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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. Greg

    Another successful CNN story, fanning the flames of division into hatred by misrepresenting tax payer funding for tax incentives. The Ark Encounter is a privately funded venture, given tax incentives for job creation and economic benefit for the region. You conveniently left out the part about the billion dollar plus anticipated economic impact that this is will create, which is why the state offers incentives for this, or any other positive economic development.

    December 5, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  2. George

    lack of atheist reasoning: to suppose that matter has always been here is the same as God has always been here is false. We have proof of the big bang "creation out of nothing". Plank time is 10X-43 seconds after big bang. A God can be outside of this creation event and have always existed whereas the energy/matter has been proven to exist at this time. It takes an outside force/creator/event to create the big bang and that creator lives outside of the space/time boundaries (obviously) to have created such space time. Physics stops at plank time and theology takes over – but if you want to really know where you came from then you must get rid of your hubris. Your thoughts are nothing compared to the mind of God. Many physicists wanted to prove the big bang wrong for over 20 years as it does correlate well with the Judeo-Christian world view.

    December 5, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  3. Veritas

    We do have freedom of religion in this nation, and while for most fundamentalist christians this means "freedom of christianity" in practice, freedom of thought is a good thing. But at the same time it is saddening to see that after all the scientific advances in our understanding of the world we live in, there are still so many ignorant and dull minded people that will rather believe in ridiculous 2000-3000 year old fairy tales written by a bunch of desert dwellers with no access to any science or reason at all, than the most brilliant scientist of our own time.

    December 5, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  4. George

    I have read Dawkins – have you listened to his debates? Dawkins is wrong about many things including:

    The continuing phenomena of the Marian apparitions in Medjugorje substantially challenge and, in many cases, downright disprove many arguments that Richard Dawkins has made in his popular book “The God Delusion” about personal mystical experience. Professor Dawkins has reduced Visions of the Virgin Mary to hallucinations or lucid dreams.

    Yet, exhaustive scientific studies on the Marian apparitions in Medjugorje have shown that the visionaries are not hallucinating in any form, nor are they in any dream state, completely contradicting and challenging Professor Dawkins’ untested presuppositions on this subject.

    The extensive medical, psychological, and scientific studies on the visionaries have shown other things as well: that the visionaries are not lying; they are not neurotic or hysterical, nor under any form of hypnosis but, according to the electroencephalogram tests measuring their brain waves during ecstasies, they are experiencing something beyond scientific explanation during their daily apparitions.

    Professor Dawkins, no doubt, is an esteemed scientist in the fields of zoology and evolutionary biology but, unfortunately, as we have seen, his work has not been as impressive in neuroscience and psychology. Nowadays, most neuroscientists and psychologists who directly study mystical phenomena like Medjugorje say one thing about it while Professor Dawkins says another.

    As a man of science, we simply ask that he consider the findings of the medical and scientific studies dedicated to this matter – of Marian apparitions – including those that extend beyond his purview of expertise, instead of lowering himself to ideology that ignores objective facts. As a scientist, Professor Dawkins should open his eyes to the phenomenon of Medjugorje.

    In Medjugorje, for the first time in human history, neuroscience and medical examination have played an instrumental role in penetrating the interior depths of mysticism by combining scientific inquiry with spiritual experience, thus elucidating our knowledge of the subject with empirical examination of the visionaries’ ecstasies, beyond the unexamined presuppositions and reductionisms that we see in “The God Delusion.”

    December 5, 2010 at 10:06 am |
    • Andrew

      So your "Dawkins is wrong" argument relies on a small village where people see the virgin mary that not even the catholic church itself accepts as a supernatural religious event?

      I honestly hope this isn't the "evidence" why an argument from probability seems valid.

      December 5, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  5. Wesley

    I think this is a point of mutual hypocrisy. I'm sure those supporting taxpayer funding of this project probably argue against taxpayer support of the Islamic center near ground zero. At the same time, the supporters of taxpayer subsidies for the Islamic center likely rail against Noah's Ark park. If we're honest we'll have to admit that this is a case of one finger pointing at someone while three are pointing back at us...regardless of which side of the issue we're on.

    December 5, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  6. George

    Andrew: you obviously hate the idea of a creator. Your argument above about odds and statistics smacks great physicists in the face like George Smoot or Fred Hoyle – you are quite simply wrong and arguing on a message board will not make you correct. I say this only for hopes that you will re-examine the evidence. at least watch the lennox dawkin debate series.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Andrew

      George, you could, you know, address my argument rather than just say "it's quite simply wrong". You could address why an argument regarding statistics is appropriate for discussing the big bang. I'd actually be quite interested to hear it.

      And be aware, my argument doesn't mandate a creator doesn't exist. My argument doesn't say "it's impossible for there to be a god", it simply states that the invocation of "odds" when discussing systems for which we have no idea of the underlying physics is meaningless. I sincearly doubt Smoot or Hoyle would disagree, as they're in the business of describing the system in the first place. They themselves would love to find out why fundamental constants are the way they are.

      You can tell me I'm wrong over and over again, but unless you can actually show why fundamental constants are subject to modification and have various probabilities to be other values, I'm simply not wrong. My "you can't apply probability in a system where you cannot adequately describe the underlying physics" follows naturally from the fact that we have no understanding of the underlying physics and thus have no idea what other values for fundamental constants are possible. If you have some new insight into fundamental constants that physicists don't, by all means, present it.

      A god could still have set it, a god could do ANYTHING, but my point is that a god isn't NECESSARY. I don't hate the idea of a creator, I simply don't believe the validity of a creator has been established with any shred of evidence, and hence, just don't believe. When people appeal to statistics as JPopNC did, it generally is treating the universe as a very different system from what physicists actually tell us.

      Also, I'm really not a terribly big fan of Dawkins, I'm a physics major, not a bio major, I don't particularly care for hearing debates where he discusses biological evolution. If you really want me to watch a video, present a debate where a physicist is defending atheism, but you really should present the evidence yourself. Don't tell me to watch a debate that I'm bound to find boring. After all, "watch a video" is a cheap excuse in the first place for providing evidence. I could have easily found videos on the anthropic principle which would go into detail why discussing probability seems out of the ordinary, but instead I presented my own argument in my own words. The burden of proof to show why the "argument from odds" isn't valid is on me, and I don't write off the burden of proof with "watch a video". I expect others to show me the same courtesy. So provide evidence you find compelling, but don't just say "watch this debate".

      December 5, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  7. A Guy Who Reads History

    How badass would a Gilgamesh theme park be? Or a Beowulf one? Let's get to work on swords and monsters, that would rule way harder than some boring old boat. Greek mythology has a bunch of cool stuff, maybe like a giant rollercoaster called "The Minotaur". Oh man, I'm pumped just thinking about it.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  8. TJ

    Helping those who have not read the Biblical account or just reading this thread:

    Concerning Fish on the Ark (they weren't onboard...it was land animals & birds)...Genesis 6 & 7
    Concerning Dinosaurs in the Bible...the word Dinosaur was invented in the 1800's by Sir Richard owen...prior to that words like "Dragon", "Beast", "Behemoth", "Serpent" and "Leviathon" were used in the Bible for what we now refer to as dinosaurs; and fossil dinosaur eggs are small,so young dinos would be too..."every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind" Genesis 7:14....

    Example Account from Job 40 (some like to say this is a hippo today, but never seen a hippo with a tail like a cedar)
    "Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you; He eats grass like an ox. See now, his strength is in his hips,
    And his power is in his stomach muscles. He moves his tail like a cedar; The sinews of his thighs are tightly knit. His bones are like beams of bronze, His ribs like bars of iron. He is the first of the ways of God; Only He who made him can bring near His sword...Indeed the river may rage, Yet he is not disturbed; He is confident, though the Jordan gushes into his mouth, Though he takes it in his eyes, Or one pierces his nose with a snare"

    December 5, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  9. George

    The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest written story on Earth here are a few differences between Gilgamesh and the Genesis account (for all you Christian haters):
    a. Noah took 100 years to build the ark – Gilgamesh account is 7 days
    b. boat dimensions in noah are seaworthy rectangle 450x75x45 feet – Gilgamesh is a cube 200x200x200
    c.Noah flood reason: sin – gilgamesh: humans were excessively noisy and they could not sleep
    d.Sent by the one and only God Yahweh – Gilgamesh: Adad, with help from gods Shamash, Shullat, Hanish, Erragal, Ninurta
    Yahweh had no regrets – the litany of Gods had regrets
    e.Noah and family told to repopulate the adomah – Gilgamesh: 14 new human beings were created

    December 5, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  10. Veritas

    Unbelievable that there are still so many gullible Americans around that would actually think that the bible is anything else than a collection of popular fairy tales of the time (2000-3000 years ago). It is sad to see that many of these same ignorant people also deny the advances in our understanding of the world we live in made possible by modern science. This also reminds me of a very funny movie, "Religilous" by Bill Maher.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  11. Stuart

    The people who want to build the theme park have built a creation museum in the same area and it has been a great sucess. The attendance has far exceeded projections. People come from all over the country to see it. So it is not unreasonable to think that the theme park could be successful and that the state could make a return on their investments in terms of increased sales tax, hotel tax, property tax, income tax, and reduced unemployment expenses. I think this is all about economic development. The state of Florida didn't have to believe in talking mice wearing clothes to see that Disney World was good for their state.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  12. Faithless Forrest

    Robert Ingersoll had about the best line regarding Noah's ark.

    In his Some Mistakes of Moses he wrote,

    "Jehovah having made up his mind to drown the world, told Noah
    to make an Ark of gopher wood three hundred cubits long, fifty
    cubits wide and thirty cubits high. A cubit is twenty-two inches;
    so that the ark was five hundred and fifty feet long, ninety one
    feet and eight inches wide and fifty-five feet high. This ark was
    divided into three stories, and had on top, one window twenty-two
    inches square. Ventilation must have been one of Jehovah's hobbies.
    Think of a ship larger than the Great Eastern with only one window,
    and that but twenty two inches square!"

    Got to love, "Ventilation must have been one of Jehovah's hobbies."

    I am Faithless

    December 5, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  13. Mandy

    He forgot to mention in this article that among the many animals in the exhibit, there are also going to be Dinosaurs. I read this on another site.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  14. Kim

    @ jmb2fly

    "Brett, just curious, on your agnostic days what do think "set God into motion"?"

    @ Brett

    "On my agnostic days, I try not to ask such questions. But not to dodge the question: I really don't know what set God into motion. Maybe God always exists, but how can something always exist? We can't even fathom the idea that the UNIVERSE always exists. Something has to have a first cause, doesn't it? But obviously there was at least one cause way back when that didn't need a first cause....maybe that was God, or MAYBE it was the Big Bang.....

    or maybe the Universe is cyclical instead of linear and the last cause sets in motion the first cause, and the cycle starts again. In that case everything has already happened and we're just replaying it....sometime in the future, I might be typing this message again, and again, and again....

    It's fun to think about though."

    I know the answer to this one!!
    It was the Goddess who set God in motion. Women always have to motivate a guy to get the yardwork done!

    December 5, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  15. believer

    This exchange is pointless. The word is FAITH. You believe with your heart, not with your eyes or your mind. I believe and always will- no need for scientific explanations. And yes, I am a Roman Catholic. No one in this earth can possibly explain fully or adequately the matter of faith, of creation, the after-life, etc. I am comfortable with that. My faith sustains me and keeps me, and if it does, that is good enough for me, until such time that I can see the fullness of God. And I am in no hurry.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  16. CR

    They need to spend that money on education and not some theme park, regardless of what it is based on.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  17. Adam

    Faith is believing. I could not as a single person swim across an ocean. However, my faith tells me that if it is Gods will, I could and would. As far as the original story from CNN, as a Christian, I am not offended when another person says or does something that may or may not be directed towards my Christian faith. I pray that one day have the faith that I have. Remember, when Christ was on the Cross, he didn't say "Father, they have offended me.". He said "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.". We as Christians need to be compassionate to those who don't understand. Show the through our actions why Christ is our savior, not condem them because they don't have the save beliefs.

    December 5, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  18. Chefdre

    Seperation of church and state should be that! Jesus is my car insurance so why can't I write that off on my taxes?

    December 5, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  19. True American

    I say let's depict the burning of the Koran and NOT censor that. Tax dollars should be earmarked for the desecration of Islam and the prophet Mohammed, then we can just discuss whether offends, but WE SHALL NOT CENSOR! Let's see if CNN censors this, but certainly not an attack on American Christians

    December 5, 2010 at 9:02 am |
  20. True American

    I say let's depict the burning of the Koran and NOT censor that. Tax dollars should be earmarked for the desecration of Islam and the prophet Mohammed, then we can just discuss whether offends, but WE SHALL NOT CENSOR!

    December 5, 2010 at 8:59 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.