Monday, May 26, 2014

The Creation Museum

Yesterday, my friend Phyliss and I went on a road trip almost all the way through Kentucky to the town of Petersburg, so that we could visit the Creation Museum. Phyliss wanted to go, and asked on Facebook if any of her friends felt like a road trip, so I said, "Sure," but I want to get one thing out of the way first:

We did not go to make fun of people.

I was actually a little concerned about this, and discussed it with Phyliss before we went: "Why are we going? Because if it's just to make fun of people for their beliefs, that seems kind of mean, even if this particular belief is kind of stupid." I don't claim to be unbiased, but I felt like driving all that way just to walk around their museum and laugh at them was kind of cruel, and I try to avoid cruelty unless I think it's really necessary. Phyliss assured me that she wanted to go because she wanted a better understanding of why people believe in creationism, and that she really just wanted to get out of town for a day. That seemed innocent enough, so I agreed.

We went, we had a good time, and I learned some things and thought about some things. Before I get into what I learned, I want to get another thing out of the way: I didn't change my mind. I still disagree with their beliefs, I still think "Young Earth" theories of the planet being 6,000 years old or less are garbage, and I still think that "teaching the controversy" is a bunch of garbage, too.

Creation Museum (12)

Sorry, kids.

On to the things that I did learn:

1) Nobody there seemed overtly religious. I'll be honest: I expected to see a bunch of people praying, maybe some fundamentalist home-schoolers with a dozen kids and handmade extremely modest garments, and, honestly, way more Jesus, but for the most part the museum tries to present the idea of creationism in a serious sense, as if it is actually some form of legitimate science. The people lined up outside to get in looked like any people you might see waiting to get into a movie, or for school to open, or outside of in any line anywhere:

Creation Museum (1)

Creation Museum (2)

Creation Museum (3)

Granted, we only saw one family of color in the entire museum, so it was a pretty homogenous group of people, but they seemed incredibly normal for a crowd of irrational science rejecters. No one prayed, no one tried to convert us, there weren't any crucifixes in the gift shop, and really the only person who said anything religious to me all day was the lady who sold me my ticket:

Creation Museum (5)

and all she said was, "Have a blessed day." I hear that from people on campus all the time, and barely notice it. I only noticed yesterday because I was looking for it.

Seeing how normal everyone seemed was also a little disarming, though, like being in an episode of the "Twilight Zone" where everyone looks human but is actually an alien or a lizard person or an android inside.

2) I did see some things I expected to see. I saw cavemen and dinosaurs:

Creation Museum (9)

I saw displays proclaiming that "there's no ape in my family tree!":

Creation Museum (11)

and I saw books in the gift shop that confirmed that these people are, in fact, my enemy. That may sound a little harsh, but if they're going to sell books that explain that homosexuality is an abomination and that I'm going to hell for being one, then I'm not going to pretty up my language. They don't know me, but they hate me, so I feel justified in referring to them as enemies. They're definitely not my friends.

I also saw some religious displays. There's a whole section on Noah's Ark, including some adorably charming apocalyptic dioramas:

Creation Museum (24)

and we spent a lot of time walking through the "Garden of Eden"/Fall of Man display.

Things there started peacefully enough, with Adam frolicking in the bushes and naming the animals:

Creation Museum (14)

I tried really, really hard to see if naked Adam was anatomically correct, but was constantly thwarted by a well-placed penguin:

Creation Museum (15)

All of the animals lived happily together, and according to the signs they were also all vegetarian, which is why this dinosaur was clawing open a pineapple:

Creation Museum (17)

but then Eve came:

Creation Museum (18)

and fed Adam some berries:

Creation Museum (19)

and suffering was loosed upon the world:

Creation Museum (20)

And, also, weeds. Weeds exist because of Eve:

Creation Museum (22)

I also learned that Abel had no butt. Or pelvis. At least, that's my assumption based on the body:

Creation Museum (23)

but I guess I could just be interpreting that wrong.

3) Visiting the museum is like visiting a parallel universe where everything you know is wrong. The things that they present at the museum are packaged like science. There are displays that would be at home in any secular museum, like in the insect exhibit:

Creation Museum (25)

Creation Museum (27)

Creation Museum (28)

Some parts of it look very much like a legitimate secular institution of learning:

Creation Museum (7)

and that's how they make it so easy for people to believe in the irrational. The entire museum is founded on one idea, illustrated here:

Creation Museum (10)

It's the idea that the same evidence will lead you to the wrong conclusion if you start with the wrong assumption, and the museum spells out the difference between "man's word" (science) and "God's word" (the Bible) in almost every display. If you accept the idea that the Earth is only six thousand years old and was created exactly as described in the Bible, then all of the evidence in the world can be presented in a way that supports that. And if you don't believe it, all of the evidence in the world can be presented in a way that supports that view, too.

The museum and the people in it just feel bad for how misguided you are.

And I feel bad for the people in the museum.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

That Time I Cried At Chili's

I've been a bit neglectful of my blogging lately. I didn't finish my April "30 Days of Blogging" project, and I still haven't posted the pictures or talked about my fishing trip with Dad (yes, I went fishing, and I caught the most fish!) or our trip to the Smokies. I can only say the same thing that I say every May, I think:

This month is always super busy and horrible for people who work in higher education.

However, now that the kids are moved out, the summer school kids are moving in, and we have a brief lull before a month of freshman orientation, it's time I caught up on things a little. I haven't done anything but work for the past month, more or less, but I do still have some leftover suggested topics from April's writing exercise, so I figured I would use one.

Sometimes on Facebook you mention the time that you cried at Chili's. What's that all about?

Well, you pretty much have it all there in the title of this post, but I guess a little bit of extra explanation wouldn't hurt.

A few years ago, my apartment complex informed us that we would be spending an entire Saturday without electrical power, because some kind of repair had to be made to the transformer or something. This meant no cleaning, no video games, no laundry, no air conditioning, no cooking (we're not allowed to have grills), and no doing any of the other things I usually do at home on the weekend. I don't remember what was going on at work, but I felt that I could use a day of complete rest (I feel that a lot, so it's possible that nothing out of the ordinary was going on at work), and I decided that I would open all of the windows and recline on my fainting couch with a book.

This sounds great, right?

Except that the book that I chose to relax with was Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

You see where this is going, right?

I decided to spend my relaxing day alone, without electricity and no outside stimulation, reading about a father struggling to keep his son alive in a post-apocalyptic nightmare version of America. To make matters worse, all of the neighbors (probably wisely) decided to take the day and go somewhere else, leaving the building completely silent. I spent the entire morning on my fainting couch, completely immersed in a book that got more depressing and bleakly hopeless with each page. By midday I was close to done with the book and I was getting hungry, but I didn't want to open the refrigerator and break the seal, letting the cold air out, in case the power outage went longer than planned. I was in full weekend introvert mode by that point, though, so the idea of going very far seemed overwhelming, and I stood on my porch and surveyed my options:

To the right, the sign for Olive Garden. On a Saturday afternoon, it would probably be filled with boisterous laughing families.

To the left, the sign for Chili's. Somehow, in my head, Chili's seemed like it would slightly less filled with families.

"Yes, we'll just pop over to Chili's, and I'll read the last fifty pages of this and maybe get a lava cake for dessert."

Except that things didn't quite work out that way.

I got to Chili's. I settled into a booth way in the back by myself with my book, got my diet soda, and ordered my boneless chicken wings. I kept reading. My boneless wings arrived, and I picked at them for a second, but mostly I just wanted to finish the book, because now I was right at the end, and the father (and the reader) realized that he had to trust his son to strangers, because the father was going to die, and he would never see the son again and never know if he was ok, and the little boy was never going to see his dad again either, and they had come all that way, and the dad had tried so hard to protect him, and they loved each other, and I loved my dad, and someday my dad and I would never see each other again, either, and now the dad in the book was hugging the son goodbye, and he was trying to be strong, and...

...and I totally lost it.

In Chili's.

I didn't just cry. It wasn't like delicate movie crying where a couple of tears course down your cheeks and you blink and smile through it. This was open weeping. This was sobbing, gasping for air, then when you finally get a breath you start sobbing again. My nose was running, and I had to take my glasses off, and I was blotting my face with my one napkin because God forbid Chili's should bring an extra napkin to the table unless you beg for one, and all of a sudden I realized that the waitress was standing next to me. I attempted to compose myself, shoving my glasses back on, and painfully swallowed a sob as I looked back at her.

"Sir? Are the... are the boneless wings ok?"

"The wings?" There are wings? What? That kid's dad just died, lady! "They're fine. The wings are fine. I'm just really sad right now."

"OK. That's ok. You just let me know if you need anything, ok?"

I nodded, and realized that she looked kind of terrified. For a second, I realized how terrible this must look: a strange man, seated alone in her section, sobbing. I realized that I should do something to reassure her that I was a normal, rational human being.

I shoved an entire boneless wing into my mouth.

And then I smiled.

I've never eaten alone at that Chili's again.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Club

Right now I'm reading Sarah Vowell's essay collection Take the Cannoli, and I'm really enjoying it. I've enjoyed every book of hers that I've read (I think this is the last one that I hadn't, actually) ever since my friend Stan(ford) mentioned one of her books in his year end book writeup a few years ago and I thought, "Oh, that sounds interesting."

(I put the "ford" in parentheses because I still think of my friend Stan as my friend Stan, but feel like I'm supposed to use Stanford now that we are grownups.)

I'm in kind of a weird experience with this book right now, though, because I'm reading it along with someone else, and I have no idea if they are enjoying it or not. I feel like they are, based on comments here and there, but it's just a guess, and I can't ask them for clarification because I have no idea who my reading partner is.

I'm in a phantom book club with a total stranger.

I bought this copy of the book at McKay's, my local used bookstore. I've mentioned them before, as they are the greatest used bookstore I've ever been to in my life, but I don't know if I've ever been clear that we're going on three years or so since I paid cash for a book at McKay's. I return books to the store for credit every couple of months, and then buy more books. Since buying books costs more than I get for turning them in, logically I should run out of money, but I also pick up enough new books that I don't keep and books at yard sales, flea markets, library book sales, etc. that my McKay's credit gets little boosts every now and then.

It also lasts a little longer because I am careful and slightly stingy with it, which explains how I ended up in the phantom book club. I knew I wanted a copy of this book, so when I found the Sarah Vowell section (in humor, rather than in history; I'm not sure I agree with the classification since she writes dryly humorously about historical events) I found three copies of this. The first was a hardcover at seven dollars, which I rejected since there were two paperbacks and paperbacks are always cheaper than hardcovers. One paperback was five and change, but I decided to check the other anyway, and it turned out to be four dollars. I took the four dollar paperback, since it looked just like the more expensive one but with slightly more cover wear, and figured they had just been priced at different times when demand was fluctuating.

(This happens there sometimes. There is a bin of free books up front, which are the books that people bring in that the store doesn't take and that the people don't want back. I usually donate my discards to the bin, figuring that someone will want them, but a couple times I've turned in a book that I originally got from the bin and they have given me credit for it, so there are definite fluctuations in what they do and do not take and how much money you get for it.)

I started reading the book this week, and that's when I discovered that I have a reading partner: almost every page has been marked by someone who studied this and left notes.

I just can't read the notes:

notes in my book (1)

Or, rather, I can't read most of the notes:

notes in my book (2)

but as you can see from the first photo there are random English words mixed in with whatever language that is. Not only that, but some of them are English words that I agree with:

notes in my book (3)

That last sentence was a really good ending to that essay. My phantom reading partner and I are in agreement on that.

I just have no idea what they said about the rest of the chapter.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Incident At Free Comic Book Day

I know I still need to catch up on the days I missed of 30 Days of Blogging due to the bad internet at the cabin I shared with my parents, but I'm still catching up from being off work for that long at this time of year, so it will be a little bit. In the meantime, let me tell you about the thing that happened today at the comic store, when I had to school someone.

I do that sometimes.

For those who do not collect comics, once a year in May there is something called "Free Comic Book Day", where you can go to your local store and they will have stacks of free comics sent by the publishers. You don't have to buy anything, but the idea is that you will see something that you like and add it to your shopping list. The idea is also that people like me, who regularly go to the comic store, will bring friends who do not, and try to show them how fun reading and collecting comics is. To support this, some stores will have other things going on, like people in costume that you can get photos with or radio DJ's broadcasting from the store or things like that. My store had a trivia contest today, and I won something.

That's where the problem started.

The prizes for the trivia contest were books, and all you had to do was be the first to raise your hand and then be the first to have the correct answer. They asked that people only win once, so I didn't answer the first two questions even though I knew them because I didn't want those books. However, this was the third book they held up:

Essential Ms. Marvel

I like Ms. Marvel, and it was free, so I waited, ready, for the question:

"Ms. Marvel is currently know as Captain Marvel in her comic, which is right over there. What's her secret identity?"

My hand was up first.

"Carol Danvers."

This was, of course, correct, but apparently the guy behind me was a little bothered.

"That was an easy question," he said, raining on my parade.

"Yeah, but I still won," I said, shrugging. I don't make the rules, mister.

"Yeah, well...I bet you don't know who Linda Danvers is."

I probably should have just said nothing, but we were waiting in line, and he was trying to keep me from being happy. Remember that time that I accidentally channeled Erin Brockovich on that guy and it was wonderful and terrible at the same time?

It happened again.

"Linda Danvers? Do you mean Linda Lee Danvers? Kara Zor-El, of Argo City, Krypton? Supergirl? That Linda Danvers? Her adoptive parents, Fred and Sylvia Danvers, live in the town of Leesburg. Sylvia is a homemaker, and Fred is a policeman. She has two pets. Her cat, Streaky, is also Streaky the Supercat. He has superpower due to exposure to the artificial mineral X-Kryptonite, which Supergirl accidentally created while searching for a cure for green Kryptonite poisoning. Her other pet, Comet the Superhorse, is actually a centaur enchanted by Circe, and turns into a human under the rays of passing comets."

Dead silence in the comic store line.

"So, yes, I know who Linda Danvers is, too."


Then I turned my back on him, paid for my purchases, took my prize, and left the store.

Free Comic Book Day is just as much fun as I was told it would be!