Friday, July 9, 2010

Step Off, Gideons - Now and Ever Unto Ages of Ages

When I was in a hotel room over 4th of July weekend, I opened a bedside drawer looking for a local phone book, so I could check whether there was a T.J. Maxx anywhere nearby. I found the phone book, but that wasn’t all that was waiting, lurking, for me in there. I gasped as I stared down at the front cover of the Holy Bible.

What was it doing in there? I never asked for one. Taking out a room in a chain hotel is an inherently secular act. I come to these hotels to sleep and hopefully eat an unlimited complimentary continental breakfast – not to be “saved” via someone else’s markedly different interpretation of salvation.

Fourth of July weekend 2010 wasn’t the first time I’d been subjected to this. I vaguely remember being on a couple of childhood family vacations, idly messing around in our hotel room’s drawers, and stumbling upon the same scene. I let it roll off my back much more easily back then but, even as a child, I recognized the violation. I also remember being struck by the way these texts were just quietly snuck into the drawers – as if they know they’re doing something wrong.

Who is “they”? The masterminds behind this set-up are the Gideons International – a “nondenominational evangelical group run by businessmen.” My Google search revealed that they’ve been running this game since 1908. A 2008 article about them in the Knoxville News Sentinel reports that: “The group only allows for evangelical business and professional men to hand out Scripture to its targeted groups, although Gideons allow their wives to hand out Scripture as well in health care settings and in prisons for women.” These are the people who are supposed to be my saviors?

How and why is the hotel industry getting away with this? It’s just because they don’t get any public funding? Even if they’re playing the privatization card, what compels them to continue lying down and taking it? What’s in it for Best Western – are they getting paid to submit? There’s really not one progressive, independent thinker at the helm of any of these hotels/motels?

Know this: the Gideon cabal wouldn’t be able to pull any similar fast ones on me. If one of these businessmen asked me to post a psalm on this blog (or would they dispatch one of their wives for such a gig, since it’s a female-owned site?), they’d be kindly dismissed, and none of their prayers to get me to change my mind would ever fly. I wouldn’t care if all of the other bloggers were doing it.

Percentage-wise, how many guests curl up with these drawer Bibles during their stays? Wouldn’t the really hard-core Christians bring their own? Or shouldn’t they have the bulk of the Good Book’s content internalized by now? Or is it that these Gideons are just praying (or preying) upon the uber-vulnerable heathens who are passing through these rooms? Are these emotionally at-risk people one of their pet “targeted groups”? I think and care about these “lost” populations, too – namely, within the context of improving some of the social conditions that have contributed to their straits. I might publicly air my views on the way I think this world should be, but I don’t know that I would ever resort to rank, guerilla proselytization.

There’s some hope for me and my kind, as I’ve also learned (thanks, Google! You’re the one that keeps saving me) that it’s possible to request a Bible-free room. I’m all over it. It’s now going to be all: “Hi Best Western, please hook me up with a king-sized bed and some religious freedom.”

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