Love Thy (Atheist) Neighbors: What Jesus Taught Aaron Gardner and His Wife at the Kentucky Creation Museum

This past week, Aaron Gardner and his wife, both Evangelicals, went to the young earth Creation Museum in Kentucky to witness a curiosity: not animatronic people riding animatronic dinosaurs ala The Flinstones, but to get a glimpse of something even more, well, strange: 300 atheists ogling their way through a group tour of an anti-evolution museum! Here’s how Aaron put it at his blog:

What would it be like to be a Christian and a fly on the wall as a group of atheists peered at exhibits that attempted to prove them wrong?

The group tour was for the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), and Aaron and his wife had a really good idea. To get an even closer look at the strange creatures on exhibition (that is, the atheists), they decided to actually join  the atheist group tour:

To ensure that we would be able to be included with some of the SSA members in the tour (and because we got $12 off on each of our admission prices) we signed up with the group.  What we did not know was that we would also get name tags with the SSA logo printed prominently on them.

Uh oh. That’s where things started to go decidedly wrong, for by putting that name identification tag on their clothing, the other Christians at the museum (who didn’t know Aaron and his wife from, well, Adam and Eve) assumed that they were atheists bearing on their bodies the equivelent of Hester Primm’s scarlet letter “A”. Here’s how Aaron describes his experience, and what he discovered:

[I]t was obvious that there was a distinctive way that we were being treated because of the shared identification.  There were hateful glances, exaggerated perceptions, waxing surveillance by security, and anxious but strong ‘amens’ accompanying a lecture on “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” by Dr. Jason Lisle. Is this how Christians treat people?  Is this how we follow Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?  I cannot help but think that many Christians are fearful of atheists.  It is a sort of xenophobia that runs along lines of faith and belief.  What we tend to forget is that atheists, agnostics, and evolutionists are people too.  If our attempt to preserve our belief means that we are treating these people like animals, are we really holding up principles that are based on a creation worldview? There have rarely been times in my life that I have been ashamed of people that I call “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  This was one of them.  To be judged by people that share my beliefs because of the name tag I wore was appalling.  We forget that Jesus not only commanded that we love our enemies and pray for them, but he also sought out people who were rejected by the religious order, embraced them, spent time with them, and partied with them.

I’m an agnostic, but I can’t help but wonder if Jesus didn’t mischievously set Aaron and his wife up for a lifelong-to-be-remembered lesson in human alienation, and to tell their story to others. At his blog, Aaron offered this observation:

Do not miss this: belief must not be a reason not to engage in relationship.  This is not about being right or wrong.  This is not about having the answers.  This is not about their tactics and how they have been rude or dismissive.  This is not about a fundamental difference in the way we approach the world. What this is about is relationship.  It is about listening to other inhabitants of the planet, regardless of what we believe about how we got here.  It is about having dialogue and getting to know one another.  It is about sharing a cup of coffee, a glass of beer, or a soda and enjoying one another’s company.  It is about realizing that we have more in common than we have in opposition.  It is about being like Christ, which in fact is the largest issue that keeps us apart.

As an agnostic, I have one response to this: Amen.

Here’s part of an atheist’s video recounting the same day at the Creation Museum that Aaron describes:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Love Thy (Atheist) Neighbors: What Jesus Taught Aaron Gardner and His Wife at the Kentucky Creation Museum

  1. Pingback: A Christian In Atheist Shoes « Camels With Hammers

  2. Revyloution says:

    Wow. Mr. Gardner, thank you for taking the time to walk a mile in our collective shoes. Many who fill the ranks of atheism were at one time believers. Most of us have felt the need to hide what we think in order to fit in.

    Just a word of warning though:
    The last Christian who wanted to understand more about why I don’t believe ended up loosing their faith.

  3. Aaron says:

    Santi,

    One correction would be that there was never an “uh-oh” moment. We both fully intended to appear to be atheist/agnostic for the trip. I wore all black and she wore a red shirt with the name of her brother’s now defunct band on it: “Hidden Agenda.” She got a few comments about it from some of the SSA members 🙂

    And thanks for your mention and your encouragement!

  4. santitafarella says:

    Aaron:

    I guess that “uh oh” was storytelling license. It’s hard to write a story second-hand and get it all right. Something to think about when encountering second-hand stories in general.

    Oh, and I’d be careful about making blending into groups alien to your true beliefs a habit, for you might turn into—Mitt Romney! : )

    See here:

    https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/andrew-sullivan-calls-this-creature-mitt-romney-of-the-deep/

    —Santi

  5. Mark says:

    Actually (and as I also posted to another blog recently), we were amazed at how tolerant our 2,000 museum guests were of the rude and mocking behavior of dozens of atheists who toured our museum last week. (For verification, YouTube features some of that bad behavior.) At the same time, most of the 285 atheists were, thankfully, not disruptive.

    Yes, some of our guests were very unhappy with the behavior on display (when you pay admission to what is known as a family friendly place, you don’t expect to experience loud, boorish behavior, see offensive clothing, etc.), and so I did see some angry stares that signaled unhappiness that their visit was being disrupted. But many Christians engaged the atheists in friendly conversations; and the overwhelming majority of the 2,000 people took it all in stride (I walked through the museum several times to ask atheists to keep their voices down and also to see how our other guests were reacting). I would guess (and after talking to many of our museum staff) that the few angry stares came from a very tiny percentage of the 2,000 people there that day, hardly enough to indict the entire Christian crowd.

    Furthermore, I can be proud of our staff’s behavior (including our security team that was criticized with the “surveillance” comment above) in trying to keep the disturbances to a minimum and in showing restraint. (Only one atheist was escorted out, after being told not to film a private conversation involving children, their parents, an atheist, and me – he refused our directive and kept shooting.) In fact, our Christian staff’s excellent behavior was recognized by the organizer of the atheists’ tour, who, despite her deep worldview differences with us, wrote the following on a website a few days later:

    “Now, I was absolutely blown away by how accommodating and friendly the Creation Museum staff were. They knew we were coming; they knew exactly who we were. And there had been a little bit of tension about the purpose of our visit before we went. But after we got there, the staff were just phenomenally polite and kind and helpful, and the security guards were very polite and helpful to us. We were expecting more tension, so to have everything so polite and so smooth was absolutely great. As an organizer, that was the biggest thing for me: just how well their staff handled our group.” – Lyz Liddell, Secular Student Alliance

    That day, Lyz also apologized to me for the bad behavior of some of her party.

    Mark Looy, Co-founder, Creation Museum

  6. santitafarella says:

    Mark,

    I’m very pleased to hear that things went so well (on balance), and that you and Lyz Liddell are on good terms. I wish that religious believers and atheists would talk to one another more, and in an atmosphere of dignity, respect, and a real attempt to understand each other.

    It sounds like a good step was taken. Maybe you should consider making the visit an annual or bi-annual thing? Or do a joint conference where debate and discussion take place absent name-calling?

    —Santi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s