Righting America

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A Literalism of the Elite | Righting America

by Patrick Thomas

In this post, Patrick Thomas critiques the “plain sense” of AiG’s literal reading of Genesis on display at the Creation Museum.

To accept a literalist reading of Genesis means that you must also take a number of suppositions as “givens.” Some of these suppositions have long histories in various Christian traditions; for example, the perspicuity of scripture or the idea of creatio ex nihilo. But to accept the literalism on display at the Creation Museum requires visitors to take even more suppositions as “givens,” as the Trollingers point out in the “Bible” chapter of Righting America. These include the supposition that two distinct stories of creation in Genesis can be combined un-problematically, that using a Bible verse or a snippet of a Bible verse without any textual context is acceptable, and – especially important for the Creation Museum – all other attempts at reading creation are elitist, sinful and antagonistic to the “plain sense” of the Museum’s literal reading.

The charge of elitism is especially useful for Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Creation Museum, as it brings together a whole host of non-fundamentalist stances (including many Christians) under the singular category of folks who, according to AiG, claim to know more than God. Of course, the charge also allows AiG to claim the status of the underdog and occupy a position of grace as the people to whom elites cast their blasphemous biblical doubts.

What’s striking about the AiG’s charges of elitism is precisely how elitist their own Genesis 1 account is presented at the Museum. For one thing, I’ve previously noted the shift that appears in the Creation Museum from the word of God as told in scripture to the creation story shown in experiences and encounters at the museum highlights the fact that the Creation Museum cannot follow a literal reading of Genesis. The move to show rather than tell the creation story is a step away from the literalist reading that AiG claims, one that requires the Museum to fill in so many gaps, to answer questions as apparently germane as “How many races are there?” to “Why did the dinosaurs go extinct?” I wonder, doesn’t the ability to ask and answer such questions from the position of Biblical authority demonstrate an elite position?

What’s more, the particular kinds of displays at the Creation Museum help us to see how elitist the Creation Museum’s claims to literalism really are. One convenient example is the noticeable lack of female figures aside from Eve and Noah’s wife. This reinforces a patriarchal elitism that, as the Trollingers suggest, presumes sexual inequality as an essential component of the created order (Righting America, 173). Thus, while the Museum notes that Adam’s sin (and not Eve’s) is responsible for the fall of man, Eve is repeatedly shown in subordinate roles to Adam. She’s fashioned this way by, we’re meant to assume, God.

Finally, justifying incest in the ancient world as a familial and biological imperative without any Biblical evidence, concocting instead, “an argument on behalf of incest that includes questionable claims regarding human genetics, an attack on those who criticize incest on any grounds other than the Bible, and the suggestion that incest is not as bad as it seems” (Righting America, 177), provides the most glaring evidence of AIG’s elitism at work. Beyond providing a justification for the argument that Adam and Eve’s son Cain had sexual relations with his sister, the defense of incest also appears as an attack aimed at proponents of gay marriage: according to the museum, “marriage ‘between close relatives was not a problem in early biblical history,’ as long as ‘it was one man for one woman (the biblical doctrine of marriage).’”

All of these examples appear as part of the museum’s representation of creation, in the narrative that aims to show humans’ struggles to be closer to God. These elite representations appear among the people who tried to follow God’s word most carefully – Eve, the prophets and apostles, Noah and his sons – and thus represent the people God speaks to directly. Certainly, these representations evince that what the Creation Museum offers is not a literal but an elite reading of Genesis. And it is a reading that frames a highly charged ideological platform serving only to reinforce both the elite status of AiG’s doctrine and of its leaders as “plain sense” reading.

Despite Ken Ham’s claims that everyone is welcome at AIG’s destinations, the visual experience of the Museum sends a contrary message. To those whose beliefs differ from or question the Museum’s plain-sense reading of creation, the message is clear: you do not belong in God’s creation.