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. BuddyKowalsk

    We carved likenesses of 4 presidents into one of the Indians' sacred mountains. Some Indians' likened that to putting a McDonald's in a church. Nobody cared that they were offended. As for the ark museum, that offends me that people are that gullible, and that our gov't is first in line to be suckered.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  2. The Watcher

    The neo-fascists continue to ride roughshod over our personal liberties using red herrings in their offensive manuvers to obfuscate their self righteous objectives. These folks embrace fear mongering in repeated attacks against those who would be different from them. If there is a god, they will surely be held in that god's contempt. My money is that the contempt is our own burden to bear. Why do we, as a democracy, a society that is openly nondenominational, tolerate fundementalism acts in our name or at our common expense? Haven't we learned anything from the world's religious history? Every powerful religion uses their power to impose their religion on nonbelievers using the pretense of their god's will. Bull, they are fascists and hateful people, period.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  3. tjs

    @Steve Bishop:

    Hitler didn't kill in the name of atheism...he killed Jews and other minorities...he used the German's Christian beliefs and fears to direct his own disgusting agenda.

    What about the Crusades in Europe? And the Conquistadors...that worked out well for the 'heathen' Native Americans...

    Pol Pot was Buddhist and had a Catholic bent...not that he used any of those teachings to the good.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:08 am |
  4. TM

    Will they include dinosaurs on their ark too?

    December 5, 2010 at 8:02 am |
    • Keith

      Baby ones wouldn't take up much space or eat much.

      December 5, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  5. HawkIowa

    It sounds as if the author has actually read about the scoffers in Genesis, since he wrote,
    "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."
    So, I would like to remind him that he probably also read that the Ark "wasn't exactly crowded" either!!!!!!!

    December 5, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  6. Keith

    How did the author of Job know there are freshwater springs in the sea? Job 38:18. Or realize what many astronomers today don't realize-that the constellations of Pleiades and Orion are gravitationally linked? Job 38:31 (God asking Job) "Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the belt of Orion?" Some say that the book of Job is the oldest in the Bible. So, how is it that there is information here that exceeds what science of today has to offer? Cleary science has been taken over by 'humanists' who want to constantly try to disprove the existence of God. Sigh...

    December 5, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  7. Dan

    It is unfortunate that so many Christians cling to a literal interpretation of Genesis. Just know that there are plenty of Christians like me who believe in evolution, a 4.5 billion year old earth, and a localized (certainly not world-wide) Noah's Flood.

    December 5, 2010 at 7:56 am |
    • Keith

      Dan, Exodus 20:11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
      May I suggest a book: "In Six Days", written by 50 scientists.
      Also, it's kind ot pricy, but well worth it-a DVD study on the Book of Genesis by Dr. Chuck Missler. Enjoy!

      December 5, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  8. Robin Bray

    Fools in Congress always bash the visual arts because it is an easy target. They don't bash writing projects because someone would have to read something. Their attacks are always based on hearsay about something they have never seen themselves. As a life long resident of Washington and an artist I can safely say I have never seen a well known member of Congress in an art museum.

    Bible parks never last. Why? Because they are boring beyond belief and challenge no one to think for themselves except the numb of thought. The fact of the matter is the Arts is better off with out any Government funding. Because even without it they will still bash it and make taxpayers think their money went into it, Should our taxes pay for the Smithsonian to display replicas of atomic bombs, the biggest mass murder devices ever invented? That seems just fine to the christian thinking members of Congress. Or maybe I shouldn't have used the word thinking?

    December 5, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  9. Jim

    Scholar?? Really
    Is this what you teach in making an argument. To tell half truths and to misrepresent others position.
    1. The park is an entirely private business.
    2. The park has requested tax benefits available to any other new business.
    3. "entered into a deal" The press release said no such thing.
    4. The exhibit cost of $750k does not include the facility staff or promotion that you so conveniently over look.
    5. Unlike the park the exhibit is on public property.

    December 5, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  10. Karen P

    Just like Santa Claus, we're making our list and checking it twice, gonna find out which Repubs are naughty or nice, and in 2012 the iddiotic ones will be voted OUT. So Repubs better start doing the job we taxpayers pay them to do and not whine about what a national museum displays. How is it they don't have time to read bills THEY say are too long, but they have time to "scrutinize" a museum's funding? Shows where Repubs' priorities are.

    December 5, 2010 at 7:41 am |
    • Frogist

      @Karen P: Actually they didn't even see the exhibit at the Smithsonian. They just heard some guy tell them it was offensive so now they don't like it either. Non-thinkers all of them... The fact that they were actually elected into office boggles the mind.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  11. Jeremy

    Dear Stephen Prothero, I am a Christian and I want to say THANK YOU VERY MUCH for writing this article because it is only bringing MORE ATTENTION to the upcoming Ark Encounter park which is already expecting 1.6 million visitors in its first year!

    December 5, 2010 at 7:31 am |
  12. Karen P

    I'm all for whatever private investors wish to build. I AM opposed to Boehner, Cantor nad other repubs butting into censorship realms. To suddenly "scrutinize" Smithsonian funding by Boehener is DUMB and harassing. As a Christian, I just look away at the art in question, but I do NOT want Republicans censoring others like they are. Don't these lame brain Repubs have better projects to work on, like attracting jobs to U.S.?

    December 5, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  13. Marc

    I went to see the exhibit in question at the National Portrait Gallery and frankly the Norman Rockwell Exhibit was far edgier with the drag queen who portrayed the 4 little old ladies than the Hide & Seek Exhibit. The Crucifix with the ants on it was symbology of death – i.e. ashes to ashes, dust to dust – the dead Christ on the Cross; the mortality of man. The movie clip itself (if you stopped to read it the explanation sign) was about an individual who was dying of AIDS speaking of his own mortality. Privately paid for vs tax money. The Lutheran Pastor and the rest of his fundie Teabagging friends need to worry more about removing the log from their eyes before the mote in ours. Finally, I am a Christian – a crucifix is an object – not holy, important only to those who see it as a magic idol. I believe despite logic or reason – making a leap of faith. Evolution- not a problem; science not a problem – God created all including all knowledge – the only problem is my own ignorance or inability to understand. My journey is to grow spiritually and not expect others to be at the same place I am in that journey. I am not more holy than they are and they are not more holy than I am.

    December 5, 2010 at 7:22 am |
  14. DX1890

    There is a theme park already in operation based on Noah's ark, and surprisignly enough it is in China. It is located just outside of Hong Kong and can be found at http://www.noahsark.com.hk It has been open for a few years now. It also has a full size replica of the ark.

    December 5, 2010 at 7:12 am |
  15. sense4sure

    One thing that I can obtain from this article is there will be no CNN in Heaven. Wow there are some real angry people that read CNN articles.

    December 5, 2010 at 6:48 am |
  16. Me and E

    I thought relegious freedom covered Christianity as well. Looks like the writer does not beleive this. Most of you who scoff and make fun do so because you do not know the truth. When u seek understanding and pray for it, it will come to you as the Lord pleases. The good thing about this is that you must have read or heard something about Christianity, or looked it up real quick to discuss Noah. Please keep reading and one day you will understand. I pray it happens while you are alive and can make amends. Amen

    December 5, 2010 at 6:43 am |
    • Robin Bray

      So sad that at the end of the day you will have wasted a lifetime living a lie.

      December 5, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  17. Michael

    For Noah's ark to contain 2 members of each animal species on the planet, not including fish and aquatic mammals, of course, but including all insects, reptiles, mammals and amphibians in tight fitting quarters, it is estimated that ark would have to be approximately the size of the state of Massachusetts. If there was some sort of miniaturization process involved it was not included in the Bible's text.

    December 5, 2010 at 6:37 am |
  18. kwareroha

    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?
    I am just going to start with pointing out the obvious, the Ark Park is a state tax payer funded project, The National Portrait Gallery is a FEDERALLY FUNDED program.
    From that, you can then deduce why Cantor, Boehner and Beck are not "outraged". Now spare us more of your stupidity, and go away.

    December 5, 2010 at 6:36 am |
  19. LJ

    This article was posted two days ago on CNN's front page. That kind of real estate in the website world is in high demand.... so it makes me wonder at CNN's motivation in placing this BURNING issue front and center twice this week.

    Is the problem that no one is getting mad enough at this?
    I read the editorial, the facts are represented in a biased way – hey, it's an editorial, not pretending to be the type of "unbiased news report" that we can't find anywhere anymore anyway. What's not reported – did the people in that state vote for this? How many jobs did it create? How much projected revenue for the {ahem – Bible Belt of America! and not secular Central Florida] state from this project?
    I won't tell you the answers – but if you look it up, you may be surprised when you get the whole story.

    All in all – CNN – no other news going on in the world that you posted a 2 day old editorial as front page news?
    Didn't get the reaction you wanted the first time?

    December 5, 2010 at 6:29 am |
  20. Thomas

    Considering MT Ararat is 16,854 ft in elevation, in only forty days it would have to rain 17.55 ft per hour wich is 3.5 inches per minute to reach the summit. Of course one would have to subtract displacement for elevated features yet Everest is at 29,000 ft so IF the Earth was flooded entirely.....Not to mention at such an elevation water would freeze and the fore mentioned biological impossibilities. . The point is how absurd the entire myth really is

    December 5, 2010 at 6:00 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.