Later this month the people of Ireland will vote on the future of their constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which currently recognises the equal right to life of a pregnant mother and her unborn child. As it stands, the Eighth Amendment is a good law. It’s grounded in reason and science, it supports human rights, and it serves to protect the most vulnerable in society. But just last week Ireland’s most famous rock band, U2, posted the following message on Twitter: “Vote on May 25th” along with an image of a big red heart and “Repeal the 8th” written in cartoon letters within it.
I’ve been listening to U2 for most of my life and just last summer saw them play at a sold-out stadium in Cleveland during their Joshua Tree anniversary tour.
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr have been playing together for more than 40 years without any substance abuse issues, sexual scandals or break-ups, which is most impressive for a rock band. They are seasoned musicians, inimitable songwriters, legendary performers, and until recently they have been heroes to me in regard to their work for human rights, particularly in bringing attention and aid to our needy brothers and sisters in Africa, El Salvador, and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
St John Paul II and Bono were good friends who worked together during the Jubilee year of 2000 on a project to cancel the debts of the poorest nations in the world. There’s a beautiful picture of John Paul II wearing Bono’s sunglasses from one of their meetings, which was only released by the Vatican after the Holy Father’s death in 2005.
I like Bono, and I still think U2 is one of the best rock bands of all time, but I am very disappointed in their decision to support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Why? Because their many of the songs – including Yahweh, 40 and All Because of You – are rooted in the Bible and U2 have historically been on the side of the most vulnerable in society. Bono specifically, channeling the spirit and memory of Martin Luther King, has inspired me (and millions of U2 fans, I imagine) to consider the evils of racism and inequality and to stand up and speak up for justice, the common good and the dignity of every human life.
I understand that the abortion debate is complex, but what isn’t complex is that abortion is the direct killing of an innocent life. Without the fundamental right to life, all other human rights that are grounded in that right are threatened.
How have U2 fans responded to the band’s support for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment? As with the abortion debate in general, they are split. A good number of fans opted to unfollow U2 on Twitter, and others pledged that the tickets for their current eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour would go unused. Many of these disappointed fans have made the kind of argument I’ve been making here, pointing out the moral inconsistency of U2’s message. But others have praised the band for their political activism and thanked them for supporting women and human rights in general.
My guess is that U2 will continue to play to sold-out crowds around the world and that the majority of the people at their concerts (in the United States, anyway) will have little concern with Ireland’s Eighth Amendment.
So what is a Catholic U2 fan to do? I think it only makes sense to speak up against injustice in the way that will best correct that injustice. For me, that’s writing this essay.
If Bono and the band read it, I hope they’ll reconsider their pro-repeal stance in light of their long-standing human rights principles.
Giving in to the notion that rock stars must support the termination of innocent life for the sake of a very small-souled notion of freedom would be the very essence of what Hannah Arendt termed “the banality of evil”. How much more innovative, artistic and prophetic it would be for U2 to stand courageously to protect the lives of the unborn in their homeland, as well as of all women and men in Ireland, but especially pregnant women and new mothers in need of friendship, compassion and support.
And maybe a phone call from Pope Francis would be in order. Bono seems to like and respect the Holy Father, and perhaps Francis could convince him that repealing Ireland’s Eighth Amendment is a bad idea, politically and theologically.
In the meantime, I’ll be asking Pope St John Paul II to help me with a very special intention.
Fr Damian Ference is a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland and serves as director of human formation and assistant professor of philosophy at Borromeo Seminary. He writes regularly for Word on Fire and is a lifetime member of the Flannery O’Connor Society. Follow him on Twitter: @frference
This article first appeared in the May 11 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here