Trust’s Creationist exhibit is a fundamental mistake
Wouldn't it be great to be a Causeway Creationist? In a chaotic, fear-ridden world, religious fundamentalism appears to offer its followers the luxury of certainty, purpose and deep, God-given assurance.
It's like a magic trick — complex moral issues are converted into black and white polar opposites, straightforward cases of good versus evil.
And why let well-established scientific fact stand in your way? If a literal reading of the Bible demands that you chop a few million years off the age of the planet and draw a veil over the awkward existence of dinosaurs, so be it. I guess it's a small price to pay for guaranteed salvation.
The inclusion of a creationist view at the new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre has largely been treated as a colossal joke, a foolish outrage and an opportunity for the repellent Richard Dawkins to sneer at our own special Ulster brand of “intellectual baboonism”.
(Honestly, if there's one man that could make me feel sorry for a creationist, it's Dawkins. His brand of militant scientific fundamentalism seems to offer all the zealotry and narrow-mindedness of the religious variety, only without the heavenly reward.)
But it's not a joke and we shouldn't be laughing. The Causeway is the thin end of the wedge. Religious fundamentalism — always a strong presence in Northern Ireland — is on the rise, both here and around the world, growing in power and influence.
Last month, support for family planning and reproductive rights was removed from an international UN agreement reached in Rio de Janeiro.
Around 40% of pregnancies in the developing world are unintended; nearly half end in dangerous back-street abortions and thousands of women die as a result. Yet the UN move was hailed as a “notable pro-life success” by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child.
In what way can a move which renders the world's poorest, most powerless women even worse off be truly described as pro-life? Only in a fundamentalist universe.
We are talking about an ultra-conservative movement, driven by religious absolutists. And their demands are increasingly being accommodated — just as the National Trust did at the Causeway — in terms of ‘respect' and ‘equality'. That's why it won't stop with the Causeway visitor centre. Next up on the wish-list? The inclusion of creationist accounts of the earth's origins on school curricula, as a counterpoint to scientific evidence?
All in the name of ‘ongoing debate’ and the ‘legitimacy of the creationist position’, of course.
Where does this ‘respect' and ‘equality' for minority alternative viewpoints end? Take the Holocaust museum at Auschwitz: could you ever imagine a situation where they allowed a display devoted to Holocaust-deniers to be exhibited there?
It's an extreme example, but the point holds: simply because a certain number of people believe something to be true, in the face of overwhelming scientific or historic evidence to the contrary, does not entitle that viewpoint to be held up as potential fact.
What's more, for all the demands of respect for their own position, fundamentalists tend to extend precious little respect to others, including other Christians, who are often frustrated and bewildered by their antics.
Christian fundamentalists take every word in the Bible at face-value. They believe that, if you don't take the Bible literally, you are not a true Christian.
If you go a step further and say that the Bible should not be taken literally, you're condemned as actively anti-Christian, standing in opposition to the will of God.
Fundamentalists believe that they alone hold the truth, that the wicked will be punished and in this mindset, rationality goes out the window and wild-eyed emotion takes control.
It's the same with militant anti-abortionist campaigners, such as Precious Life, which held a rally in Belfast last Saturday. There's nothing cute and cuddly about their tactics, which includes haranguing young women visiting the FPA offices in Belfast and accusing them of murdering their babies. This happened to a friend of mine who had suffered a miscarriage.
But, hey, who cares about the simple, Christ-like values of love and compassion when you have a fundamentalist agenda to pursue?
It's all about respect, legitimacy and equality — except when the other person dares to disagree.