Justice Religion

Self-Righteousness Rolls Down Like a Mighty Stream

Our old friend Bono of the band U2 was the speaker at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast recently (Feb 2) – yes, the President was there. USAToday has provided a transcript of his remarks.

He seems to be more familiar with the Bible than most public figures are – perhaps due partly to his religious Irish upbringing in a home half Catholic, half Protestant.

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord’s favor?

I’d always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff.

There it was in Leviticus (25:35)… ‘If your brother becomes poor,’ the Scriptures say, ‘and cannot maintain himself… you shall maintain him… You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.’

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this.

[Jesus’] first [public] words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)

Bono starts with a moral assumption – an assumption about the moral priorities of his hearers.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

He recounts some of his problem of caring about God but being put off by religion. I know, old story. But it’s an old story because it keeps happening. I think it happened, for example, to Jesus. Bono mentions –

the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land … and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash … in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV. Even though I was a believer. Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical … not about God, but about God’s politics.

His theme is our involvement as a nation (a nation ‘with the soul of a church’ as has been said by others), and the involvement or lack of involvement of the churches, with the suffering of fellow humans around the world.

the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn’t miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even though the fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move. Mercy was on the move. God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

He is concerned a lot about debt and poverty. This is good stuff, so I’m quoting quite a bit.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives. Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

  • God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house …
  • God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives …
  • God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war …
  • God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives,
  • and God is with us if we are with them.

“If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places.” (Isaiah 58)
It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor. ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Bono is very strong, and very Biblical, on this issue of poverty. He gives explicit credit to the American government, and to President Bush, for taking some good steps in this regard. Then he re-emphasizes that we need to attend carefully and fully to this.

… the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:30) Jesus says that.

‘Righteousness is this: that one should … give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.’ The Koran says that. (2.177)

Thus sayeth the Lord: ‘Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring forth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.’ The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: ‘The Lord will watch your back.’ Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

It’s worth the few minutes it takes to read the whole thing. He puts a noticeable emphasis on the 1% of our national expenditure that goes to benefit other countries. Most Americans get the idea from lying right-wing media sources that we are spending great quantities on such things. We’re not.

Thanks, Bono. We appreciate getting the word.

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