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. MS

    So I understand if someone feels concerned over a few politicians and their own personal choices of faith or belief, but to compare "antsy Buddha" would not do this argument justice. You should have asked, and no doubt you thought about it but rather chose to go with an easier counterexample, if "antsy Muhammad" were included in the video, would that create a stir? If so, to what degree? Knowing that comparing does not justify actions, I also would say using the comparison between religious figures as a relevant example in your article just masks the real problem here. People are not loving other people, and trying to arrogantly and selfishly arise, for some reason only known to them, a response that they know will press a hot button in people's lives specifically during a time of year that represents more to those who believe. To counter that statement one may argue that these folks who do the "arising" are offended by "Christmas" or something with the name "Christ" in it, or that it invokes a negative emotion which is offensive, but to that I must simply say, don't be ridiculous. You are not offended, you are simply trying to have your point heard that you don't believe in Christ. Unfortunately however there will always be "that guy" who raises a stink simply because he is attention-deprived, and they come from both camps, but really do we always need to give the outliers this attention?

    December 4, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  2. Saj

    These so called Republican leaders are thriving because we voters don't know what we are doing. We vote for God, Abortion, Freedom but in reality we vote for these leaders hypocrisy. So who is responsible. Our country is 100% democratic, please remember that.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  3. Acaraho

    An Ark in Kentucky? Better batten down the hatches when one of Kentucky's seasonal tornadoes runs into it.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  4. Acaraho

    If I was to travel to Kentucky, I'd rather visit Mammoth Caves than a mock-up of Noah's Ark. At least we know that Mammoth Caves were built by the hand of God.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
    • Daniel

      Mammoth Cave is a great National Park, and I recommend making the visit. It was made by carbolic acid dissolving limestone over hundreds of thousands of years – that is by the natural processes of things happening as they happen. If one believes in God, then yes, it is all according to the rules (natural laws) He made for his Creation, and is a wonderful thing to see. If you do not believe in God, or are Agnostic, it is still an amazing thing to see. Bring a jacket – even in summer, the cave is chilly inside.

      December 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  5. McPain

    These kind of biased stories are nothing new from the Jewish CNN trying to discredit Christianity. These Jews who run our media, banks, and entertainment industry have worn out their welcome.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
    • SigmundFreud

      Hey, there McPain. Better take your medications. You'll feel much better afterwards.

      Oh, and while you're at it, have a look at the Bible in the original. I hope you can read Hebrew.

      December 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
    • Candace

      WOW. Are we ethnocentric, McPain, or what?

      December 4, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  6. Amused atheist

    I would enjoy seeing a model of Noah's ark built to the specifications in the bible. I would then like to see them put the life-sized pairs of all of the different speices of animals inside of it, including the extra 7 pairs of "clean" animals that Noah was instructed to put in there. Also, all of the provisions for so many diverse species. Then, I would sit back and laugh when it didn't all fit.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  7. SigmundFreud

    If this "ark" is going to be realistic, then it should be made the way it would have been made thousands of years ago

    1. Hand tools only. Not a single power tool.
    2. No steel tools. Bronze at best.
    3. Every tree chopped down by hand, hauled many miles by animal and/or human teams
    4. Every plank sawed and shaped by hand. Again, bronze tools at best.

    Now, before they start investing money in this thing, I hope someone will sit down and work out how many slaves, sorry, workers it will take, over how many years.

    Or will they declare a miracle and bring in the local lumberyard and all the power tools they want?

    December 4, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • Observer

      You missed that it was built by a 600-year-old man and his family. Sure.

      December 4, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  8. sqeptiq

    Go ahead and spend your money but leave the taxpayers out of it. Or would you mind if taxpayer money was spent on an Atheist Theme Park?

    December 4, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
  9. Candace

    The whole point of Stephen's Blog is apparently being missed by those of you who are arguing over the big bang theory and Creationism. The point is why is the GOP getting involved with an art exhibit that offends Christians but not with a Noah's Ark museum that might offend Buddhists or Atheists? This is America, right? Though it was founded on Christian principles, people have the right to worship and believe as they choose. If you do not like it then do not partake in it. It's about being tolerant, even if you do not agree with something. Great minds do not always think alike. I am a Christian, but sometimes as Christians we really misrepresent Christ. For those that take the Bible as literal, was he not the most tolerant person EVER?It's art people, it's an opinion. It's not like it's playing subliminally on TV to your children. This world is huge and this universe is huge, and believe it or not we do not know everything. People need to stop acting like they do.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Candace: Not so much common sense at once! I don't think this blog can take it!

      December 6, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  10. Padreo6

    Interesting editorial. Interesting comments, some. Might as well weigh in, too. I like science. I like faith. I have lots of questions about both and keep looking for answers. Just because I don't know about it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Just because I refuse to acknowledge it's existence doesn't nullify reality. Almost all ancient cultures have in their writings stories of a global flood, and the fossil records support a colossal flood better than explanations to the contrary. Dating by the layers doesn't work very well when what is seen in the layers says otherwise. For you Bible Thumpers, how "old" was Adam when he was created? If he was created in the body of a 30-year-old, why can't the earth's age appear to be more than 6000? Oh, I have many more questions than I have answers, so I'll keep looking.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  11. amused ky resident

    ok i enjoyed the comments much more than the original article. the original article is a blatant attempt to get hits – the only reason i can see for such ridiculous comparison between the antsy cross and the ark being built. like so many events of the past related to christianity, observers are getting caught up in the symbolism. just like the crusades was more about other factors (like a pope with too much power) than the actual religion (the bible can be interpreted to justify almost anything see David Koresh), Gov Beshear is joining in this project to generate revenue for the area. Without knowing, I am going to assume the antsy cross is not going to have the same kind of economic impact.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  12. james

    I wonder what the inside will look like. Will they also put fake animals in there for "realism"? or is this just strictly an external piece? Heck will it even be build using balsa wood or concrete, plastic i.e modern materials?

    December 4, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  13. WC

    No problem... as long as they would also be willing to back the Larry Flynt First Amendment Museum.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  14. Meg

    haha... I thought this article was going to be about 'Noah's Ark Water Park' in Wisconsin Dells, WI.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  15. Farticus

    I'd take a huge crap on the ark. Then I'd draw pictures with it. Then I'd toss Noah overboard.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  16. Greg

    "Outraged"? Sure, but as all of our previous experience with Christian zealots has convinced us that it will ALWAYS be "us" and "they". There's us, who get it, who know better than to have dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, (or accept the Biblical account of anything at all without serious scrutiny), they – they who believe blindly in spite of facts and reason.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
    • Padreo6

      Do they have to be grown adult dinosaurs, elephants, giraffes? Why not young? That would take up less space and require less food.

      December 4, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
    • Greg

      @Padreo, don't be silly, a far better question is where do they keep the termites on an all wooden boat? 🙂

      December 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  17. Edwin

    These Senators and House "leaders" attacked the Smithsonian because one of its PRIVATELY FUNDED exhibits contained offensive imagery. They used this lead to plan an attack on the arts, because they do not approve of government support of art, history, or education.

    Their position might be worth discussing, but they lie to get their way. They are hypocrites who care nothing for the separation of church and state - they care nothing for anything except their own narrow agendas. They will twist facts and create their own version of truth, using their own media outlets to blast the public with their ideas over and over again, in and effort to brainwash the public.

    The sad fact is that their tactic works. As evidence, look at the vast number of Americans who voted Republicans into office in November expecting they ACTUALLY wanted to lower the deficit. As the Senate vote today showed (and the partisan vote in the House yesterday also showed), Republicans want to lower the deficit - but only if the rich don't have to help do it.

    Yet some idiots still believe the Republicans want what's best for America.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  18. jim atmadison

    Why would I be angry? Pity is far more appropriate. This is Kentucky, for crying out loud.

    I always pity anybody living in Kentucky. The intelligent ones (the few who haven't left) have ignorant, narrow-minded neighbors. The ignorant ones either can't help it, or they choose to be ignorant because of their narrow-minded nature.

    And yes, I do know people living in Kentucky, and I know people who have escaped.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  19. Ken

    The story is 1/1000 the size of the commentary it generated on this page. Looks like the park will do just fine.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  20. John Baptist

    You could only build this theme park in Kentucky, I'm sure the "faithful" would like to see The Little Baby Jesus playing with dinosaurs!

    December 4, 2010 at 7:22 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.