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December 2nd, 2010
06:18 PM ET

My take: Where's the outrage over Noah's Ark park?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A four-minute video that includes an eleven-second depiction of a crucifix crawling with ants has been removed from the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, but it is still stirring up controversy in Washington, DC.

First, incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) blasted the National Portrait Gallery for its “obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season,” while the incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans threatened to scrutinize Smithsonian funding next year.

Then Martin Sullivan, who directs the National Portrait Gallery, said “it was not the museum’s intention to offend” but pulled the video anyway, which prompted the liberal group, People for the American Way, to accuse Republican critics of the exhibit of censorship: “This new GOP leadership wants a government that stays out of people’s lives when it comes to health care and unemployment benefits, but they show no scruples about using government power to censor the free expression of those they disagree with.”

I write not to raise First Amendment questions about elected officials transforming themselves into self-appointed curators, but to ask whether these officials are really concerned (as they claim) about the use of taxpayer funds to weigh on matters of the spirit.

In a press release yesterday, Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky announced that his state had entered into a deal with the folks behind the Creation Museum to break ground for Ark Encounter, a $150 million theme park complete with “a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark.”

Rather than speaking of his state's support of this group’s creationist agenda, Gov. Beshear spoke of employing 900 workers and drawing 1.6 million visitors a year. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, however, the tax breaks offered by the state to Ark Encounter, as the theme park is being called, “could surpass $37 million.”

The entire exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery (of which the brief clip by the late artist David Wojnarowicz was a small part), cost, by contrast, $750,000, and all of that from private donations.

So my question to Representatives Boehner and Cantor, and to Glenn Beck and others who are working themselves up into a lather over this supposed attack on Christianity, is this: Are you equally outraged over millions in tax breaks to a group promoting fundamentalism? 

Would you be outraged at all if the clip in question concerned not an "antsy Christ" but an "antsy Buddha" or an "antsy Christopher Hitchens"? And how loud would the outrage be in Washington if Kentucky's governor was offering millions in tax incentives to a Hare Krishna theme park? Or a Disney Land of Atheism?

Beyond these questions of basic fairness, I have a more practical question, this time for Belief Blog readers: Would you pay good money to see a 500-foot-long replica of Noah's Ark?

I hate to sound like one of Noah's scoffers in Genesis, but the last time I was at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, it wasn't exactly crowded. And that Bible theme park is in Orlando, Florida, not Grant County, Kentucky.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Art • Bible • Church and state • Culture wars • Fundamentalism • Opinion • United States

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soundoff (974 Responses)
  1. Mike Breen

    OK ...OK....Let them build the bloody Noah's Park, but I draw the line at having them Play The Irish Rovers' "Unicorn" song on the park sound system......

    December 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  2. Brandon

    Simple answer, Noah was not a promoter of violence to non believers. He was a guy in the Bible that built a big boat and put animals in it.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  3. Matt

    Tax breaks are not the same as direct tax support. Many businesses receive tax breaks if it looks like a revenue boost for the local economy. I would take my child to see it as long as it is a clean family environment. I also suspect that just like any other business it depend on customers as to whether or not it will succeed or fail. I would like to see more comments that stay on topic and not get lost in stupidity and name calling. It doesn't seem to matter the topic you can put money on the fact that some fanatic will attempt to hijack the conversation and take in a direction that ends up as uneducated opinion.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
    • Edwin

      Yet there was outrage over the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, which gets no tax breaks nor tax dollars.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  4. Amunaka

    Hmmm... if jesus died for my sins ...how come everybody keeps telling me I'm gonna pay for my sins ...thought jc picked up the tab for that..

    December 4, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
    • Ken

      He did, yer fine...dont worry 'bout it. Unless yer worried about it.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
    • pdawg

      You have to believe in your heart and confess that Jesus is Lord for that to happen....if you want all your sins to be forgiven and begin a new life in the Lord, His arms are always open for you....HE LOVES YOU SO MUCH AND IS WANTING YOU TO COME TO HIM....choose life my friend...may the spirit of the Lord open your eyes that you might see and know and believe. I love you but God loves you more....be blessed

      December 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  5. Al Dope Capone

    Since no human being has full knowledge of everything this universe holds (let alone other universes), why do people feel so confident telling others what they should or shouldn't believe?

    December 4, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  6. Carl Hostetter

    Why, Mr. Prothero, and with what authority should the Federal Government concern itself with what is purely a state matter? It is proper (and necessary) for Congress to oversee how Federal funds are spent; but it is not authorized to interfere with how a state chooses conduct its own, purely internal, business.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  7. Jay Barnett

    Leftists are so dense, and seem to universally struggle grasping democratic principles. We elect representatives to decide how to spend our tax money. In Washington some of them found the ant ridden crucifix disgusting rather than artistic, so they said our tax dollars should not be spent on it. Following so far?

    In Kentucky, the elected representatives siad they liked the idea of granting tax breaks to a Bible based theme park because they like the park, and think it will be good for their economy. Stay with me, I'm trying to keep this simple for you.

    No one said the "art" was illegal, and should be banned. If someone wants to spend their money to see it, they can do that; they just can't make the rest of us subsidize the filth. No one said anyone had to go see the ark, and no state money is being spent to build it. There's no restriction of free expression, and no violation of the establishment clause; that means – get ready – THIS ISN'T A FIRST AMENDMENT ISSUE.

    If you're the rare leftist that was smart enough to follow, congratulations, you just learned something about democracy and the limits of counter-majoritarianism. You need not thank me, it was my pleasure.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
    • Observer

      I will try to keep this as simple as I can for you. The state is apparently giving $37 million in tax breaks to this fantasy land. See? That means "state money is being spent to build it". Otherwise it would cost the owners $37 million more in the end. Should be simple enough for even non-liberals to grasp.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
    • Edwin

      Jay, let's see if you are a right-wing radical smart enough to follow this. According to the article, the art exhibit was 100% privately funded. That means (wait for it...)... it was NOT funded by taxes. DING!

      So... your entire argument is based on something which is untrue. The republican "leaders" in Congress were not attacking the exhibit because it used tax dollars to fund something, because it was not using tax dollars. They were doing it because they did not like the message and wanted to do whatever was in their power to block it (i.e., block free speech).

      So you are wrong.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  8. publius enigma

    There is no way government sponsorship of the arts would not result in censorship or favoritism of political idealogies. Arts should be strictly privately sponsored. Besides which it is a waste of money in these hard times.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
    • Frogist

      @publius enigma: Your two statements are a wonderful contradiction. Praise the necessity for pure art, then say it is a waste of money. So much better to not have public funding of museums and have private sponsored censorship or favoritism...

      December 6, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  9. M

    Waste of Money, waste of effort, waste of intelligence. Besides who expects fairness and Integrity from the likes of John Boehner, and Glenn Beck. Oh wait other Republicans.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  10. Dedawn1

    So everyone wants to the how ... how the universe came to be? For me it is simple FAITH. I have faith that God did this. I have faith when I dont uderstand it all. I see nothing wrong with shaking my head and saying there is something bigger than me and I am so glad he knew what he was doing. I could not wish for a better place to be, even with all our problems and differences, at the end of the day I am still happy to be here.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  11. Steve Bishop

    What a ridiculous article. Forget the creation or evolution argument. The point is the attack on a Person that tens of millions of Americans worship. One question for Mr. Prothero: What if the National Portrait gallery had included an exhibit that had Mohamed covered in ants? Would he have still wrote this illogical column? I don't think so. It is always easy to attack Christianity in this country.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Steve Bishop: Apparently you are ignorant of the difference in the history of the symbols of Mohammed vs the symbol of Jesus. Please read about them and be informed. Then you might understand why there is a difference.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • Steve Bishop

      I have a doctorate in religious studies, trust me I know what I am talking about. The only difference is Muslims will sanctify cutting your neck off while Christians generally turn the other cheek. Everyone is rightfully scared of Muslims but as i said it is always fun and easy to go after Christians even with illogical and historically inaccurate arguments

      December 9, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  12. AmericarootedinGOD

    Or we could just check history and see how our nation has been for the last 150 years...

    December 4, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
    • Observer

      So why are Christians constantly saying that the world is falling apart and the end is near?

      December 4, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  13. AmericarootedinGOD

    America: In GOD We Trust.

    Sure, we allow all religions and freedoms of speech, but our country celebrates GOD. Don't like it? Live elsewhere.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
    • Observer

      You might check history to see how our nation began without "In God We Trust" for 70 years.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
    • Louie

      AmericarootedinGOD prepared to be schooled:

      <>

      Wow...amazing what happens when a human being uses the vast amount of available brain power to research something based on fact rather than responding in knee-jerk fashion to The World's Biggest Volume of Fable Books (Koran, Bible, etc, etc)

      December 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
    • SigmundFreud

      Typical of the American far right. Anyone who disagrees with your fantasies can "live elsewhere". Or in other words, you believe in American freedom, but only for people who agree with you.

      I'll bet you even believe that America's founding fathers were Protestant fundamentalists!

      December 4, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
    • Water to whine

      Some of the founding faters who designed the way our country is run were agnostics. Live with that.

      December 5, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  14. heartalm

    Yes, I'd pay to see a full scale version of the Ark. Definitely.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  15. SDB

    the Disneyland of Atheism is a fantastic idea.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  16. tjs

    i read a message earlier that stated that atheists are hate filled. not sure about that. who kills in the name of atheism? None. who kills or has killed in the name of god? Many!!!!! Would love to see a story about an atheist killing an abortion doctor or blowing themselves up on a flight. What would be the point?! They just want to live in peace and have no agenda from what I can tell.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
    • Sydney Australia

      MUSLIMS kill in the name of their god, Mohammed.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
    • Observer

      You might want to read the Bible and hear about all the commands from God to kill unruly children, adulterers, nonbelievers, etc. This was the way God wanted things run until Jesus got him to change his perfect mind.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
    • Steve Bishop

      Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, where do you want me to stop in naming those who killed in the name of Atheism? The difference is when someone killed in the name of Christianity they did so in contradiction to their founder, when someone killed in the philosophy of atheism they were consistent with their beliefs.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • Amunaka

      To..Steve Bishop

      Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot""""

      So your saying they killed in the name of atheism ....how so ...

      December 4, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
    • Steve Bishop

      Historian Richard Evans, "the Nazis regarded the churches as the strongest and toughest reservoirs of ideological opposition to the principles they believed in."

      "Without Darwinism, there would have been no Nazism"

      Atheist Daniel Dennett says, "religion should be judged by its consequences." OK fair enough, then let the regimes of Stalin (20 million deaths), Mao (some say 70 million deaths) and Hitler a distant third with ten million deaths be judged on their consequences as well. Not to mention the lesser atheists Pol Pot, Enver Hoxha, Nicolae Ceausescu, Fidel Castro, and Kim Jong-il.

      All of these regimes were strongly anti-religious which means their atheism is intrinsic rather than incidental to their actions. Darwin or Nietzsche would have never approved of Hitler or any of these ruler's ideas but Hitler certainly approved of their ideas. Consequences.

      Dostoevsky's dictum, "If God is not, everything is permitted."

      December 4, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  17. Hayes

    Your comments are offensive and an affront to my intelligence for believing in God. Your paraphrased statements literally read: If you believe in God, you are less intelligent than I. Enjoy your meaningless life as you drink red wine and scoff over Stewart's oblongated facial expressions on the Daily Show tonight.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • Observer

      "as you drink red wine"
      Drinking wine is mentioned in the cannibalistic references to "drinking the blood of Christ" and "eating the body of Christ". Creepy.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
    • Enos Rifkin

      Not to mention that this 'Jesus' whose flesh you eat and whose blood you drink exactly fits the dictionary definition of a zombie.

      Ritual cannibalism is bad enough but cannibalism of a zombie? Ewww.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Hayes: I love Jon Stewart! ❤

      December 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  18. nooneexpectsthespanishinquisition

    This Arc idea isn't nearly as bad as a creationist 'museum', at least it provides some educational value and can help expose people to the diversity of life. It's too bad people can't accept that there is some value to the stories in the bible without insisting that the stories are factual. The bible has a lot to offer in terms of moral lessons and comfort but to interpret it literally is ridiculous (especially considering the Bible that people use now has been edited, translated, and retranslated so many times). It was written in the bronze age!

    December 4, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
    • Enos Rifkin

      It's a work by frightened late Bronze Age goatherds who had no science or mathematics or the slightest comprehension about how things really work. We should all regard it as an antique absurdity and not the ultimate source of truth.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  19. Ann

    You know, at least they could build the ark in like New Orleans or somewhere where it might actually get some practical use someday.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  20. Enos Rifkin

    Keep in mind that if you believe the idiotic Bible story, you have to admit that as soon as the ark was grounded, Noah burned one of each clean animal and each clean bird as a sacrifice to get God's attention. This left him with no breeding pairs for any of the 'clean' animals. I tried to get an answer to this conundum in my childhood but it got me booted out of Sunday School and shortly thereafter, the church itself.

    December 4, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • Daniel

      Most Sunday School teachers are insufficiently well-read in Genesis. They have the "animals two-by-two" thing in their heads, and that's all they remember or can teach. In Genesis 7:2, God has Noah gather the clean beasts by sevens, and pairs only of unclean beasts.

      It's still a myth, but doesn't fall apart on the grounds you mention. It is however sadly typical that your teachers did not know this to answer you with, or that rather than amend their own ignorance they threw you out of class.

      December 4, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.