At Georgia parks, enjoy natural beauty -- but religion is optional

Apparently not everyone likes curling up with a Good Book while they’re on vacation.

You might have heard the dust-up this past week about Bibles. Just like Bibles are placed in most hotel rooms, the books also are placed in the cabins and lodges available for rent at Georgia state parks.

Yes, someone has a problem with this. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this column. Apparently a guest at one of these cabins complained, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources responded by telling its staffers to remove all its Bibles while the matter was investigated.

 

AFTER WHAT probably was the quickest government investigation ever, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the Bibles returned. A Bible in a drawer in a rented room doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The Bibles are donated not by the state but by the Gideons (more about them later), so the government isn’t establishing a religion.

Still, the occasional person has complained about Bibles in hotel rooms. I’ll summarize the complaints for you in one handy paragraph:

It offends me. It goes against what I believe in. I’m afraid whoever put a Bible there is trying to turn me into a Christian.

Really?

Reality TV offends me. Should all televisions be removed from hotel rooms?

I stayed at a hotel near Greenville, N.C., one time that had the ugliest drapes I ever saw. Those hideous curtains aesthetically go against what I believe in. Should they have been removed from all the hotel’s rooms?

What if a hotel decided to leave copies of Treasure Island in its rooms? Should I be afraid that whoever put them there is trying to turn me into a pirate?

There are instances where you have every right to complain about your lodging. If, say, a satanic mural is taking up an entire wall of my hotel room, I would complain. Those kinds of murals really don’t artistically tie the room together, and would likely frighten my dog.

But upset about a Bible? Don’t open it. Upset about what’s on your hotel room’s TV? Don’t turn it on.

 

AT THIS POINT in these kinds of discussions, someone usually pipes up with an argument that goes something like this: “Oh, yeah? Well, what would you do if someone put another kind of holy book in your hotel room? What if a Quran was in there? Huh? What if?”

Ever stayed at a Marriott
hotel? Since the hotel chain was founded by a Latter-Day Saint, you’re likely to find a Book of Mormon in each of its rooms. Has that ever offended you?

Me either.

And it shouldn’t.

You really want to know why so many hotel rooms have so many Bibles, and not Tanakhs or Qurans? Mainly because Bible guys thought of the idea first. Two Christian businessmen who shared a hotel room hit upon the Bible distribution idea, and they made it happen. The group they founded, Gideons International, has placed more than 1.7 billion Bibles in rooms since 1908.

And as Gov. Deal pointed out, any religious group is welcome to donate literature just like the Gideons.

But trust me, mere proximity to a holy book doesn’t count as forced proselytizing. There’s no religious radioactivity emanating from these books. As I type this in my office, a Quran sits on a shelf just a few feet away from me. I’ve thumbed through it a couple of times. But after more than nine years of being in the same room with it, I’m still not Muslim.

Within just a mile or two of my house in Columbia County, there’s an Islamic mosque, a Hindu temple, a Sikh gudwara, a Coptic Orthodox church and more Protestant churches than you can shake a stick at, if shaking sticks is your idea of a good time. I like living amid that diversity.

 

AT MY CHURCH, our congregation is so culturally diverse that part of our Pentecost celebration involves parishioners reading that day’s Bible readings in their native languages – such as Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Hindi. In past years there have been more languages I couldn’t even recognize.

I like that diversity, too.

Spend less time nitpicking about where people are putting Bibles, and spend more time cultivating tolerance. Then we’ll have a world closer to the one we all want.

And if your worldview is so soap-bubble fragile that a book tucked in a hotel drawer is enough to throw you off your ideological rocker – well, maybe the book isn’t the problem.

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