Goodbye, Gideon!

Kelly Baker

According to Newsweek, the staple of the Bible in bedside table is a tradition that is fading away. Roya Wolverson writes:

In the rooms of Manhattan's trendy Soho Grand Hotel guests can enjoy an eclectic selection of underground music, iPod docking stations, flat-screen TVs and even the living company of a complimentary goldfish. But, alas, the word of God is nowhere to be found. Unlike traditional hotels, the 10-year-old boutique has never put Bibles in its guest rooms, because "society evolves," says hotel spokeswoman Lori DeBlois. Providing Bibles would mean the hotel "would have to take care of every guest's belief."

Bible-free hotel rooms appear to be the trend at least for boutique hotels because they are adding trendier amenities to woo younger customers (the Bible, it seems, is not as trendy as iPod docking stations). Wolverson notes that this is partly because business travel is decreasing, and leisure travel is increasing. She writes:

Even the staid Marriott chain, founded by a Mormon, is debating whether or not to include Bibles in its yet to be named boutique chain, which is set to launch in partnership with hipster hotelier Ian Schrager, who created the '70s disco Studio 54 and later New York City's Morgans, Royalton and Paramount hotels—which are largely credited with kicking off the boutique hotel craze. Schrager says he hasn't yet discussed the Bible amenity with Marriott, though he adds that his properties have never had in-room Bibles.

Thus, even Marriot boutique hotels might not carry the Book of Mormon. Moreover, some of these boutique hotels are replacing the Bible with pleasure kits, which include condoms among other things. While surfing channels this weekend, I happened upon Fox News and their debate about this very topic. Not surprisingly, the correspondents were agitated that condoms were now in the bedside table. One correspondent disagreed with the majority when she noted that people do not usually go to hotels to find religion.

As I read the Newsweek article and watched the Fox correspondents quarrel, I could not help but wonder if this quiet trend suggests larger changes in our culture. Are hotels removing the Bible because they don’t want to have to include other religious texts? Or are vacationers less interested in reading biblical text precisely because they are on vacation? Demographically, who is a leisure traveler or a business traveler? Was the Bible by the bedside an artifact of a bygone era anyway? (Or to ask this in a cagey manner, is it an artifact of nostalgia for a previous time and place?) The more interesting question to me is: did people use the sacred text during their travel? Were the bedside Bibles worn with use? Were the texts crisp and pristine with the aroma of newness? Again, how was this artifact used?

As a recent traveler myself, it did not occur to me to open the drawer to the bedside table to check for a Gideon. Perhaps, if I had, I could examined its presence or lack thereof.


Randall said…
This is a curious phenomenon. I'm sure the hackles will be up at Fox News and in the pages of the Weekly Standard.

I doubt that the major chains--Marriott, Quality, Comfort, Hampton, Best Western--will be swapping bibles for designer soap and ipods any time soon.

I'm a fan of the bible in the room. I usually read it. But the big thing I worry about, if Gideon bibles become a thing of the past, is that future generations won't get the full meaning of the Beatles' Rocky Raccoon, one of the first songs I learned to play on my electric guitar back in the early 80s:

"And now Rocky Raccoon he fell back in his room
Only to find Gideon's bible
Gideon checked out and he left it no doubt
To help with good Rocky's revival, ah
Oh yeah, yeah

D'do d'do d'do do do do
D'do d'do d'do do do do
D'do d'do d'do do do d'do d'do d'do d'do
Do do do do do do"
Sarah said…
I've always loved the Gideon Bibles, and the awesome part of reaching the West is when the Book of Mormon starts showing up, too. We usually read a few verses when we go traveling (my sister and I mainly,) if only to reflect on the differences in the translation (versus the KJV) and to be all happy that there are Bibles in the rooms at all. We always check to see if one's there and are disappointed when it's missing.

But, the Bibles I've seen in hotel rooms looked like they've never been touched. And these "boutique" hotels are catering to a population that probably reads less scripture (and has less interest in it, outside of a comparative literature class) than the average American. Plus, it seems like most people who want to read the scriptures on vacation will just bring them along -- this is an unscientific determination based on my personal experiences watching travelers come into restaurants I've waitressed in. And, umm, I always pack my scriptures...
Anonymous said…
Gideons International ( is a private organization that places Bibles in hotels as a charitable, humanitarian thing, for travelers who might need spiritual comfort. For any private enterprise to deny the Gideons on the grounds that they would have to accommodate all religions is silly. Bibles and copies of the Book of Mormon show up because private individuals care enough to go to the effort and expense to place them, and because hotel owners have been accommodating -- if adherents of other religions or promoters of any other product cared to donate their own books and products, it would be the hotelier's choice to accept or decline. (Call me optimistic, but I can't see makers of controlled substances freely donating their products, so what, other than business concerns or private taste, would govern what a hotelier accepted or decline?)
Anonymous said…
I am happy to report that I am currently sitting in an upscale hotel room that has a flat screen television, ipod docking station AND a Gideon bible. Apparently the chic new and staid old can coexist in some chains...

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