These are the days of shame for American Christians. Not the sort of shame, like Isaiah’s, that results from coming face to face with a holy God. (“Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”) Instead, it is the sort that Buck Dorkman feels in the school cafeteria, when he picks up his tray at the end of the lunch counter and realizes that, once again, he has nowhere to sit. There is no room at any of the Cool Tables for Buck Dorkman.
Ashamed of who he is and yearning for acceptance, Buck swallows his pride and tries to remake himself in the image of those he wants to impress. (“To the Jew,” some might interject here, “I became as a Jew.”) He even ditches his dorky friends. But sometimes, human nature being what it is, no compromise is good enough to impress those who have already attained what he is seeking. “Nice jacket, Poindexter, but lose the pocket protector!”
By the standards of today’s national cafeteria, the Jesus Who came to seek and save the lost and Who bids His Church to “compel them to come in” is not very cool. So, in order to impress the popular crowd, many Christians have felt compelled to give their Friend an extreme makeover, stripping Him of the garments of tradition and the language of sin and forgiveness, so the only thing He has to say is “Accept everybody, and don’t judge!”
This is the Jesus espoused by one of the coolest guys in the lunchroom—a fellow named Paul Hewson, who wears dark sunglasses nearly everywhere he goes, even when he preaches from the pulpits of America’s churches. Born in 1960 in Dublin to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, Paul knows that “religion is the enemy of God. It’s almost like religion is what happens when the Spirit has left the building.” This probably explains why the closest thing to a “church” that Paul and his very cool friends David, Adam, and Larry ever belonged to was a Bible-study fellowship called Shalom—from which they bolted in the early 80’s when it became too churchy. Since then, Paul has looked for God wherever he can find Him. As he told Christianity Today, “I just go where the life is, you know? Where I feel the Holy Spirit.”
In fact, Paul has gone a step further (though he’d be loath to admit it): He has created his own religion, which looks, in part, like Christianity but contains elements of Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. It’s the kind of religion that everyone in the lunchroom can get behind, because its only commandment is Thou shalt not judge—which, Paul will tell you, is really the central teaching of every historic faith (“Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone”), especially Christianity, before it was perverted by religion. “You know,” Paul said recently, “the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.” Inspired by his own theology-by-concordance (which seems to overlook more than a few thorny passages of Scripture), Paul cofounded, in 2002, an organization called DATA, which stands for Debt, AIDS, Trade, and Africa. The chief sacrament of Paul’s religion is the act of supporting DATA’s vision of writing off all of Africa’s debts to the world’s “wealthy nations” and eliminating AIDS in the Dark Continent through education, medication, and contraception.
Paul has had many opportunities to promote his religion because, well, he is a very popular guy—a rock star, in fact. It may come as a surprise to some that the very churches that Paul criticizes so fiercely as bastions of Spirit-killing religion are dying to have Paul speak from their pulpits. After all, he takes every opportunity he can find to mock them (“God has some really weird kids”) and everything that their traditions stand for: “[True religion] is not all about the things that the church bangs on about. It is not about sexual immorality . . . ”
But Buck Dorkman doesn’t care. He’s far too interested in graduating to the Cool Table to notice the insults. In fact, he is thrilled that a rock star is interested in him. For years, he has been imitating Paul, attempting to create music that approaches Paul’s level of vapid, pretentious coolness, hoping that all of the young people who worship Paul will think that Buck is just like him. Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t even seem flattered and has simply called Buck’s music “sh-t.” In Paul’s words, Buck and his sad little kind have failed to understand that “Music is the language of the spirit anyway. Its first function is praise to creation—praise to the beauty of the woman lying next to you, or the woman you would like to lie next to you.”
Paul and his friends have never liked the label “Christian rock band,” because Paul likes being a regular rock star, who can “cling to his right to be an ass.” And though he insists that, by assing around, he and his band have really “f--ked up their corner of the Christian market,” Paul’s rebel-with-a-cause behavior has only gained more fawning attention from Christians, who are eager to attach their names to his Great Cause—from Bill Hybels to Billy Graham, from Presbyterians to Methodists, from Wheaton College to Christianity Today.
At this year’s Presidential Prayer Breakfast, where Paul was the keynote speaker, he quoted from the New Testament, the Koran, and “the Jewish Scripture,” admonishing President Bush and Congress that God will “judge” (gasp!) America and her churches if they fail to keep Africa from “going up in flames.” President Bush followed Paul at the podium and, in true Dorkman fashion, proclaimed, “I’ve gotten to know Bono. (Laughter.) He’s a doer. The thing about this good citizen of the world is he’s used his position to get things done.” Speaking for Dorkmans everywhere, he added, “You’re an amazing guy, Bono. God bless you. (Applause.)”
True Christianity is concerned with the plight of the poor, the suffering, the dying. But the greater reality that the Church is called to address has to do with sin, righteousness, and judgment and how the crucified God-Man redeemed mankind. What insight does Paul have to give those who possess the “words of eternal life,” other than how to “be an ass”? How great is the loss of faith among a people who titter in the presence of a “citizen of the world,” such as Bono, who despises all that they once held dear?