Columns 2012

Alaska Airlines’ prayer cards

Since some segments of our community are already sure I’m from the dark side, or heading there soon after my demise, I might as well explain my take on the Alaska Airlines’ prayer card issue.

The first time I got a prayer card I was slightly bemused. It was back when everyone was fed on a flight. I wondered if the card was their way of suggesting I might need divine intervention if I ate what they were euphemistically calling a chicken sandwich. My second thought was that they knew something I didn’t about the flight and wanted us all to pray that the plane made it OK.

Eventually though, I found them just annoying. Why would some airline be giving prayer cards to its’ passengers? Unless the plane was plunging towards earth and some travelers needed help in verbalizing their plea to god to save them, what was the point? People who profess to being practicing Christians probably didn’t need the prayer card to guide their spiritual life. And the rest of us were simply more interested in Sky Mall magazine’s latest geegaws.

Muslims, Jews, agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Wiccans and others from the infinitely rich and varied belief systems that cover this earth may have wondered when their religions would rate a prayer card.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that some Christians are going to claim this is another sign of the moral and religious decay of America. They will swear that in some strange and twisted way not giving out prayer cards on a flight from Anchorage to Seattle is going to destroy the last hope for Christianity in our country. Those of us who think that an airline is one of the more inappropriate places for proselytizing for any religion will be accused of hating god, religion, peace, law and order and our mothers. It will be viewed as yet another assault on “traditional” values.

Aside from the magical belief in some bygone world in which everyone understood and lived by “traditional values”, that reasoning also shows a distinct lack of respect for the validity of the many belief systems that have been in this country since its beginnings.

We are, continue to be, and always have been, a nation if immigrants. Alaska Natives and Native Americans are the only ones who can claim to have traditional American values since they are the original inhabitants. From the moment immigrants starting arriving on these shores, both voluntarily and involuntarily, the fabric of our society has been a rich mosaic of cultures, a blending of old and new worlds, eastern, western and African traditions, song, food, dance and religions.

Christianity itself is not monolithic. Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Quakers, Lutherans – all are part of the whole that is Christianity. And while the multiple Christian religions might argue over who has the last word on the truth, in the end they are all part of what we understand Christianity to be. Here in America, we have as many ethnic streams feeding into what we ultimately call America as there are religions feeding into Christianity.  Traditional values for someone whose ancestors came from Asia will be significantly different from those of someone who came from the mid-East or Africa.

So Alaska Airlines made the right call in ending their prayer card program. Aside from the fact that it is simply not very reassuring to a traveler to have the airlines currently operating their flight distributing a card that suggests they should start praying, it is just wrong to pretend that America was ever a monolithic nation of Caucasian Christians. That time never existed. Not then and not now.

Alaska Airlines deserves credit for acknowledging the diversity of its flyers despite what will probably be denunciations of their move by some who feel that if they aren’t allowed to push their religion at all times and in all places, they are somehow being denied their religious freedom. If the continuity of your faith is dependent on prayer cards slid under an airline’s meal entree, then you have much greater problems than the demise of those cards.

Stopping the prayer cards wasn’t an insult to Christians. It was an acknowledgement of the diversity of beliefs that exist in America and a sign of respect for all of them.