Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Post-Truth at the Creation Museum | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Sometimes this blog writes itself. Or, more precisely, sometimes the folks at Answers in Genesis (AiG) write it for us.

In his New Year’s Day post, Ken Ham celebrates the fact that this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which started when “Martin Luther nailed 95 theses – complaints about the church’s unbiblical ‘doctrines’ – to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.” But here in 2017, when there is “rampant compromise in the church, particularly in regard to the book of Genesis,” Ham and AiG seek “to ignite a new reformation” (emphasis in original) by “calling the church back to the authority of the Word of God,” in the process inspiring “Christian leaders to recognize the vital need to teach creation apologetics to children and teens . . . and oppose any compromise within the church with evolutionary/millions of-years [sic] beliefs.”

There is nothing surprising about Ham’s celebration of the Reformation, particularly given AiG’s position (as articulated by Terry Mortenson) that  “the Catholic Church is not the true church of Jesus Christ but is a false church that enslaves hundreds of millions of people in a false gospel.” And the call for a new Reformation has been a staple of the fundamentalist movement from its very inception in 1919 when William Bell Riley compared the first World’s Conference on Fundamentals on the Faith to “’the nailing up, at Wittenberg, of Martin Luther’s ninety-five Theses’” (God’s Empire 38).

In an effort to drive home the Wittenberg connection, Ham includes in his post a photo of the tableau of Luther nailing his propositions to the church door which one finds in the Biblical Relevance room of the Creation Museum. But a close look at this tableau reveals that, as we point out in Righting America, the Museum’s Luther is not posting the Ninety-five Theses, but instead the following:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

There is no getting around it. Museumgoers and blog readers are clearly supposed to think they are seeing a representation of Luther posting his Ninety-five Theses, but that is not what they are seeing. This seems pretty deceptive.

To be fair to Ham and the museum, if one looks very closely at the text one can see that it is credited to “Martin Luther, correspondence.”  But wait a minute. What sort of citation is “correspondence”? What correspondence, and when? Why is the museum so vague?

It turns out that the museum cannot be more specific about when and where Luther wrote this call to culture war, because “it turns out that the quote does not actually come from Luther, but instead from . . . a nineteenth-century historical novel by Elizabeth Rundle Charles” (Righting 139). The novel, Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family by Two of Themselves, does deal with the Reformation, and Luther is a figure in the novel. But amazingly, the quote cannot even be attributed to Charles’ fictional Luther, as it is spoken by a character named Fritz.

You can’t make this stuff up. And there is more. On the very day that Ham uses a photo of the Creation Museum’s Luther posting a text that is not the Ninety-five Theses (though that is what we are supposed to believe it is) and that is not even by Luther (though the museum says he is the author) but is instead a speech spoken by a fictional Fritz from a nineteenth-century novel – on this very day the lead article on the AiG website was a piece by Avery Foley entitled, “2016: The Year Truth Was Irrelevant.” In this piece Ms. Foley laments that we have moved into “a post-truth culture” in which “truth is no longer an objective reality” but instead is what’s true for me – my beliefs, my opinions, determine my truth” (emphasis in original).

Sounds like a pretty good description of what is going on at the Creation Museum. Is this the state of fundamentalist apologetics? Is it post-truth?