Since their earliest beginning, Bono and U2 have always expressed a concern for justice and the poor. It might have been a risky career move at the time, but it was part of their appeal; a rock band that actually cared about deeper things in life. From Apartheid, to release of prisoners, to the poor, Bono was unafraid to critique injustice when he saw it. Even to those who didn’t agree with every position Bono took, the group’s stance came across as authentic and not simply ideological.
Yet, recently, in one of the clearest justice cases of our time—the protection of unborn children—Bono came out on the side of power and convenience. I’ve critiqued Bono before on some of his poverty advocacy in our film Poverty, Inc., but those are prudential matters. A disagreement about foreign aid is one thing, but outright support of abortion is support of injustice and evil.
I am not down on U2. I think they are a great band. I saw them in concert many times when I was in high school in the 1980s and knew all their songs by heart. I first listened to The Unforgettable Fire album, then bought all the others. Waiting for The Joshua Tree to be released, I would stop in the music store and ask almost daily if it had come in. For about two decades I stopped listening to them along with most other popular music, but I've started listening to them again lately. There is a Light and Landlady, both from their latest album, Songs of Experience, are brilliant.
In our film, Poverty, Inc. we directly challenged Bono’s advocacy for foreign aid policies. But good people can disagree and despite our difference of opinion I’ve always had admiration for Bono’s commitment to raising awareness of poverty and have always respected U2 for their avoidance of miserable rock culture. In fact, one of the reasons we critiqued Bono in the documentary Poverty, Inc. was precisely because we took him seriously as more than just another entertainer looking for a photo op. And I still believe it is the case.
Perhaps this is why I am disappointed in Bono and U2 for their public advocacy for abortion. Maybe sad is a better word. Sure, some of their support of causes might have been misguided, but at least they were committed to justice. And they got people to care for the poor, the downtrodden, the marginalized and imprisoned. But where is the justice in refusing to protect the innocent life of an unborn child?
Surely Bono is aware of the problem of “gendercide” and the daughter deficit caused by colonialist foreign aid policies — policies that encourage women to have small families and choose boys over girls. Surely he knows that this leads to the commoditization of women, who become tools for traffickers. Surely Bono knows that that babies from poor and minority families are more likely to be aborted and that this isn’t an accident, but part of Margaret Sanger’s and Planned Parenthood’s eugenic vision.
Bono must be aware that abortion is not some abstract “right” of choice, but harms babies, women, fathers and society. And Bono knows from his study of Scripture that one of the marks of wickedness of Pharaoh and Herod is that they were murderers of children.
So what happened? It appears that Bono and U2 have simply sold out justice and their original vision to the cocktail party pressure of the establishment. Support for abortion is a nonnegotiable, and they needed to show their cool credentials. Not even rock stars can get away with dissent.
As Andreas Widmer put it in Poverty, Inc. “Bono talks a lot about being punk, but when it comes to poverty and development he is about as establishment as you get.” Well, he just took his establishment credentials to another level. Bono went from being punk and revolutionary, to plain vanilla establishment.
Evidence that U2 and Bono have caved to social pressure becomes even more clear when we take U2’s own lyrics and apply them to the injustice of abortion. Since Bono is more poetic than I’ll ever be, I’ll let his lyrics from Invisible describe the plea of unborn children:
I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I am here
There is no them
There’s only us
Maybe Bono can listen to his own voice telling him what he must know in his mind and heart. Bono has spoken out against oppression, slavery, poverty, and exclusion and his lyrics and life have been inspired by the bravest among us.
It is his turn to resist. To defy establishment ideology and the easy comfort of fashionable opinion. To stand for the invisibles—women and families and unborn boys and girls who need his voice. Or in Bono’s distilled lyrics: “When the world comes stealing children from your room guard your innocence from hallucination.” (13, There Is Light)
It’s not easy to defy the establishment. Resistance always comes at a price. They’ll get you on something. Only Bono knows what that might be. But as Bono wrote:
I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves.
Are you tough enough to be kind?
Do you know your heart has its own mind?
Darkness gathers around the light. Hold on. (13, There Is Light)
The world says that invisibles don’t matter. The world says choice and convenience trump innocent life. The world says follow me and betray your convictions. Yes, “the world is done” Bono, but you don’t have to be.
Michael Matheson Miller is a Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute and the Director of the documentary, Poverty, Inc.