When should nontheists complain?

It is no secret that we nontheists are continually bombarded with religious references. Most of the time, we simply smile and ignore them, knowing that our fellow primates mean us no harm. And when we do complain, no matter how polite and courteous we may be, it is always taken the wrong way. So, when should we speak up?

My friend Margaret Downey wrote this letter to American Airlines concerning her recent trip her  to Hawaii:

My husband and I always use American Airlines to travel and have had wonderful experiences until the April trip.

We flew on a red eye from Kona, Hawaii to Los Angeles, California. We flew first class for more comfort and service. We awoke to music playing and the lights coming on when the pilot announced that we were about to land. The music was a shock to me in that it was specifically Christian music. The words of the song being played praised Jesus and God and instructed listeners to pray and “adore him.”

The next song was even more religious. I said to the stewardess that the flight had become a church service. She ignored me completely.

The next song was also an overtly Christian song, this time with a message about the “glory and the power of God.”

In total we had to listen to three songs about a religious doctrine we find disturbing. I’m sure that a Jewish family, a Hindi family and nontheist people such as my husband and I were equally offended that American Airlines was promoting the Christian doctrine in a space that could not be escaped from. We were a captive audience!

I expect my airlines to remain neutral in matters of religion. This is why I will not fly Alaska Airlines. They promote and proselytize Christianity at ever opportunity.

Please confirm that this type of religious incident will not happen again when I use American Airlines. Please also explain who was responsible for the religious promotion on this flight — the pilot and/or the staff.

Margaret Downey

For some reason, this letter got the attention of Joanne Brokaw who writes for Beliefnet.com. In her post Joanne asks:

So when does the music cross the line? When it’s sung by a Christian artist? Should Carrie Underwood be banned from being played? Would one song been tolerable but three too much? How does a public company respond?

So what do you think? Margaret would like us to join the discussion.

To digress, this has nothing to do with the post, but since the Beliefnet article mentioned Carrie Underwood, and her song, “Jesus Take The Wheel,” I had to include this parody video:

Brother Richard

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  • http://twitter.com/pinget @pinget

    The first concern of a business is usually to irritate none. You don't want to drive business away due to relatively trivial things like this. I would have complained as well. The music on an airplane should be faith-neutral. Some might inspire prayer, like the music on Air France which is incredibly depressing and makes you want to pray for it to end soon, but the music should not be a prayer.

  • http://twitter.com/pinget @pinget

    The first concern of a business is usually to irritate none. You don't want to drive business away due to relatively trivial things like this. I would have complained as well. The music on an airplane should be faith-neutral. Some might inspire prayer, like the music on Air France which is incredibly depressing and makes you want to pray for it to end soon, but the music should not be a prayer.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cephus Cephus

    I wouldn't have let the stewardess off like that, I would have raised a ruckus until they changed the music. Then I would have gone straight to Alaskan Airlines and finally to the media. The airline wouldn't have been let off if they were playing old Southern racist songs, why should they be let off because they choose to play religious slop? Their purpose is to transport, not to proselytize, someone needs to remind them of that, hopefully in a way that costs them fares.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cephus Cephus

    I wouldn't have let the stewardess off like that, I would have raised a ruckus until they changed the music. Then I would have gone straight to Alaskan Airlines and finally to the media. The airline wouldn't have been let off if they were playing old Southern racist songs, why should they be let off because they choose to play religious slop? Their purpose is to transport, not to proselytize, someone needs to remind them of that, hopefully in a way that costs them fares.

  • JohnAtl

    Driver: "Jesus take the wheel!"
    Jesus: "Are you kidding me?! I have to kill a child every 3 seconds because of poverty or aids. I don't have time to freakin' drive for you!"

  • JohnAtl

    Driver: "Jesus take the wheel!"
    Jesus: "Are you kidding me?! I have to kill a child every 3 seconds because of poverty or aids. I don't have time to freakin' drive for you!"

  • Tom Easley

    Yes this is a problem and most christians don’t see it that way. For some reason many christians interpret “freedom of religion” as free to force their beliefs on everyone else. When I complain about these situations (ex. prayer in school) I often hear, “We [christians] are in the majority”. Even if complaining doesn’t not help, at least “the majority” will finally hear, that other faiths and non-believers, are longer so accepting of christianity being forced on us!

  • Tom Easley

    Yes this is a problem and most christians don’t see it that way. For some reason many christians interpret “freedom of religion” as free to force their beliefs on everyone else. When I complain about these situations (ex. prayer in school) I often hear, “We [christians] are in the majority”. Even if complaining doesn’t not help, at least “the majority” will finally hear, that other faiths and non-believers, are longer so accepting of christianity being forced on us!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/mighein mighein

    Hey, lots of Southern Racist songs are played in businesses all over the place….it's called Southern Rock. :)

    Seriously though, this may be pushing it a bit. I suppose playing three songs in a row might be a bit much but can we really bitch it they slip one in there? Besides, Imagine is played in elevators and lobbies around the western world and probably offends plenty of folks. Let's not get too wound up about the silly stuff.

    • Jean Marie

      Mighien, i do agree that religion IS silly stuff, but it is disturbing. And we have a right to ask to not be offended in a secular setting. I applaud Ms Downey for speaking up for those of us who find christianity offensive:
      http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.htm

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/mighein mighein

    Hey, lots of Southern Racist songs are played in businesses all over the place….it's called Southern Rock. :)

    Seriously though, this may be pushing it a bit. I suppose playing three songs in a row might be a bit much but can we really bitch it they slip one in there? Besides, Imagine is played in elevators and lobbies around the western world and probably offends plenty of folks. Let's not get too wound up about the silly stuff.

    • Jean Marie

      Mighien, i do agree that religion IS silly stuff, but it is disturbing. And we have a right to ask to not be offended in a secular setting. I applaud Ms Downey for speaking up for those of us who find christianity offensive:
      http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.htm

  • Lisa

    I agree with mighein. It's just a few songs. I rarely like the music I hear in public places, but I don't feel like someone is trying to convert me to rappism or countryism. I have read on several atheist blogs that Christians don't have the right not to be offended, well it works both ways. If nontheists complain about every little perceived attack, then who is going to take us seriously on the big issues? Perhaps instead of going the indignation route, we should merely try to educate and ask others to consider other points of view which they just may not have thought of before. Let's not be whiny like we accuse the other side of being.

    Maybe Ms. Downey could just take her iPod next time.

    • JohnAtl

      Rap and country can be as offensive as Christian. It all depends on what they are advocating. For instance, in the case of rap, shooting cops, objectifying women, etc. In the case of country, turning your brain off, working your 40 hours and promoting consumerism. Although their goal may not be to convert people, people do become desensitized/complacent by hearing things repeatedly. Example: "When the bough breaks the cradle will fall/And down will come baby cradle and all."
      I think a letter to the company was appropriate.
      Telling the flight attendant is irrelevant, as people at that level don't usually have any control, and I doubt any comment would be passed up the chain of command.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/mighein mighein

        I agree that the letter was appropriate. I like the desentization angle though, that's a good thought.

    • Jean Marie

      Asking for peace in a secular setting does not strike me as "whiney". I doubt Ms Downey was "whiney". We do indeed, have the right to speak up, against both the insiduous as well as the overt, unlawful pushing of religion into secular settings.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/mighein mighein

      Yeah, Lisa. Your point about 'every little perceived attack' is dead on. It is a cry wolf situation, to be sure.

      Regards,

  • Lisa

    I agree with mighein. It's just a few songs. I rarely like the music I hear in public places, but I don't feel like someone is trying to convert me to rappism or countryism. I have read on several atheist blogs that Christians don't have the right not to be offended, well it works both ways. If nontheists complain about every little perceived attack, then who is going to take us seriously on the big issues? Perhaps instead of going the indignation route, we should merely try to educate and ask others to consider other points of view which they just may not have thought of before. Let's not be whiny like we accuse the other side of being.

    Maybe Ms. Downey could just take her iPod next time.

    • JohnAtl

      Rap and country can be as offensive as Christian. It all depends on what they are advocating. For instance, in the case of rap, shooting cops, objectifying women, etc. In the case of country, turning your brain off, working your 40 hours and promoting consumerism. Although their goal may not be to convert people, people do become desensitized/complacent by hearing things repeatedly. Example: "When the bough breaks the cradle will fall/And down will come baby cradle and all."
      I think a letter to the company was appropriate.
      Telling the flight attendant is irrelevant, as people at that level don't usually have any control, and I doubt any comment would be passed up the chain of command.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/mighein mighein

        I agree that the letter was appropriate. I like the desentization angle though, that's a good thought.

    • Jean Marie

      Asking for peace in a secular setting does not strike me as "whiney". I doubt Ms Downey was "whiney". We do indeed, have the right to speak up, against both the insiduous as well as the overt, unlawful pushing of religion into secular settings.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/mighein mighein

      Yeah, Lisa. Your point about 'every little perceived attack' is dead on. It is a cry wolf situation, to be sure.

      Regards,

  • Jean Marie

    I posted a response to the Belief.net article that you linked above …hee hee!!

    ~Jean Marie

  • Jean Marie

    I posted a response to the Belief.net article that you linked above …hee hee!!

    ~Jean Marie

  • Joanne

    Brother RIchard – thanks for the link! I'm looking forward to hearing from your readers. For the record, I actually see Margaret's point. I wouldn't want to be trapped in a plane cabin and forced to listen to religious music that's essentially preaching, either, regardless of the religion. :)

    Thanks so much!
    Joanne
    host of the Gospel Soundcheck blog

  • Joanne

    Brother RIchard – thanks for the link! I'm looking forward to hearing from your readers. For the record, I actually see Margaret's point. I wouldn't want to be trapped in a plane cabin and forced to listen to religious music that's essentially preaching, either, regardless of the religion. :)

    Thanks so much!
    Joanne
    host of the Gospel Soundcheck blog

  • Chris

    I think it would be a good idea to see if the pilot of an aircraft had a springy Virgin Mary on the dashboard of the airplane before flying.

    If the pilot is relying on that rather than training and instrumentation then you are in trouble.

    Chris

  • Chris

    I think it would be a good idea to see if the pilot of an aircraft had a springy Virgin Mary on the dashboard of the airplane before flying.

    If the pilot is relying on that rather than training and instrumentation then you are in trouble.

    Chris

  • http://www.mysinglemomlife.com/blog/ Kat

    I think the letter was completely appropriate to let American Airlines know that this made the last remaining minutes of the flight uncomfortable for her and her husband, as well as possibly offend other passengers of other faiths.
    But I also would have done something before I wrote the letter so that I wouldn't have to ask in my letter who was responsible, I would have been able to tell them.

    At the end of the flight as we are deplaning, the pilot is usually standing right at the cockpit door, along with the co-pilot and a steward or 2, and I would have made a point to ask who chose and played those 3 songs, instead of saying thank you/good-bye like everyone does.
    Would it have held up the line of people to deplane? Well maybe for a minute, but deplaning always takes so long anyway, 1 more minute to ask to try to get an answer wouldn't have been so bad.
    Or I would have deplaned and instead of rushing straight to baggage claim, I would have sent my flying partner there and I would have waited for the pilot to deplane and come down the hallway, and then ask him.
    I would have wanted the name of the person responsible for choosing the music, and also for deciding to play it.
    On every flight I have taken, usually with Jet Blue, Allegiance Air, or Delta, there has never been any type of music being played while boarding or deplaning, they always give out headphones so that passengers can choose their own music or watch the tv (in the case of Jet Blue with tvs in every seat).

    I would have wanted to know the name of person who chose the music and decided to play it so that when I wrote my letter, I could include that information along with my flight information so that AA could specifically look up that flight and speak with the persons responsible for making the last 10-15 minutes of my flight uncomfortable.

    Some asked if 1 song is ok or is 3 songs too many? Is there a number of songs that would have made it ok or worse?
    Personally, even 1 song of this type would have upset me and made the last 10-15 minutes of what was a pleasant flight, now turn bad.
    Instead of remembering a good flight, I would have been focused on that 1 song and how it made me feel.
    People like all kinds of different music, no matter what type of music the airline played, it would have upset at the very least 1-5 passengers on any given flight., so this is why, in my opinion, that airlines should choose not to play any music at all at any time during any flight.
    If they refrain from playing any music, then not a single passenger would have cause to be upset.

    Airlines are in the business of transporting people in basically, captivity, we are a totally captive audience, we have no choice but to listen to anything that may be played or spoken at any time during our flight, so if an airline wants to keep all of it's passengers happy and continuing to choose to fly with them on all future flights, they should choose not to possibly offend even a single passenger, and choose not play anything at all.

    This is of course, just my opinion, other people are obviously entitled to theirs, but now that I know there is a possibility of American Airlines playing christian music during flights, even just the last 10-15 minutes of a flight, it has already made my decision of which airline to NOT fly with much easier.
    I will not fly with American Airlines because of the possibility of christian music being played.

    I really hope that whomever was responsible for the music was told that it was a bad idea and to refrain from doing it in the future, but I highly doubt the person responsible will stop.
    Christians are supposed to share the word of their god with whoever they can whenever they can, they are supposed to share the message, so unless the person's job was on the line, they will probably continue to do this on more flights in the future.

  • http://www.mysinglemomlife.com/blog/ Kat

    I think the letter was completely appropriate to let American Airlines know that this made the last remaining minutes of the flight uncomfortable for her and her husband, as well as possibly offend other passengers of other faiths.
    But I also would have done something before I wrote the letter so that I wouldn't have to ask in my letter who was responsible, I would have been able to tell them.

    At the end of the flight as we are deplaning, the pilot is usually standing right at the cockpit door, along with the co-pilot and a steward or 2, and I would have made a point to ask who chose and played those 3 songs, instead of saying thank you/good-bye like everyone does.
    Would it have held up the line of people to deplane? Well maybe for a minute, but deplaning always takes so long anyway, 1 more minute to ask to try to get an answer wouldn't have been so bad.
    Or I would have deplaned and instead of rushing straight to baggage claim, I would have sent my flying partner there and I would have waited for the pilot to deplane and come down the hallway, and then ask him.
    I would have wanted the name of the person responsible for choosing the music, and also for deciding to play it.
    On every flight I have taken, usually with Jet Blue, Allegiance Air, or Delta, there has never been any type of music being played while boarding or deplaning, they always give out headphones so that passengers can choose their own music or watch the tv (in the case of Jet Blue with tvs in every seat).

    I would have wanted to know the name of person who chose the music and decided to play it so that when I wrote my letter, I could include that information along with my flight information so that AA could specifically look up that flight and speak with the persons responsible for making the last 10-15 minutes of my flight uncomfortable.

    Some asked if 1 song is ok or is 3 songs too many? Is there a number of songs that would have made it ok or worse?
    Personally, even 1 song of this type would have upset me and made the last 10-15 minutes of what was a pleasant flight, now turn bad.
    Instead of remembering a good flight, I would have been focused on that 1 song and how it made me feel.
    People like all kinds of different music, no matter what type of music the airline played, it would have upset at the very least 1-5 passengers on any given flight., so this is why, in my opinion, that airlines should choose not to play any music at all at any time during any flight.
    If they refrain from playing any music, then not a single passenger would have cause to be upset.

    Airlines are in the business of transporting people in basically, captivity, we are a totally captive audience, we have no choice but to listen to anything that may be played or spoken at any time during our flight, so if an airline wants to keep all of it's passengers happy and continuing to choose to fly with them on all future flights, they should choose not to possibly offend even a single passenger, and choose not play anything at all.

    This is of course, just my opinion, other people are obviously entitled to theirs, but now that I know there is a possibility of American Airlines playing christian music during flights, even just the last 10-15 minutes of a flight, it has already made my decision of which airline to NOT fly with much easier.
    I will not fly with American Airlines because of the possibility of christian music being played.

    I really hope that whomever was responsible for the music was told that it was a bad idea and to refrain from doing it in the future, but I highly doubt the person responsible will stop.
    Christians are supposed to share the word of their god with whoever they can whenever they can, they are supposed to share the message, so unless the person's job was on the line, they will probably continue to do this on more flights in the future.

  • Other Annoyances

    Reminds me of a time when I was stuck in a plane on the airfield with some kind of weather delay. They decided it would be appropriate to put Jerry Springer (I think, it might have been Geraldo instead) on the televisions with the sound over the PA. It may not have been religion, but it was scarcely less annoying.

  • Other Annoyances

    Reminds me of a time when I was stuck in a plane on the airfield with some kind of weather delay. They decided it would be appropriate to put Jerry Springer (I think, it might have been Geraldo instead) on the televisions with the sound over the PA. It may not have been religion, but it was scarcely less annoying.


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