Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Bono’s Scripture in song: theological ethics in the performing of the U2 catalogue

A conference paper proposal I submitted today. Bono’s Scripture in song: theological ethics in the performing of the U2 catalogue builds on my paper for the 2020 U2conference, on Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour and the research I did in preparation. However this paper takes that work in a more focused theological direction. It also allows me to develop some of my Theological Reflection lectures that I offered while Principal, KCML, in particular various contemporary applications of the theological ethics of Richard Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics.

And for the fans and those who need a reminder, of social justice from U2 – Rattle and Hum – “Silver and Gold” was written in support of the Artists United Against Apartheid project, which protested the South African apartheid. With the potentially imitating Jesus lyrics from 1985-

There’s a rope around my neck
And there’s a trigger in your gun
Jesus say something
I am someone, I am someone
I am someone

to the creative use of beatitudes in Waves of Sorrow (2017) and American Soul (2017).

Bono’s Scripture in song: theological ethics in the performing of the U2 catalogue
Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Theological ethics involve reflection on how Christian beliefs are embodied in life and practice. Such reflection occurs not only within academic contexts but equally in contemporary popular culture. Take the world’s biggest band U2. They perform songs that request “Jesus say something,” including about apartheid (“Silver and Gold”), Aids (“One”) and American interference in Nicaragua and Iraq (“Bullet the Blue Sky”).

For Bono, U2’s lead singer, the Psalms are a guiding thread (The Book Of Psalms, Canongate, 1999). Meanwhile, U2’s fourteen studio albums contain seventy-five Scripture references, including the Gospels (twenty-six), Epistles (seventeen) and Psalms (twelve).

This paper analyses Bono’s theological ethics using a frame by Richard Burridge (Imitating Jesus). Burridge outlines four approaches to applying Scripture to ethics, each tested against how the church in South Africa used Scripture during the apartheid era.

Burridge’s work offers ways to analyse Bono’s Scripture in song. First, U2’s live performance of “Silver and Gold” on the Rattle and Hum tour. Second, contrasting “Waves of Sorrow” with “American Soul” as embodied performances of the Beatitudes. Third, examination of how U2’s catalogue clusters around following examples (Gospels) and seeking principles (Epistles). Burridge argues that theological ethics that draw on a limited Biblical canon result in embodied practices more likely to legitimate injustice. What then are the implications of U2’s focus on Gospels and Epistles?

The argument is that Bono’s use of the Beatitudes is a sophisticated embodying of theological ethics. However, the performing of a limited Biblical catalogue leaves U2 vulnerable to embodying theological ethics that legitimate injustice.

Posted by steve at 07:41 PM

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