Who's a Rebel?
"I think there's a large percentage of people who are born without the ability to detect injustice," Nirvana's Kurt Cobain recently told Alternative Press. "Those are the people who usually resort to religion."
Was that what Sinead O'Connor was trying to say when she tore up that photograph of the Pope on Saturday Night Live? The statement O'Connor released ten days later indicated the answer. Yes and no.
She's most emphatically a Christian, Sinead explained at the outset, but she's a Christian whose native Ireland came under Britain's ruinous domination with the cooperation of the Holy Roman Empire. "The Catholic Church has controlled us by controlling education," she summed up at the end. "Through their teachings on sexuality, marriage, birth control, and abortion. And most spectacularly through the lies they taught us with their history books. The story of my people is the story of the African people, the Jewish people, the Amer-Indian people, the South American people. My story is the story of countless millions of children whose families and nations were torn apart for money in the name of Jesus Christ."
Many other musicians would agree. That's what fills heavy metal with attacks on evangelists who use Jesus to cover up their own sins (thus Ozzy's gleeful cry, "Miracle man got busted!") The recent Genesis hit, "Jesus He Knows Me," blasts preachers whose only religion is lining their own pockets.
But "the name of Jesus Christ" can also be fodder for cool band names (Jesus Jones, Liquid Jesus, Jesus and Mary Chain) or mythical invocation (Don Henley's "I was flyin' back from Lubbock / I saw Jesus on the plane / Or maybe it was Elvis / They kinda look the same"). Christian rock and the gospel music that preceded it--from Stryper to the Winans--emphasizes the listener's personal relationship with the son of God, as do other Christian artists (U2, T-Bone Burnett, Bruce Cockburn) who separate their religion from the causes they champion.
Sinead O'Connor seems to be looking for a different Jesus than any of these, one who combines religion and revolution. This Jesus just happens to be the one who actually existed, according to Irish-born Biblical scholar John Crossan. In his new book, The Historical Jesus, Crossan studies mountains of historical evidence and concludes that Jesus preached "a dream of what kind of world we could have if the hierarchies were gone, if everything were shared equally."
Compare this to what happens when we put the Pope's photo back together. We see him traveling to the Dominican Republic just after the SNL uproar, where he spends a week attacking "liberation theology"--the popular Latin American doctrine of Jesus as revolutionary. John Paul II even expressed support for the Haitian military regime that overthrew the popularly-elected government led by a Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The thousands of Dylan fans who booed Sinead O'Connor off the Madison Square Garden stage were, in their ignorance, aligning with Caribbean storm troopers.
While the Catholics of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean probably would agree with Madonna that Sinead could have found "a better way to present her ideas," they share her discontent with the Pope. John Paul II had been greeted by millions on his two previous trips to the Dominican Republic; this time, he was met by small, indifferent crowds.
In recent years, liberation theology has followed Latin American immigration into the U.S., while the official church hierarchy--appointed and endorsed by the Pope--supports domestic bullies like those who lead Operation Rescue. With millions of parishioners joining the call for peace, equality, and an end to poverty, John Paul II appointing representatives like New York's rock-baiting John Cardinal O'Connor, and the church at every level covering up so many child-molesters in the clergy that no insurance company will underwrite it, a battle for the soul of the church rages.
Rock and rap have yet to catch up to liberation theology's embrace of the historical Jesus, perhaps still recovering from the '60s / '70s infatuation with Jesus Christ Superstar, a friendly hippie from around the way. That's what makes the debut album by Arrested Development, devout Christians all, such a breakthrough. Its most important song, "Fishin' 4 Religion," contains lines like "The government is happy with most Baptist churches / Cuz they don't do a damn thing to try to nurture / Brothers and sisters in the revolution."
Nobody can boo that idea off the stage.
Rock & Rap Confidential / 1992