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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Madonna's Cross to Bear

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Iwent to Madonna's concert on Tuesday night. I have never been a huge fan, but I recently read a study that showed that people really only like the music they heard while they were in college. Once they are out of their mid-20s, they start losing the ability to appreciate new music, and then by the age of 40 they are pretty much stuck on a couple of albums. This is the understanding on which virtually all U.S. FM radio stations base their programming. I was a freshman in college in the United States when Madonna became a star, so I am stuck with her.

It was a great concert. It was so poorly organized as to embarrass, I think, even the spectators. Seven thousand police and military succeeded in squeezing the viewers into tight spaces but could not keep nearly the entire dance floor from smoking. The stadium was half-empty, presumably because of the change of venue, confused publicity and the efforts of scalpers. And on the way out, for reasons none of the conscripts or officers present could explain to me, people had to squeeze through a narrow corridor formed by police, some of them on horseback.

But most big public events in this country provide a showcase for the stupidity and pointlessness of the police force. What I find more important is the amount of effort the Russian Orthodox Church put into trying to keep people from attending the concert. They campaigned in the media, with one church spokesman calling Madonna "a 50-year-old whore." They demonstrated. They threatened.

Twenty-three religious protesters were arrested on the day of the concert. As my friends and I made our way to the stadium, through police cordons that stretched for kilometers, some of them were still handing out leaflets. An elderly woman approached us and explained that "a ritual would be performed" that would do irreparable damage to us. She handed me a laser-printed page with a litany of objections to Western culture in general and Madonna in particular. It pointed to Madonna's "desire to mock the Savior's suffering on the cross."

Thanks to the Russian Orthodox Church, most of the public was aware that one of the songs in the concert would be performed with the singer suspended on a giant luminescent cross. What I -- and, I assume, most casual observers -- did not know was what the song would be and what the point would be. The song was "Live to Tell," her 1986 hit, and the point was not subtle. Flashing behind her (and the cross) on a giant video screen were the faces of children and some statistics: the number of children orphaned by AIDS in Africa and the fact that without help they will all die before the age of 2. And then there was a long quote from "The Sheep and the Goats" story from the New Testament.

"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink" -- I think the words are familiar to most of us, even those of us who are not Christians, right through the "as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." The point of this passage is that Christianity is measured not by faith alone but by good deeds. It was not a point that Madonna made subtly, or in good taste, but it is the sort of thing that ought to disarm any protest, simply because at the end of the song she makes an appeal for donations to help the children.

In the Russian Orthodox Church's view, that was a satanic ritual. Which serves to prove, yet again, that the Russian Orthodox Church is as dogmatic as is a 40-year-old when it comes to new music. It is as crude as its spokesman's "whore" remarks. And most of all, it is mean.

Masha Gessen is a Moscow journalist.