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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. Smarter than Observer

    I love how liberals cannot distinguish between tax incentives and the actual expenditure of funds. Kentucky isn't paying for the park, as opoosed to the federal funding of Smithsonian, but rather foregoing potential tax revenue – that would never be realized if the park were built elsewhere. The state is out nothing but will benefit from income taxes and sales taxes (from both the park and surrounding businesses) for years to come. Since liberals believe that all money ultimatley belongs to the government, they are offended when anyone is able to keep some of it. Why don't you look around at the states and major cities that have been governed predominantly by liberals throughout the years (Detroit?) and see how well the system works.

    December 4, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
  2. LMC

    Government officials wanting to tell museums what to display? Sounds like communisim and nazism to me! I may not always like what I see in a museum, but I can always skip going if I don't like it. Maybe they would like to start censoring books next....

    December 4, 2010 at 11:03 pm |
    • Frogist

      @LMC: Texas already has. They have been trying to rewrite history school books to reflect a more "conservative" point of view...

      December 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  3. Her'u'go

    Creation Museum is bringing investment to Kentucky, businesses got tax breaks all the time. Kentucky does not release any money, but refuse to collect it. This is not the same as funding the Smithsonian using tax money.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  4. buckyfandan

    interesting how posters are quick to jump all over, mock, and laugh at all those foolish christians that believe in such rot, yet muslims believe the same thing in regard to noah's story, and people tend to be politically correct and respect their beliefs.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  5. alex

    Sad statements, what really gets me is the continuous attacks on Christianity and the expectation that Christians can take more than that, thats what their bible teaches, turn the other cheek, whereas no1 should dare say anything about atheists, muslims, or any other "minority" group.
    I really hope you will remain just a "minority", a vulgar, brutal, incompetent minority.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
    • Frogist

      @alex: It's not the non-believers' fault that "turn the other cheek" is part of Christian philosophy. But since it is, like it or not, you guys don't have a choice, do you?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  6. tdw

    sorry...belief in God that is...

    December 4, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  7. maya

    It's really quite simple...God used the big bang to create the heavens and earth..two of every animal in existance at the time...evolution took over from there..and brought us to where we are now..problem solved and now we have no reason to invest our KY tax $$$ in such frivilous pursuit of building this monstrosity to explain what has already been explained...for FREE.
    So, Gov. Breshear, how about investing those funds in some real Education? Like our current school sytem and more funds being availble to our citizens for higher education? I would be willing to bet there's a higher rate of return in investing in our citizens than you will find in a theme park that won't see enough visitors to keep it afloat, Ark or no Ark.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  8. Paul Ronco

    Why should there be any furor? No one cares about Kansas.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  9. Iqbal khan

    Listen and read Quran in many languages and you will find the answers.......

    wwwquranexplorer.com

    December 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
  10. Please look into facts...

    I have read several comments referring to our nation being a Christian one. At least one comment claimed that all of our founding fathers were religious. As much as some in the religious community in the USA would like to believe this is true, it just is not. In fact, some of them (founding fathers) had very little to no respect for the religious community. John Adams once said that there was no greater waste of money than to use money to build a church. Thomas Jefferson was another example of an agnostic signer of the D of I. I just wish that those in the religious community would discover the facts, before closing thier eyes and ears and yelling, " la, la, la" to anything that does not fall in line with thier own beliefs. American Christians, in particular, have a bad habit of believing things without looking into the facts for themselves. They, often, feel no need to verify what they are saying or are being told in the Christian community. I urge the Christian community to stop believing things, just because they sound good. I respect religious folks who also have the capability to think for themselves. Unfortunately, many are in religion in the first place, because they don't want to think for themselves. This is damaging to society. So, the next time a preacher tries to tell you that all of our founding fathers were Christians, pull him (or her) to the side and correct him. It will save a lot of embaressment.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
  11. maya

    As a Kentucky resident and citizen, I have no problem with them building this place...I do have a problem with my tax dollars supporting it's construction and operation. Our founding fathers determined seperation of church and state to be a requirement of democracy for good reason. Our tax dollars have better things to pay for than an amusement park.
    As a person who grew up in Grant County and fondly remembers her rolling hiils, family farms and small towns, I cannot imagine that this eyesore will improve the landscape, no matter how many minimum wage jobs it provides.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  12. God

    "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it."

    Indeed, it must be a wicked, wicked thing to seek the truth, and be given none in return.

    Any of you who believe that nonsense are delusional and stupid, not necessarily in that order.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  13. Avatar74

    If a Christ covered in ants offends you, then talk about it... don't censor it. That's the point of a democracy with freedom of expression. Expressing different points of view is what people in free countries do. Can't handle living in a country with other view points than yours? Move to Iran.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  14. tdw

    christopher hitchens is a sad, lonely jerk, and he'll be dead soon

    December 4, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  15. Tom R

    If you believe oah actually buit an arc and put 2 of evey animal in it your an idiot. First of all 2 of every animal wouldnt fit in an arc of the size described in the bible and second of all it would have never have floated. Its an outrage that public funds are being used to build this religeous park. The last time I checked there was no national religion and it was illegal to set one.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  16. Carlos

    Good article. I hope KY is careful not to cross the church/state separation line. I would hope that they are smarter than to open that can of ants. Government support of job growth is okay, but government support of religion is not at all okay. Regardless, I wouldn't waste my money on such a theme park. If I were Kentuckian, I'd probably be at least a little embarrassed about the reputation it is getting by hosting this and the Creation Museum.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  17. Marla

    Sure, let them build their little fantasy-land to separate the fools from their money, but DON'T give them tax breaks.
    By the way, maybe if churches were taxed for their property, etc. it just might put a dent in the deficit.
    Seems like a good idea to me.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  18. DarthWoo

    Let them try to stuff all of the animals aboard that would have required a berth during such a worldwide flood, and maintain reasonable living conditions, as this flood supposedly lasted some time. Maybe then I'll finally support PETA in something as they get the place shut down for animal cruelty.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  19. KamaraSune

    You know I'm just sick of the argument. This country has "always been dominated by christian beliefs" period. Find a book where you won't see the founders quoting or pointing to bibical scripture. Go outside of your cities and the glass bubble and look how many churches are in the average town. Even when or if there is nothing you will usually find a "christian church". All the game talking and con jobs don't change the fact that this has always been a nation rooted in Christian beliefs. Freedom of religion means you can practice what you believe. It however never meant that eveyone elses beliefs have to vanish to suit your personal desires.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
    • SigmundFreud

      You're pretty unclear on the concept here.

      Point No. 1: the question is public funding (yes, tax breaks are public funding) of private reilgious beliefs.

      Point No. 2: the question is also political endorsement of private religious beliefs

      Point No. 3: In America, the track record is that of religious fundamentalists trying to make other beliefs "vanish" (to use your term). Not the other way around.

      Point No. 4: Read some history, and learn just how many of America's founding fathers were the very opposite of the Fundamentalist ideal.

      December 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  20. Cristobal22

    According to the Bible, God's flood killed everyone except 8 adult Jews. This implies that he killed all or nearly all of the unborn babies. How evil.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:03 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.