Big Gay Wooden Box outraged at Fake News

Those scamps at Answers in Genesis are mad at the Lexington Herald-Leader for reporting on their tax shenanigans. How dare they suggest that AiG wasn’t willing to pay their fair share!

In typical, hackneyed fashion, the Herald-Leader has again misrepresented the Ark Encounter. In its July 27 editorial, the paper omitted key information when it declared that our themed attraction had “protested” contributing to the safety fund of the city of Williamstown. To the unwary reader, it suggested that the Ark was not prepared to pay anything at all. Wrong.

Conveniently omitted was a mention that the Ark Encounter was always prepared to pay into the fund, even up to a generous $500,000 a year for this city of 4,000 people. We merely sought a reasonable cap. That was the sticking point, not an unwillingness to pay into the fund. With the editorial’s words that the Ark is a “non-profit religious organization,” the reader was further led to believe that our “protest” included an excuse not to pay into the fund.

It’s what’s not reported in an editorial or article that can lead to a highly misleading thrust. It would be like this newspaper reporting that Fort Knox’s Patton Museum had no visitors last Monday. That is a true statement on the face of it. But not also mentioning that it is closed on Mondays would make the report misleading.

MARK LOOY

Unlike us poor peons, I guess AiG thinks they get to bargain with tax agencies and tell them that they won’t pay the full amount. You know what would happen to me if I told the Minnesota state government or the IRS that I wasn’t “protesting” the tax rate, but that I’ve decided to cap my contribution to $500 per year? I’d be in jail, with a lot of accountants laughing at me.

Speaking of trying to mislead by omission, how come Looy failed to mention that, in their mad scramble to demonstrate their willingness to support the community with a reasonable cap, they first transferred ownership of the Big Gay Wooden Box to their tax-exempt religious division for $10, and then hastily sold it back for $10 when the state of Kentucky pointed out that that would invalidate their $18 million tax subsidy? That sneaky shuffle seems to me to be a good thing to mention when they claim to have been engaged in good faith negotiations — not mentioning it makes that letter misleading.

Dumb and dumber

Oh, crap. It’s Sunday morning, and all I need is a sermon from dumbshit Jim Carrey. It’s nice that he’s working with former prison inmates, but the most help he seems to providing is dollops of platitudes, while promoting a pernicious and ugly Christian doctrine.

Ultimately, I believe that suffering leads to salvation. In fact, it’s the only way.

No. Ten thousand times no. This is the gospel of Mother Teresa, and it does not lead to salvation — it leads to the veneration of poverty and misery and pain and death. This is why Christianity is a death cult (although, in the case of the prosperity gospel, some splinters of it are transforming themselves into a money cult, which isn’t any better).

Suffering is not a blessing. We should not look on human beings in pain and console ourselves with the thought that the more despair they experience, the more likely they are to find Jesus. We should look on that pain and do what we can to end it.

So yes, it’s good that Carrey is trying to do something to help the needy, but praising their suffering is not the way. Would he also praise cancer for bringing people closer to his god?

Probably. Because he’s a dumbshit.

Where is Shelly Miscavige?

It’s a strange mystery, because apparently we do know where Shelly Miscavige is, and her husband, the twisted egomaniacal head of Scientology, David Miscavige, certainly knows precisely where she is, since he’s such a control freak. Apparently, she’s in California.

Even before Leah Remini came out of Scientology, however, we’d been writing about the strange disappearance of Shelly Miscavige, and we’ve worked hard to investigate her whereabouts through multiple, independent sources. And all of those sources point to one place, where we believe Shelly has been living and working since 2005: the Church of Spiritual Technology headquarters compound near Crestline, California.

So we know where she is. She’s monitored by Scientologists and chooses not to reveal herself, thanks to the nasty psychological shackles that the cult has placed on her. Maybe the question should be “How does Scientology compel Shelly Miscavige to hide?”

Another question might be, “What is Shelly Miscavige doing in Crestline, California?” We apparently know the answer to that, too.

CST is a bizarre sub-entity of Scientology whose mandate is to archive L. Ron Hubbard’s writings and lectures in underground vaults so that they can be recovered after civilization collapses. CST has vaults in three locations in California and one in New Mexico and planned to add another one in Wyoming that seems to be held up. But it’s at the headquarters compound in the mountains above Los Angeles where the actual archiving work goes on, with Hubbard’s words etched on steel plates to be stored in titanium containers filled with inert gases. For the last 12 years, Shelly Miscavige has worked on that project, as well as other Scientology products.

I’ve read Hubbard’s cheesy pulp stories. I’ve read parts of his nonsensical Scientology books. I’ve listened to recordings of his bizarre, rambling, inane lectures.

His crappy words are being etched on steel plates to be stored in titanium containers filled with inert gases, to be preserved for eternity? This is madness.

Remember this, though, when someone tries to tell you the Bible or the Koran are obviously precious because of the believers commitment to preserve and maintain them for generation after generation. That doesn’t mean squat, because human beings sometimes don’t have any taste at all.

Some of them also like to lock people away from their friends and families.

Every time. Every time the Catholics make up nonsense.

The Pope has just reiterated a rule about the Eucharist.

The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools.

The newest rule:

Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread.

I remember being inundated with mail from outraged Catholics explaining the nature of the communion wafer: it specifically transformed into the flesh of Jesus when served, although it wasn’t a change of substance but of spirit. And now I learn that Jesus can only be made from wheat, and specifically must include some quantity of gluten, or the magic doesn’t work.

I’m pretty sure that if there were an actual Jesus, son of a god, living in Palestine 2000 years ago, he would not have been made of wheat, and he would have been gluten-free. I’m also pretty sure that the menu from the last supper was not preserved — there are more than enough silly arguments about whether the bread was leavened or unleavened — that for all we know they might have been nibbling on nice slices of pumpernickel, and no Catholic has ever shared the right kind of bread at communion, so they’re all going to hell.

As if you needed another reason to boycott Hobby Lobby…

In addition to being hypocritical moralists and outright bigots, the owners are now certifiable international criminals. They’re building a “Museum of the Bible” in Washington DC, and Steve Green wanted to stock it with ancient artifacts, so he threw buckets of money at Middle Eastern thieves to buy up ancient relics, knowing full well that this was illegal and was supporting looting. The guy is a fucking crook who’s feeding the destruction of history, all in the name of his bible.

He has to give them back (almost pointless, given the loss of provenance) and pay a $3 million fine, a pittance for a guy worth $5 billion. A more appropriate sentence would have involved extensive jail time and closure and confiscation of his museum.

My kids are going to be so disappointed in me

I’ve failed. Compared to that model father, Jay Sekulow, I’ve completely failed at life.

Poor Christians opened their wallets to a religious nonprofit run by Donald Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. In turn, Sekulow hired one of his own teenage sons—straight out of a Nickelodeon internship—and named him a “director” of the charity, where the son subsequently earned nearly a million dollars.

We raised our kids godless and with the weird idea that grifting was an immoral act. Now they’re going to look at their bank accounts and wonder why I was so cruel to them. Heck, I’m looking at my bank account and thinking I must have messed up.

The Sekulow family has full control of CASE [Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism], which raked in $229 million in donations from 2011 to 2015 alone, The Washington Post reported. CASE solicited donations through an aggressive phone campaign. A script for CASE telemarketers, obtained by The Guardian, instructed callers to pressure the poor for money. “Could you possibly make a small sacrificial gift of even $20 within the next three weeks?” the script instructed telemarketers to ask retirees, the unemployed, and other people who said they were too poor to give. The donations would go toward preserving “our traditional Christian values,” the script said.

Just call me a bad dad. Oh well. At least I’m not going to go to jail for that kind of fraud!

Wait. Neither is Sekulow, I guess.

In a statement to The Guardian, a Sekulow spokesperson said the nonprofit’s payouts were all legal.

Damn. I should have followed the American Way, but I done fucked up.

Having it both ways

When they were asking for $18 million in tax incentives, Ken Ham’s Big Wooden Box was simply a “tourist attraction”. Now though, when they’re asking for a tax exemption, they’re a “religious organization”. They even got a court ruling saying it was only fair for the state to support it, just as they would any theme park.

…because the tourism incentive “is neutral, has a secular purpose, and does not grant preferential treatment to anyone based on religion, allowing (Answers in Genesis) to participate along with the secular applicants cannot be viewed as acting with the predominant purpose of advancing religion.”

Remember those words: it cannot be viewed as acting with the predominant purpose of advancing religion. See what Answers in Genesis says today.

According to the letter sent by John E. Pence, secretary general for Answers in Genesis, the Ark Encounter was organized exclusively for religious purposes, and is solely owned and operated by Crosswater Canyon, a Kentucky non-profit corporation which is recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization and public charity under Section 501©(3) religious organizations and public charity.

Both Ark Encounter and Crosswater Canyon are clearly religious organizations, the letter reads. The Ark Encounter project was designed to factually present the biblical and historical truths of the Bible, including the biblical accounts of Noah and the Ark, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, and other biblical truths revealed in Scripture, through the Ark’s exhibits and guest experiences. Crosswater Canyon was organized exclusively to support the religious mission and purposes of Answers in Genesis, and to own and manage the Ark Encounter for Answers in Genesis.

So the tax incentives are being used to promote a sectarian religious enterprise, according to AiG’s own consigliere? It always has been and is in all of its attributes a church? OK. Wish I had a time machine so I could hand that letter over to the judge who ruled that propping up AiG’s finances wouldn’t advance religion.

Come home, you pompous buffoon

Tim Minchin’s wish is coming true. George Pell is coming home!

Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George Pell, has been charged with historical sexual assault offences and ordered to appear in a Melbourne court.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said the Vatican-based cardinal was required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 18.

Pell has a collection of direct, personal sexual abuse allegations hanging over his head from years ago. He was an associate of Gerald Ridsdale, and while living in a house with a notorious child rapist does not make him guilty of the same, it did make him well practiced in the art of plausible denial and presenting apologetics for the church. He then acquired a reputation for platitudes and avoidance, rather than action, in dealing with the Catholic Church’s history of sexual abuse in Australia.

He’s not a nice man, but somehow he has been promoted upwards within the Catholic hierarchy. He’s in charge of the Vatican’s finances — it seems to me that being the top man in charge of papal excess and loot ought to be another crime.

Is the Ark Encounter economically viable?

From a few of the comments on my post about my visit to Ken Ham’s Ark Park, people seem to think I’m arguing for the long-term success of the fake boat. Short answer: I don’t know. But here’s what I do know.

It’s got a fair number of attendees. This is from a one-day sample, so I can’t possibly make any extrapolations, but what I saw were a lot of Christian family groups who looked like they were there on vacation, several buses full of evangelical church kids in matching t-shirts, and a scattering of older couples who were there like pilgrims visiting a shrine. It’s far more popular than other creationist museums I’ve visited, which are typically anemic and a bit shabby. Answers in Genesis has the flashy PR angle down cold, and is getting people to travel to the Ark Park as a tourist destination. That’s a plus for them.

Attendance really is comparable to what I see at real science museums, like the Franklin Institute or the Science Museum of Minnesota or OMSI. That’s remarkable considering they’re almost an hour away from Cincinnati and it’s a drive with virtually no other attractions. Location matters, and they’ve plunked this thing down in a crap location; if you relocated the San Francisco Exploratorium to this nowhere place in Kentucky, it would wither and die. The Ark Park is doing OK, because they can rely on religious fervor to motivate visitors.

However, that parking lot has got to be immensely embarrassing, because it is so dang immense and relatively empty. They clearly anticipated crowds that are an order of magnitude larger than what they’re getting. Maybe they’re anticipating a lot of growth? I don’t think they’ll get it.

Here’s why: there’s nothing there. When I compare it to real museums, it’s solely on the basis of attendance, because the content is pathetic — the Creation “Museum” has equivalent or more content, and the Ark Park just spreads the same stuff out over more square footage. There’s a lot of “tell, don’t show”: big pictures on the wall that explain verbosely what their interpretation of the Bible is, accompanied by…nothing. It’s bad pedagogy that only affirms what true believers already believe. If you’re not a believer already, it’s painfully dreary and dull; Ol’ Ken won’t be winning any souls for Jesus, but he will be reassuring those already on his side that science and American culture are agin’ ’em, and so they better join together.

What about the satisfaction of those attendees? They liked it! I doubt that many came out of it as I did feeling like they were ripped off. A few anecdotes: I was listening to what other people were saying (I was there solely as an observer, so I did not start any arguments, tempted though I was). I’m walking down the long, long, long ramp that winds through the center of the building, and there was an elderly couple walking along. “This is magnificent!”, he said to his wife, and she agreed. Yet all there was to see was this gigantic wooden ramp that was like a blown-up cattle chute, with us as the cattle. They’d clearly gotten the message that was hammered at us constantly about how big the Ark was, so that bigness became sufficient.

On the third deck, a woman bustled by, clearly anxious to just leave, and her teenaged son was trailing behind. “Mommm! Slow down! I’m trying to learn something here!” I spun around in place, looking at what there was to see. The ramp. A bright colorful poster of something or other on the wall. A small room space with a diorama in it. It was as close to an intellectual dead zone as I’ve seen. I don’t know whether the kid was simply using a buzz word — “learn” — to manipulate his mother, or whether he was sincere in wanting to think about the content. This was the point where I was most tempted to intervene and take the person aside who professed to want to learn and explain to him what he really needed to know about this place.

That was depressing, to see someone who at least claimed to want to learn who’d sought out this terrible place that was only teaching ignorance.

It also highlighted something else about the place: where were the docents? Most museums have volunteers who will help explain anything on display, or have experts who will do demonstrations. I saw nothing of the kind here. There were a couple of places where there were bottlenecks, with guides who were there to shepherd groups along; there were a few guards armed with tasers and police dogs. Otherwise, everything was designed to stand alone, which might explain why there so many walls of text splattered about. It’s all so ideologically focused in a narrow way, so it might also be difficult to get volunteer guides who don’t say something heretical now and then.

I expect the attendees stroll out of there to register high satisfaction ratings, in the majority. That’s a problem for AiG. You know that giant parking lot that maybe they hope to expand into? They’ve already captured the audience that is made giddily happy by trudging for 45 minutes through a maze of wooden boxes with amplified pig noises squealing at them. You don’t need substance to appeal to them at all. You could just bus them out to a completely empty giant wooden box, and if you told them it was Jesus-approved, they’d nod and check off the biggest number in the Likert scale of the satisfaction survey. This isn’t just a phenomenon at religious sites, of course.

It is a problem for growth though. Adding more exhibits or longer ziplines or carnival rides will increase their expenses, but won’t draw in more people beyond their already pre-satisfied crowd of Jesusites. The baseline has been successfully acquired. What do they do to make it grow? I have no idea. I don’t think they do, either.

Another concern for AiG. I, too, own a big wooden box called a house. It’s nowhere near the size of Ken Ham’s big wooden box, but maintenance is a non-trivial expense — we’re especially aware of that this summer, because we’ve hired a contractor to redo all the big wooden siding and replace the rotting-out boards in the big wooden deck. My pocketbook is already aching, so I’m a little bit sensitive to this sort of thing. I looked at the already seriously weathered shell of the Ark, and I wondered what happens when all those boards expand and warp in the cold and the heat, and what their maintenance costs will be. I’m also confident that those costs will grow over the years, and that AiG, given their desperate desire for raw overwhelming BIGNESS, have probably cut corners in quality somewhere (which is evident in the paltry content). Just the fact that they proudly proclaim that they have built the largest wooden structure in the world should tell you that they’re at the extreme end of what you can do with this kind of construction.

So I repeat: I don’t know if the Ark Park is economically viable. It might be cruising along just fine right now — that’s entirely possible, given reasonable attendance — and they might even get significant repeat business, because their fans are definitely devoted. But I know nothing about their expenses, it’s not exactly poised for real growth, and it’s got nothing in the interior that ought to make science museums concerned about competition. It’s a shrine to stupidity, which has a built-in strong audience in America. And which makes Ken Ham rich.