems to have a genuine and impressive knowledge of the Bible. He reveals that his mother was Catholic and his father Protestant. In Ireland, of course, this makes for spiritually schizophrenic children, and, in Bono’s case, it made for a child who was skeptical about church but very interested in God and in scripture. This is evident in the speech. Bono’s scriptural observations seem more substantial that the customary sampling we get from rock starts…which almost always consists of Jesus’ warning to the self-righteous Jews about “casting the first stone” against the woman caught in adultery.
Bono also offered some theological reflections that I believe were well-said. For instance, he sees the tragedy in Africa as primarily an issue of justice rooted in and rising from the inherent dignity of all God’s people. In this, he is correct. We should care for the plight of those in Africa first and foremost because of a robust understanding of the imago Dei.
Regrettably, the speech suffers from some almost predictable liberal platitudes that really do make one groan. I am speaking here primarily of the part of the speech when Bono is calling for the equality of all peoples: black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight. Why oh why cannot those who read scripture see that there is a fundamental and qualitative difference between race and sexual activity? Why in a speech about the extremely worthwhile topic of helping the burning continent of Africa must Bono give a nod to the gay agenda? It is irksome. More tragic than that, though, is the fact that such drivel morphs Bono’s efforts into the very fountain that James warned against: the fountain that tries to send forth both bitter and sweet waters.
Bono doesn’t like self-righteousness. He says so more than once in the speech. Biblically, this is right on. Jesus didn’t like it either. Neither should we. Self-righteousness is always and ever seeking to work it’s diabolical ways in the house of God. But why do I have the sneaking suspicion that when Bono says “self-righteousness” he actually means “any criticism against any act (almost certainly sexual) that scripture clearly condemns as sinful”?
Anyway, the reader may also be put off by the latitudinarian co-belligerency in Bono’s speech. He is addressing a group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, so he stresses that each of the major religions call for caring for the poor. This didn’t bother me. He’s right. They do. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s observation that Christians don’t have to say that other religions are wrong in every single assertion they make, only that where they differ from Christianity, Christianity is correct and they are not.
So, in all, this little book is a mixed bag. It has its strong moments, but I kept asking myself this question over and over again while I read this: “If this guy wasn’t a famous rock star, would I find this speech in any way compelling?”
But let me end on a high note. Bono has rightly called for attention to be given to one of the most devastating humanitarian crises of our age. He has given himself and much of his own fortune to this cause. Unlike some stars (cough – Sean Penn – cough), he really does seem to be more interested in helping than in photo-ops. He calls himself a believer and shows familiarity with the text of scripture. The fact that his morality at points seems to be more informed by the glitzy, vapid, left-leaning entertainment culture of which he is a part than a thoroughly biblical worldview should cause us to pray for Bono to see and hear the whole counsel of God, but it should not cause us to miss the strengths and truths of his compelling call for those who have much to give compassionately and sacrificially to those who have not.
Furthermore, Bono steers clear of the customary rejection of the Church that we find in so many members of the entertainment industry who say they are Christians. He doesn’t seem especially proud of his earlier skepticism concerning the Church. In fact, he says that he has been pleasantly surprised to see how many in the Church have been working on this problem in admirable ways for some time. In this, he is correct, but the Church can and do must more to address the horrendous tragedy of Africa.