Is Bono a Christian? A Lifetime of Faith and Doubt

Is Bono a Christian musician? How has faith played a role in his life?

Bono is a Christian, and his faith drove his music and his activism throughout his life—which he discusses in his memoir Surrender. Understanding Bono’s faith is critical for understanding his motivation.

Take a look at how Bono’s faith developed over his life and how it influenced his career.

Bono’s Expressions of Faith

Is Bono a Christian? Bono’s guiding star through all the issues in his life—his activism, music, and his role as a father—is the Christian faith he’s nourished since childhood. Bono’s spiritual life isn’t limited to any one branch of Christianity but instead draws from his life experiences and the people he’s connected with over the years. Throughout his memoir Surrender, Bono discusses his faith in terms of his journey through doubt, compassion for those in need, and ceding control of his life to God.

Bono explains that doubt is an essential part of his faith. He’s annoyed by overly showy religious figures and leaders who place restrictions on anyone who joins their congregations. For him, religious certainty is antithetical to faith. He sees God as something that can only be seen through symbols, music, and art. For this reason, he doesn’t write overtly Christian lyrics, instead choosing to imbue his songs with messages about searching for truth, rather than claims of having achieved it.

(Shortform note: During the ’80s, when U2 was first gaining popularity, Christian rock music established itself as a genre of its own with the success of bands such as Petra and Stryper. Though U2 was occasionally marketed as a Christian band in the US, the religious doubt that Bono describes having woven into his lyrics helped U2 avoid being stereotyped. A literary parallel to this distinction is the difference between the authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Like contemporary Christian music, Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia contains overt Christian messages and allegory, whereas Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is based on a foundation of Christian subtext that, as with U2’s music, the reader—or listener—must interpret on their own.)

The other key component of Bono’s faith is love, which he argues can’t be found in the confines of religion. Instead, love—which he equates with God—is found in everyday interactions, especially with those who need love most. This kind of love isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling but instead is an active engagement to help others. This is the root of Bono’s call to activism—caring for the sick, the hungry, and the poor is the closest you can get to finding God. After all, Bono points out that when God chose to embody himself as a human, he did so in the form of Jesus—a poor, hungry child born in a place for housing animals.

(Shortform note: Despite the traditional nativity narrative that Bono cites, theologians argue that the place of Jesus’ birth was most likely a guest room in a local family’s home—but still alongside the family’s livestock. Nevertheless, Bono’s point stands—in Christianity’s core texts, Christ is born in the most humble circumstances. Furthermore, when looking at what the Bible says on poverty, it goes beyond giving to those in need, and also says that Christians must defend the poor’s rights and help give them a voice, actively engaging with them as neighbors and human beings. Above all, the scriptures teach that the focus of your faith should be on God and others, not on glorifying yourself—a tendency that Bono addresses in his memoir.) 

Bono writes that the heart of spirituality lies in being able to surrender your ego, and he wonders if something like that is beyond him. After all, as a rock star, he’s drawn to the limelight. As an activist, he’s clung to the notion that he, personally, has the power to save the world. Both those personas hide his true self behind a mask of importance, one that he would have to let go of to uncover his authentic self. Bono believes that growing out of that shell would require giving up his sense of self to a higher power—be that God or love for others. He doubts if that’s a level of surrender he can reach, but then again, doubt and love are the roots of his faith.

(Shortform note: Atheist philosopher Sam Harris might argue that Bono’s conception of spirituality doesn’t require a belief in the divine. In Waking Up, Harris describes a secular mode of spirituality based on exploring your consciousness while giving up—or surrendering, in Bono’s words—your illusions of ego and individual selfhood. To Harris, spirituality is about transcending the limitations of existence and freeing your awareness from the constant treadmill of anxiety, longing, sadness, and pain. Harris argues that having a spiritual experience doesn’t require faith in a higher power but can be achieved by practicing meditation.)

Is Bono a Christian? A Lifetime of Faith and Doubt

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Bono's "Surrender" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Surrender summary:

  • The memoir of Irish rockstar Bono, and the band U2
  • How Bono balanced fame with fatherhood, marriage, and religion
  • How Bono used his fame to become a voice for activist groups

Becca King

Becca’s love for reading began with mysteries and historical fiction, and it grew into a love for nonfiction history and more. Becca studied journalism as a graduate student at Ohio University while getting their feet wet writing at local newspapers, and now enjoys blogging about all things nonfiction, from science to history to practical advice for daily living.

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