My email box regularly fills up with messages from businesses, but this one was different. It wasn’t advertising a sale or a new product. Instead it was informing me, along with millions of other Alaska Airlines passengers, that after more than thirty years the company was discontinuing a tradition. No longer would cards displaying inspirational verses from Psalms be given out on flights.
In the scheme of things, compared to a nuclear Iran or high unemployment, this notification seems minor. Yet, it cast a pall over my day and felt similar to the loss of an important individual whom I may not have known personally, but whose presence made the world a better place. Until six years ago, when the cards were given out with each meal, they were a unique touch which made flying on Alaska special. Since airlines stopped routinely feeding all their passengers the cards were reserved for First Class diners. Still, while I might not have seen them on most flights, I was glad they were there.
Knowing from some of our friends who are Alaska crew that they often got berated for handing out the cards by, “Who are you to force your beliefs down my throat?” curmudgeons, our family made a point of thanking the crew for the cards and even writing to the airline’s president on occasion to express our appreciation. My guess is that the majority of passengers either liked the cards or ignored them; it was the vocal complaining minority which triumphed.
Enough people claimed offense for the airline to withdraw the cards saying, “… we’ve heard from many of you who believe religion is inappropriate on an airplane, and some are offended when we hand out the cards. Religious beliefs are deeply personal and sharing them with others is an individual choice.” Cards with verses from Psalms on them, of course, are a far cry from crucifixes or rosary beads. It would be hard to pinpoint exactly what religion was purportedly being promoted. Universities consider the verses to be classic literature or poetry. Certainly one is handicapped reading Shakespeare or past presidential speeches while ignorant of the Psalms. It is far-fetched to think of the word offensive on the list of adjectives describing Psalms. But to some secular extremists, any whisper of an association with God, despite its being a foundational stone of life, politics and business in America, is too much.
Does this decision by one corporation have larger implications? I think it does. No matter how excited or appalled one is at the idea of a Newt Gingrich presidency, his response to the question about contraception in the Arizona debate resonated. Rather than cowering or responding petulantly he went on the offensive. The cheering audience reflected the frustration of multitudes that have endured decades watching anti-traditional and anti-Biblical values being promoted, adulated and often forced on them by law. Respect for the personal religious beliefs of candidates has been deemed less important than legislation pushed and votes taken by other politicians. Those who cleave to moral tenets upon which this country was founded are tired of being accused of hate, bigotry and dictatorial aspirations.
I am not upset at Alaska Airlines. It is hard to run a business and the cards were certainly ancillary to the core mission of the company. They held on for many years before succumbing to the secular offensive. But still, removing the cards reflects a disturbing trend, one which demands that every person of faith becomes more steadfast as well as more, wisely, but adamantly outspoken.