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U2’s Moral Stain

Today Ireland, whose constitution begins with the words “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,” votes on whether or not to scrap its near-total prohibition on abortion. Polls indicate that the repeal voters — that is, the pro-abortion side — will win.  It is not news at this point that “Catholic Ireland” is over, but repeal of the pro-life amendment would be a stunning milestone.

This morning I dropped James C. off after breakfast, and listened to the radio on the way home. A U2 song came on, which made me reflect on how disappointed I was that the band publicly endorsed the repeal. Here’s what Mark Hemingway wrote about it at the time:

Before judging U2 too harshly, it should be remembered that Bono has played a key role in funding and implementing life-saving AIDS initiatives in Africa, among other things. Further, that the band publicly retains its Christian identity is no act. Bono at least gave a startling interview to Irish broadcaster RTÉ a few years back in which he quite dramatically affirmed his belief in Jesus as the literal, miracle-performing son of God.


But if the band was flirting with a sophisticated level of self-awareness then, now it seems to be taking its place in a long line of pop culture figures who have followed the path of least resistance: to support what is culturally and politically convenient rather than speak the unchangeable truth. Killing a child in its mother’s womb is a horrifying practice, and that the state would sanction it should in no way assuage our consciences. As much as Christian forgiveness is freely given, there are still higher laws and divine authority that must be respected. If Bono and the rest of everyone’s favorite Christian rock band possess enough hubris to support the legalization of abortion in Ireland, maybe they really do think they can play God.

I’ve been a U2 fan since the early ’80s, and have winced at Bono’s righteous pose as a social activist, even when I’ve agreed with his cause. At a show in Philly back in 2011, I cringed as Bono led the audience in wishing Nelson Mandela a happy birthday. God bless Nelson Mandela, surely, but come on, this is a rock show. Had he led the stadium crowd in wishing happy birthday to the Baby Jesus, I still would have cringed at the moral showboating.

But that’s Bono. U2 fans are used to it. Besides, as Mark Hemingway says, Bono above all has used his celebrity to do real good in the world. You can’t take that away from him, and you shouldn’t want to.

Still, what a blow that a band whose members (three of the four) are professing Christians took a stand against the unborn. As Bob Hartman, a Christian living in the UK writes, there is a jarring contradiction between what progressive principles and their support for abortion. 

I don’t think I’ll ever listen to U2’s music in the same way again. To be perfectly clear, I will listen to their music. I believe in the separation of politics and art. Knowing, though, that the band loaned its prestige to a cause that will result in more death for the unborn, and be a major milestone in the de-Christianization of Ireland — well, that’s a moral stain that can’t be removed. Some Christian U2 fans are angry about this. Me, I’m just sad. Really sad.

UPDATE: Exit polling shows a landslide victory for the pro-abortion side, winning 68 percent of voters. Nearly 90 percent of 18 to 24 year old voters went pro-abortion. Catholic Ireland is dead and gone.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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