Bible now shares hotel rooms with other books Full of faith: The Book of Mormon and the Teachings of Buddha, as well as texts for Christian Science and Scientology, may now await travelers.

January 02, 1996|By Edwin McDowell | Edwin McDowell,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

It used to be that hotel guests could count on finding at least three things in their rooms: a bed, a bathroom and a Gideon Bible. These days the Bibles are even more numerous, but they no longer have the field to themselves.

In a growing number of hotels the Bible now keeps company with the Book of Mormon, the Teachings of Buddha and, in rarer cases, with "Science and Health" by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, or "The Way to Happiness," a publication of the Church of Scientology.

"This reflects the fact that in this diversified culture, the Christian Bible is no longer the single religious text," said Leander Keck, professor of Biblical Theology at the Yale Divinity School.

The American Hotel and Motel Association says the number of Bibles in hotel drawers has grown partly because the number of hotel rooms in the United States has increased to 3.4 million, from 2.6 million in 1983. Perhaps more important, the Gideons -- evangelical business and professional men from various Christian denominations who have been putting Bibles in hotel rooms for almost a century -- appear to have lost no missionary ardor.

But many of the 160,000 hotel rooms in the Marriott chain -- whose founder, J.W. Marriott, was a Mormon -- carry the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible. So does the Mormon-owned 95-room Inn at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, whose small library also carries the Talmud and Koran.

Some 2,500 hotels in the United States also carry the Teaching of Buddha, compliments of the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism, based in Tokyo. A leaflet inside the 607-page English-Japanese edition notes that the book is available in Nepali, Esperanto, Persian and 31 other languages.

While most hotels that carry the Teaching of Buddha cater heavily to Asian guests, the book is also in all 383 rooms of the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena, Calif., the 781 rooms of the California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas, the 1,206 rooms of the Fontainebleau Hilton in Miami and in hotels in New York, Colorado, Texas and Washington, D.C.

"It took a while for our book to get into hotels, because it was not as well-known as the Bible," said Tomohito Katsunuma, the U.S. director of the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism.

Steve Post, the general manager of Barnabey's Hotel in Manhattan Beach, Calif., near Los Angeles International Airport, has no trouble keeping "Science and Health" in all 128 rooms, along with the Bible. "Four generations of Posts have owned this hotel, and we're Christian Scientists," he said.

While Christian Scientists do not actively seek to place "Science and Health" in hotels, Martin Sirota of the church's committee on publication said, "It's something we might think about."

The Church of Scientology International said that a foundation formed by Scientologists has, since 1984, placed more than 90,000 copies of "The Way to Happiness," written by the founder of Scientology, Ron Hubbard, in more than 350 American hotels.

Despite America's growing religious diversity, the Bible does not appear likely anytime soon to lose its primacy in hotel rooms.

"The only holy book we have in our hotels is the Bible, because our guests are 99 percent Americans and the majority of them are Christians," said Ravi Patel in Charlotte, N.C., who with his family owns 20 hotels in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Neither his hotels, he said, nor the many others owned by members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, carry the Bhagavad-Gita, the Sanskrit poem and classic of Hinduism. "But we are in a service industry," he said, "and if the time ever comes when our guests request it, we would provide it."

Abdel-Rahman Osmam, the senior imam, or leader, at the Islamic Center of New York, said Muslims did not try to put the Koran in hotel rooms "because guests may take it to the bathroom or some other improper place." Most Muslims, he added, memorize at least the Koran's opening chapter, which must be recited during each of the five prescribed daily prayers.

Neil Gillman, a rabbi and associate professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York said that as far as he knew there was no Jewish organization that tried to place religious works in hotel rooms. Nonetheless, he said, "I'm very grateful to find a Gideon Bible in my hotel, if I don't have my Hebrew Bible."

Meanwhile, the 150,000-strong Gideons International -- founded by three traveling salesmen in 1899 and named for a Biblical judge of Israel who also led a small band of men dedicated to the service of God -- has given away about 700 million copies of the Bible.

Occasional attempts to bar Bibles from hotel rooms, on grounds that they are offensive to some guests, have not gotten very far -- because, hoteliers say, hotels are private businesses, free to accept Bibles or not, while guests are equally free to read them or not and to take them or not.

Spirituality is not initially uppermost in the mind of most guests at the California Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, despite its having Bibles and the Teaching of Buddha in every room. "Maybe guests eventually read the books," said a hotel spokeswoman, Jodee Streuber. "But when they arrive they just want to shower and hurry down to gamble."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.