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Don’t expect objectivity from the new Museum of the Bible

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The Museum of the Bible is open to the public in Washington, D.C. and we at the Freedom From Religion Foundation have a pretty good idea about what the museum is trying to do.

FFRF was not invited to the museum’s grand opening, though we plan to visit soon, most likely giving the museum the same treatment we meted out to Ken Ham’s ark park. Our group has been monitoring the museum’s progress for more than three years, including filing Freedom of Information Act requests to ensure that the enterprise received no taxpayer funds. So we know a lot about the venture and its genesis.

The museum is the pet project of the Green family, the peddlers of tawdry Chinese rubbish disguised as crosses and crafts, which they mark up and sell in their Hobby Lobby stores. This is the same family that saddled the country with that awful Supreme Court decision, Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. The Greens’ biblical undertaking hit some snags along the way, including getting caught smuggling looted Iraqi artifacts, which resulted in a multimillion dollar fine and forfeiture. (Trading in these looted goods helps bankroll ISIS.) One would think that people claiming to be devout followers of Jesus could have found a better use for $500 million. For instance, that’s more than enough to cover the federal funding for the Meals on Wheels, twice, with enough left over to buy every public school student in D.C. a new iPad Pro.

The Greens have labored to put a veneer of objectivity, legitimacy, and scholarship on their creation, but, if history is any guide, they’ll have fallen far short. Back in 2014, FFRF stopped the Greens from implementing a bible course in Mustang, Okla., public schools. The problems with the class were extensive, both in subject matter and the shady attempt to implement it. As I wrote in 2014, the class “unequivocally fail[s] to meet the legal standards required by our Constitution. The materials show a clear Christian bias, treat the bible as historically accurate and true in all respects, and make theological claims, to name but a few problems.”

The class was about preaching the bible, not teaching it objectively. The Greens wanted to indoctrinate, not educate.

The course was designed by and the copyright belonged to “the Museum of the Bible.” Jerry Pattengale was the senior editor for the failed curriculum; he’s the executive director of the “Museum of the Bible’s education initiatives.”

(RNS1-april14) The Book's curriculum cover photo courtesy of Museum of the Bible. For use with RNS-BIBLE-CURRICULUM, transmitted on April 15, 2014.
The cover of the draft textbook to be used in the Museum of the Bible’s public school class curriculum.

The museum attempted to put a patina of scholarship on the proposed class, but failed miserably. We pointed out that the textbook posed the question, “What is God like?” and answered by listing only positive attributes such as “gracious and compassionate” or “full of love,” showing a strong Christian bias. Pattengale actually responded to this criticism, writing of God’s negative attributes: “The Bible doesn’t list any, and these [positive attributes] are in [the] section representing what the text says.”

Mustang bible class - What is God Like?
If haven’t read any negative characteristics of the biblical god, you haven’t actually read the bible.

Some of the most basic and central biblical verses do, in fact, discuss God’s negative characteristics. One prominent example is God’s jealousy. According to the Ten Commandments, the biblical god himself says, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” Not only does God admit that he is jealous, he promises to punish innocent children for the crimes of their parents in the Ten Commandments. God repeats himself, in the second set of Ten Commandments in Exodus 34:14, and elsewhere in the bible, Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9, 6:15 and Joshua 24:19 to name a few. (See Dan Barker’s God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction for a thorough analysis.) The fact that Pattengale is held out as a biblical scholar but doesn’t seem to know of this oft-admitted jealousy is a tad curious.

The miscarriage of education in the course is much worse. There is no critical examination of the bible’s claims or historical accuracy. The book assumes all the stories to be true, going so far as to list biblical artifacts yet to be discovered, including: Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and Moses’ magic wand.

Are you kidding me?
Are you kidding me? And that wand looks suspiciously like Hermione Granger’s.

Just a few pages later, the book unironically criticizes the “historical half-truths” of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, a work of fiction, but fails to apply that same critical lens to the bible it’s promoting. The summary contained on that page reads, “We can conclude that the Bible, especially when viewed alongside other historical information, is a reliable historical source.” It even claimed that biblical characters wrote the book: “The writer of Genesis (traditionally thought to be Moses) says …” Genuine scholarship shows that Moses was not the author. Hell, one of the books Moses supposedly wrote tells the story of his death and burial.

We don't know that the bible's historical narratives are reliable. In fact, we know most are not.
We don’t know that the bible’s historical narratives are reliable. In fact, we know most are not.

The beginning of the book lists “filters” through which students were instructed to read the bible, including: “The Love of God,” The Presence of God,” “The Plan of God,” and “To Trust in God.” The filters were simply Christian excuses for biblical barbarity, absurdity and contradictions. They were apologetics. For instance, following the story of Abraham’s attempt to murder his son, Isaac, because the biblical god demanded a sacrifice, one filter argues: “Abraham’s bond of love with God was unbreakable, and vice versa. Even though he loved his son Isaac (Genesis 22:2), Abraham was willing to sacrifice him to God.” What a poor attempt to explain away this horrific action.

I expect to see more of the same in the Museum of the Bible. Indoctrination, not education. Preaching, not teaching. Just like the bible class, it will try to prove the truth of the bible. And while the structure may be impressive and there may be some wonderful artifacts (hopefully not purloined), the underlying arguments will likely fall as flat as the class. The Greens’ luster of scholarship and legitimacy may be more advanced at the museum, but I suspect that a look below the surface will reveal a disturbing bias and dearth of scholarship. But what else would we expect from a family that, every July 4, deliberately edits the words of the founding generation in order to make them seem more Christian and then publishes those misleading quotes in newspapers?

At the end of the day, we atheists have no problem with people reading the bible and learning all there is to know about it. After all, the road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover. We just want the truth of “the Good Book” to be presented unvarnished.

Photo and quote by Andrew L. Seidel
Photo and quote by Andrew L. Seidel

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