Proselytizing Phylacteries

Two related stories appeared in today’s newspaper, both of which concern the Bible in public life. A commercial airliner was forced to undertake an emergency landing in Philadelphia while en route from New York to Louisville, Kentucky yesterday because of terrorist concerns. The cause for alarm? A Jewish teenager’s use of his tefillin in public. Often translated as “phylacteries,” tefillin are prayer boxes worn on the arm or forehead during prayer in some sects of Judaism. This idea is not really obscure if someone has basic religious training. People on the US Air flight, afraid that the scripture-bearing artifact might be a bomb, had their lives disrupted while the boy calmly explained what he was doing. After landing, TSA officials came aboard, just to make sure. That’s a comfort! TSA officials seem unable to spot a real bomb but take a more than academic interest in a boy saying his prayers. Perhaps reading a Chaim Potok novel should be required training for TSA service? As my wife observed: what if someone took out a rosary or a crucifix? Would the flight be diverted to van Helsing’s residence? The level of this religious ignorance belies the grumbling in my post yesterday. Religious study is vitally important in an increasingly global society.

Is this phylactery da bomb or what?

The second story, again courtesy of my wife, was first run on MSNBC earlier this week and reprised in the paper today. Trijicon, a major defense contractor for the U.S. military, has for years been stamping Bible verse references on its rifle scopes. Concerned citizens, perhaps after watching sniper Private Jackson quoting the Bible in Saving Private Ryan, have raised concerns that Bible verses on rifle scopes constitute proselytizing. In Muslim countries, after all, those who have been shredded by a bullet before they ever saw their assaultant might be tempted to convert if they ever glimpsed the rifle scope and saw the Bible emblazoned on it.

Today’s story indicates that Trijicon has agreed to provide “Bible verse removal kits” to the military so that the verse references might be easily erased. What is so sad about this situation is that no one seems concerned that the maker of lethal weapons adds Bible citations to their products. The purpose of these devices is the killing of other people. The Bible seems an odd choice of supporting literature for this cause. Well, maybe not. The Bible knows how to call down the wrath of the Almighty on enemies as well. And the Bible gives instructions on how to pray with a phylactery. These stories demonstrate as clearly as possible how selective reading of the Bible leads to hypocritically varying results in an overly religious, but religiously uninformed, society.

9 thoughts on “Proselytizing Phylacteries

  1. Pingback: Phylacteries Blogs | Tech News

  2. Jad

    It is unbelievable, Professor, how much ignorance is out there! And with the TSA being that devoid, to what I believed to be common knowledge (then again that’s considering my Catholic upbringing/education in school), is very scary. Before you know it, passengers will have to fly naked considering that apparently everything has the potential to be a “bomb”. In reference to the riffles with the Bible quotes, I completely agree with you…I also find it a bit funny since it reminds me of Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson’s character) from “Pulp Fiction”


    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks Jad. I find air travel to be humiliating and demeaning. I try to avoid it when possible. The reason for the caution, however, is religious zealousness. It is a vicious cycle.

      I show the clip from Pulp Fiction in my summer/winter term versions of my course. I have them watch the scene where Jules exegetes his “Bible” quotation. For showing how people treat the Bible, it is unmatched!


  3. @ Steve :
    But Steve, though I have the same interest in religion that you do, I am not disgusted that people don’t know about all the religious paraphernalia of Sikhs, Jains, Taoists, Confucians, Jews, Muslims ……………

    Especially if they spare me their disgust for not know about sport teams.

    Seriously, there are too many religions, too much for the average person to learn.

    I say make everyone board planes nude except for a taser. That solves the problem.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Fair enough, Sabio!

      As you likely know from our exchanges, I am really in two minds about this. Freedom of religious expression is important, yet religion often threatens public safety. I believe it to be quite a dangerous force in society, as well as a potentially good one.

      Perhaps airplanes could be made into saunas, that way people would feel it was normal being around others without their clothes on!


  4. Phylacteries are strange looking things though, much more so than a rosary or crucifix, especially if on the forehead.

    And the sniper in Saving Private Ryan, he was really scary! But at the same time I remember the sense of power conveyed as he invoked the scriptures that way. Something about his supreme confidence and how perfect he was at his job as a killing machine in the army of the righteous.


    • Steve Wiggins

      I’m agreed on the Private Jackson character; it is a scary image. Phylacteries being strange-looking, however, is a matter of cultural conditioning. Rosaries look normal to many Christians because they are used to seeing them. I have known Protestants to have had shock-like symptoms the first time they saw a rosary being used. Crucifixes are such a large part of American culture, however, that it is difficult to grow up without seeing one. Even an innocent viewing of a vampire movie brings them into focus!


      • Good point. I think it is the act of wearing the object on the forehead which is out of place in our culture. A rosary or crucifix might look odd if worn the same way (for a generation or so anyway).


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