Caveat Emptor

You’ve probably seen them on the Internet.  Videos have been popping up showing unexpected outbursts of Handel’s Messiah   in public places.   Mall food courts.  Shopping centers.  

It seems festive.  People in the videos caught in the midst of the event seem to find it at the very least entertaining, if not outright inspirational and emotionally (spiritually?) uplifting.  The link above to the one at Macy’s is the first one I viewed, and it’s beautiful in scope and quality.  
But at least one mall one mall (and I would assume this is not the only one) has said no to this sort of public performance.  The argument is that as a public locale, they cannot show favoritism by allowing the performance of an explicitly Christian work.  Presumably, the same rationale would be used to reject requests by Muslims or Buddhists or others to demonstrate some aspect of their faith in art.
The article above is clearly unhappy with this decision and takes it as an affront to or attack on Christians and Christianity.  There is merit to that argument but it’s also decidedly partisan.  I’m sure that Christians would be equally upset if the mall had decided to allow a Muslim group to perform something that proclaims Allah as God and Mohammed as his prophet, or argues against the divinity of Christ.  
But we don’t need to go down this route to be surprised and frustrated by the mall’s decision.  After all, the mall isn’t rejecting the performance of some contemporary Christian pop-star.  They aren’t rejecting a request to hand out tracts or other religious materials (though no small number of their tenant shop keepers are probably selling the equivalent of these things in their Christmas merchandise).  They aren’t declining the request of a televangelist to come and preach a crusade.
They are rejecting the performance of a piece of Western culture.  Handel’s Messiah isn’t simply a piece of Christian music, it’s widely acknowledged by people of all theological stripes to be a stunning and masterful piece of art.  In rejecting the Messiah (pun somewhat intended), the mall is not simply saying no to Christianity, it is also saying no to Western cultural history.    Does political correctness and tolerance dictate that anything with Christian origins or overtures be expunged from the public space?  Should we begin removing works of art from the Louvre and other museums that depict Christian figures or Biblical stories?  Must art be stripped of any real content in order for it to be deemed acceptable to the public?
Christianity is part and parcel of Western culture and society, and you can’t dig very far in any particular direction before this becomes unarguably apparent.  Political correctness has deemed this fact to be offensive though (or more accurately, potentially offensive), but in so doing leaves itself no choice but to denude itself of any Christian cultural baggage.   The final result of a Western culture sanitized of any philosophical or theological content (except of course, for the philosophical insistence on eliminating any contrary philosophies and theologies) is exactly what the mall in question is left with – derivative and meaningless items mass produced in foreign countries for Western consumers without any ability to recognize that they have been shortchanged a rich, vibrant, and amazing cultural history for Hello Kitty baubles and Precious Moments statues.  These things are fine and well in good in their proper place, but if we think they are on the same level as the Messiah (pun intended), or any of the great works of Western art that also happen to be Christian in theme or content, we are sadly mistaken.  
I will agree that a public institution need not be in the business of proselytizing a particular religion.  However, the Messiah is not simply Christian.  It belongs to all of Western culture & society and not simply in a church or cathedral.  Much like Christmas itself at this point, which the mall is only too happy to welcome for the influx of shopping dollars while at the same time avoiding mention of by name.  
And for that very few number of people for whom hearing this piece of music would be considered an outrage or an affront simply because of it’s lyrical content and in spite of it’s historic musical value, they still have one very real option to exercise while allowing the vast majority of others to enjoy the performance:
The can simply walk out of the area and continue their shopping until the performance is over.

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