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.

An alternative history

Slacktivist buys a book — a somewhat surprising book nowadays. It’s a book on evangelical Christian ethics that has no problem with abortion.

In 1975 — two years after Roe — Zondervan Press published a book for white evangelicals in which Norman Geisler wrote: “Abortion is not murder, because the embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.” And nobody freaked out. Nobody even imagined freaking out. This was simply a restatement of what most white evangelicals believed — a belief that was widely held because it has the advantage of being true.

It’s still true, of course, but white evangelicals are no longer allowed to say so. That’s a huge change.

Actually, I shouldn’t say it’s that surprising. There were also Christian science textbooks from that era that thought evolution was a fine idea, and that the Earth is clearly billions of years old (there still are!). Just imagine an alternate history in which American Christianity hadn’t been derailed by anti-woman, anti-science derangement — it would have short-circuited a lot of the motivation behind the atheist movement, and might have produced a 21st century America in which the conservatives wouldn’t have been driven by a fanatical version of right-wing Christianity.

Unfortunately, nowadays “Christianity” and “rabid religious fanaticism” are in the process of an ongoing merger.

Socialist progressive atheists are more Christian than capitalist regressive bible-thumpers

Katha Pollit tells it like it is. I’m also tired of all the news stories that tell us that we have to empathize with Trump voters, that it’s our fault that Trump won, that gosh, this dumbass who voted for a racist psychopath is just a down-home salt-of-the-earth fella. We know all that. But really, it’s time to stop the one-sided efforts to humanize people who dehumanize the rest of us.

But here’s my question: Who is telling the Tea Partiers and Trump voters to empathize with the rest of us? Why is it all one way? Hochschild’s subjects have plenty of demeaning preconceptions about liberals and blue-staters—that distant land of hippies, feminazis, and freeloaders of all kinds. Nor do they seem to have much interest in climbing the empathy wall, given that they voted for a racist misogynist who wants to throw 11 million people out of the country and ban people from our shores on the basis of religion (as he keeps admitting on Twitter, even as his administration argues in court that Islam has nothing to do with it). Furthermore, they are the ones who won, despite having almost 3 million fewer votes. Thanks to the founding fathers, red-staters have outsize power in both the Senate and the Electoral College, and with great power comes great responsibility. So shouldn’t they be trying to figure out the strange polyglot population they now dominate from their strongholds in the South and Midwest? What about their stereotypes? How respectful or empathetic is the belief of millions of Trump voters, as established in polls and surveys, that women are more privileged than men, that increasing racial diversity in America is bad for the country, that the travel ban is necessary for national security? How realistic is the conviction, widespread among Trump supporters, that Hillary Clinton is a murderer, President Obama is a Kenyan communist and secret Muslim, and the plain-red cups that Starbucks uses at Christmastime are an insult to Christians? One of Hochschild’s subjects complains that “liberal commentators” refer to people like him as a “redneck.” I’ve listened to liberal commentators for decades and have never heard one use this word. But say it happened once or twice. “Feminazi” went straight from Rush Limbaugh’s mouth to general parlance. One of Hochschild’s most charming subjects, a gospel singer and preacher’s wife, uses it like a normal word. Equating women who want their rights with the genocidal murder of millions? How is that not a vile insult?

Somehow, the idea that the tolerant side is the side that tolerates Nazis annoys me.

I’m also tired of people who preach their goodness (because God) but don’t practice it. In particular, the Ryanesque theology that equates Jesus Christ with Ayn Rand. Capitalist Christianity has gone down an evil path.

These statements from Arrington and Marshall are rooted in the same religious idea: that the poor and sick — or at least a subset thereof — supposedly deserve their plight, and healthy and more financially secure Americans shouldn’t be forced to care for them.

This theology has incensed many progressive Christians of late, but it didn’t appear overnight. It’s the result of a decades-long campaign by conservative lawmakers, intellectuals, and theologians to craft a theology that rejects longstanding Christian understandings of society’s needy.

But they love Jesus! Therefore we’re supposed to sympathize with them. That’s the game skin-deep Christian exploiters have been playing for centuries.

Belle Plaine gets a new ornament

A small town in Minnesota put up an exclusively Christian memorial to veterans in a city park — only Christians have fought in our military, apparently. The FFRF got on their case, and they initially backed off, but then under local pressure they decided to put it back up, but with a new compromise. They decided to call the park a free speech zone where anyone can put up a monument, just so they could allow this one religious symbol to stand in a civic space.

And somewhere, a Satanist’s eyes glittered with joy and anticipation.

Belle Plaine is now getting a lovely black steel cube with inverted pentagrams on it for their park. Good choice. Some of the citizens don’t seem to understand the first amendment and have defaced secular signs before, so it’s going to be tough for them to do much of anything to a heavy, squat, metal block.

I kinda want one for my lawn now.