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.
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.