Author Topic: I stand with the sons of Cain  (Read 2018 times)

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Offline laoghaire

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I stand with the sons of Cain
« on: October 20, 2019, 08:56:10 PM »
I've seen in several different places comments from Christians/Evangelicals citing the line "I stand with the sons of Cain" in the song In God's Country as evidence of anti-Christian beliefs by Bono. I wanted to write my thoughts on that, and invite others to weigh in as well.

I can't change any minds that firmly believe Bono is Satanic, and so I wouldn't bother for that. But I've seen some comments where people were fans of his work but could not reconcile this one line, and regretfully felt they had to stop following the band because of it. Those people might welcome another perspective.

First, I understand the problem. To align oneself with sons of Cain - he who slew his brother Abel, and some say, who carries the lineage of Satan rather than Adam - is indeed to align oneself against the JudeoChristian God. And Bono knows that.

However, I firmly believe that the song and the line still support Bono's Christian beliefs.

Let's start by looking at the album, The Joshua Tree.

The album's unofficial name would be The Two Americas. The lyrics of the songs explore the idea of America's dual nature - I could go into detail but let's keep it simple. The America of The Joshua Tree is a good place and a bad place. There is love, freedom, opportunity, greed, shallowness, coldness. The setting is the American desert, a dead place, a beautiful place, God's Country.

Christian references permeate the album. Unlike Christian rock bands, however, Bono's lyrics embrace honesty over simple praise. He sings about pain, the struggles of faith, confesses his sins. In I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (also from The Joshua Tree), for example, he sings:

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of the devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

Christians know that the first two of those lines are not opposites - Corinthians 13 says that to speak with the tongue of angels is not a good thing if there is no love behind it. It means you say the words but you don't live them.

Aha, you say, here is more evidence Bono is anti-Christian.

No, keep going. It left him "cold as a stone." A Satanist would not say this. It admits the error of his ways, and leaves him with nothing - not even the anti-Christian prizes of money, power, etc.

If you're not convinced, here is the final verse of that same song:

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
And all my shame
All my shame
You know I believe it

If that isn't solid, 100% Christian, I don't know what is. Does he admit he still hasn't found what he's looking for? Yes, and we can all relate to that.

So, why would he say he stands with sons of Cain?

Keep in mind that just because he sings "I" doesn't necessarily mean that he is literally singing about himself in every song. Just as an author can write fiction in the first person, Bono can inhabit a character. But that's not all I'm hanging my hat on.

Let's look at the full song.

Desert sky
Dream beneath a desert sky
The rivers run but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight

There is a dryness, and we look to quench it.

Desert rose
Dreamed I saw a desert rose
Dress torn in ribbons and in bows
Like a siren she calls to me

There is an offer to quench the thirst. A "siren" doesn't sound like God, though.

Sleep comes like a drug
In God's country
Sad eyes, crooked crosses
In God's country

It looks like we're speaking in the tongue of angels, here. We're using words that sound Godly, but aren't. To say this is God's Country is an irony here - it's the flip side of the Two Americas.

Set me alight
We'll punch a hole right through the night
Everyday the dreamers die
See what's on the other side

Some go see what's on the "ofher side." The words do not actually celebrate this, though - we "die" to do this, by turning away from God's promise of eternal life. This is a very key point - a Satanic song would celebrate the so-called rewards of turning away, but Bono's lyrics talk about the dreamers dying instead. This is the tone of the song.

She is liberty
And she comes to rescue me
Hope, faith, her vanity
The greatest gift is gold

More irony. Our American icon is being used here to show the other side of America. What does she offer? Gold, vanity. Nothing compared to what God offers.

Naked flame
She stands with a naked flame
I stand with the sons of Cain
Burned by the fire of love
Burned by the fire of love

And here is the final verse. Just as holding the hand of the devil leaves the protaganist (whether that's literally Bono, a fictional character, or a kind of melding of the two) cold, standing with the sons of Cain leaves him burned by the fire of love.

A Satanist would not say this. A Satanist would celebrate the gifts of vanity and gold, not lament being burned by love, being unable to withstand God's love and grace.

Therefore, the song is a condemnation of the embrace of vanity and gold, and of those who stand with the sons of Cain. Or perhaps it's pity rather than condemnation, but it's certainly not an actual alignment with those sons of Cain.

Well, I can hear the crickets already, but what the heck, I'll hit post.



Offline Tortuga

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2019, 05:48:09 AM »
First I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t read your entire post in detail.  So I may be missing something.

But I don’t recognize the problem with the line from a Christian perspective.  The next line right after it says “burned by the fire of love”.  According to Christian theology, we are all sons of Cain from birth.  If we allow ourselves to be consumed by the fire of God’s love we become Christians. I think that is all the line is saying.

Offline shineinthesummernight

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2019, 04:16:07 PM »
   Interesting interpretation, Laoghaire.  I've always taken the line to mean that he (Bono, the audience, whoever relates) is indeed a sinner but one burned by the fire of love.  In other words, the blindness has been taken away and his eyes have been opened.  In that respect, I think it's a very Christian lyric.
   I think the literalists always struggle with too-specific interpretations.  I've never understand why someone would not take a line in context rather than foisting some literal interpretation that distorts the whole.  In my mind, that's what fundamentalists do to the Bible as a whole.

Offline Tortuga

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2019, 05:02:00 PM »
I agree about literalists and what’s funny is they don’t apply the same insistence on puritanism and exactitude to the bible as they do contemporary writers.  If a modern Christian artist used metaphors and language like that used in Song of Solomon they would scream heretic.

The bottom line is if someone believes Bono is some clever satanist bent on trying to trick Christians into following him astray there’s not much point in trying to convince them otherwise.  There is a cottage industry of evangelical quacks trying to create a story out of nothing to build themselves a “ministry”.  When I was a kid it was Queen and Led Zep backwards masking things like “I Love Satan” and “decide to smoke marijuana”.  Some dope actually made recordings and played them for us.  Of course he had to tell us what we “heard”.  My buddy in 6th grade went and broke all his records.  These people are either crazy or just preying on people for their own benefit.

There are some crazy people out there.  Anyone who can find that line in IGC to be anti-Christian is grasping at straws.

Offline laoghaire

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2019, 08:02:27 AM »
Sorry for the too-long post. I have trouble with that in general and wasn't feeling well that day, so self-editing flew right out the window.

I remember the LZ one, "here's to my sweet satan." And yeah, you have to be primed for that "lyric" in irder to hear it. You could hear basically anything that loosely fit the meter and at least some of the perceived vowels in that line. 

Nobody can help anyone hell bent on seeing evil where they want, but I know some people are in a different situation. They don't want to marinate themselves in something explicitly anti-Christian. So a U2 fan may be happy with them, but there is clearly a ton of material out on the Internet saying Bono is a Satanist, nkt tbat I've read it, but just trip over comments here and there. The fan resists the idea for a while, but then a lyric sticks in their craw and they can't explain it. I saw a while back a long blog post that referenced this particular line as being the straw that broke the camel's back, and it is sometimes quoted in YT comments as evidence for B's satanic allegiances.

There are also images. Some I can explain, some I can't. Like Bono making devil horns in UTEOTW Slane. That was actually a very pro Christian theatric he did but it looks bad if you just see a still with no context, or if you don't understand the context.

Other stuff, I dunno. But I just have, like, the entire body of work to draw on, so I don't have to explain every stupid picture.

Offline laoghaire

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2019, 08:11:03 AM »
About literalism and the Bible, I'm no scholar, but I think literally everyone who has any stance whatsoever on Christianity cherry picks. The message is not consistant across writers and certainly not across testaments.

I have my own opinions about what Christianity is "supposed" to mean, and I ignore what I don't like or try to shoehorn it in somehow. Like Romans 13. But lovers of Romans 13 are absolutely ignoring other stuff. The New Testament says there is a new law that supercedes eye for an eye, but what else does it erase? And thise who claim to take the whole thing literally, well, is it eye for an eye or not?

Offline Tortuga

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2019, 08:20:38 AM »
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About literalism and the Bible, I'm no scholar, but I think literally everyone who has any stance whatsoever on Christianity cherry picks. The message is not consistant across writers and certainly not across testaments.

I have my own opinions about what Christianity is "supposed" to mean, and I ignore what I don't like or try to shoehorn it in somehow. Like Romans 13. But lovers of Romans 13 are absolutely ignoring other stuff. The New Testament says there is a new law that supercedes eye for an eye, but what else does it erase? And thise who claim to take the whole thing literally, well, is it eye for an eye or not?

This is why I gave up on religion.  We all know inherently the right thing to do and the right way to treat people.  You don’t need religion to tell you that.  At its best its a helper and inspiration to nudge us to follow that internal compass.  At its worst it inspires tribalism and outright hatred.


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Offline pan360

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2019, 04:45:48 PM »
There is good and evil in the world, black and white, yin and yang. So, in God's country he stands with the sons of Cain. Very poetic antithesis!

Offline shineinthesummernight

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2019, 06:03:16 PM »
I actually think the Bible as a whole, particularly the New Testament, has a very consistent message.  It's the story of God's love affair with man, and it contains all the intrigue of a torrid, passionate, sometimes doomed but ultimately hopeful marriage.  It's only by getting hung up on particular verses that the message becomes distorted.  The Gospel of John is probably the best distillation of the message.

Offline Tortuga

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2019, 05:56:38 AM »
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It's only by getting hung up on particular verses that the message becomes distorted. 

This is exactly what (literalist) fundamentalists do.

Offline Chip

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2019, 10:13:56 PM »
I've always thought of "I stand with the sons of Cain" as meaning, roughly, "I stand with the mass of humanity." The key question, it seems to me, is whether "Burned by the fire of love" refers to "She" who "stands with a naked flame" or, as others have put it here, God. I have leaned over the years to "she," America, who wants to spread love but ends up burning people in the process. In that case, we have a fairly harsh criticism of America here, which fits with the rest of the song. But "love," of course, is Bono's favorite synonym for God, so you can argue for the song ending with a contrast between the America "with a naked flame" -- ultimately illusory and unsatisfying -- and the God who has the real flame and burns you with it in the process, enabling you to be "set . . . alight." If you think about Cain as a wanderer, you can then draw connections with ISHFWILF, TTYW, and other TJT songs, not to mention other songs throughout the band's career (including "The Wanderer"). I still favor the first interpretation, primarily because the song ends on a downbeat mood (it seems to me), but see the validity of the second one.

And laoghaire, regarding your comment about the devil horns in UTEOTW Slane, that was a standard practice on at least several Elevation tour stops; you can see it in the Boston video as well and I seem to recall it when they came to DC on that tour. I've always found it funny that some viewers think he's imitating a bull fight when it seems to me he's taking a page from medieval plays showing God (in this case, Edge as Jesus) and Satan in conflict. In the Boston video, when Bono ends the song by scratching at Edge's guitar, I see that as possibly Bono's acting out Gen 3:15.

 

Offline Tortuga

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2019, 04:58:07 AM »
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I've always thought of "I stand with the sons of Cain" as meaning, roughly, "I stand with the mass of humanity." The key question, it seems to me, is whether "Burned by the fire of love" refers to "She" who "stands with a naked flame" or, as others have put it here, God. I have leaned over the years to "she," America, who wants to spread love but ends up burning people in the process. In that case, we have a fairly harsh criticism of America here, which fits with the rest of the song. But "love," of course, is Bono's favorite synonym for God, so you can argue for the song ending with a contrast between the America "with a naked flame" -- ultimately illusory and unsatisfying -- and the God who has the real flame and burns you with it in the process, enabling you to be "set . . . alight." If you think about Cain as a wanderer, you can then draw connections with ISHFWILF, TTYW, and other TJT songs, not to mention other songs throughout the band's career (including "The Wanderer"). I still favor the first interpretation, primarily because the song ends on a downbeat mood (it seems to me), but see the validity of the second one.

And laoghaire, regarding your comment about the devil horns in UTEOTW Slane, that was a standard practice on at least several Elevation tour stops; you can see it in the Boston video as well and I seem to recall it when they came to DC on that tour. I've always found it funny that some viewers think he's imitating a bull fight when it seems to me he's taking a page from medieval plays showing God (in this case, Edge as Jesus) and Satan in conflict. In the Boston video, when Bono ends the song by scratching at Edge's guitar, I see that as possibly Bono's acting out Gen 3:15.

Interesting and fitting interpretation.  This is how Bono’s lyrics used to be.  You could pull multiple interpretations out of one song.  There is a lot of good music out there today but not many producing lyrics like those U2 produced in the 80s and 90s.  There weren’t many in the 80s and 90s either.

Offline Billy Rhythm

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #12 on: December 21, 2019, 02:32:45 PM »
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It's only by getting hung up on particular verses that the message becomes distorted. 

This is exactly what (literalist) fundamentalists do.

it's distortion of an all ready heavily "distorted message"...  the sources brought up here are many times over translations of texts dating back to Sumerian times 3600 years ago, long before Christ and even Egyptian times...  the modern-day "testaments" are no longer even shadows of their original sources...  pretty obvious to me that it's a document specifically fashioned to house a male dominated society, much like the other grossly overrated "documents" forced down children's throats around the world these days...  seriously, what's with the male deities?...  Book of John, Matthew, etc...  where's the Book of Joan?...  "sons" of God?...  or, my personal favourite, "God The Father"?!

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The key question, it seems to me, is whether "Burned by the fire of love" refers to "She" who "stands with a naked flame" or, as others have put it here, God. I have leaned over the years to "she," America, who wants to spread love but ends up burning people in the process.

nice to see someone using "She" in a song with Christian undertones...  not everything he says actually has any deeper meanings of anything, biblical or otherwise...  artists at times use different colours together simply because it looks nice...  writers like Bono like to use various words/phrases sometimes just because they sound good together...  they don't always have some heavy inner workings...  in this case, "Cain" sounds good after "flame" from the last line, almost rhyming...  it fit well with the title of the song and that's that...  in my opinion, there really isn't much more to it...:-)

 

Offline Tortuga

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2019, 10:09:54 PM »
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not everything he says actually has any deeper meanings of anything, biblical or otherwise...  artists at times use different colours together simply because it looks nice...  writers like Bono like to use various words/phrases sometimes just because they sound good together...  they don't always have some heavy inner workings...  in this case, "Cain" sounds good after "flame" from the last line, almost rhyming...  it fit well with the title of the song and that's that...  in my opinion, there really isn't much more to it...:-)

In general I agree with you.  However, Bono’s use of Biblical references and Christian imagery has mostly been intentional and related to their traditional meaning, not merely decorative.  Especially in the Joshua Tree years.  Bono has never been good about keeping the secrets of his songs and has been extremely open in expressing his surprisingly conservative Christian beliefs and how they relate to his lyrics.  I Suspect that in the case of this lyric he had something more intentional in mind than Cain being a cool way to false-rhyme with “flame”.

If it were Leonard Cohen I would agree with you.

Offline Billy Rhythm

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Re: I stand with the sons of Cain
« Reply #14 on: December 22, 2019, 03:30:09 PM »
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Bono’s use of Biblical references and Christian imagery has mostly been intentional and related to their traditional meaning, not merely decorative.  Especially in the Joshua Tree years.  Bono has never been good about keeping the secrets of his songs and has been extremely open in expressing his surprisingly conservative Christian beliefs and how they relate to his lyrics.  I Suspect that in the case of this lyric he had something more intentional in mind than Cain being a cool way to false-rhyme with “flame”.

If it were Leonard Cohen I would agree with you.

I think that the key term you bring here is "Christian imagery" which is essentially all that it is...  we're talking about a vague reference to an even more obscured Genesis story re-translated by many generations which stray far from any original source...  it's easily more "decorative" than suggesting any possible personal, or otherwise, connection to any "traditional meaning", in my opinion...  alot of Bono's repertoire is "decorative" (he's extremely adept at it) as is alot of it derived from deeper inner explorations of human experience...

I mean, I could toss this out...  Bono's parents were of conflicting faiths and perhaps Bono himself is also conflicted as a result...  we have the words "dream, dreams, dreamed & dreamers" sprinkled throughout...  yet there's "sad eyes" and "crooked crosses" to boot...  then we have "naked flames" alongside references to "sons of Cain"...  but I'm just someone observing from a distance and guessing at what this "Christian imagery" might mean, if it has any meaning at all...  purely decorative I say and, yes...  it fits well with Leonard Cohen's own "decorative" words scrolling along the massive Joshua Tree stage setup...:-)