Probably the biggest element of toxic Christianity is that its adherents live in a version of reality that doesn’t actually look like the real thing or work like it in any way. That bubble is carefully-constructed by Christian leaders whose living and wealth depend upon their followers staying inside it, so its walls must be reinforced from time to time. Creationist charlatan and serial liar-for-Jesus Ken Ham did a little bubble maintenance this week, and I want to show you how and why he did it.
In his recent Facebook post, Ken Ham Gish galloped his way through a number of lies that Creationists tell themselves to feel better, starting with the illusion that his tribemates (who he conflates with all Christians) are totally “happy to teach children regarding various views of origins” and ending with the lie that science-embracing people “can’t have their belief critically analyzed” so that’s why they make and maintain laws that prevent the teaching of Creationist pseudoscience in taxpayer-funded schools.
Hemant’s already done a great job of deconstructing the post itself. It’s a nice all-around introduction to the dishonesty inherent in Creationism itself and, in a larger sense, of that entire end of Christianity–and to the easy debunks of that dishonesty. I don’t want to retread that wheel when it’s already been done so well (goddammit). What I want instead is to show you why Ken Ham has to write bullshit like this. Because make no mistake: he has to.
I’ve written many times about the bubble that toxic Christians inhabit. Even some of them use the term to describe the insulated, insular world that they’ve created for themselves. It’s a bit like the fictional mental homes that South Park created in their episode “Safe Space.”
Creationism definitely needs a lot of protection from evil ole Reality. Children need to be indoctrinated into those false ideas well before they’re old enough to get enrolled in public school. Then they need to be carefully indoctrinated anew on a constant basis all through their childhood–even to the extent of keeping them out of public school so they don’t accidentally brush up against either the truth itself or those who know the truth and might unwittingly unravel all that careful indoctrination with one or two simple questions or observations.
One important way that Creationists try to inoculate their children against moustache-twirling Reality is by giving them small, well-curated doses of their version of evolution. By creating a strawman version of evolution that their fakery can actually defeat, they give fundagelical children the false idea that Creationism easily bests evolution.
A few years ago, Hemant noted that fundagelical homeschooling parents were adopting this approach. Creating and knocking down that strawman is now a big part of fundagelical homeschooling. Indeed, even back in 2012 we saw at least one major Creationist site lauding the idea of selling kids that strawman and shilling for a homeschooling textbook like it was the answer to all fundagelical parents’ questions. Of course, the textbook it’s promoting, A Test of FAITH, is not actually about science. It couldn’t be. It was written by a homeschooling church volunteer, Abigail McFarthing, who has degrees in English and Secondary Education from a fundagelical school, Wheaton College. She doesn’t have a single bit of education, training, or experience in real science, nor in anything approaching the scientific method, so she’s definitely one of those non-expert “experts” that fundagelicals look to because they literally can’t get anybody legitimate to support their ideas and teach their kids all the requisite lies that go with those ideas.
Giving children false ideas is bad enough, but giving them the impression that they’re actually learning “both sides of the issue” is even worse. I’d go so far as to say it’s guaranteed to backfire. But a culture built upon lies can only reach for more lies to fix the problems their lies create. Dishonesty is all they have in the toolbox.
(Unsurprisingly, it’s another South Park scene I think of when I think of Creationists’ response to the overwhelming pushback to their falsehoods. In “Butters’ Very Own Episode,” the titular Butters’ mother tries to murder him during an episode of anguish. The parents decide to lie about his disappearance, saying he was kidnapped. When the boy turns up alive back at home, his parents try to coach him to lie to cover up their own lies–and Butters has had enough: “You know, you can call a shovel an ice-cream machine, but it’s still a shovel, Mom and Dad. And you can call a lie whatever you want, but it’s still a no-good stinkin’ lie! And when you start coverin’ up one lie with another, why, now that’s when you get into real trouble!” Worth noting as well is that his dishonest, dysfunctional, abusive parents are quite fervently Christian; later they send their son to a reparative-therapy camp when they start suspecting that he’s gay.)
That is however the tack that Ken Ham is taking in raising his own children. He notes in his Facebook post that he thinks his children know more about actual evolution than “most evolutionists” do. The term “evolutionist,” incidentally, is Christianese. It means anybody who understands and accepts the long-established scientific consensus about the age of the universe and Earth, as well as the vast body of research across many disciplines that supports the idea of descent with modification in Earth’s various forms of life. Creationists also call such people “Darwinists,” and if that term sounds vaguely religious, they absolutely intend that it should. And Ken Ham could mean either actual scientists who work in the fields of science that intersect with those ideas, or he could mean laypeople who accept those scientists’ work. That vagueness is quite intentional.
It’s very doubtful that Ken Ham’s children could actually defeat a scientist, given that Ken Ham himself can’t defeat a guy who plays a scientist on TV, and it’s very doubtful they could defeat even a layperson with a passing familiarity with the ideas behind descent with modification given that even apologists have trouble with that. Like Hemant, I seriously doubt they could actually even explain what the concepts are–given that their father can’t.
But it’s important that he say this kind of lie because his bubble’s walls are starting to falter.
Hull Integrity Weakening, Captain.
Several factors are working against Ken Ham, and he’s a savvy enough conjob that he undoubtedly knows it.
First, simple demographics are a ticking time bomb for Creationism. More and more kids are deconverting–or not being raised with Christianity at all. Christian conjobs often talk about “the 4-14 window,” which is that narrow 10-year window of time in which they think a child can be successfully indoctrinated into Christianity in general. I’m guessing it isn’t much different with ultra-right-wing Christianity, nor the subset of ultra-right-wing Christians who buy into Ken Ham’s absurd brand of Young-Earth Creationism (that’s the full-meal-deal literally in 7 days bullshit that even most Creationist-leaning Christians reject*). Most fundagelicals take for granted that if they can “train up a child in the way he should go,” that child will grow up to be a true-blue fundagelical who never ever questions, much less rejects the religion’s various truth claims.
But that window is quickly closing. Every age group is dwindling in number (and much more quickly than anybody could have predicted!), but the group comprising children and young people in particular is dwindling the fastest out of all of them. When one speaks of young people leaving the religion, different ages and definitions apply, but percentages nonetheless range from 65% to 95% of them walking away from Christianity before they become fully-mature adults. That hemorrhage of young people leaving is not being matched either by family growth or new conversions.
Creationism is purely a product of a particularly bubble-bound form of fundagelicalism–it has no reach to speak of outside of that bubble. So fewer fundagelicals means fewer Creationists.
Second, financial concerns are whittling away Creationist support. It’s a cosmic irony that fundagelicals are overwhelming supporters of that exact brand of right-wing politics that has destroyed the American middle class and decimated the working class. I’m hardly the first to have noticed this correlation between fundagelical church strength and a thriving middle/working class, either. There’ve even been studies about it.
Not only are poorer people less likely to support Christian churches, they’re clearly less likely to support Christian causes–like Creationism. After a chest-thumping strong beginning, Ken Ham’s own Creation Museum got slammed by financial troubles and declining attendance. His group, Answers in Genesis, is now losing USD$3M a year. Without coercing taxpayers in Kentucky to help fund their greedy monuments, Answers in Genesis cannot survive.
(You can see similar economic disaster throughout the Christian world, really; bookstore chain Family Christian is closing all 240 of its stores nationwide because of declining sales. The chain–an arm of evangelical publisher Zondervan–survived for 85 years and was the largest Christian bookstore company of them all, but couldn’t outlast the new reality of lowered Christian numbers and spending power. Ironically, Christians still report buying a lot of Christian-themed books, and half of the Christians Nielsen surveyed qualified as middle-class or working-class. They’re just not doing it at Christian stores, apparently; the entire category of Christian retailing is doing poorly and has been for years.)
Third, public awareness is keeping Christians accountable for breaking American laws aimed at maintaining a strict separation between church and state. Ken Ham alludes to Creationists’ new normal in the Facebook post several times–did you notice? He means by the post that mean ole Reality-loving Americans won’t let him teach Creationist bibble-babble to children in taxpayer-funded schools or sneak fundagelical chest-thumping monuments on taxpayer-funded land. Mean ole Reality!
In his rush to paint himself as a martyr, Ken Ham sorta forgets to mention that both of his desires are flat-out against the law–and that Christians themselves are often behind the lawsuits aimed at slapping down what his tribemates keep trying to sneak into schools and onto public land. As Hemant Mehta himself points out regularly on his blog, people have to keep careful tabs on Christians like Ken Ham to force them to comply with the law. (I’m sure it’s just an oversight. NOT.)
Christians like Ken Ham are well aware that without coercion, their form of Christianity will die. When a country’s laws give them the power to trample underfoot other people’s consent and boundaries, they’ll take it without a second thought–and even seek more and more of that power. There is never enough power and control for them, and indeed, there can’t ever be enough. Every single facet of their social system is built around gaining, maintaining, and jockeying for more power–both within the system and over those outside the system. Without being allowed unfettered access to American children, Ken Ham’s brand of Creationism can’t make headway.
These Facebook posts and his other outbursts are done with two goals in mind. First, if he can drum up sympathy for poor widdle ole Creationists from those outside Creationism, people who don’t realize what Creationism is and what its adherents’ goals really are might look the other way when his group sneaks into schools and teaches Christian indoctrination to their kids without their knowledge or consent. Second, if he can rile up his own tribemates enough, they might get bolder about sneaking into schools–and even lobby to change the laws that stop Creationists from indoctrinating children without parental permission.
Repainting the Sepulchre Walls.
But Ken Ham is doing something else with this post: he’s reinforcing Creationists’ cultural perception of themselves.
A big part of Creationists’ worldview is that they are the only ones who get it. They’re the only ones who actually care about children, who are actually open-minded and have Assessed All The Facts For Themselves, who are brave and bold enough to speak the truth even though black-caped, black-hatted Reality has cowed all the scientists into parroting the atheist party line of “Darwinism.”
By contrast, in that worldview their enemies are actually the brittle, terrified people who can’t handle even encountering any dissenting opinions, who must hide behind the skirts of the legal system to avoid brushing up against any kind of criticism, and who often refuse even to engage with fundagelicals.
But that bastard Reality intrudes constantly on that strawman. Creationism is a self-image that is as thin as tissue paper and as easily torn. It requires constant maintenance and reinforcement. Every single time someone points out that actually, Ken Ham’s group is the one that suffers the shortcomings he describes, Reality’s cold fingers reach through the bully-proof windows of their bubble.
One way that we can ensure that we’re not dwelling in a bubble is by making sure that we’re not creating strawman positions of those we view as ideological enemies or misrepresenting their position. Ken Ham and his tribemates can’t do that. Their inability goes much further than simple belligerence; it points straight to the dishonesty at the very heart of their movement.
Of course, we’re under no obligation to agree with his misrepresentation of his tribal enemies just because it would be super-helpful to him if we would. The pushback he’s gotten over the years for that misrepresentation alone has likely resulted in a goodly number of people leaving his movement.
The ones who stay, however, find their hearts ossified even further by the reinforcement he provides. And that’s clearly enough for him.
Being that Darwin Day was just a couple of weeks ago, I’m taking a positive view of Ken Ham’s post. He’s fighting a losing battle and he knows it. Literally all he’s armed with is more dishonesty, but he’s got a lot of it. I suggest we keep hammering at his supporters about why on Earth a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ would ever need to misrepresent people and concepts as badly as Ken Ham does on a constant basis.
Surely something that is truthful wouldn’t need that. It wouldn’t need lies to sell itself, nor fakers and charlatans to peddle it to the unwary.
* If you’re wondering, yes, there’s an Old-Earth Creationism too, which is a little better-informed by reality but still maintains that a god was required to kick-start everything and guide Earth and the life on it along the correct path. There are actually quite a few different variations on Creationism for the discerning science-illiterate Christian. Only a very small number of them are full-bore Young-Earth Creationists like Ken Ham.