Travelodge and the Scapegoat of Multiculturalism

Larry the Goat by g3Tography
Larry the Goat by g3Tography

Last week the Travelodge chain of hotels announced its decision to remove Gideon Bibles from the rooms in their UK hotels. Nobody had complained about the presence of a Bible, nobody requested that they be removed. So why did they decide to do it? A spokesperson writes:

The reason is because of diversity. With the country being increasingly multicultural, we didn’t feel it was appropriate to just have the Bible because there are people of other religions. People were also taking Bibles away and with the redesign of the rooms, it was felt that it would be better to remove them.

Personally, I think this is a foolish decision, not so much because I will miss having a Gideon Bible in my hotel room; truth be told I don’t think I’ve ever used one, since I tend to have my own, read it online, or just want to go to sleep! I think it’s foolish because it does exactly the opposite of what was intended.

Removing Bibles from hotel rooms does not ‘recognise multicultural UK’ so much as it ‘suggests anti-cultural UK.’

Imagine an art gallery choosing to honour the full range of British art by displaying nothing but empty frames, lest they fail to represent everyone’s work equally. It would hardly garner glowing reviews.

One simply does not celebrate diversity by reducing it to a homogeneous nothing.

If Travelodge had truly wanted to celebrate multiculturalism they would have invited every faith group to send in their holy books, and they would have provided free copies of the full range. By removing all holy books they have not really reflected multiculturalism, but suggested a form of monoculturalism, in which religion has no part to play.

Multiculturalism is surely the scapegoat for an otherwise-motivated decision.

And let’s be honest, just as ‘multiculturalism’ isn’t the real reason for this decision, neither is the fact that people are taking the Bibles away with them! If you want to get rid of the things you should encourage people to remove them. And the redesign of the rooms? Am I really expected to believe that they’re removing the drawer in which a Bible is typically housed, but not leaving behind any drawers in which it could be placed? If Travelodge were really removing all potential-clothing-storage-spaces, that would pose me a bigger problem than the removal of a Bible!

To be honest, I don’t really mind if there isn’t a Bible in every hotel room I spend a night in. In a pluralistic society, I don’t think any faith group has an inherent right to demand that their book – even if it is donated en masse, free of charge – should be put in every room of a secular hotel chain. They are not, after all, libraries.

But I do hope that Travelodge keeps copies at reception and makes them obviously available should people want them. And if people want to donate copies of the Qur’an, Dickens and Lord of the Rings, by all means include those too.

I’ve spoken to many people who travel with work and find time in hotels a lonely experience, in which they could do with a bit of encouragement. Why deny them that?

Last year I had the privilege of hearing the great actor David Suchet tell something of his journey to faith, and a major turning point for him was – you’ve guessed it – reading a Bible in a lonely hotel room in 1986. (Actually, as I recall, the Gideon Bible was missing from the drawer so he had to go out and buy his own – perhaps a Travelodge experimenting with a prototype policy?)

And if you’re bothered about offending Atheists with the presence of Bibles, I would refer you to the words of the High Priest of New-Atheism Richard Dawkins:

People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality […] The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.

I suspect Dawkins would want Bibles left in Travelodges in the hope of gaining a few new converts. I’m happy to take that risk.

So my suggestion to Travelodge would be:

  • By all means remove Bibles from the hotel rooms, if you wish – having them there in the first place was our privilege, not a right –  but keep them available on request. And make it easy for people to obtain them if they wish, without difficulty or embarrassment.
  • Make other holy books available if people want them and if other faith-groups fancy sending them to you for free.
  • Don’t blame a decision made on the basis of economics, ergonomics, or anything else on ‘multiculturalism.’ It trivialises true diversity, makes a scapegoat of a very important theme, and makes you look rather out of touch and a little bit foolish.

(And to end with an entirely superfluous p.s. – If you enjoy a good dangling modifier, you might smile at the Huffington Post’s ambiguous headline.)

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