Saturday, February 20, 2010

Vanity Fair Fairly Characterizes Creation Museum

No one reads Vanity Fair for its objective reportage. The title, ripped from the Thackery classic, simultaneously celebrates and ridicules narcissism, as does the magazine's ephemeral contents.

So it's no surprise that A. A. Gill's article on his trip to the Creation Museum of Answers in Genesis is replete with snide comments and impertinent jibes. We figure that lots of Christians, accustomed to finding offense in the "liberal media" (really, the adjective can be dropped as a redundancy), are deeply offended by Gill's characterization.

We are not.

Our disdain for the museum and the ideology and methods of its founder are well known, of course, though we hasten to add again that we celebrate those couple of occasions when we have found common ground for cooperation with AIG, not least because we have friends who work there. But concerning the Vanity Fair piece, we find more than just agreement with the author that the museum is awful. We think he captures well the experience of going there.

Gill doesn't get some of the details of AIG's creationism. For instance, he sneers at the classification of bats as birds and weirdly asserts that Cain appears between the Flood and Babel, both points that betray his loose grasp of the details. But he gets what's truly wrong with the "museum": that it's bitter, angry, argumentative, and tasteless.

Yes, young-earthers, we know that the Creation Museum presents "both sides." But note well that there aren't just two sides. We like the new book The Late Great Ape Debate that presents in very accessible form the range of opinions among people of Christian faith on matters of origins. So count the four views (three of which overlap considerably) among Christians, add naturalistic evolution, and you've got five sides. AIG presents three: young-earth creationism, naturalistic evolution, and non-young-earth faith approaches (merging the overlapping three). The latter two are presented entirely to be rejected. In classic sectarian fashion, the bitterest rejection is saved for Christians who disagree with Ham. There's no consideration of the considerations that drive Christians to a position different from Ham's, and any differences among those who differ are ignored. Dissenting Christians only matter because they're so very wrong and dangerous.

We'll say it again: any Christian who visits any "secular" museum of natural history is likely to find a better experience of creation than what's on offer at the Creation Museum. Our favorites are the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum in Chicago, both magnificent collections of real artifacts (of which the AIG "museum" is virtually bereft) and representations of scientific findings that, viewed with the eye of faith, inspire the very wonder that Gill finds so utterly absent in Hebron. But for those who are in benighted Cincinnati, there's a very nice Natural History Museum at the magnificent Union Terminal.

We must add a supplementary point. Gill opens the article with this remark, which has prompted considerable anger in Our Fair City:

It’s not in the nature of stoic Cincinnatians to boast, which is fortunate, really, for they have meager pickings to boast about.

That, of course, is unfair, as Cincinnati has much to boast about, as anyone who lives here knows. But we are comforted that fairness in such characterizations is clearly not the goal of the article, which is more concerned with maintaining its tone of worldly cynicism. Take this remark:

The penchant for kitsch is something that gay men and born-again Christians share.

We'd say that that's probably unfair to gay men. And since there are probably more gay men who read Vanity Fair than Cincinnatians, we'll assume that Gill is just having fun in a Vanity Fairish way, which is disturbingly similar to a SWNIDish way. Cincinnatians will show their sophistication if they ignore Gill's remark instead of rebutting it.


Christian said...

That's disappointing. I didn't think your previous reviews were as negative as you made them sound in this post. Maybe I was being too gracious a reader.

I'm all for making fun of ourselves. I also think we need to acknowledge bad choices of the Church. I'm still chewing on all this, but something about all this seems sad, not funny.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Yes, it's sad that it takes a snide writer from Vanity Fair to rightly characterize the Creation Museum, though if you've thought for a minute that we had anything much to say in favor of AIG in the past, we haven't done our writing very well at all. All we can endorse is what we take as the sincere faith and dedication of many of its employees.

Rory Roybal said...

It seems you accuse Ken Ham of being intolerant of other positions, but clearly you are also very intolerant of his. How hypocritically typical and unreasonable. Don't preach respect for other opinions if you don't have any yourself.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

RR, we urge you to do some nuance with us, even if we are a hypocrite.

We gladly embrace young-earthers as Christian siblings. Don't skip our statements of the same.

We keenly oppose any Christian who insists that those who don't see things his or her way are outsiders for so doing. Ham-- devoting massive, bitter rhetoric to criticism of anyone who believes in Jesus and doesn't hold to his view of creation--is such a Christian.

AIG has sucked all the air out of the room in this discussion. We're trying to let it back in.

Our concern is mostly for those who are alienated from Christian faith because they think that Ham's view is the only Christian view, which is exactly what Ham wants people to think.

Read our other posts on this subject. That's why we hyperlink. We followed your hyperlink and see that you label certain folk false prophets. Good for you. So do we.

T said...

Many Christian leaders feel the same way about the AIG, and the Creation Museum as you do, unfortunately the all or nothing rhetoric of Hamm has had its intended effect and they find it easier and safer to say nothing about it than to criticize it.

Thank you for saying it for us.

On this same tact I recently came across a facebook profile in which under religion "Creationism" was the chosen moniker.

T said...

*tack, not tact.