Museum of Christian Right Passive-Aggression

If you want to read something off the news cycle but politically relevant, I highly recommend Sarah Posner’s take at TPM on the Bible Museum being built near the National Mall by the Green family, better known as the plaintiffs in the landmark “religious liberty” case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Posner gains some insights on the world view the museum is expected to present via her observations about an already existing traveling Bible exhibit called Passages, which offers a sort of preview. There are some problems, she explains, reconciling certain elements of the history of bliblical translation and publishing with the sort of pan-religious united front the Greens are identified with via Hobby Lobby: e.g., paens to Martin Luther, both a biblical pioneer and a raving anti-semite, cheek by jowl with Holocaust reminiscences, or the many references in the museum to English Bible translater William Tyndale, the bitter enemy of St. Thomas More, the Catholic symbol of religious liberty (who sought to burn Tyndale but was himself beheaded first).

But more than its specific content, argues Posner, it’s the museum’s location that’s fascinating, given the Greens’ projected image as humble Christians who just want to practice their own religion without prejudice to anyone else’s views:

The museum, [Hobby Lobby president Steve] Green has promised, is “not about a faith tradition or a church or a denomination. It’s about a book.” While that is superficially true, there is no doubt that the museum, like Passages, will be an homage to a narrative that Christianity is in danger of eradication.

That will be a much harder case to make after the museum has spent hundreds of millions of tax-exempt dollars, underwritten in part by the American public, building a monument rivaling the nation capital’s most iconic structures. Or after the museum opens its doors at the very heart of political power, where the religious practice of the museum’s chief benefactors was given special, careful treatment by the highest court in the land.

There’s a rich resonance here with one of the abiding traits of the Christian Right: a regular alternation between triumphalist Moral Majority claims to represent America and its “real” people against relativist demands from secular-minded minorities–and the self-pitying tone of the fatuous claims of persecution that began with the campaign to protect the tax-exempt status of church-related segregation academies and proceeded through the annual “War on Christmas” hysteria to the more recent “religious liberty” agitprop. You get the distinct sense that we are being told by Green and other Christian Right folk that we must choose between letting them have their own country where they will be free to teach what they want at public expense and discriminate against anyone they wish–or shutting down Christianity altogether. It’s a shame the Bible has been dragged so prominently into this particular phase of the culture wars, though that is entirely consistent with the many scriptural warnings against false prophets.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.