Even though I’m an agnostic, I love Christmas music and Christmas movies. I must, for example, have upward of 300 Christmas songs on my iPod. And every year my family and I watch Alastair Sim as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life—and, of course, at the endings of these films we all dab our tears (or even howl). I say this to emphasize that I’m not against Christmas music, Christmas videos, or Christianity as a religion. I like Jesus and see a lot of profound meaning conveyed via the vehicle of the religion that got started in his name.
But the religious right has so politicized Christianity and Christmas in the United States that I find the below video nearly intolerable to sit through, even from a computer. Taken out of church, where Handel’s Messiah is sung among religious believers as an exuberant affirmation of their faith, it is beautiful and moving to witness. But in the mall—where Jews, secularists, and non-Christians are no doubt mixed in the crowd—these Handel singers have weirdly morphed into Rush Limbaugh: they are smug, obnoxious, culturally imperialistic, and preachy. See if your emotional response to these evangelists matches mine:
Would I want the right of these evangelists to do this taken away? No. Of course not. I’d also think it tolerable for Hare Krishnas to come into the food court of a mall with their tambourines and sing a religious song or two. I might be ambivalent about religion, but I’m not at all ambivalent about free expression. But as someone who is not a Christian, I would also say that the stunt is not a terribly good way to market Christianity (at least to a nonbeliever like me).
If, nevertheless, evangelists have latched onto this as a new form of evangelism, might I make a teensy-weensy request? Might they do it in a traffic area where people are up and about, walking somewhere? If you are walking, and such a song starts up—and you don’t want to hear it—you can just keep walking. But when people are sitting, and don’t want to hear you, you’ve basically forced them to relinquish their chairs, gather up their kids and belongings, and leave. As a parent who knows what a management dilemma it is to gather up kids and things abruptly, that’s very uncool.
And my guess is that some of the evangelists, after singing, moved into the crowd with religious tracts, pressing them around. But if I’m wrong about this, and this wasn’t an evangelistic thing, why that song? And if it’s not just about the music, what, exactly, is it about? Disrespecting non-Christians? As the video proceeds, you halfway expect to see Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck step up on chairs and start singing too.
I mean, seriously. Here’s how to do this right, with a real affirmation of song and beauty qua song and beauty (and without selling an ideology or excluding people):
Update on the Handel’s Messiah rendition above. I asked my agnostic wife to have a looksie and to give her impression.
We’ve got you surrounded and our God rules whether you like it or not.