by Susan Trollinger
Last Wednesday, Sue presented our co-authored paper, “Sacred Rhetoric Turned into Culture War Rhetoric at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter,” at the Sacred Rhetorics conference, which was held at Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, Ohio. Just one of the approximately thirty people in attendance had visited the Creation Museum and/or Ark Encounter, so it was a good thing that we had some images to share with the audience. The Q&A that followed the presentation was very engaging and tended to focus on the ways that AiG seems to restrict our understanding of the Bible and who counts as Christian.
- Q: Why does AiG think it is so important to read Genesis literally?
- A: Their argument is that if you don’t read Genesis literally then you are not getting God’s Truth as He intends it. Moreover, they argue, if you don’t read the first book of the Bible literally, then you likely won’t read any other book in the Bible (such as Revelation) literally. To fail to take Genesis literally is to fail to take seriously what God is trying to tell Christians from the first page to the last page of the Bible.
- Q: If you believe in inerrancy and an old earth, would the people at AiG say that you are a faithful Christian?
- A: They say that believing in an old earth is not a salvation issue. That is, one would not be denied God’s gift of salvation on the basis of one’s belief in an old earth. That said, they also argue that believing in an young earth is crucial since doing so shows that you take the Bible seriously as the inerrant Word of God. For AiG, the Word of God, to be True, must be understood as the inerrant-young-earth Word.
- Q: Why does AiG think that reason is opposed to God’s Word?
- A: AiG sees reason as a human faculty that can lead to error. Evolution is one of their prime examples of such an error produced by human reasoning. And the big problem with that error is that, according to them, it contests the true account of Creation in Genesis. By contrast, God’s Word is the universal truth that is without error and never changes over time. It is absolutely trustworthy, if it is read the right way—that is, literally.
- Q: Does AiG shoot itself in the foot when it makes all kinds of arguments based in science given that it insists that believers should not rely on reason?
- A: AiG makes a two-part argument regarding reason. The first argument is that good Christians need to make sure they always privilege the literal, young-earth-creationist interpretation of God’s Word over reason. If reason tells them one thing (that limiting marriage only to couples consisting of a man and a woman is wrong) but God’s Word says otherwise when read literally (that God commands that marriage only occur between a man and a woman), then Christians must adhere to what God’s Word says rather than what reason might indicate. Reason can be helpful, but only when its conclusions reiterate the truths that are revealed by a literal, young-earth-creationist Word. Anytime reason appears to contest that literal word, it must be rejected.
- Q: How do children who have learned about science in school respond to what the Creation Museum is saying about the age of the Earth and the Flood? Do they laugh?
- A: In our eight visits to the Creation Museum, we witnessed very little in the way of children laughing at or saying anything to indicate that they thought the exhibits were silly or preposterous. What we did see (as we wrote about previously) was parents (typically mothers) directing their children’s attention to this or that placard. Given the volume of home schooling material AiG sells, we think it likely that many parents bring their children to the Creation Museum and/or Ark Encounter as a home schooling field trip.
- Q: Why don’t the Amish get as much attention as the Creation Museum or Ark Encounter since they seem to have important things to say about what it means to be a Christian today?
- A: Sue got very excited about this question because, of course, her previous book was about the visual rhetoric of Amish Country tourism. Here’s her answer. The Amish actually get a lot of attention. About 11 million people visit just the three largest Amish settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana each year. By contrast, predictions are that about 2 million people will visit the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in 2017. And they do present a powerful witness to an alternative way of being in the world. Just one example—whenever a tourist gets stuck in traffic behind an Amish buggy, they are provided with a vivid (even if brief) experience of the very slow pace of Amish life. It they are paying attention, they might take that experience as an opportunity to think about the pace of mainstream life and what might be lost in that pace. In this way and others, the Amish put a mirror up to our culture and invite us to ask important questions about much that we take for granted in our culture and our lives.
In response to our paper and another, Professor Ronald C. Arnett made the following observation, which we think captures a crucial problem about the kind of Christian belief AiG advocates: “AiG’s project seems to be all about preservation and reification. But, faith isn’t about preservation or reification. It’s about death and resurrection.”