Monday, November 28, 2005

Bono and Christian Charity

I'm tempermentally inclined to sneer at celebrity activists. So many of them are manifestly sock puppets, or twisted by contempt for the lumpenproles from which they sprang, or are simply trend surfers.

Bono, the frontman for the Irish rock band U2, is different. He's convinced me that he is a sincere Christian, acting from a sincere feeling of Christian charity. He's rich and famous and obviously likes being both, but from all appearances he still seems to have his head threaded on straight. George Harrison is the only other superstar of comparable eminence I can think of offhand who was equally successful in keeping from being too impressed with himself.

A brief aside: One of the most exhilarating concerts I ever saw was U2 at the Omni in Atlanta, 1985, on their breakout tour after releasing _The Unforgettable Fire_. Bono had the crowd in his palms for two solid hours.

As Africa reels from one self-inflicted disaster to another, ordinary well-wishers can't help but start to get numbed. Why keep giving aid, when it only winds up on the black market? Why keep giving money, when it only winds up in the President-For-Life's Swiss bank account? Why keep sending aid workers, when all their efforts will fall to ashes in the next civil war? Why care?

It takes a special type of Christian to be able to forge ahead in the face of such discouraging circumstances. To be honest with you, I'm not one of them. I recently made a donation for a mission school in Kenya. It was the first bit of charity I'd directly donated to an African cause in twenty years. Having seen all the efforts made to uplift Africa in my own lifetime, and having read about all those that were made before then, my default position tends to be, "Charity is simply enervating them. Let them find their own way." I nod with agreement when George Ayittey denounces the West for projecting its psycho-political baggage onto Africa. I sigh over the johnny-come-lately self congratulation of the Make Poverty History campaign. I bridle when demands for a reasonable accounting of where aid goes are answered with accusations of callousness. I'm very hard to rouse, Africa-wise, anymore.

So, fine: Africa shouldn't still be a basket case after all this time. But it is, and Christians are still called to be compassionate to people in the dire fixes Africans too often find themselves in. Bono's proven himself to a smart and responsible organizer of public opinion. It's true that he enjoys the luxury of paying no price if his plans go wrong, just as the activists who got us into Somalia paid no price for the resulting deaths of our servicemen there at the hands of the warlords. But Bono's compassion and more importantly his persistence are a fine example of what Christ's love can accomplish in the world. Or it will be, with the hope that this time something will actually be accomplished.

Here's a nice Q & A with Bono, in the New York Times Magazine.

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