Friday, April 18, 2008

Stupidity All Around

So, check this out.

On Wednesday an Orthodox Jewish man delayed a United Airlines flight from New York's JFK airport to San Francisco, when shortly before departure he rose, went to the back of the plane and began praying. Flight attendants tried to get his attention to tell him that he needed to be in his seat, but he ignored them and continued praying. Friends of the passenger explained to the crew "that once the prayer is started, it must be finished without interruption."

Okay. Look. Y'all know I'm a religious person and while I follow the Christian faith, I try to respect all of the various ways in which humanity reaches toward the divine. But I have trouble understanding why anyone would worship a god who is so petty, rigid and inflexible that s/he would take offense at the notion that a prayer be temporarily interrupted for pretty darn practical reasons. I don't mean to mock or belittle tradition; as a high-church Anglican, I've got plenty of rituals of my own that are important to me. Still, I am careful not to confuse physical rituals with faith itself. It's lovely that Orthodox Jews pray at certain times, that they stand and face toward Jerusalem and chant words that go back for centuries. All of that is wonderful; it's important to value the traditions that link us to our heritage.

But for Pete's sake, the plane is about to depart! There are perfectly pragmatic safety rules in place. Does someone honestly think that God is going to be mad if your prayer is delayed a few minutes until your physical safety and that of your fellow passengers is no longer an issue? You don't think if you silently prayed, "God, I'm sorry...I know I'm supposed to be praying right now, but can it wait a few minutes? Or, just this once, would you mind terribly if I prayed sitting down?" Or, "Boy, I'm sorry, I know this prayer isn't supposed to be interrupted, but I'm holding up several hundred people and causing a traffic jam on the tarmac at one of the world's busiest airports, I'll have to finish this in a sec, 'kay?" Why would you bother with a supposedly loving, omniscient, compassionate, forgiving god who is as uptight and arbitrary as some hissy-fit-throwing celebrity suffering from massive self-entitlement?

But wait, it gets worse.

So the friends of the passenger explain to the crew that the prayer takes about two and a half minutes. When he's done, the passenger sits down and buckles up.

Too late, they've already called security. They're kicking the dude off the plane. And of course, according to FAA regulations, if you take a passenger off a plane, for security reasons you must also remove their checked luggage.

Do you think that maybe delayed the flight more than the 2.5 minute prayer?


Faustus, M.D. said...

Hmm. Well, according to the story you link, takeoff was delayed only by a few minutes.

I will confess to a distaste for Hasidim, who I think damage the image of Judaism in much the same way that extreme evangelical Christians damage the image of Christianity.

That said, this was a really, really, really fucking obnoxious thing of him to do.

The issue as I see it isn't whether he should have interrupted his prayer (and in fact I think I disagree with you about this issue, Andy--religious tradition is religious tradition, whether a plane needs to take off or not--in the grand scheme of things, who's more important, a few hundred people or God?). The issue is that he could have said the Amidah at any time during the evening. He could have said it waiting by the gate for boarding to start. He could have said it once the plane had taken off. He could have said it (depending on where they were going) after landing. The prescribed times are morning, afternoon, and evening. That's it. No hours. It was Wednesday, so there was no question of sundown and the beginning of Shabbat.

So basically, this guy didn't inconvenience a planeful of people because God would get mad if he didn't. This guy inconvenienced a planeful of people just because he felt like it.

Andy said...

Well, no, we're not really in disagreement. At least, we're not far apart.

religious tradition is religious tradition, whether a plane needs to take off or not

Exactly. If that's the case, the schmuck should have flown at a different time. Or taken the train. It was totally obnoxious of him.

Gino said...

i have a good friend who is devout muslim, to the letter of the word.

as you know, muslims have defined prayer times throught the day. and even HE doesnt stop in the middle of his work day to pray.
those prayers he misses while at work, he makes them up when he gets home. its the way the imams teach when circumstances are inconvenient.
i'm assuming this guy's rabbi would tell him the same thing.