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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. tony

    Religion is a violation of the ninth commandment.

    December 5, 2010 at 1:37 am |
  2. chicana

    Should we boycot "Plato's Closet" and "Aristotle Would Have Liked Oprah" and everything else with a reference to the past and some philosophy, religion or another? Don't be so supersticious. Parks named this or that don't matter. None of this matters. All that matters is how YOU treat others. Whether they're far away or near. Period.

    December 5, 2010 at 1:31 am |
    • former keeper

      you're missing the point here...I don't mind at all if there is an Ark theme park. I just don't want to pay for it with my tax money. The government shouldn't fund anything supporting any particular religion

      December 5, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  3. former keeper

    If they have live animals as part of the exhibit, I'd love to see their breeding program. I can only imagine the deformities three or four generations in from the extreme inbreeding.

    December 5, 2010 at 1:31 am |
  4. NL

    I hear lots of believers here saying that they simply believe in God, and do not follow religion. Then there are believers who say that atheists, who do not believe in God, are actually following religion. How can this be?

    Getting tired, so TTFN!

    December 5, 2010 at 1:14 am |
  5. Todd

    I usually don't get involved in arguments with idiots but I would like to point out your entire argument against the "ark encounter" was based on funding and your weak connection to the scrutinized Smithsonian funding for next year. You don't suppose the outrage over the National Gallery exhibit isn't based on the funding for the project but for the message the art was conveying; Perhaps the funding will be scrutinized because everything is going to be next year. Stephen is idiot or ignorant or a manipulator but what he isn't is unbiased. So feel free to talk about other people like you are pointing out they are biased, at least they are honest about it.

    December 5, 2010 at 1:01 am |
  6. bleachnstuff

    Christians are the worst people on the planet. I bet if we put all the Christians on an ark, and sink it, then maybe we wouldn't be 18th in education. It's funny how all the child molesters and hate mongers are affiliated with the Christian religion. Seriously the worst people EVER!

    December 5, 2010 at 12:58 am |
    • Karen P

      Seriously, your post sounds like the most hateful person EVER

      December 5, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  7. Nick

    I just always think, of all this liberal crap we hear in here. When people talk christian belief, it's mocking about how animals got into an ark, how the weight was supported, how the world flooded, how water was struck from a rock, how the sea was parted, etc and jokes are made about it. yet when a desperate situation comes up or a doctor tells you or a loved one you're sick and dying and it's going to happen scientifically, suddenly THEN God and the impossible comes in with all science going away. Joke when you're confident, pray when you're desperate.... liberal motto of the century

    December 5, 2010 at 12:56 am |
    • monroe

      Theist motto of the millenium: praise God for good things, blame something else for the bad. God knows all, sees all, is the cause of all things... wait except for things we don't like...

      December 5, 2010 at 12:59 am |
    • bleachnstuff

      ROFL! There is no god. God is for people who are so weak and uneducated, they can't function in life. They need the crutch of religion to survive. The Christian religion is full of delusional mongoloids. How can you deny the evidence that the earth is 4.5 billion years old? How do you deny fossils? Ignorance is how. Seriously Noah's ark is the most ridiculous sounding concept I have ever heard. Isn't it funny the Adam and Eve are depicted with belly buttons, yet they were never born. Christians should be shot in the face for controlling politics and halting important scientific advancements. I am going to go burn a bible.

      December 5, 2010 at 1:13 am |
  8. monroe

    Eric Cantor, self-hating Jew.

    December 5, 2010 at 12:55 am |
  9. name

    Back to the main article. The fact is the tax break that the Noah’s Arc Park is receiving is open to all cultural attractions that generate tourism in the state of Kentucky. Any culturally themed park could open with the same tax breaks. Law cannot discriminate against a for profit company due to its subject matter. The Smithsonian does not follow the same guidelines. It does not allow any affiliation, profit or non-profit to add to it repertoire. Look at the Smithsonian code of ethics as well as the Kentucky state tourism incentive directive

    December 5, 2010 at 12:54 am |
  10. leakywiki

    it always makes more sense to me when someone tells me my neighbor's Accord is the result of an explosion several billion years ago instead of being the result of a creative process directed by someone with a brain.

    December 5, 2010 at 12:31 am |
  11. lee92

    I think it is an absolutely awesome idea and I will be looking forward to taking my family there.

    December 5, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  12. Voyageur

    According to Genesis 7:11, all the springs of the great deep burst forth...in addition to rain falling from the sky. Water came from below the surface of the earth as well as from the sky.

    December 5, 2010 at 12:04 am |
  13. Wade

    The author of this moronic article has the same problem that most liberals have...they forget this nation was founded as a Christian nation...GET OVER IT! If you don't want to live in a Christian nation then move the hell out, there are plenty of other places in the world to live. We were founded on Christian principles and most people who live here are Christians, so why should the majority always have to bow down to the loud and obnoxious minority?

    December 5, 2010 at 12:01 am |
    • Actually

      @wade
      This nation was not founded as a Christian nation. Several of the most prominent founding fathers were agnostics with little to no respect for any religion. If you don't believe me, read some of the writings of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. They hated Christianity. Look it up, Wade. It's called the freedom of religion. The fact is, Christianity is and has been the the dominant religion in our population. That does not make it a Christian nation other than to those like yourself who simply cannot accept the facts about how our nation was founded as secular. Our gov't does not confer with the pope before making decisions, nor does it count the number of Christians in the population. Most politicians profess Christianity as a means to get voter support, not because they actually care about the agenda of the church. If you cannot accept this, you are way out of touch.

      December 5, 2010 at 12:41 am |
    • Karen P

      Our nation was founded on the church NOT dictating to citizens like it was in Europe so quit with that phony phrase our nation was founded by religion. YOU move to another country like Iran that forces people to believe a certain way. And stop with the liberal crap, there are probably more religious Democrats and Independents than sneaky Republicans who only care about the rich who can fund their election campaigns

      December 5, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  14. God is crap

    Out of curiosity, how well-funded is education in Kentucky? How do their students place compared to other states?

    December 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
    • Wade

      Anyone who is so ignorant as to call themselves "God is crap" should be far more worried about their own education, than of those in Kentucky.

      December 5, 2010 at 12:04 am |
    • Svana

      Kentucky public schools aren't particularly well funded. Especially those in Eastern Kentucky. Though cities such as Louisville and Lexington have some pretty nice private schools.

      December 5, 2010 at 12:37 am |
  15. guest989

    I wonder if this is going to be the same like the one in Wisconsin, in Wisconsin Dells...It is also called "Noah's Ark" and they have a big wooden boat is I recall correctly (haven't been there in almost 15 yrs)

    December 4, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  16. Angie

    The Creation Museum is wonderful! I hope the Ark Park is done with similar good taste. I would love to see a full scale ark model.........a great visual way to show God's power!

    December 4, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  17. sorefish

    I'm an atheist. I've been to the creation museum. It is actually very well done. But, if I ever had any question about why I'm an atheist, the Creation Museum answered all of those questions for me.

    I will go to the Noah's Ark thing too. Keep in mind that while the state is giving up $37 million in tax incentives. It is fully expecting to get much more than that back in the tax revenue it will generate from ancillary businesses.

    December 4, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  18. i hate backwards christians

    The funny thing about this is that so many of you Christian haters on here pretend to know everything and don't even read into what is really going on. He is the gov. of the state. His job is to try to create jobs and bring money into the state. It is very common to give a large business tax breaks to entice them to build where it will benefit the state. Cities do it all of the time. The only reason that this is making news is that it is religious themed.
    My name is what I call all of you because that is what you are. Mom and Dad were probably a Christian and you want to hate us so much because you just think it is so stupid to believe. That's ok, it's your opinion but my question is if you hate religion so much, why doesn't anyone talk about melting down the golden Buddha to help pay for food to the depraved people of Thailand? Oh wait a minute. That isn't nice to pick on any other religion is it?

    December 4, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  19. chris

    why do you say God tried to fool scientists? did he say the earth was less than 6000 years old how do you know 7 days to God dont mean eons and eons. seven days back then could mean 7 24 hour days or something alot longer so before you criticize God why dont you look at every possibility and get your facts straight?

    December 4, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  20. rcasteel

    To be a religion scholar, you seem to understand little about the religions of the world. remind me to never hire anyone from Boston University.

    Noah's ark is common to most religions of the world including Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

    Buhdah was a mortal, not a god. and he is noted as such by the Buhdists.

    But I will take your sample and ask you this. What would happen if it were a picture of Mohammad? Answer..there would be global outrage, death threats against the artist and if it were not taken off display, probably numerous bombings.

    So try to be "fair and balanced" in your stupidity please.

    December 4, 2010 at 11:11 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.