Today, hospital chapels vary widely. Some still reflect their founders' religious roots. Others have been renovated to accommodate multiple religions, or their religious symbols have been removed so the rooms resemble waiting rooms or art galleries.
"There was a diversity for a long time that was Christian diversity," said the Rev. George Handzo, vice president of pastoral care leadership and practice at HealthCare Chaplaincy, based in New York City.
Staff and patient populations at many U.S. hospitals are much more diverse than they once were, and hospitals know it makes good business sense to accommodate them, Handzo said. "They don't want to lose those people to the place down the street."
So, I'm just wondering how the mechanics go. Let's listen in on a hospital board meeting.
Director 1: "We need to revamp the chapel to accommodate non-Christian customers ... er, patients ... and their families. To whom shall we delegate this project?"
Director 2: "Um, is that really necessary? Are people complaining?"
Director 1: "Yes, we had a Muslim family here last week asking for a prayer rug. We couldn't provide it for them. That needs to change."
Director 2: "Uh, well, why does that need to change? I mean, most of our patients are not Muslims. And to be honest, a little Christianity might do them some good ..."
Director 1: "DR. JONES!!!! Do you realize what you are saying? We can't put ourselves in the position of telling patients that our religion ... I mean, Christianity ... 'might do them some good'! How is that not bigoted and discriminatory? This is the 21st century and we're a pluralistic, multicultural society!"
Director 2: "OK, OK, you're right. Maybe we could set up a Muslim prayer room, then? Somewhere in the east wing? We've got a few extra rooms on the third floor - "
Director 1: "And send the message that Muslims are second-class citizens? I don't think so! And what are we supposed to do, give the Buddhists and Hindus and Wiccans and atheists their own chapels? We don't have the resources for that. No, the only solution is to revamp the chapel we already have and make it inoffensive to all faith communities."
Dr. Jones, at this point, cannot defend his position without getting himself into lots of trouble, so the discussion ends and another hospital chapel falls to the desecrators. Which points us to our dilemma. We Americans who lament the de-Chrisitanization of our culture are effectively out of arguments. And we are out of arguments because the only arguments we know how to use (or indeed are permitted to use) - arguments that have worked in the past - have been based on false premises and are now being used against us. De-Christianization will continue apace until our basic assumptions about religion, culture and society are corrected.