The Washington Post reported this week on the planned construction of a “Bible museum” in Washington D.C. This ought to be happy news for those of us fascinated by the Bible’s power, longevity, and million tantalizing clues to the deep history of human civilization in North Africa.
As it happens, the museum’s not for us. It is, rather, for those who credit the Bible’s power and longevity to God – rather than, say, Constantine and the Hampton Court Conference – and who believe the book doesn’t just offer hints to a sliver of humanity’s past, but is a true account of it. WashPo‘s interview with Cary Summers, the Museum’s COO, reveals that the institution intends to pay for itself with Christian tourist dollars, and that its exhibits will make an evidentiary case for the Bible’s historic accuracy.
The museum won’t be entirely anti-scholarly. Its permanent collection shall be comprised of the Green Collection, perhaps the world’s most extensive privately held collection of Biblical artifacts. These are no holy relics of dubious provenance in the Collection; to my knowledge it contains no fragments of the “true cross,” no shrouds, no bloody robes, no dried out sprigs of thorn. It contains unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls; and the “Roseberry Rolle,” the Bible’s first known translation into Middle English; and a Bible translation by William Tynsdale, penned during his imprisonment in the Tower of London; and a handwritten note from Martin Luther; and a great many more objects owned or created by verifiable historical figures.
These are of unassailable value, though their presentation may be chintzy – in its traveling incarnation, the Green Collection houses the note from Martin Luther in a “theater” featuring “a debate between Fathers Erasmus and Luther and Dr. Johann Eck … which culminates in Luther nailing his 95 Theses to his church door.” Not the kind of thing you find at the Met.
The presence of Cary Summers doesn’t bode well for serious museum-goers. When his attention is unoccupied by the Green Collection, Summers serves as a consultant for America’s citadel of low-brow anti-Darwinism, the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Kentucky – wherein patrons encounter “Adam and Eve … in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Yes: this is the very institution committed to convincing the American public that dinosaurs and humans once shared the Earth, and that the Grand Canyon was carved by the receding waters of the Great Flood. Cary Summers’s particular duties within the organization have to do with getting right the historical details of a life-size “re-creation” of Noah’s Ark, which the Creation Museum is in the process of constructing.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with an original Tynsdale. I am less bothered by the superstitions of the museum’s operators than I am by those of its patrons, especially in light of a seemingly unrelated news story that swept across the blogosphere last week. That story concerned Republican State Rep. Valarie Hodges, of Louisiana, who voted earlier this year to spend public money on school vouchers, allowing parents to send their children to religious schools at the taxpayers’ expense. Then she changed her mind. From the Livingston Parish News:
Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said …
“I like the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.
[When reviewing the proposed legislation] Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”
It is troubling that an elected official in the United States could be so unaware of her own Christian privilege, and to the cosmopolitanism envisioned by the country’s founders, as to conflate the terms “religious” and “Christian.” That she would then feel no shame nor suffer any censure for publicly admitting the error is terrifying – it suggests that a great many Americans think along similar lines. What will they think, I wonder, when they visit the nation’s capital and, not far from the magnificence of the sane and secular Smithsonian museums lining the National Mall, find a well-funded museum devoted to promoting the divinity of Jesus? Will they assume the museums are all of the same ilk, and that the United States grants them all her imprimatur equally? Will they assume the museum’s presence in the Capital somehow represents the nation’s Christian character? Since even our nation’s legislators make the mistake already, it’s hard to imagine they won’t.