An Open Letter to U2’s Bono
This letter to the lead singer and frontman of the Irish rock band U2 was transmitted on February 12, 2023, with the hope that it would reach him and prompt a response. Now that September is here and no reply has appeared, and the Las Vegas concert series is imminent, it seems apt to publish it as an open letter. October 21, 2023 will be the third time I’ve heard the band in person.
February 12, 2023
I was in the yard today, this Superbowl Sunday, and could not help but notice the budding blades of the first flowers piercing the Earth. Struggling toward light and life. Last night my daughters excitedly shared with me the news about U2’s residence in Las Vegas later this year. They love the band. One of them, Maria, gave me a copy of your new book “Surrender” for Christmas (she has a wonderful U2 concert story of her own). I am Irish by legacy and by faith and love your music too.
But there is a hitch in my step about attending another of your concerts and it goes to the core of my own mission in life. Issues motivate me. I see them as extensions of character, about the lives, minds, and souls of individuals and not about power and politics. Over the decades when U2 sang about war, civil strife, or miracle drugs or spoke about debt forgiveness, I almost always resonated. Forgiveness is one of the few, if not the only, ways forward — and the powers of the world seldom offer it or provide healing. I believe that the sanctity of human life is a unifying principle in all these issues, married to the duty of the strong never to prey upon, or turn a blind eye to the exploitation of, the weak.
It was thrilling then to turn to an illustration in your new book and see an image of you, or so I take it, in the womb of your mother, a kind of homunculus, but unmistakable, the whole person present at the beginning of life, not some “other” whose being and future could be bargained away, but someone entire whose worth and import for the world could not be measured and bargained away even from the very beginning. It made me think, yes, Bono is pro-life. His mother was pro-him, and she bore you into the world despite the division and darkness so that your talent could project a different message to a torn world.
Maybe that sounds presumptuous. Maybe it’s only my ego appealing to your ego. But if you have an opportunity to speak to millions, you have to consider the weight of every word. I know you admired Mike Gerson, a fellow advocate for life, whose passing last year was a great shock. I knew Mike and had one collaboration with a Poverty Forum project of his that I link to here. We both wrote for Republican presidents, Mike for George W. Bush and I for Ronald Reagan.
Whenever one has an opportunity like that, I, with no musical talent to speak of, can only cling to the hope that anything committed to paper would not shame my children later, that they would see in any work a call to the better angels of human nature. It’s ungracious to lay claim to anything that came from Reagan in which I had a role, but I could send you a few samples if you wanted to know the cast of mind.
That digression is only to say that I know you to be nonpartisan in a real way. I know that U2 made its weight felt in Ireland’s debate over abortion, and it was wounding to see the band stand, in this one instance, for what I believe to be the side of the strong over the most vulnerable among us. I see your drawing in “Surrender” as a recognition that there is a miraculous love that binds mother and child. When nations lose that recognition, they have trouble seeing the full terror of Sarajevo, Kharkiv, or a thousand other blood-drenched fields of human cruelty.
I’ll stop here but the plea is straightforward. Not for public policy, but for more and deeper use of your God-emplaced gifts to champion the freedom that “has a scent like the top of a newborn baby’s head,” the boundless love that lifts a child alive from the ashes, that celebrates every life as of equal and infinite value. My prayer is that the summum bonum of U2’s discography can be a message as encompassing as this, beyond politics and the pitiable patter that so often dominates it.
Thank you for reading this and for your careers. May the Las Vegas sojourn be blessed and blessing alike.
The author is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.