The fashionable view of Bono is that he’s full of himself, the most self-important/pretentious of all rockstars, the absolute epitome of the celebrity messiah complex. That instead of crusading around the world, he should “shut up and sing” (or just shut up, period). Though it’s hard not to see where such a view might come from, it’s also absurdly cynical. It willfully ignores how, at least for the past 20 years, his earnestness has been tempered with a sophisticated sense of irony and unfailing knack for self-deprecation. And even so, the man has more guts than an army, yet is quick to admit his own hypocrisy. His voice communicates the sort of warmth that record labels have been trying (and failing) to replicate for decades. He’s an undeniably gifted songwriter, and if you’ve ever seen him in concert, you know he’s an even better performer. If “rock star” can be considered a vocation, and I believe it can, he’s exhibit A. So I consider him a hero, fashionable or not.
Then again, maybe I just like the fact that we’ve been photographed together…
If you haven’t picked the book-length interview, “Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas,” it’s a must-read. And not solely because it contains some of his most candid reflections on his faith:
Q: As I told you, I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?
Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.
Q: I haven’t heard you talk about that.
Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma and into one of Grace.
Q: Well, that doesn’t make it any clearer for me.
Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal and opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
Q: I’d be interested to hear that.
Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
Q: The son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.
Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: “Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s mortality as part of your very sinful nature and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions.” The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humble… It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.
Q: How big an influence is the Bible on your songwriting? How much do you draw on its imagery, its ideas?
Bono: It sustains me.
Q: As a belief, or as a literary thing?
Bono: As a belief. These are hard subjects to talk about because you can sound like a d—head. I’m the sort of character who’s got to have an anchor. I want to be around immovable objects. I want to build my house on a rock, because even if the waters are not high around the house, I’m going to bring back a storm. I have that in me. So it’s sort of underpinning for me.
I don’t read it as a historical book. I don’t read it as, ‘Well, that’s good advice.’ I let it speak to me in other ways. They call it the rhema. It’s a hard word to translate from Greek, but it sort of means it changes in the moment you’re in. It seems to do that for me.
Q: You’re saying it’s a living thing?
Bono: It’s a plumb line for me. In the Scriptures, it is self-described as a clear pool that you can see yourself in, to see where you’re at, if you’re still enough. I’m writing a poem at the moment called ‘The Pilgrim and His Lack of Progress.’ I’m not sure I’m the best advertisement for this stuff.