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. KO

    Do the objections of Mr. Cantor and Mr. Boehner signal a move toward renewed social conservatism? I thought these guys were focused like a laser beam on squeezing every last dime out of the federal budget.

    No wait, that's not it, pardon me. For the next two years, they will concentrate their efforts on removing Pres. Obama from the White House. No, they don't really care about ants of the cross. They just need something to talk about until the Day of Reckoning.

    December 5, 2010 at 5:58 am |
  2. Mike

    Ha Ha. I knew it. The minute I saw the headline I thought to myself: ' I'll bet it's in Cincinnati area or Kentucky.' Can't wait for the Easter Bunny museum to open down there as well.

    December 5, 2010 at 5:29 am |
  3. Alex

    First off, the government should censor a display on public property that offensively targets a single group. "Art" that spits on symbols many hold to be sacred has no place on public property.
    The governor of Kentucky is applying public funds because he believes that this theme park will bring jobs and tourism to his state. It is an economic decision based on the fact that there are many Christian families around the area that will go. Would there be outrage if it was a Hare Krishna theme park? Yes, only because people are less likely to show up so it would be a bad investment.

    December 5, 2010 at 4:44 am |
  4. Joe B

    Why did God flood the world anyway? Wasn't he planning to send Jesus all along? Why didn't God just send Jesus during the time of Noah? Would that have prevented a lot of unnecessary suffering? Also, if God flooded the world to rid it of evil, then why did it fall back into evil again so quickly? Wouldn't an omniscient deity realize that his plan wasn't going to work?

    Makes you think God killed everyone just for the fun of it.

    December 5, 2010 at 4:06 am |
  5. vette gal

    Ahh....Jesus, the great salesman ever!!!!!

    December 5, 2010 at 4:04 am |
  6. vette gal

    Ahh...Jesus was the greatest salesman ever. He sold millions of people the idea that heaven and God exist. Having been raised a Catholic who spent more hours than I wish to remember on my knees doing penance, I have evolved into an adult who questions many things that were told to me as truth when I was a child. Thankfully, I have become more intelligent as I grow older and more curious about the myths told to me as a child.

    It really irks me that this theme park is getting a huge tax break from our government. What happened to separation of church and state? I understand tax breaks for non profit organizations like churches, but obviously this theme park is going to make a profit. I can't imagince they would be building something that would be losing money.

    December 5, 2010 at 4:03 am |
  7. Joe B

    For God so loved the world... he killed every single man, woman, and child.

    ... Except for Noah the drunken nudist, plus his family.

    December 5, 2010 at 3:56 am |
  8. Morame

    Why don't they have a video with ants crawling over Mohammed instead of Jesus? I wonder. Probably not because they are afraid they could outrage muslims, similar to the Mohammed cartoons? Looks like the feelings of Christians are worth less than those of Muslims. It's just as it says in the Koran: Non-muslims have fewer rights than muslims. It's sad and sickening the liberals are supporting this with their actions. These bigoted hypocrites just make me sick.

    December 5, 2010 at 3:29 am |
  9. American4EVR

    As a Christian, I do not care or resent whatever the exhibit wants to display. It is not like we are "the religion of peace". We are not going to send 400 lunatics to behead the director of the exhibit. They can display whatever they want, whenever they want. I will simply not attend, or even acknowledge them.

    December 5, 2010 at 3:09 am |
  10. paul.c

    A couple of things forgotten by most is that 1. That amount of rain would cause the complete saturation of any atmosphere,any any living thing that took a breath would drown.2.No other culture or civilization around at that time recorded any massive global flood,including the chinese and the europeans,you would think that others might notice wouldnt you...but they didnt.3 The viruses that cause STD's only exist in humans which means if all the humans were wiped out in the flood and noah and his family were the only ones left then someone on that ark was less than pure.But of course all this logic is too much and not convenient for the myth makers.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  11. LP

    I don't understand the point of this. Religions get tax exempt status, even if they operate for-profit ventures. It wouldn't be any different for any other religion.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  12. Travis

    I'm so tired of hearing Atheists saying they are upset becasue of their rights have been violated... well mine has been violated too. Your belief is as much of a religion as mine. Big Bang theory and and most basic theorys is that everything came from this void nothingness and something insane happened and poof. I challenege you to read The first law of Thermodynamics again. Energy can Neither be created or destroyed.so.. where did it come from? if it came from nothing then the law is wrong. if its eternal then the law is right and the theory is wrong. If you believe we came about by evolution then you believe in an all powerful all knowing life judging Nature that decides what deserves and should live or go extinct. this fish must survive therefore, i will put a spot to mimic an eye here and this moth must change colors so i will change it here. this fish lives in darkness so i will takes it eyes and give it better sensory perception elsewhere.. and the list goes on and on. You cant in the science world say ok, well I made my theory and the facts dont line up so I'm going to keep my theory because I dont like the idea something might have made the world. Spontaneous Generation, and Big bang theory is just as unprovable as God. I hear "you cant see it touch smell it or hear so God isnt real". I challenge you to see hear smell touch or hear time. You can see the effects of Time. and I can see the effects of God in my oppinion. but thats the great thing about America. Everyone has the right to their own belief. That doesnt make what you think stupid, dumb, senseless or anything else until you become violent, hateful, and mocking of it. You disagree with me I disagree with you and thats just fine because you can in America. I just dont want to hear about My Rights as an Athiest When you could care less about My Rights as a christian..... an untestable, unprovable, violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics is taught everyday in schools around the nation, and if you disagree with that, and believe something made the earth then they call you an idiot. Theory must be backed by facts as you say, not I like the theory so im going to stick with it. Thank you and I hope Everyone has a Great night.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  13. Juan

    The moon is made out of blue cheese!

    December 5, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  14. Michael

    InLove0607 –
    All Life begins with a Big Bang – that is true.
    As for Evolution and other such secular-humanist ravings of Science, they could not be part of God's Holy Word.
    If these things are "forced" into the Bible narrative then men can say of the Bible: It is Symbolic, Mythological.
    And the story lines, events and characters therein symbolic and mythological.
    And thus, when they stand as they now do, in the very beginnings of that "Trouble" that is to be, these men may
    be honored and esteemed for their "great knowledge" and "learning" – but they are as blind as blind fools can be.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:39 am |
  15. 8andSkate

    Poor, Stephen Prothero. You're just mad because your ears look funny.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:21 am |
  16. AesopsRetreat Dot Com

    Every single one of this Authors questions are nothing more than Straw Men questions. When will the Left ever learn about Apples and Oranges? How is this concept so hard for them to understand? Is it not pronounced in Phonics? Is that it?

    December 5, 2010 at 2:18 am |
    • Karen P

      The real problem is Republicans can't read

      December 5, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  17. JoanOlsson

    From the looks of this string of comments the ratio of scoffers to believers hasn't changed since the days of Noah. No surprise.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:09 am |
  18. John

    Once again, there is a double-standard here but that is what this forum is all about right? See what you can post to get the most responses. I guess if it were any other religion than something labeled as "Christian" you would see the argument go the other way. In other words, Christians need to tolerate this development because it's hateful, bigoted, etc. not to accept other religions. Just a double-standard. It's the way our country and world is going....Christians are the bane of everyone's existence because they are so intolerant (never mind what these other religions say or believe...it's just those awful Christians). Everyone is intolerant of something, someone, some belief so don't lie to yourselves about being tolerant (it's a double-standard). If you don't believe...it's ok be secure and confident in your decision. I do believe and it's ok...I am confident and secure in my decision. But I will stand up and continue to call out the double-standard that exists (regardless of how self-righteous you are). Just because you are an Athiest, Budhist, Muslim, or Boston University Religion Scholar...doesn't mean that you are "tolerant" but now that would be too difficult to admit right?

    December 5, 2010 at 2:08 am |
  19. CRG

    The most dangerous thing in the USA today is religious funamentalism.

    December 5, 2010 at 2:00 am |
  20. CRG

    The greatest danger to freedom and democracy in the USA and the rest of the world is religious fundamentalism.

    December 5, 2010 at 1:58 am |
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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.