Righting America

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An Ex-Fundamentalist Visits the Creation Museum | Righting America

by Sean Martin

We welcome to rightingamerica Sean Martin, who is a fourth year doctoral student in theology at the University of Dayton (UD), where he is researching Catholic Fundamentalism. Before doctoral studies, he earned an MA in Religious Studies, also from UD, and an MA in Philosophy from Georgia State University. Along with teaching duties at UD, he also works as an adjunct instructor in Philosophy for Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana and this autumn will begin as an adjunct at Chatfield College teaching Philosophy and Religious Studies. Sean lives in Cincinnati, OH with his lovely wife, Beth, an adorable dog, and a disinterested cat.

My visit to the Creation Museum in the Fall of 2015 was largely similar to those who have written for this blog before. I was impressed by the sheer amount of money and energy invested in crafting this monument to evangelical anti-evolution ideology. I took pictures for research, I spent time at each and every display looking for hidden assumptions and logical inconsistencies, and watched the many other pilgrims who had journeyed to worship at this temple to society’s remaining hope of salvation. And from this experience, I could easily rehash that which others have written about previously in prose more elegant and insightful than I am capable. I also brought with me to the Creation Museum, however, all the confusion, angst, and pain of being raised as a fundamentalist, young-Earth creationist.

Thus, while I walked through the Creation Museum cataloguing my reflections for later examination, I also felt the lingering vestiges of my past commitments stirring in some long forgotten part of my mind. Having been a committed creationist until my freshman year of college in 2000, I know very well that despite the attestations of the Museum to the contrary, creationism is not about truth, or at least, not in the end. Creationism is about salvation and Heaven and Hell. And as I walked the halls of the Creation Museum, I heard again the whispers of doubt that – despite my advanced degrees and years of committed study of scripture, theology, and philosophy – it was possible that I was wrong. It was possible that I was being deceived and my pride and confidence in my commitments (as opposed to God’s truth) had placed my eternal soul in ultimate peril.

Like anyone perennially living in the mode of recovery, however, I was able to silence my demons through the use of long memorized mantras and self-assurances. These would be the same that I use on the rare occasions that I cannot reach my wife on the phone for longer than is comfortable coupled with the coincidental inability to contact several family members, leaving me beginning to wonder if I had been “left behind.”

As I made my way farther through the museum my fear turned to anger. Because I knew by heart all the tell-tale signs, I could recognize the subtle way that the Creation Museum and its parent organization, Answers in Genesis, gradually leads their visitors from academic discourse to irrational fear. What began as simply a different historical-scientific perspective is replaced with sin and despair, the specter of Pascal’s wager haunting every step. I became enraged, not only that the museum had weakened my own defenses and reintroduced doubts that I had assumed long conquered, but also that they would use such methods against those who have not had the luxury of 15+ years of theological and philosophical education. The museum preys on those whose pasts were, for whatever reason, bereft of the opportunities that had allowed me to find my way free of fundamentalism’s strong pull. I was furious at the Museum, and I pitied those who had fallen into their trap.

But as I reflected on my visit, I realized that anger and pity are neither completely fair nor helpful responses to the Creation Museum. More on this in my next post.