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Betraying the age

June 4th, 2004 · 3 Comments

Through Janece at Workings of the Mind, I read Bono’s Commencement Address to U Penn. My favorite passage is this one.

There’s a truly great Irish poet his name is Brendan Kennelly, and he has this epic poem called the Book of Judas, and there’s a line in that poem that never leaves my mind, it says: “If you want to serve the age, betray it.” What does that mean to betray the age?

Well to me betraying the age means exposing its conceits, it’s foibles; it’s phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths.

Every age has its massive moral blind spots. We might not see them, but our children will. Slavery was one of them and the people who best served that age were the ones who called it as it was–which was ungodly and inhuman. Ben Franklin called it what it was when he became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

Segregation. There was another one. America sees this now but it took a civil rights movement to betray their age. And 50 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court betrayed the age May 17, 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education came down and put the lie to the idea that separate can ever really be equal. Amen to that.

Fast forward 50 years. May 17, 2004. What are the ideas right now worth betraying? What are the lies we tell ourselves now? What are the blind spots of our age? What’s worth spending your post-Penn lives trying to do or undo? It might be something simple.

It might be something as simple as our deep down refusal to believe that every human life has equal worth. Could that be it? Could that be it? Each of you will probably have your own answer, but for me that is it. And for me the proving ground has been Africa.

I like the idea of exposing the lies and conceits of our culture: “telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths”. The belief that every human life has equal worth. And that Bono sees this as not simply something to say but something to do: “for me the proving ground has been Africa.”

I have my concerns about this culture, and in this space where I write at times I try to reveal the lies and celebrate the truth. What are our moral blind spots? We have them as individuals. And as a nation. I think the only way to find these lies is to talk and work with each other. Passively sitting in silence will befriend the age, not betray it. Betraying the age, I think, may mean betraying ourselves and then finding ourselves anew as we undo what we did when we were deceived. What are the lies we tell ourselves now?

Coming from a man who admits at one point in his life he was “wearing a mirror-ball suit ” while emerging from “a forty-foot high revolving lemon”, I feel that there is wisdom in his words.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nathan // Jun 4, 2004 at 10:11 am

    Don’t underestimate the power of a mirrorball suit and forty-foot lemon to change the world.

  • 2 MD // Jun 5, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    We all have blind spots. Good thing I have friends and family who are eager to point out mine.

    Ok, maybe sometimes I do ask for it. Sometimes 🙂

  • 3 Julie // Jun 6, 2004 at 12:42 am

    Yes, I want to know my blind spots too. I want people, my friends and family, to hold up the mirror to me – or is that the purpose of the mirror-ball suit? 🙂