Other lyrics needlessly sacrifice facts, without adding to the poetry: “There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time.” Well, except for the mountains. But to the extent the song is correct, it is not because Africa is a pitiful continent but because the bulk of the continent lies in the Southern Hemisphere. Christmastime comes in the summer there. The title and chorus are worse: do they know it’s Christmas? Well, yes, since Christianity is thriving in Africa, they likely know about Christmas.
Worst, the song butchers Christian doctrine. After describing the Africans’ pitiful state, Bono, I believe, belts out, “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” Perhaps the songwriter was reaching for an allusion to the Christian sentiment, “There but for the Grace of God, go I.” But these are two very different statements. Granted, this is a harder concept than some of the other remedial misunderstandings about religion, such as the aggressive ignorance about how one divides unleavened bread. (Examples of such ignorance abound, but that one remains my favorite.) There might be a little more reasonable discussion in society if more of the non-religious bothered to understand religion before speaking on it. These little misunderstandings can do great damage. I first noticed the dreadfulness of this song when I overheard someone complaining against Christianity and using this song as if it represented Christian doctrine, evidenced by the fact that Bono, a songwriter known for his Christian lyrics, sang the offending line.
The statement about Grace concerns the Christian belief that humans must strive to be good and that we only manage though God’s unconditional aid, or Grace. Because God is willing to forgive all our transgressions, we can heal, change, do the good works He has called on us to do, etc. It is a statement about the power of God’s compassion. The “thank God it’s them” line, on the other hand, is a lack of compassion, God’s and man’s. The gratitude suggests a god that dispenses misery, and it calls for no action by the grateful. Be happy that misfortune befell someone else, buddy. It’s cruel.