Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dead Sea Scrolls, Part 3

One part of the exhibit that arrested my attention was the timeline of all the various world religions. It was introduced with a little blurb printed on the wall which explained condescendingly that peoples throughout history have been shaped by the religious beliefs of their regions, but "today for the first time we can ask: 'What do I believe?'" Seriously. That might not be an exact quote, but it's very close. The exhibit clearly indicated that only in these modern times have humans had freedom of thought.

Of course, even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows that people in Jesus' day, both Jews and Gentiles, were plenty capable of evaluating religious claims for themselves and accepting or rejecting them as they chose, regardless of what others around them did. And the exhibit's own timeline provided another example: Plato, who questioned the existence of the Greek gods. Even without historical examples, it's pretty clear from human nature that individuals, though greatly shaped by their culture and by the information available to them, still draw their own conclusions in their own minds. To suggest that people of the past weren't able consciously to examine their beliefs is profoundly stupid.

I'm interested in that kind of stupidity. I'm sure whoever put the exhibit together for the museum was very highly qualified in terms of educational and career credentials. A PhD in history or religion, no doubt. Perhaps well-known in his field-- I'm sure you'd need to be a scholarly heavyweight to get to write material for a major exhibition in a major museum. And yet this person, whose raw intelligence may well outstrip my own, made an unbelievably moronic statement which nobody corrected. How could this happen? The only explanation I can think of is that it happened the way certain embarrassing blunders in the news media have happened: when everyone involved on a project is biased the same way, mistakes that flatter that bias don't always get caught.

It's true all right that people are profoundly influenced by the culture around them and thus can miss wider truths. I wonder if the class of modern-day intellectuals who seem to staff most museums realizes that this applies as much to them and their rarefied culture as to any other in history.

"Today, for the first time, people can ask, 'What do I believe?'" Just unbelievable. It takes a very highly educated person to be that dumb.

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