A Capitol Challenge to Earthly Power
March 9, 2015
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published March 8, 2015 at The Washington Times.
In a time when the most basic truths and institutions are under relentless attack, it should hearten many to know that a gargantuan cultural counterstrike is taking shape in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol dome.
In a city obsessed with power and money, with the latter facilitating and corrupting the former, the Museum of the Bible figures to be a mighty rebuke to the secular kingdom whose jealousy knows no bounds.
If the debauched Woodstock rock festival in 1969 was, as Rabbi Daniel Lapin observed, “a finger in the eye of God,” the Museum of the Bible will be a finger in the eye of the dark master of this world and a gentle reminder to the “world’s only superpower” that we exist at all only at God’s pleasure. Also, that we mock His commandments at our own peril. Not a bad thing to ponder in the Age of Obama.
Slated for opening in November 2017, the museum is the brainchild of Steve and Jackie Green, whose family owns the Oklahoma City-based, Hobby Lobby chain of 572 craft stores.
At a special exhibition this week at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium, Mr. and Mrs. Green, along with Museum President Cary Summers, gave several hundred guests a multimedia — and nonpolitical — preview of what is to be “the greatest museum in the world.”
Here are a few facts:
- • A $400 million budget for a 430,000 square-foot, 10-story building;
• More than 40,000 biblical relics, including fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament passages from 300 A.D. and writings from Abraham’s time (1800 B.C.);
• Floors devoted to biblical study, from beginning level to world-class scholarship;
• The world’s largest video screen on the ceiling, with constantly changing images;
• “Immersive, theatrical” animated biblical narratives, from Abraham to Jesus;
• A Disneyesque simulated flight through Washington’s buildings and monuments that feature Scripture;
• A reproduction of the ornate Vatican Library;
• Traveling exhibits, which have already been featured in Jerusalem, the Vatican and Cuba;
• A rooftop Biblical garden with plants from the Holy Land under a Torah scroll-like transparent covering;
• A massive entrance flanked by two, 40-foot-high bronze panels of Hebrew Scripture.
Situated at 300 D Street S.W., two blocks from the National Mall and within a three-minute walk of the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of the Bible is being built on the site of the Washington Design Center, which was originally a brick, refrigerated warehouse built in 1923.
Mr. Green, an evangelical Christian whose most recent claim to fame was winning a Supreme Court challenge to the Obamacare directive to Hobby Lobby and other Christian-owned companies to provide abortions and abortifacients in employee health plans, bought the property in 2012 for $50 million. He and his wife have been collecting artifacts for years and were exploring several locations. They decided on Washington because, he said, “it’s the city of museums” with the most in the world.
In ancient Israel, the center of village life was the synagogue, the impressive building that housed the Torah scroll. A capitol challenge to earthly power. The synagogue’s prominence, much like the cathedrals and village churches of Europe, left no doubt as to what the people worshipped.
Today, in many places, especially in the United States, the most impressive building is a shopping mall, dedicated to commerce, not worship of God.
Not that commerce is in itself bad — far from it. America became the world’s most prosperous, free nation by following biblical principles that allow capitalism’s dynamic wealth creation. The Bible clearly supports the market, the rule of law, property rights, hard work and honest money — along with charity. But the Scriptures also caution against idolatry, with the clearest warning in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
Jesus put the government in its place when He held up a coin and said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Caesar is entitled to some tax money, but has no business in matters of the soul.
It’s fascinating to try to surmise what impact the new museum will have when it opens two years hence. Will it lead to a revival of interest not only in the Bible but in Christianity and Judaism? Will it build respect and support for Israel and better understanding of its neighbors?
At the least, it is likely to change individual hearts. Imagine if Fox television’s producers spent several hours in such a place a few years ago and then brainstormed on the name for a new show. Would they still have come up with something like “American Idol?”