08/04/2010 02:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Do Bibles Belong in Hotel Rooms?

It was in a Route 66 motel room in Arizona recently that I opened the bedstand drawer and was surprised to find something unusual: candy and a couple of condoms. Alone in the room, I ate a piece of candy, felt intimidated by the equine proportions of extra large condoms and wondered about the contents of bedstand drawers.

One of the magazines I write for is published by a consumer organization, and I have developed a routine for hotel rooms. After an initial glance I open, touch and try everything that is there. I have a mental checklist to see what is good and what is missing.

Bedstand drawers usually contain a telephone book on one side and a Bible on the other, or nothing. One exception before finding those condoms was a luxury hotel in Germany, where the designers had brilliantly concealed the bedside light switches by placing them inside that drawer. When I asked around the breakfast room the next morning, I discovered that almost everybody got out of bed at night to switch off the lights.

That means bedstand drawers are rarely opened so it really doesn't matter much what is in them.

But I do open them, and to be honest, every time I find a Bible by my bed I feel mildly irritated. I am not a religious person and as far as I am concerned everybody can believe whatever they like, as long as they leave me out of it.

I want to make a distinction here between corporate hotels and small, private hotels. I have a strong preference for good private hotels and bed & breakfasts where the owners truly make you feel at home and where their personality is reflected in the rooms. Last year I stayed at a B&B where the owners had left no less than two Bibles in each room. Not Gideon Bibles, but regular ones. These were incredibly nice and hospitable people and what you might call 'good Christians'. In their case, I didn't mind. It was part of the Bible belt experience.

A corporate hotel or a motel is different. People stay at a chain hotel because they need a place to sleep and wash. And basically that's all you expect from a chain, with different levels of luxury and comfort depending on class. What is necessary for every guest is included in the price of the room (soap, shampoo, towels, toilet paper). And what is not necessary is offered at a surcharge (the telephone, movies, drinks and food). If you need a book, bring your own.
This distinction between necessary amenities and extras is important. If a private hotel owner feels that everybody should be confronted with his faith (be it Christian, Muslim or anything else) that's his right. After all, it is my choice to stay with him or not. But for a hotel chain to place a Bible in every room as a free and necessary amenity is odd. Most of these hotels actively advertise and sell all kinds of porn on the in-house video circuit at the same time. They are hypocrites, and they are short-sighted. They should at least realize that there are as many different tastes in religion as there are in pornography. So why cater to different tastes commercially in one case and adopt a missionary position in the other?

Hotel room Bibles are "placed by the Gideons," an organization that has evangelized for over 100 years. But it is a mistake to think that the Gideons are a kind of guerrilla army of Christian soldiers stealthily placing Bibles in rooms when nobody is looking. Corporate hotels choose to have them, and I think they shouldn't.

If a hotel would have a collection of different holy books available on request, or at a surcharge ("Read the Book of your choice for 24 hours for only $14.95"), that would be different. But by putting just one beside the bed they send a message many people, I for one, do not want to hear.

On that thought I ate the last piece of candy, checked a small condom for size and fell asleep feeling a lot better.