Is the airplane the proper place for religion?

Before you answer, consider how many times have you been forced to listen to a flight attendant’s or pilot’s announcement with some religious reference included? I have even seen flight attendants walk down the aisles handing out illustrated religious pamphlets, and know of a pilot who starts every flight off with a short prayer over the intercom system.

On the other hand, I am no longer allowed to say Merry Christmas but instead instructed to say “Happy Holidays” for fear of offending someone with different beliefs. A flight attendant recently got in trouble for telling a religious joke in front of a multi-million mile flying rabbi. She eventually got fired.

The joke was fairly tame but not very funny, and certainly not worth losing her job over.

In the magazine rack on a plane, how many times have you seen a Bible? Who gets to decide which version? I guess the answer is whichever version is donated to the airlines, as you can pretty much guess that no airline is up to buying any. I will bet as soon as someone threatens a lawsuit for religious discrimination, the airlines will pull all the copies faster than the pillows (and that’s fast).

I fly for an international airline and the religious diversity I see every day is remarkable — everything from the Koran to mats in the back galley for kneeling upon while chanting in the direction of Mecca. Nothing shocks me these days, and I find the variety fascinating and always try to engage in as much dialogue as possible.

I believe that everyone has something to offer, good and bad. Very rarely do I pass judgment or frown on the beliefs of others. Although, when my wife once returned home in tears after enduring a flight with a solicitant flight attendant, I was quick to defend him. Apparently, she had flown with the infamous “Bible Bob,” a crewmember who used religion and the Bible as his weapons. Rarely would a complaint be filed against him, as religious persecution is a tough case to pursue.

My wife is a strong-willed individual, but after four days of his constant berating, she let him get to her. As she explained what had happened, she placed some religious literature on the kitchen table in front of me — titles such as Why You Are Going to Hell, How to Make It to God, and Sinners Repent. His ability to steal energy from people was nothing short of evil. My wife mistook that evil for her newfound feelings of guilt.

I was furious. I wanted to give Bob a piece of my mind. Nobody has the right to force his or her religious beliefs on anyone, much less cast dispersions. I agreed not to actively pursue a showdown, but secretly longed for the day when we would fly together.

About a year later in a pre-flight crew briefing, I spotted a male flight attendant holding a Bible instead of the in-flight manual as normally required. “It couldn’t be,” I thought at first. The man leaned over to another crewmember and said, “This is the only manual I will ever need.”

With that comment I was certain he was Bible Bob. Intense anger and
excitement grew inside me. I decided to back off at first, because such emotions were not normal for me.

I played it cool in-flight and wouldn’t talk to him unless he came to me first. For most of the flight he was preaching to a newly-divorced flight attendant, who, I could tell by her expressions, was not inspired by his lecture. He twisted beautiful, majestic biblical phrases into a bitter and hateful sermon, leaving sorrow and guilt in his wake. I watched him as he even took a pair of scissors to the in-flight magazines, cutting out what he called “the devil’s text.”

Towards the end of the flight he approached me in the galley. “James, what’s your story?”

“What do you mean?” I played naïve as the other crewmembers pretended not to listen.

“Are you going to heaven or hell?” he demanded.

I took a deep breath and then let loose. “Listen here, I’ve heard of you and your God-fearing antics. My wife came home in tears because of you. You unload all of your insecurities on people, steal their energy, and call it God’s work. You are pure evil and should mind your own business when it comes to religion. You’re the reason people turn away from, instead of embrace, God! That…is my story!”

Everyone in the galley, including Bob, was stunned. It took a second for him to recover and then he responded loudly, “You know you’re going to hell, don’t you?”

“Well, I guess I will see you there then!” I got up and walked down the aisle with my head held high. We didn’t speak afterwards, but all of the other flight attendants thanked me profusely.

Bible Bob is no longer a flight attendant. Rumor has it that he got into a heated discussion with an equally passionate male Jewish flight attendant and apparently blows were exchanged. That, and the fact that our company began allowing travel benefits for gay partners, which made us, in Bob’s words, “the devil’s airline.”

We are all just trying to get through this journey called life the best we know how. Some people may think that they know a better way. It’s fine to share your thoughts, but to cast aspersions upon another’s path is wrong.

To those of you who have met a Bible Bob along the way and have turned
yourself off to religion because of that person, please try again. Faith can be, and is, a truly wonderful thing.