Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Real Nihilists

My friend Ideas Man has written a sharp essay on the Creation Museum, built near the Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky border, in the suburbs of Cincinnati. I didn't know about the museum until he wrote about it, but let's just say that I live north of the so-called culture wars (although the Conservative government has put some effort into stoking such idiocy up here).

His verdict is that the museum did not meet his basic expectations...
  • We'd expected to have sophistical arguments thrown at us designed to confuse us.
  • We'd expected to have cultural conservativism thrust down us: anti-abortion, anti gay-rights, maybe anti roll and roll, yaddah yaddah yaddah.
  • We'd expected implicit jingoism, pro-capitalism, yaddah yaddah yaddah --- in other words, the weird amalgam of economic libertarianism and traditionalist populism that marks the ideology of the religious right.  We'd expected that to be front and center.
...but rather the museum presented a narrative of sacrifice and violence that cleaved the world into believers and non-believers, for which creation and evolution are shibboleths:
They see men of God doing violence to people and animals, and they are told that that violence is an inevitable result of sin (but note, again, it's not the world doing the violence, as in the traditional account of Christianity, it's the men of God).  The crucifixion is represented as the apotheosis of this violence.  We are told that this violence that we've been undergoing has been prefiguring the Crucifixion.  And Jesus, who is represented as the "sacrificial lamb," is given the name of the last Adam, the first sacrificer.  Then, we are reminded that, after all, it's our choice: same facts, different interpretations.  You can interpret them in the godly way (the way that the doers of violence interpret them) or in the human way (the way that those who will have violence done to them do).
The violence is accented, and any sense of redemption and social justice is minimized; the creation narrative is recasted according to a paranoid and persecuted style of politics.

Reading about these things always reminds me that religious people really are the real nihilists, because in the worldview described above, there's either their transcendent values or no values at all. They make existentialists, secularists, atheists, historical materialists and even some other religious believers, who believe that humanity makes its own history (and thus its own values) in conditions that it does not choose, sound like optimists and humanists.

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