I first became a Prince fan the conventional way: by watching “Purple Rain,” an achingly sweet and moving update of the conventional movie musical formula rich with erotic longing for something better, higher, different: for true Love.
It was not hard to hear the religious echoes in many of his songs — but, then, mysticism tends to take on religious language even when it lacks doctrinal form.
The Prince formula was to bend the conventions — of gender in dress but towards masculine worship of what women represent to men. He claimed the liberty of the artist while at the same time clearly prioritizing life over celebrity.
He was a lover, not a fighter, a Christian liberal who in 2008 opposed gay marriage as a rebellion against the idea that God is in charge, who spoke for the black youth of Baltimore he understood so well — urging them to become as he was, creative, and to start businesses, not bomb them. Which means he saw these black “ghetto” youths as made in the image of their Creator.
He was most private about his philanthropies, obeying the Christian stricture that giving should be done privately for the glory of God. His religion was outed when he was discovered handing out The Watchtower to an orthodox Jewish couple delighted to have a chance to chat with Prince about God or anything else.
To really believe in art as a force for truth and beauty, and to believe that it was the music that mattered, not the fame: that is Prince’s legacy to us all.
That so many people are shocked to discover a Christian heart created what they love — that is the final irony of it all.
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project and can be followed on Twitter @MaggieGallaghe.