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A Field Trip For the Faithless?

They call them scare quotes.

Scare quotes are an increasingly popular way to inject editorial comment into what seems to be an attempt at objective journalism.

The Reuters news service popularized this technique by consistently using them whenever the word “terrorist” would come up in a report from Iraq.

You know the relativistic canard – one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “freedom fighter”.

But scare quotes have not only increased in popular usage, they have also become a great way to subtly inject a bit of bias, a bit of snarkiness into any article.

A classic example of this phenomenon in action hit the web in this “report” on what amounted to a field trip for the faithless to the Answers In Genesis Creation Museum last weekend.

Read this article and, just for fun, keep a running total on  the “scare quotes”.

Atheists expelled from Creation ‘Museum’

PZ Myers visits the Creation “Museum”

I first heard of PZ Myers when he became known for being the man who was literally expelled from a screening of the creationist mockumentary Expelled. . .despite not doing anything wrong and actually being one of the stars of the film.

Now he can add being expelled from the Creation “Museum” to his resume. Well, actually he wasn’t expelled; it was some of the atheists he was with that were expelled from the “museum” and another atheist he was with that was harrassed by the “museum’s” security staff.

It all began several weeks ago when PZ Myers along with the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) decided to organize a mass group of atheists, scientists, and other secular thinkers to all visit the Creation “Museum” together to see for themselves what they’ve been criticizing and, I imagine, to draw media attention to the affair. And they certainly got ABC’s attention. At last count, I know there were 240 people planning on joining them. And the number had probably grown since then.

Of course the Creation “Museum” officials were getting worried and wrote to Myers and the SSA warning them against misbehaving. . .as if they had any reason to think those attending this event would misbehave. That letter can be read on the link just above. And according to Myers and at least one of my other sources that attended, aside from joking to each other about the ridiculous nonsense in the “museum”, no one misbehaved. But that didn’t seem to stop “museum” officials from harassing individuals and eventually kicking a few people out of the “museum” for imaginary infractions:

Essentially, it seems the “museum” feels that merely disagreeing with its “science” and mocking it to one’s friends is grounds for having visitors removed from the property. This is absurd. Could you imagine if the American Museum of Natural History ejected visitors for being creationists? Or if the Museum of Modern Art ejected visitors for critiquing the art or mocking Jackson Pollack’s work quietly with their friends? It would never happen. That’s because REAL museums are tools for education and don’t try to control how its visitors think.

How many scare quotes did you find?

One even worked its way into the headline.

But even scarier is just how misleading this account of the incident really is. Or maybe I should use the term “account”.

As you might expect, a brief trip to the Answers In Genesis web site paints a very different picture.

AIG staff member Mark Looy filed the following report:

Summary of the Visit Friday by the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), August 7, 2009

There was a lot of mocking inside the museum Friday (and to a lesser extent during Dr. Jason Lisle’s noon lecture) by dozens of the 285 in the SSA group, and some of the mocking could be clearly heard by many of our guests (especially in our Noah’s Flood rooms, but also in the Garden of Eden exhibit when words like “garbage” were uttered, etc.). Several times during the day we had to ask mockers to keep their voices down (I did it five times myself), but generally, it was more peaceful than what we expected (many blog comments from those who were coming were promising some very aggressive actions). The majority of the SSA group was quite civil. It helped that there were over 2,200 people at the museum , and thus the 285 in the SSA group were in a small minority.

Overall, though, given the several disruptions and recognizing that our regular guests sadly had to overhear and endure some mocking (a family from Virginia shared their frustration with me about the SSA group), the day went well. It helped that all 285 atheists/agnostics signed a statement that they would be civil—they did that when they checked in and got their tickets from their organizer, Lyz (who was a pleasure to work with).

Our public safety officers and museum staff dealt with the incidents in a very professional way, and Lyz—the SSA person who was the nuts-and-bolts organizer of this tour—was very complimentary of all the staff’s behavior. The officers and staff used great restraint when dealing with some of the louder SSA guests. As I noted above, only one person was ushered away (when he clearly disregarded the order not to videotape a private conversation). I am very proud of our museum staff in the way they carried out their duties on Friday.

To be sure, we have two very different accounts of what transpired during this encounter.

But what took place afterward was more troubling.

Other incidents (but which were probably not disruptive for our guests, except for those driving into the property at the time) … The prof and a few dozen of his followers walked off the grounds and held a rally in front of the museum entrance.  There, a ram’s horn was blown (I suppose this was borrowing from Joshua 6 when a ram’s horn was blown, signally that the walls of Jericho were to come tumbling down. I guess it was their “statement” that the SSA had “conquered” the museum, but I did not hear what was said). Also, our security staff indicated that a mock communion service was held out front where crackers with cheese were served. Mocking the death and resurrectionof our Lord like this is an extremely serious thing indeed. But they have to answer to the Lord for that.

How interesting that this particular incident didn’t quite make it into the initial story that culminated with an indignant statement about proper museum protocol.

I would imagine that it would also be considered fairly out of bounds if a group of Christians visited a secular museum of natural history and spent their time:

– making derisive comments during a lecture.

-wearing “Darwin is for Dummies” t-shirts.

– looking for opportunities to provoke staff people into confrontations.

– and culminated the day by building a bonfire in the museum parking lot,  fueled by copies of “On the Origin of Species” and “Cosmos”, while dangling images of Charles Darwin and Carl Sagan over the flames.

While the vast majority of SSA members who visited the Creation Museum are to be commended for their respectful conduct, the organizers and participants in the mock communion service are probably one of the best arguments against their own position.

That kind of basic rudeness can transform a person from an intellectual to an “intellectual” very quickly.

There is no doubt that we as Christians are often bombarded by patently offensive, in your face challenges to our faith.

But if there is a take away lesson from this incident it is this:

Don’t try to fight being offended by being offensive.

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2:11-12)

The AIG staff is to be commended for providing us a living illustration of this kind of honorable behavior in action.

The snarky sultan of scare quotes?

Not so much.

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