Monday, August 17, 2009

Ken is not Amused

A rather nonathletic PZ Myers may have found this exhibit easier to ride.

There are certainly a lot of blog miles to be had in the “atheists do the creation museum” farce. A youTube video of PZ Myers having a ride on Ken Ham’s toy triceratops can be seen here. PZ has difficulty getting on and off the exhibit and looks about as lumbering as a dinosaur himself. Being an expert in natural history and all that, one might expect that mounting a dinosaur would be second nature to PZ. However in this post PZ suggests an explanation for his brontosaurian maneuverability; using AiG age scales he claims he is only 36 minutes old but unfortunately for him he was created with the appearance of (great) age. What a shock for his mother.

Ken Ham, being the butt of the jokes, is not really well placed to see the funny side of all this and he gives his stern and censorious reaction on his blog. One peculiar aspect of Ham’s post is that he displays a set of photos of bumper stickers collected by his staff from the museum's car park on the day of the atheist visit. Ken suggests these stickers are a clear sign of the devil's work. So what do we find on these atheist bumper stickers? “Support the anti Christ”? “Enjoy Sexual lust”, “Live eviL”, “I Hate God”? Not at all; instead stickers expressing self defined ethics, support for evolution, gay marriage defined by love, and a desire to do good. Just the sort of thing one would expect from a group of genuine people looking for moral and spiritual anchorage in a post death of God culture. One can hardly expect to find stickers proclaiming repentance, forgiveness of sins and free salvation. For these people there is no divine underwriter for such things, and frankly, Ham’s group, with its holy idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, is easily construed as further evidence of an absence of God.

But of course for Ham these stickers are the deceitful veneer of unspeakable evil. It is not at all surprising that amongst Ham’s atheist bumper sticker collection is one that simply offers support for Obama. Obama is a believer, but for heresy hunters an apostate faith is, if anything, a worse sin than atheism, for it is regarded as the gloss of a bad conscience that hypocritically courts Satan. Willful deceit and duplicity are round every corner for strict sectarians like Ken Ham.

Atheists might poke fun at Ham and co, but what Ham throws back is far more serious; namely accusations of evil and threats of damnation. And Ham doesn’t reserve this for atheists only but for all who don’t see eye to eye with his view of creation, and even those who simply support president Obama. Holding a different point of view is for them a likely sign of a willful rejection of the truth, thus providing Ham and friends with a pretext to dig deep into their supply of spiritual invective.

Strict sectarians like Ham cannot (yet) be accused of propagating an authoritarian cult regime. Instead they tend to be a decentralized self organizing group that flock in the manner of a boids simulation. What keeps them together is a mutual suspicion of the “outside” world, a world from which they have been well and truly spiritually alienated. Moreover, anyone in the group who might moot a revision of concepts receives a barrage of askance looks; nobody dare move for fear of setting a bad precedent and shaking the foundations of the subculture. Any breaking of ranks might be the road to hell.

I wouldn’t want to accuse Ham of being at the head of a cult, but the step from strict sectarian to the narrow paranoiac conspiracy theory touting cult member is not a big step. Strict sectarians are usually a small tightly knit remnant, an embattled group of people thoroughly disaffected with the anonymity and excesses of a greater society with which they fail to identify. However, there is a danger that as the strict sectarians increase in numbers the transition to a cult is subtly made; this may be forced upon them because the decentralized flocking dynamic may not be sufficient to keep together a large number of people.

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