The Ethics of Belief
A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many ships and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms, that it was idle to suppose that she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.
What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his believe not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts...
William K. Clifford
The Ethics of Belief (1875)
The Shalom Group
- So U2 are mad Christian, yo.
- Three quarters mad Christian.
- But those three quarters are fucking barking. For real.
- So not long after starting the band, Bono and Edge and Larry the drummer join a radical Christian group called Shalom. I just went through through the script and excised any use of the word 'cult'.
- Religious group.
- Strong religious group preaching separation from society and a return to first principles.
- Religious separatists.
- The kind of group that in all likelihood wouldn't tour with Jay-Z.
- The kind of group that would have problems with the lyrics of 99 Problems.
- Not a cult.
- What was the appeal of fundamentalist christianity for U2?
- Let's quote from Eamon Dunphy's unforgettable U2 biography UNFORGETTABLE FIRE: The Story of U2 - this is a description of the Shalom group meetings that 3/4 of U2 attended in 1978.
- 'For strong young people, fortunate in so many worldly respects, the prayer meeting allowed a feeling of humility that was cleansing. Ego was sacrificed, and strength, worldly strength, shared with those who needed it. There was a wonderful egalitarianism of the spirit... The Meeting would end by people joining hands and singing, hugging, breaking down the barriers between them. Peace was the final dividend. There were many radical Christian groups in the city, to which a number of the brightest, most sensitive young people were drawn. In a world where family life was breaking down, which was preoccupied by the make of car you drove, the type of Spanish holiday you went on, a world of hi-fi, portable colour TV, where sexual fidelity was a joke, Christianity was a balm for the more sensitive spirit.'
- So imagine: you're 18, you've just left school, you haven't really got a job, you're playing in a band doing a few gigs here and there, but mostly you're just floating - you're not really sure what you want or where you're going with your life - and then this -
- Would that appeal to you?
- No, that wouldn't be enough for me
- Yes, I could see myself appreciating that
- No that has no appeal
- Yes that sounds really good
- Yes I like the idea of the cleansing
- Not really, but maybe a little
- Yes, why not?
- No, because they should be smarter and wiser and stronger than that
- Yes I'd love to be hugged.
- So: how can you blame them?
- But then we get to this - in 1981:
- 'The Shalom group had increasingly come to dominate the private lives of those members of Village and U2 who attended the meetings. Guggi [one of Bono's friends] had dropped out, claiming to be getting evil vibes off the Meetings, which were tending more and more to focus on members' mode of living, less and less on the Scriptures. In particular the Shalom group began to question rock 'n' roll and its relationship to God. U2... found themselves under pressure on account of their lifestyle. One of the tenets of Shalom's Christianity was the surrender of ego so that you might be filled with the Spirit of God. U2 were a big band in Ireland now, Bono in particular its public face. How could he reconcile that with his love of God? Most of those at the Meetings lived ordinary lives. Their days were dull, some particularly sad and lonely. Life was not as exciting as it was for U2... Gradually it was implied that a choice would have to be made between rock 'n' roll and God.'
- So here's where you have to step up - your band is doing really well and your religious group is calling on you to to quit your band. Your professional and artistic career is saying one thing and your religious community is telling you the opposite. What do you do?
- I think inner peace comes first. Fuck your job, fuck your music, you need to put your own spiritual and mental wellbeing first.
- Yes, but what if you have reason to suspect the motives of your spiritual guides?
- What do you mean?
- Quote from UNFORGETTABLE FIRE: The Story of U2: 'What particularly incensed [Bono's friend] Gavin was the fact that his and U2's presence at the Meetings had drawn a number of youngsters, mostly girls, to the Shalom group. Dublin is a small place and Bono's involvement was well advertised in and around Christian circles. Shalom was prepared to accept the positive side of Gavin, Bono, Larry and Edge's commitment, but not the music and culture that went with it. They were being used, Gavin decided, and he was getting out.'
- So you're saying
- What if you can see, within the leading members of your spiritual community, signs and symptoms of a petty jealousy regarding your worldly success, and a narrow-minded refusal to accept the validity of any lifestyle other than their own? What if your close friends, also in bands and experiencing similar pressures, make the first move and leave the religious group for that express reason?
- Well then I'd have no hesitation in bidding farewell to the Shalom group.
- And what do you suppose Bono, Edge and Larry did?
- I can only assume that they listened to the doubts surfacing in their subconscious, and told the Shalom group to mind its own business.
- Almost, but not quite.
- What did they do?
- They did what the Shalom group told them and quit rock and roll entirely.
- This is one of my all-time favourite vignettes in the life of the band. They're due to go on tour in two weeks around the UK, Europe and America. Bono, Edge and Larry rock up to their manager Paul's office and tell him that they can't reconcile rock and roll with their religious beliefs. Paul plays it cool and asks them to give him just two hours to think about what they've said, then come back and talk to him. The three young men hustle off down to the beach where they pray and sing, then show up back at the office. When they return, Paul shows them a piece of paper with a number written on it: the amount of money they will have to pay to their record company if they renege on the tour commitments that were a part of their contract. He also lays down the law on a bunch of other fronts - personal and professional integrity, the number of people who've invested money and time in their band, the insulting and half-assed way in which they've chosen to quit... it's a beautiful scene and I picture it in my head often when I need a happy thought.
Christopher West - God, Sex and Bono
- One of the greatest things to ever happen to me, as a human being, was when Rachel Roberts' Theology course featured a class on Christopher West's article 'God, Sex and Bono'.
- Christopher West is a modern Theologian and, as we will soon see, a profoundly simple human being.
- In this article, West attempts to reflect on the connection between sexual love and divine love. For most of us, it doesn't take much thought to see that there might be a link between earthly and spiritual love, but Christopher West is an idiot and needs the help of another idiot - Bono - to get the point across. You be Christopher West.
- Fuck yeah I'm Christopher West. How does Christopher West talk?
- He's a modern-day Theologian, how do they talk?
- I AM CHRISTOPHER WEST
- No not like he's had a stroke. Just, the voice of an extremely uninquisitive individual who's been sheltered from critical thought for most of their adult life.
- I AM A THEOLOGIAN
- Like, how would you talk if you thought Bono was a genius?
Christopher West You’ve probably heard Bono sing about that “fever” he gets when he’s “beside her: desi-i-i-i-er, desi-i-i-i-er” (drums in the background: boom-badoom-badoom, badoom-doom). But this is no normal rock-n-roller glorifying lust. Bono may still not have found what he’s looking for, but this is a man on a sincere quest to integrate eros (sexual love) with agape (divine love). In a book-long interview with Michka Assayas, Bono reflects at length on his unconventional Christian convictions. And Assayas simply cannot understand how the world’s biggest rock star could believe Jesus is the Son of God. Nor can he understand how Bono has remained faithful to his wife of twenty-five years. In the portions of their dialogue that follow, Bono responds to his incredulous interviewer’s suggestion of “incarnating” lustful temptations by turning it on its head. Bono meets Assayas right where he is and, with a stroke of genius, directs the conversation towards a reflection on the relationship between eros, agape, and the Incarnation of God’s Son.
Assayas But you’re the singer and front man in a band, and it’s not just any band. I’m sure you’ve been tempted. Don’t you ever feel that no matter what you have decided [about fidelity to your wife], love needs to be incarnated? ...Think of groupies.
Bono We never fostered that environment. If you mean groupie in the sense that I know it, which is sexual favors traded for proximity with the band.... Taking advantage of a fan, sexual bullying is to be avoided, but the music is sexual.... Sometimes ...the erotic love [we sing about] can turn into something much higher, and bigger notions of love, and God, and family. It seems to segue very easily from me between those.
Assayas ...I’m surprised at how easily religion comes up in your answers, whatever the question is. How come you’re always quoting from the Bible? Was it because it was taught at school? Or because your father or mother wanted you to read it?
Bono ...Let me try to explain something to you, which I hope will make sense of the whole conversation. ...I remember coming back from a very long tour.... On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. ...It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty... a child, I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry. Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and ...tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh. Wasn’t that your point earlier?
Christopher West Here Bono echoes St. Paul in helping us to see that the union of man and woman is meant to point us to the Incarnation. It’s all about Christ’s love for the Church (see Eph 5:31-32). Go Bono!
a. Who Are You To Criticise U2?
- So really, Finig, when we get to grips the matter, and let's be straight with each other here and now, because really, truly,who else in this fucked-up treacherous world can you trust, and you know I love you and will always be straight with you, what right do you have to criticise U2?
- They've been a massive force for good, they've raised millions of dollars for charities, and what have you done?
- Uh... alright, let's take these one by one. I love you too, by the way. Please don't take any of this personally.
- Of course not. Everything is at stake, but I still love you.
- Okay first: I can't criticise U2 because what have I done?
- There's a sacred cow that goes along with discussing massively iconic symbols of goodness - you can't critique them because you haven't yourself done what they've done. So sure, let's compare Bono's achievements with Finig's.
Performed at the first Live AID concert, raising millions of dollars for famine relief
Got stoned and read Keats' Fall of Hyperion like 50+ times, in particular the lines in which poets are described as fevered dreamers to whom
'The miseries of the world
Are misery, and will not let them rest.'
Married his longterm girlfriend when they were in their early twenties, and remained with her for nearly three decades, setting an example of marital stability for couples round the world
Fucked up both his longterm relationships and knows less about women and real love than your average seventeen year old
Recorded 21 extremely successful studio albums that have sold in excess of 150 million copies
Recorded a 3-track EP with Paul Heslin available only on 3.5 inch floppy disk, so that virtually no-one can play it, and if anyone did, it would have the fidelity of a song played through a mobile phone in a fast moving car with all the windows down
Worked with Brian Eno on two albums
Saw Brian Eno play with Jon Hopkins and the Necks in Sydney 2009, and yeah it was really good
Is an acknowledged cultural icon whose work has had a major impact on the lives of people all over the world
Was nominated for the 2005 Queensland Premier's Literary Award for a play in which a gang of vampires steal and eat prescription medication including Dolosed, Oxycontin and Canestan Thrush Cream
Is the subject of countless biographies, articles, interviews and books including UNFORGETTABLE FIRE: The Story of U2
Features as a character in a text hating on U2 which he himself wrote
- So acknowledging that my life maybe hasn't had the impact of Bono's, do I therefore have any right to judge him?
- Maybe the only people allowed to have an opinion are those whose lives are models of virtue and free of guilt.
- Maybe, but in effect this means the one person in the world really able to judge the actions of others is an old hermit lady who only leaves her cave once a day to wash her favourite tree. (Analogy pinched from Sady Doyle, so much credit due.)
- In practical terms, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God* - the best we can do is acknowledge our own failings and try to keep each other honest - if U2 can swallow their pride and take some constructive criticism from a useless Australian playwright, then I will do them the favour of listening to their advice in return.
*Did I just quote Saint Paul? Pretty smug about that.
- Alright second: I can't criticise U2 because they've been a massive force for good. Well, good. But let's put it in perspective: They're a massive force for good - they're also just massive.
- They're one of the two or three biggest pop bands in the world. They may indeed be a massive force for good, but they might also be a massive force for bad. They might arguable be a massive force for blandness.
- They might just be a massive disappointment.
- Very few people in the history of the world have had as much power and influence as U2 - that sounds weird, but consider it - how many national leaders can command the international media attention that U2 have at their fingertips? How many political or social activists have an audience as huge as this band?
- If Bono loses his car keys, that's massive. If the Edge fucks around in a studio with some buddies, that's a feature film. The bar is fucking raised.
- Ask yourself: 'What would I do if I had the power that Bono has?'
- It might take a while to get your head around it, because no king, queen or Biblical prophet has ever had a hundredth of that power. But think it over -
- What would you do? What change would you advocate in the world? Write a list. THINGS I WANT TO CHANGE IN THE WORLD.
- Look at your list. How many things on that list have U2 achieved? Did they - this is important - did they ever write that list?
- So. Third. I can't criticise U2 because they've given millions to charity.
- Yes, yes they have. But let's look at what they make.
- The 360 Degree Tour is the highest grossing international tour of all time - $790 million in profit.
- Their 2005 Vertigo tour earned $389 million and was the fifth highest grossing tour of all time -
- Across two tours they pulled in a total of $1.4 billion - pretty good for about fifty nights' work.
- Also, they've sold a few records in the last 30 years - more than 150 million - that's probably put some dollars in their pockets.
- Their collective worth in 2007 was estimated at €715 million and they earn $108 million a year.
- There is a charming ticker that records their earnings in real time at http://www.salary-money.com/u2-salary-108000000.php
- It's public record that U2 pay 2.5% of their income as tax, because of the way they've set up their accounts - which is a lower percentage than most of Europe's poorest citizens -
- There is no public record of Bono ever giving any actual money to charity - benefit concerts yes, donating guitars to charity auction yes, but actual money there is no record of -
- What the fuck are they doing with this money? This massive force for good is sitting on the equivalent of the GDP of 3 or 4 of the world's poorest countries - and what are they doing with it?
- I'm not saying U2 don't need luxury yachts and mansions and all that megastar bullshit - but no matter how many mattresses made out of cocaine you need in order to sleep on at night, it is not possible to spend that much money. So what are they doing with it?
b. Political Spokesmen
- On a scale of one to fucking plenty, how much does Bono like to act as the spokesperson for worthwhile causes?
- Amnesty International
- Band Aid
- Live Aid
- Live 8, the sequel to Live Aid
- Self Aid
- Band 20, the sequel to Band Aid
- Third world debt relief
- World poverty
- This should be unambiguously a good thing, they've brought attention to a huge array of worthwhile causes
- So why does it rankle so much?
- What legitimate reason can there possibly be to feel frustration at Bono taking the part of the underdog?
- He's patronising
- No he's passionate, he's sincere
- You can be sincere and still be patronising
- But he's not a politician, he's not a historian
- Then he should keep his mouth shut.
- But he's doing genuine good.
- I'm not saying he shouldn't support causes - in fact he should do more of it - in fact he should sink himself into it with the same energy and commitment that led him to climb highest mountains, run through the fields, run, crawl and scale these city walls only to be with you, BUT
- he needs to look at how he goes about it - right attitude - and what I'm saying here is constructive - useful for you, Bono, and for your army of little gremlins, and useful for me, and for anyone who's trying to lend their strength to make the world a better place -
- There are two key lessons here -
- Let's do this like a prison break.
- 1. STICKTOTHESCRIPT
- In 1987, U2 took part in the Conspiracy of Hope tour to promote Amnesty International. In a press conference in New York, a journalist blindsided Bono with a question about Sunday Bloody Sunday. It's U2's political statement about violence in Ireland and while it's a strong, emotive statement about the cyclical nature of civil strife, it doesn't, under the microscope, make a lot of fucking sense.
- This is not me being facetious, by the way, this is the learned opinion of the Melody Maker journalist who talked with Bono for FOUR HOURS about the meaning of the tune, and eventually concluded that bono himself didn't really know -
- It's a bundle of highly charged images without a coherent message behind it - and that's fine - that's fine - but when the journalist asked Bono
- 'So what about the prisoners in Belfast?'
- Bono tried to explain away the Irish conflict - to neatly sum it up in a few lines - and it was awkward as fuck and Sting had to jump in and rescue him -
- Got to repeat that because I want to get to say those words too - Sting had to jump in and rescue him -
- That's right, Sting had to jump in and rescue him - and this is the awkward thing - at this same press conference were political prisoners and activists of all kinds - people who had direct experience of the kinds of political repression Amnesty were combating - so many people qualified to speak on these issues, and Bono fumbles it -
- So okay everyone, what did Bono do wrong here?
- I can sympathise to some extent with Bono's difficulties as a political spokesperson. I do some work as a science communicator - it's something I feel fairly strongly about - and that puts me in the position of explaining concepts from fields I'm not an expert in. It sometimes happens during a post-show Q&A or a press interview that someone asks a question and I'm not sure of the answer.
- If an interviewer asks you a question you're not sure of, I would contend that there's no shame in saying 'I don't know.' Bono is not a trained historian or political scientist - he's an artist and entertainer -
- And there's nothing wrong with acknowledging that and saying:
- 'But here's the person or text that I'm deriving my perspective from, and here's a person you can go to for a more full answer to this question.'
- You don't have to be an expert in everything all the time.
- Except, it's conceivable that unethical journalists and ratings-driven media organisations might be only too happy to take a genuine confession of ignorance out of context and use it to belittle and lampoon the speaker.
- That's a shame, but it's the world in which we live, and as someone who's been dealing with the press on an ongoing basis since he was 18, Bono should be pretty conscious of it. In which case, the alternative solution is:
- Stick to the fucking script.
- Anyone who's done any media training knows that journalists love to twist your words and drive you into saying something embarrassing. You don't have to let them.
- Any large organisation that deals with the press - political parties and charitable organisations being good examples - have media officers who provide coaching on the organisation's key messages and how to communicate them in the structure of a press interview.
- It doesn't matter what the journo asks you, you answer the question you wish they'd asked.
- If you're endorsing Amnesty International, you use the Amnesty script.
- 2. IFIT'SNOTABOUTYOU,DON'TMAKEITABOUTYOU
- If you're Bono right now, I'm trusting you to be taking notes - this shit is going to make a difference, I swear it -
- If you're not Bono, go on not being Bono -
- If you're both Bono and not-Bono, throbbing between two lives in the purple twilight hour - choose -
- Lesson 2 - in 1987, U2 performed at Self-AID
- What the fuck is Self-AID?
- Well might you ask what the fuck is Self-AID, because it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. It was a benefit concert for unemployed people designed to tell them that they didn't have to wait for the government to help them, they could help themselves.
- Help themselves how?
- Good question
- So where did the money from the benefit concert go?
- Also a good question. All good questions. So Self-AID was a fairly controversial event - one of the articles about it was called 'The Great Self-AID Swindle: Rock Against The People' - but U2's commitment to the cause, whatever the fuck that was, seemed pretty genuine. The problem was this:
- During the gig, Bono explained to the crowd that he'd never been unemployed, but he 'knew how it must feel to stand in line waiting for your pocket-money'.
- Bono, if you've never been unemployed, it's not about you. DON'T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU.
- Important lesson learned from Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown. If you want to offer support to a minority group or a cause, great. If you want to lend your voice to theirs and speak out on their behalf, go for it. But if it's not about you, don't make it about you.
- Don't assume that your experiences, whatever they are, are analogous to those of the people you're speaking for.
- Don't assume that your voice can ever replace theirs.
- If you're providing the entertainment at a public benefit for famine relief, human rights advocacy or unemployment, you do not speak on behalf of the victims.
- You support them, you enable them, you help give them the platform they deserve -
- But you do not behave as if your perspective and theirs are in any way equivalent.
- In particular, if you are a straight, white, cisgendered, english-speaking male from a middle-class background who has been a multi-millionaire since his early twenties,
- If you are the beneficiary of every form of privilege this society is capable of bestowing, then the most valuable thing you can bring to any conversation about oppression and suffering is silence and a willingness to learn.
- This, Bono, is why a huge volume of people view you as a repugnant oaf - because tainting any good intentions you may have is your insistence on being acknowledged as the authority on whatever injustice you are combating.
- But you could change that, Bono, you could change that in a second
- By acknowledging that you've behaved this way, apologising to anyone you've offended, and going forward with a little more humility.
- Write it on a piece of paper and put that paper in your pocket: If it's not about you, don't make it about you.