Inflicted Christianity

by Chris Bertram on March 16, 2005

Gwydion the Magician (whom I’m guessing from his title must be some kind of pagan) has “issues” with Alaskan Airlines (and quite right too):

bq. Alaskan Airlines, I discovered, does not deign to serve its transcontinental passengers anything resembling a full meal. All we got on a 6 hour flight was a crappy sandwich. The IFE comes as a small portable DVD player that costs 10 bucks. But the particular feature of the Airline that pissed me off was the little Christian verse they include on each meal tray. I know this is America, where God-fearing zealots control the government. But inflicting Christianity on a captive audience of fee-paying passengers is just too much.




pete 03.16.05 at 7:34 am

He should try his flying carpet next time!


Jim Henley 03.16.05 at 7:54 am

Oh boo hoo. I’m going to get Bible cooties from my meal tray!
Maybe the poor fellow should get revenge by not converting to Christianity after reading it.


brian 03.16.05 at 7:56 am

Perhaps it would be better if they included a passage from The Origin of Species then?


jet 03.16.05 at 8:09 am

…their Flight Attentants (FA’s) the ugliest…. So he’s sexist, anti-Christian, and believes private companies shouldn’t be able to display religion. I guess that’s where worshiping Baal gets you. But at least he has CrookedTimber to support him against those nasty Christians and ugly women.


des von bladet 03.16.05 at 8:17 am

Why do liberals hate free speech?


Dave Gwydion 03.16.05 at 8:25 am

Dear Jet:
My remarks about the ugly flight attentants referred to both males and females. Hardly “sexist.”


Matt McGrattan 03.16.05 at 8:46 am

You don’t have to want to BAN the Biblical verses. It’s not a free speech issue.
It’s an issue of crass proselytizing in a context where one might have reasonable expectation that one might be free from it.
So all the libertarians can get off their high horse.


cranky 03.16.05 at 9:13 am

Proselytizing? I always thought those were little how-to manuals, in case of either an airplane emergency or particularly bad food.
“Up on an airplane/
Nearer my God to thee/
I start making a deal /
inspired by gravity”
Indigo Girls


Edmundo 03.16.05 at 9:13 am

How would Christians react if they found some Wiccan incantation on their meal tray?
I am always struck by the desperation of Christian proselytizing in the US. The only explanation that I can come up with is “Misery loves company”. :)


norbizness 03.16.05 at 9:18 am

Deuteronomy 20 (16) But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth (17) But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.
Enjoy your turkey club with flaccid pickle, stale potato chips, and 4-ounce Dr. Pepper!


jet 03.16.05 at 9:24 am

Dear Gwydion:
Well that makes it all better. And here I was thinking your post was shallow and contemptuous. But I’ve just received word from Gaia that judging a business by the beauty of their employees is the height of enlightened thought.
But I see where you are coming from. I mean, who wouldn’t have their feelings hurt by seeing some scripture on a napkin. You should probably wear ear plugs to so that you don’t shit yourself and hand over your wallet to some stranger reading a Bible.
But all kidding aside, do people really get so uptight about such things?


des von bladet 03.16.05 at 9:27 am

Norbizness reminds me of a something: I am in fact significantly more scandalised (“scandalized”) by the ridiculous system of weights and measures that the Free and Democratic Republic of the USA employs than I am ever likely to be by a little Jesusfreakery, however crass.


Nick Fagerlund 03.16.05 at 9:48 am

>_< >_< >_<
Jet, can you, in all seriousness, imagine a US-based airline putting holy texts from any – FUCKING ANY, mind you – other religion? Maybe there’s an even chance of you being told a little something about the eightfold path next flight you take? Or a little bit of poetry from the Koran? Hell, even the relatively agnostic Tao?
Then it’s an example of Christian Privilege.
Look, I’ll freely stipulate that there are currently other, bigger things to worry about. But don’t go on about how there’s no problem here and we just need to swallow it. Captive proselytization like this is crass, obnoxious, and arrogant. (Legal, maybe; no one’s disputing that. But boorish in the extreme.) If you’re a Christian business and fully intend to preach the word, the least you can do is work a little Jesusfish into your logo or something. Don’t masquerade as secular.


nolo 03.16.05 at 9:52 am

Alaska Airlines has been doing that stuff for a long time. Gwydion should be more worried about whether Alaska Airlines has improved its maintenance practices.


Joe 03.16.05 at 10:12 am

Such pathetic whining. If it’s crass and boorish, poor Alaskan Airlines…they’ll lose business. Get your own companies, and you can put incantations or whatever you want on the plates, or the sides of the planes for that matter. Would you be so upset if a Saudi or Jordanian airline put verses of the Koran here and there? I’d frankly expect it. Y’all live in in a pluralistic world, remember? That means people think and believe different things. That’s supposed to be OK. You’re supposed to be grown up enough to see and hear different things and say something like, “Oh, there must be a significant number of Christians (or Jews) in this company, and here they have engraved one of their cherished sayings.” That’s exactly what you’d say if it were Navajo Airlines and it had a bit of their sacred stories on the plates. Or, more germaine, if there had been some Inuit sacred writings on the plates. Come on, time to grow up and see the world as it actually is.


Keven Lofty 03.16.05 at 10:14 am

Didn’t David Cross do part of his stand-up routine on this?


Derek Gilbert 03.16.05 at 10:22 am

My remarks about the ugly flight attentants referred to both males and females. Hardly “sexist.”
As if that makes it acceptable. Deep thought for an “academic”.
Hey, here’s a thought, Gwydion: Next time, crumple up the prayer card and throw it out. Nobody forced you to read it, unlike my daughter in the public school system who must learn the religion-disguised-as-science called evolutionism or flunk biology.


DLE 03.16.05 at 10:31 am

Heck, better never eat at the famed In ‘N Out Burger in California then. They put Bible verses on all their wrappers and bags.
Darned fine hamburgers, too….


David W. 03.16.05 at 10:34 am

Get that Dr. Bronner’s castile soap bottle out of my sight! My eyes! My eyes!


Chris 03.16.05 at 10:44 am

Some interesting cultural differences between us Yoorpeans and Americans coming out here.
In the land of rigid separation between church and state private individuals and companies have no qualms (don’t even think it’s impolite!) to bombard people with their religious prejudices. Meanwhile, Dave’s jocular comments about the appearance of flight attendants come in for criticism from the political correctness police in the shape of Jet and Derek.


jet 03.16.05 at 10:53 am

Were his comments about the scripture on the napkins jocular too? So the whole post was a big joke and he wasn’t serious about any of it? Is that what you’re saying Chris?


Dan Simon 03.16.05 at 10:54 am

A friend of mine, who is what might be called an evangelical atheist, got so upset at Alaska Airlines over this that he (a) now refuses ever to fly with them, and (b) called or wrote to them to complain about it. Their answer was that they stopped the practice once, in response to similar complaints–and got even more complaints about not doing it.
Personally, it doesn’t bother me–and I’m Jewish. Compared to a lot of the in-your-face Christianity that non-Christians have to put up with in this society, a card on a meal tray is about as unobtrusive and innocuous as it gets.


Steve LaBonne 03.16.05 at 10:56 am

“…unlike my daughter in the public school system who must learn the religion-disguised-as-science called evolutionism or flunk biology.” Oh, stow it. As if you actually know anything about evolutionary biology. I love the way ignorami feel free to bloviate about this, when even they would immediately recognize the idiocy of someone who knows nothing about cars lecturing an auto mechanic about how to fix them.


trotstky 03.16.05 at 11:00 am

In N Out Burger does this too? I’m a semi-regular and I’ve never even noticed. … Rather focused on those tasty burgers …


Russell L. Carter 03.16.05 at 11:08 am

“Nobody forced you to read it, unlike my daughter in the public school system who must learn the religion-disguised-as-science called evolutionism or flunk biology.”
Don’t let PZ hear that. Else ye shall be driven from error, and trained unto the righteous path. Thank heavens that your daughter is already embarked upon it, bless her heart.
You know, Crooked Timber comments now appear to be near valueless, due at least in part to the imponderable humoring of the imbecile “jet”.


Andrew 03.16.05 at 11:11 am

_Didn’t David Cross do part of his stand-up routine on this?_
Yes, yes he did. I think the piece is on his second last CD _Shut up, you fucking baby!_


jlw 03.16.05 at 11:13 am

I gotta say, for how “oppressed” Christians claim to be in the U.S., it’s astonishing to see just how touchy they are about any complaints about their incessant proselytizing.
Now, me, I see the whole verse-on-the-tray thing as an example of how not to go about converting people. I mean, here we have a non-Christian–the supposed target for these proselytizing efforts–writing about how annoying and ineffective these verses are. And the Christians response? “Stuff a sock in it! You will sit there and absorb our message!” Instead, maybe, just maybe, the Christians ought to think of a more effective way to get in this guy’s head.
Unless the point of the verse isn’t to convert the unbeliever, but as a signal to the 70 percent of the clientele who are Christian. “See? We’re Christian too! So don’t get upset at us for our poor maintenence record and ugly flight attendants.” If so, the verses aren’t annoying and ineffective, but downright cynical–just what you’d expect from a shittily run company.


djw 03.16.05 at 11:42 am

Rather unexpectedly, I agree wholeheartedly with jet. Bitching about how darn ugly people are may be humorously cantankerous when Grandpa Simpson does it, but when it comes out of the mouth of a real person, it’s just, well, ugly. The sort of thing that causes uncomfortable silences and rapid subject changes in polite society, and many mental notes about “that guy” being made all around.
And the bible verses? Thick skins, people, thick skins. And the verb “inflict” should probably be reserved for activities less passive and easily ignored.


joel turnipseed 03.16.05 at 11:43 am

I can’t believe no one here’s mentioned fortune cookies yet… those things are frequently full of all sorts of crazy shit, not least, last decade or so, bible verse. Also, props to Dr. Bronner (tho’ the first time you wash yer undercarriage with that peppermint soap — that’s ENLIGHTENMENT).


Keith 03.16.05 at 12:15 pm

I find it odd that More Christians don’t find it offensive that their holy scripture is stencilled on in flight bags of patato chips, hamburger wrappers and everything else. But hay, why stop there? Why not biblical verse on the toilet paper and airsick bags as well.


Tah 03.16.05 at 12:18 pm

I rather think In’n’Out suggests an instructive lesson regarding this sort of thing.
Being, it’s fine and well to quote your Christian beliefs at people as long as you’re providing a superior product served by competent and well-compensated employees in a pleasant environment.
Forcing the Jeebusism on people while you’re in the process of ripping them off and making them miserable, on the other hand, is just a touch tacky.


clone12 03.16.05 at 12:39 pm

I have been going on Alaska’s Seattle-LA route for the past 4 years. Now not only are those prayer cards gone, so are the meals that come with these prayer cards!
Economics 1: Organized Religion 0
We will now bring you back to those crappy pretzel sticks they serve on Alaska Air in place of salmon fillets…


Ophelia Benson 03.16.05 at 12:57 pm

“Alaska Airlines has been doing that stuff for a long time.”
Yup. I encountered some of their proselytizing in waiting area (which I couldn’t leave because it was nearly time to board) once. Totally infuriating.
“In the land of rigid separation between church and state private individuals and companies have no qualms (don’t even think it’s impolite!) to bombard people with their religious prejudices.”
Well here’s one Murkan private individual on the receiving end who has massive qualms about this kind of crap. It is impolite! Judith Martin should get on the case! (Maybe she already has.)


Jake 03.16.05 at 1:12 pm

No doubt it’s impolite (to those who aren’t Christian), but I think that there are many worse instances of impoliteness in the way airlines treat their customers – there’s not even a need to invoke the Grand Scheme of Things.
But – write the airline, tell them that you’re not flying on them because of this shit, you’re telling all your friends not to fly on them because of this shit, and then follow through. That’s the only thing that airlines will pay attention to, because all the successful ones figured out long ago that what passengers claim to want (nice service) and what they actually want (cheap fares) are completely different, and giving passengers what they claim to want is the road to financial ruin.
And yeah, trying to claim to be grievously offended based on religious beliefs and then turning around and insulting people based on physical appearance is not the best way to win sympathy, even from people who are theoretically on your side.
(Ophelia – what kind of proselytizing did you encounter? Printed material, or actual people harassing you?)


Chrysostomos 03.16.05 at 1:13 pm

How is this any different that watching TV and some revealing type commercial comes on, or some death scene. Your response would be right if you said – “Turn off the T.V. if it offends you or you see something in the form of a commercial or any type of programming”. The same holds for Alaska Airlines. If you don’t like it, then stop flying on that airline and use another. Nuff said!


Uncle Kvetch 03.16.05 at 1:14 pm

I find it odd that More Christians don’t find it offensive that their holy scripture is stencilled on in flight bags of patato chips, hamburger wrappers and everything else.
I had exactly the same thought.


Steve LaBonne 03.16.05 at 1:34 pm

I also have that thought frequently, which is why my reaction is, if they really want to degrade their own religion that way, why should _I_ worry about it?


abb1 03.16.05 at 1:54 pm

Well, when I’m on a plane, I noticed I always somehow get converted from atheist to agnostic. You know…


Bill Humphries 03.16.05 at 2:02 pm

Over at Salon a while back, Ask the Pilot cataloged the various religious incursions into air travel.
In-and-Out puts the Bible verse reference on the inside lower rim of their drink cups. For all the world that strikes me as the Christian equivalent of a prayer wheel, you know, every time a high schooler grabs a cup off the stack, G_D’s invoked.
But the burgers are good, so I can deal. And the SoCal evangelical culture spawned several fast food moguls.
Are those guys upthread polling your syndication feed every 5 seconds in hopes of finding something about which to be hurt?


jet 03.16.05 at 3:11 pm

Brace yourselves everyone, the world is about to end. I just found myself in total agreement with abb1.


Chris 03.16.05 at 3:15 pm

I recently saw a TV commercial for the Jaguar automobile based on a “seven deadly sins” theme. I think a similar ad has appeared in print. E.g., you “lust” after its smooth curves, the reclining seats let you indulge your “sloth,” etc. Is everyone offended by that, too? I mean, you don’t like reading Christian messages on your airplane napkins, and the Christians don’t like using their religion as a joke to sell fancy cars.
It kind of seems like folks on the secular left need to decide which it’s going to be: are we all to avoid offending one another’s religious or areligious sensibilities in public, or are we to treat religion as a subject like any other, appropriate fodder for public debate, public jokes, and sincere public statements as well?


Matt McGrattan 03.16.05 at 4:33 pm

This discussion has proceeded in a way that’s depressingly familiar to me.
First, someone, usually from the secular left, criticizes some corporation or other. Then all the right-libertarians leap on them accusing them of wanting to restrict the ‘rights’ of companies, of supporting authoritarian restrictions on corporate speech, and so on.
Usually the standard rightist line is that if you don’t like the way a corporation does business then you ought to take your business elsewhere but the subtext is usually also that critics of corporations ought to shut up. The free market of ideas becomes reduced to little more than the bestowing or withdrawal of custom.
It’s such a knee-jerk reaction.
The free exchange of ideas takes place at a level much richer than financial transactions alone. It’s precisely the *point* that Gwydion ought to call Alaskan Air for what he sees as crassly inappropriate religious proselytizing.
Just as its precisely the point that Christian believers ought to be able to call advertisers on what they see as crass exploitation of religious symbolism.
No-one’s talking about banning things here — either the advertisements or the airline’s use of Biblical verses. No-one’s talking about restrictions on free speech or on what a corporation can print on its own products.
Some of us just think it’s bloody rude to start whacking religious texts around the place when all you want to do is fly on a plane.


Ophelia Benson 03.16.05 at 4:48 pm

Jake, I don’t remember, which is why I didn’t say. It wasn’t personal, I know that. The time was near Christmas, and I think it was singing of some sort – but –
Wait. I’m a fool. I’ve conflated two memories, that’s what it is. It was carol singing, and I resented that because we couldn’t leave. And there was also printed something-or-other handed out with the meal. So I take it back about the physical, live proselytization in the waiting area – that didn’t happen.


Uncle Kvetch 03.16.05 at 5:03 pm

I’m with Matt (and Ophelia). How about we drop the part about “rights” and just talk about civility, common courtesy, basic human decency?
Unless Alaska Airline wants to go all-out and market itself as a “Christian airline,” it’s rude, tacky, boorish, [insert adjective of choice] in the extreme to presume that every passenger wants to hear the Good News. In exactly the same way that your evangelical seatmate has the right to attempt to preach the Gospel to you during the flight…that doesn’t mean that he/she isn’t a thoughtless jerk for doing so. And as more and more people in the US get more and more “in your face” about their faith, it’s increasingly important to point out that religion does not grant one carte blanche to behave like an asshole.
Some years ago, while driving on an interstate somewhere deep in the red states, I saw a huge tractor-trailer with the words “Worship at the Church of Your Choice” on the side in enormous letters. I thought how nice it would be to see another truck coming in the other direction that said “Mind Your Own Goddamn Business.”


Chris 03.16.05 at 5:42 pm

Kvetch — I am interested in an elaboration of your statement that “worship at the church of your choice” is the statement of an asshole, but “mind your own goddamn business” is “nice.”


Uncle Kvetch 03.16.05 at 6:03 pm

“Mind your own goddamn business” isn’t “nice,” Chris, and I wouldn’t literally drive around with a truck that said that.
I used a poor choice of words…it wouldn’t be “nice” to see said truck, but it would have been awfully gratifying.


Roger Mexico 03.16.05 at 7:10 pm

Jake – the economics of the airline business are rather more complicated than you imply. For years the ‘full service’ carriers have been trapped in an economic hell from which there is no escape – seeking profits from premium passengers who demand ever more sophisticated product for ever lower fares. The ‘low cost’ boys (please note – not ‘low fares’) work on an entirely different business model that seeks to lower – and then fail to meet – pax expectations. As to the comeliness of cabin crew – of whatever gender – given the way in which some carriers still sell themselves on the sexual attractiveness of the trolley dollies (or in The Bearded Wonder’s case the chances of your getting laid) it’s hardly surprising that Gwydion feels alienated . . . .
Having said which – no Yoorpean carrier would dare to proselytise inflight because they know that it would absolutely alienate a significant proportion of their pax


rude peasant 03.16.05 at 7:31 pm

What if airlines provided a card advertising brothels or casinos? Oh wait, they already do that in their inflight magazines..


yami 03.16.05 at 8:32 pm

I’m surprised he didn’t complain about Alaska’s in-flight credit card advertisements, which they recite over the speakers at about time you’re supposed to be putting stowing your stuff and preparing to land. I found those far more bothersome than the Bible card, as you can’t just crumple and discard a flight attendant.
As far as Christian propaganda goes, I kinda like In’n’Out’s: it’s in small print on a hidden part of the container, and the reference on the hamburger wrapper is unusual and cutely apropos. If people are going to proselytize, they ought to be able to come up with something beyond the same old John and Psalms ad nauseam.


sidereal 03.16.05 at 8:52 pm

“who must learn the religion-disguised-as-science called evolutionism or flunk biology”
Do they foist this new-fangled devilry the heathens call “heliocentrism” off on her as well? It’s as if they forumulated the science curriculum by consulting _scientists_ and other such buggerists. The impertinence!


Jake McGuire 03.17.05 at 3:18 am

I’ve not recently seen an American carrier sell itself based on the comeliness of it’s flight attendants. And while the economics of the airline industry are certainly complicated (let’s not even get into comparative labor relations between low-cost and traditional carriers), I’ll stand by my statement that giving passengers what they say they want is usually a bad idea.
Gwydion feels alienated because he’s a member of a minority dealing in a mass-market industry, so his opinion doesn’t really count. As someone who’s 6’4″ I sort of feel his pain, but recognize that the economics of the situation dictate that my options are pretty much to get screwed on comfort or to pay five times as much to fly first class, and complaining is only likely to remind me of my irritation and to bring on calls of “quit your bitching” from others. Even so, there are airlines that pack you in tighter than others, and I avoid those airlines like the plague. I’d suggest that Gwydion do the same with airlines that evangelize to him (I don’t see the intent to convert that proselytizing connotes).
And yes, it is indeed true that the religious beliefs of the American and European populace differ. This is not likely to change any time soon.

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