The mall in my town looks more like a religious sanctuary than I ever realized.
I mean, its presence is literally cathedral-like.
In fact, the mall itself is a nod to medieval Christian architecture in its “cruciformity” (the building, from above, is the shape of a cross).
Several pyramid-style steeples sit atop the stores stationed in the traditional cathedral “anchor” positions.
The flower pots in the front of the building look like giant incense bowls, offering up their pleasant aromas.
Whereas gargoyles once scared away evil spirits from cathedral walls, intentionally unambiguous cameras sit perched atop the mall’s entrance, giving the illusion of security to all who enter.
Romanesque cathedrals of the Middle Ages used natural (sometimes called “divine”) light as an important feature of the worship process. Instead of the dark, dank, candle-lit interiors of previous cathedrals, architects placed windows toward the base of domes as a means of letting in God’s light.
And an arched skylight runs the length of the mall’s cruciform floorplan.
Wreaths, trees, and holiday decorations demarcate the passing of seasons.
Shops like Abercrombie and Fitch and Armani Exchange have placed huge murals showcasing elite human physiques at the entrance to their stores. You cannot see into the store without walking around these walls, effectively discouraging mere commoners from entering… something akin to the exclusive cloistering of monasteries.
Like old-school temples, the mall offers blessings of fertility… albeit in the form of sexy adverts, body improvement stores and constant appeals to family.
And like any good religious center, the mall offers identity. Down to the different bags shoppers walk around with, the shopping experience is self-expression. Faceless and headless manikins dot the mall like so many small statues begging to symbolize every onlooker.
Religion, on the other hand, is mentioned nowhere.
That is with the exception of one place…
…where the one true religion is preached. Jeans.
Other than that? Nothing.
This fact can actually be somewhat eerie once you notice it. Even though a majority of shoppers have some sort of faith, the divine is conspicuously absent from the mall environment and the advertisements tailored for them.
In some sense, the mall seems like a sanctuary from God.
This might be due to the fact that God doesn’t facilitate the sort of consumer culture malls thrive on. The relationship with God that many people have reassures them that they are valued as God’s creations, meant to connect with things beyond the immediate, and are responsible for their actions. The mall atmosphere, on the other hand, tells people they need supplements, smells, and an impressive pair of underwear to be valued. It directs them away from the transcendent to the immediately gratifying.
Not that the mall has to be a church or anything. It’s just that the absence of religion is striking, given the thoroughly religious atmosphere.