Recently, I had to go to a conference for work. It catered to the educational wants of religious fundamentalists (don’t ask) and was full of “biblically inspired” educational materials. Young Earth Creationist science textbooks. (You know, the kind in which it’s “proven” that humans once rode dinosaurs because Earth is 6,000 years old). “Wholesome” literature that ripped off beloved classics but whitewashed the pesky parts. I had to sit through a ten minute description of the beautifully bound “literature” about “godly men who are the man you want your son to be and your daughter to marry.” I had to dodge an Amish couple (wife in full prairie dress) with their six children trailing behind as I navigated the narrow walkways.
I wanted to run screaming from the room from the moment I entered it.
My job required not just that I attend, but that I also engage the people manning the booths in an attempt to forge business relationships. So I had to talk to the guy who represented the man behind the Creation Museum, so expertly skewered in Bill Maher’s Religulous (watch the clip: click here). I’ll be honest: I’m an East Coast liberal, and I do believe I’ve never looked a Young Earth Creationist in the eye before (not knowingly, anyway). Until that moment, my exposure to religious fundamentalists has been on television. Call me naive, but so many of the right wing pundits – the Rush Limbaughs and the Ann Coulters – seem to be putting on a show, being deliberately provocative and divisive to sell books and advertising on their shows. They can’t possibly believe that stuff, or so I’ve told myself. But these people at the conference believed what they were saying fervently, with all the goodness in their hearts. They believe they are doing important work, doing their part in a culture war against godlessness and debauchery and sin.
It was difficult to confront first-hand, the sheer force of the faith in what I consider a horribly misguided and harmful agenda. I tried to turn it into a meditation on tolerance (my own, of course, not theirs). I’m not sure how well I succeeded. But I did the best I could.
When I was a teenager, I used to believe that all conflicts could be resolved with a face to face conversation. I try to remain that idealistic, but there are times that belief is tested. That conference was one of those times.