Letters

Keep your religion to yourself: Salon's readers share their views on the evangelizing pilot.


Salon Staff
February 25, 2004 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read last week's "Ask the Pilot," by Patrick Smith.]

I don't usually read your column, nothing personal, but I don't fly anymore so...

I was intrigued by the lead today and read your well-written, amusing, informative column with zest... until the final sentence.

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AAAARGGGH. Does it never occur to anyone in this country that we're not all Christians? That "Better maybe just to talk about Jesus" is like flipping me off after drawing my attention with the other part of your column.

No, never, never better to talk about Jesus when you have a captive audience: schools, courtrooms, city council meetings or a plane. Better to be silent. Better to keep your own religious beliefs and ideals where they belong: to yourself. If I want to know what you believe, I will ask you.

So. I still won't fly (although I adore flight, small plane, big plane, or my personal favorite, helicopter), but I might read your column. Once more at least, to give you another chance.

-- Peggy Carey

I'm life-long secularist and atheist. Generally speaking pious evangelists of any faith turn me off in roughly the same way overflowing toilets do.

That said, unless the AA pilot was over the top in tone or persistence, his passengers and employers ought to cut the guy a little slack. He made a poor choice and probably made a plane full of people a little uncomfortable. So what? Almost by definition they were either all adults or accompanied by an adult family member. Thus they were perfectly competent to respond appropriately to an inappropriate situation -- which is to say, by ignoring it. Given that he only spoke for a few seconds, that shouldn't have been too hard.

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On the other hand, the people on a plane who really do get my goat are the near-seat neighbors who won't shut up, even after you've signaled in every polite manner you can think of that you didn't lock yourself into a tin can for hours for the privilege of enforced listening to what they have on their mind.

And God forbid that your near-seat neighbor be an overflowing evangelist. That's enough to get me to the ticket counter to ask the airline for a refund, plus.

-- Steve Demuth

When I was a kid growing up in evangelical Christian suburban southern California, there was this urban myth I recall being told to us by the Sunday school teacher: that the airlines are certain to pair their Christian pilots with non-Christian pilots, so that in the event that the Rapture were to occur (all the true Christians of the world would suddenly get sucked up into the heavens -- I wish!), there would be one pilot left to land the airplane.

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-- Joseph Kelly

I found the actions of the pilot who asked Christians to raise their hands and called non-Christians "crazy" to be revolting and extremely dangerous. Do we have to remind anyone that it was religious fanatics who flew those airplanes into buildings?

Had I been on that plane, I would have immediately tried to raise a posse and rush the cockpit before that nut did something crazy.

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He should be examined by a shrink and probably banned from flying.

-- Rex Meade

Thank goodness the pilot wasn't a Catholic.

Imagine having to kneel between economy class seats.

-- Bob Palmer

Yes, you are absolutely right. Aircraft captains should be keeping their charges (which is what we are) informed, calm and entertained. All at once. All at the same time.

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Of course, that is only possible when a flight is going to plan. And, of course, no flight is ever, ever going to plan in every detail. The wind is going to blow however slightly differently than planned; if not for the present aircraft, then for other aircraft somewhere else that will, in the end, feel the need to use your planned airport as a secondary airfield, bumping your landing for minutes or more.

I have great, even immense, understanding for this. Just please put me (and a couple hundred other people) down safely. If you aren't totally sure about your own safety, then don't waste a millisecond of thought on my feelings one way or the other. Do whatever you feel is right to get us all on to the ground. I am delivering my life and well-being to you.

In fact, I am delivering my life to you in almost exactly the way I am doing it to a surgeon. I trust that you will in fact try your best to land the plane/remove my appendix. I trust that you will do so no matter what my religious or political convictions may be.

And that is where I get nervous. A pilot -- or physician -- that starts to evangelize is a person I would in any normal case avoid. I would not allow a physician talking about his religious experiences to operate on me (in fact, I would not allow such a person to examine or prescribe medication to me or anyone I know). Neither would I allow a pilot to do the same.

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As you said in your column, what would have happened if this pilot's evangelical zeal had been focused on Islam rather than Christianity? The very same passengers would very likely have been killed. And yet, the only major religious fanatical group we have not publicly heard from yet is extreme Christians. Yes, they do exist and are quite active as terrorist organizations.

Seriously, I will not have anything to do with any individual that has a religious inclination anymore if I can at all help it.

-- Jan Moren

Granted, I was not there, but you mention an apology. Every newspaper and TV account I saw stated quite clearly that the pilot did make an apology... but to the flight crew. He apologized to them because the flight attendants were getting so much flak. However, it's my understanding he did not apologize to the passengers for possibly offending them, causing them unnecessary anxiety, etc. That's a critical point, if you ask me.

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-- David Gulbransen

I liked your column today, and in general, too. I thought you nailed (so to speak) the pilot on the whole Christian thing, but I have two comments.

(1) Placed in that situation, I wouldn't have been calling my lover to tell her good-bye. I would have called 9-1-1. A pilot urging people to get in touch with their maker Right Now scares the shit out of me.

(2) Your example of the possible reaction to a Muslim pilot making that kind of announcement is nicely done, but I think you missed another point: it's scary enough that a Christian did it. Evangelical Christians believe that you're going to hell if you're not saved when you die. When someone who both holds such beliefs and holds your life in their hands tells you that it might be wise to get right with God, that's cause for alarm. It's also worth noting that the most popular evangelical Christian book series in the country has, as a key scene, the "rapture" taking place first on a plane.

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-- Jeff Beresford-Howe


Salon Staff

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