Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Finding Grace In Fame

I've long felt that celebs who take up Causes are more oil for the PR machine. Social justice gets branded, bar-coded, and becomes the faux-humane side of the sham & sensation that engulfs so much of our public lives. (Though I have taken seriously those models and actresses who'd rather go naked than wear fur -- a just, measured response to animal torture, in my view.)

And back in the days when I consumed numerous anarchist texts, I'd practically spit at any TV that showed a Christian charity claiming to bring some relief to the poor & starving of the Third World. "What they need is revolution!" I'd say aloud, causing my more conservative relatives and friends to edge cautiously away from me.

But recently I've been reading much about U2's Bono and his crusade, if that's not too charged a word, to bring the developed world's attention and help to those in ravaged areas who are dying of treatable diseases, AIDS, hunger, and other mortal blights on our existence. Among the many things I find interesting about Bono's activism is his repeated references to a just, engaged Christianity on behalf of the poor. Yes, many TV Christians do this (known in the trade as "Make us rich and we'll toss some crumbs Africa's way"), but I've rarely seen someone with Bono's exposure forcefully remind those listening of their spiritual duty to those dying, esp from AIDS:

"People have been perverting the Gospels and the Holy Scriptures since they were first written — mostly the church. This AIDS emergency actually is just such a valuable example of everything that's wrong and perverted about Christianity today.

"There should be civil disobedience on this. You read about the apostles being persecuted because they were out there taking on the powers that be. Jesus said, 'I came to bring a sword.' In fact, it's a load of sissies running around with their 'bless me' clubs. And there's a war going on between good and evil. And millions of children and millions of lives are being lost to greed, to bureaucracy, and to a church that's been asleep. And it sends me out of my mind with anger.

"This is what's important and why I would be doing this interview with Christianity Today, to implore the church to reconsider grace, to put an end to this hierarchy of sin. … All have fallen short. Let's stop throwing stones at people who've made mistakes in their life, and let's start throwing drugs."

Bono's dedication is such that he'll meet or travel with anyone who he thinks might help bring debt relief to Africa or help export vaccines and medicines to as many people in those countries as possible. This led to him touring Africa with Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill and meeting with Jesse Helms, as well as his 2002 visit with Bush. (Bono also undertook an American church tour to heighten AIDS awareness.) Predictably, these actions inspired some pretty nasty sniping from those on the left who, it seems, would never reach across the political divide in an effort to save lives. (Political purity may look good in the mirror, but it has severe limitations.) To be fair, I can't see much point in meeting with someone as isolated as Bush when it comes to global issues, esp while he's overseeing mass murder and torture in Iraq. But as Bono told his friend and guitarist The Edge, he'd meet with the Devil if did some good. He's certainly appealing to those with the power to change things immediately. If you're gonna do that, it doesn't help calling them assholes in the process.

Is he, as some have suggested, campaigning more for the Nobel than for the poor and dying? Only he knows for certain. But I haven't run across that many politicians who seem so deeply acquainted with the concept of grace, of spiritual purpose. In this cynical, jaded age, perhaps that's crime enough. The idea of forgiving the wicked in the hope of turning them toward justice may be awfully naive, but it's worth a shot, esp if you have the fame and power of your own to bend their ears.

On the U2 music front -- love "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb". The third track, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," is one of the more beautiful songs I've heard in months. I don't know the inner-Bono, but his and the band's musical expression seamlessly augments his public statements. If you can't trust a celeb like Bono to help with social justice, then maybe you can hear the message in his sound.