Imagine the following scenario:
You walk into your favorite neighborhood Chinese food establishment, salivating over the prospect of dining on one of their hot, authentic dishes. While looking over the menu stuffed with choices, you become vaguely aware that the usual background music of soft Asian melodies has been replaced by something else. With attention focused, you realize that the music is explicitly religious, and it’s offering praises to Allah! As a non-Muslim, do you
- Say nothing and order your meal?
- Express your opinion about the music to the owner and stay/leave?
- Say nothing and leave?
Take a few to think about your answer.
Done? Ok. As you’ve probably surmised, I recently encountered this exact situation, with one minor difference. It was not Allah the music praised, but Jesus. And my response? I said nothing and left. What was yours?
My reasoning is thus. When I walk into a restaurant, I’m not there to be prosyletized. While I understand the owner’s intentions are benign, I feel it’s sneaky to introduce me to their religion in this way. Come for the food, and be saved! If I had ordered a meal, I’d essentially be condoning this tactic. At the same time, I recognize that the restaurant is private property and grant its owner the right do with it as he pleases (with a few reasonable limitations, such as serving rotted food, or radishes). If he believes he’ll derive some monetary – or heavenly – gain by serving Lo Mein with a side of Jesus, more power to him. By taking my business elsewhere, I’m telling him that he’s possibly miscalculated.
What if the music, instead of extolling Jesus, praised non-belief? (I know, like that’ll happen, but bear with me). I would have believed that inappropriate, and said so to the owner if asked, but I’d have stayed. Is that hypocritical? Not really. For one, no proselytizing is going on, from my point of view. Secondly, I’m essentially telling the owner it’s no big deal to me, or that I actually enjoy it. Now, he’d probably lose a large chunk of his believing clientele, but if he thinks he’ll make up for it with a surge in non-believer business, then it’s a risk he’s got the right to take.
I suppose this post has been more about libertarian ethics than about religion, but rarely do the two intersect, offering me a chance to write about both of my favorite topics. One thing I’d certainly oppose is any regulation or law prohibiting the proprietar from playing any music he deems fit, which may be a point of contention among some readers. Let our collective free choices decide.