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. Yeah


    "Yeah, How did someone observe the springs at the bottom of the sea without a submersible? You do realize that science has recently discovered that there are in fact fresh water springs in the oceans, don't you? Funny, God pointed that out a few thousand years ago when He inspired the writer of Job. "Have you entered the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in search of the depths?" Job 38:16."

    "Fresh-water springs in the ocean have been noted by travelers and navigators for centuries. In fact the existence of such ocean springs has been known since the time of the ancient Phoenicians, who were noted for their knowledge of navigation and their long voyages." - Information. com. The ancient Phoenicians predate the story of Job.

    "Midway in the channel between the Phoenician island of Aradus and the continent there burst out at the bottom of the sea a fresh-water spring of great strength; by confining this spring within a hemisphere of lead to which a leathern pipe was attached the much-needed fluid was raised to the surface and received into a vessel moored upon the spot, whence supplies were carried to the island." - http://www.fanoos.com/batroun/history_of_phoenicia_chapter4.asp

    December 7, 2010 at 1:56 am |
  2. littleoysters

    wow, what a peppy post, I've only gotten a small fraction thru it. 1st of all I'd like to apologize for trying to use the name for – the basic Civil law of the land on my first try. Doesn't appear to have flown- it was off topic stuff about Catho-ism being a cult etc. Not withstanding all this confusion about somebodie's cross auntie, don't forget that Islamic guy terminated the cartoonist (cartoon-st?) Anyway being your average run-of-the-mill masochist, I'm moving (no not that kind silly) & sorely tempted to join the "your mocking me all the time" side of the force (they thought of this 1st, & thus have the patent), Pleease make fun of me, more, more, ...faster. I now hereby decree science to be twadle, get thee behind me Stevarino, I am on a quest, a crusade if you will, for the fun in funde-mental.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  3. littleoysters

    Haven't had the opportunity to skim the posts here – I did want to mention that I'd like to postpone the rupture because I'm making so darn much money from it (insert book plug and movie rights), oops slip of the greed,-i mean i need some extra time to repent and all, you know > sin during the week, confess on .... Also, after the rupture so inevitably arrives, all the rightious will no longer be around (thank god in all her femaleness) (we'll miss you), reminding (incessantly )those of us who are naughty about how swell rightious perks are, thus we might forget, or whatever happens in our designated eternal spot.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  4. WGNII

    Whining...Whining...Whining...Geez...GET OVER IT!!!

    Noah, the Ark, the Flood... You have clearly proven that it is humanly impossible for Noah to have pulled it off. Thank you for supporting the fact that it had to be a God Thing!!! You have no other explanation for it. You can try to cast doubt about the event, but to deny that the Ark didn't exist or the flood didn't happen...well that takes a lot more faith and completely discount scientific fact. Good going, I guess Christians aren't the only ones whose beliefs rise above all else. You are very good students...you have learned well from us Christian missionaries. God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit couldn't be prouder. In fact, they can't wait to meet you...well, maybe you won't be so excited. It is always tough to argue when the evidence is standing right in front of you.

    What am I saying...don't worry...because you believe they don't exist probably makes it true (you hope). Never mind...keep moving...there is nothing to see here...

    WGNII – With God, Nothing Is Impossible

    December 6, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  5. The Sanity Inspector

    The very existence of the Creation(ism) Museum is chilling enough, to the rational mind. Still, the builders didn't set out to gratuitously offend anyone. They're just spraymarking, bolstering each other in their misguided anti-rational beliefs. Art such as was pulled from The Smithsonian is clearly yet another entry in the weary old genre of epater les bourgeois.

    December 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  6. El

    You're missing the point - it is questionable whether public funds should be used to pay for ANY kind of art exhibits, let alone exhibits that some taxpayers find offensive. Art is a very subjective experience. Likewise, although the owners of the land have every right to build an Old Testament themed theme park (appealing to Christians, Jews, and Muslims), they have absolutely no right to receive public funding for this endeavor. Allowing government to interfere with the economics of business inevitably leads to corruption, thus it is almost always a bad thing. (I might make an exception for building infrastructure during a recession, but government bailing out of businesses that are "too big to fail" is a definite no-no. You cannot simultaneously argue for deregulation of an industry and for government protection of the same industry. Bailing them out then allowing them to go right back to the same behaviors that caused the problem in the first place is criminal.)

    December 6, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  7. Rory

    Very simply, an infinite multiverse requires no creator. We just can't grasp the concept of infinity but just look at pi. Pi appears to be an infinite set of numbers. Now if a pattern emerged as Carl Sagan suggested in his sci-fi book Contact that would be a whole new ball game!

    December 6, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  8. wawaashkeshi

    I know it's a small group here, but anyone interested in the TRUTH about "Christians" should Google up 'charitable giving' from Christians, verses, let's say, the rest of the world. I'll take a lot of guts to do this, but the rational folks – you know, the same man or woman who jumps into the water to save someone from drowning while others (here) just watch and wring their hands, and hold their heads down out of shame – yes the rational folks seek enlightenment, even if it steps on their toes a bit.

    December 6, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  9. Mark

    Nothing to see here. Just another brazen attack on America's Christian heritage by a self styled scholar intent on changing our beliefs, rewriting history, and attacking Republicans for protecting our heritage.

    December 6, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  10. Bruce

    I think the article misses the point entirely. The Smithsonian and the Gallery are Federal Buildings. If it is not acceptable to display positive religious images (such as Christmas Nativities, Hanukkah, etc.) then it should be equally unacceptable to display works that denigrate religions. While I believe that the greatness of our county lies in our ability to have respectful dialogue on all aspects of our being – and the freedom to express our beliefs; you can't have it both ways. If the current interpretation of the premise of separation of church and state disallows religious images in federal buildings – then that should include this display as well.

    December 6, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  11. B Althouse

    Q: "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?"

    A: I'd certainly be more likely to pay for that than a Hare Krishna theme park. Phew, there's a good time with the kids.
    How about the Disney Atheist Land?
    "Where are the rides daddy?"
    "There are none son, we don't believe in them."

    Your basis of comparison is so left field, I fail to see the validity in your statement.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:07 am |
  12. cmoneyyo

    hey writer of this article, what exactly is your point. you were all over the place on this pathetic attempt of journalism. peace be with you

    December 6, 2010 at 12:36 am |
  13. ILANA

    Theodicy, the problem of an omnipotent God’s allowing harm to innocent people, is the # 1 obstacle to faith and has never been successfully resolved (although I think C.S Lewis tried very hard and I love him for doing so). Until the issue of why God allows ‘bad things to happen to good people’ is adequately answered, it is reasonable to assume that either God is not omnipotent, or is evil/indifferent, or does not exist at all.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  14. ILANA

    Many of the opponents of science and evolutionary theory posted praises to God and pointed out how loving and forgiving Jesus is, while also mentioning that unbelievers will burn in hell. It is amazing to me that such people cannot see the contradiction.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  15. ILANA

    Thirdly, I wanted to respond to some religion issues:
    1. Someone reasonable mentioned that true Christians should worship in private. Quite right! Those that disagree, please see Mathew 6:6.
    2. Literal interpretation of the Bible: someone already brought up St. Augustine. As I remember, he rejected the literal interpretation and made fun of it and said that just because it is written that someone sits at the right hand of God, it does not mean that God, a spiritual being, actually has hands!
    3. Questioning God and seeking truth are not only compatible, but necessary. Abelard viewed those that are afraid of truly questioning their faith and using their minds to the fullest extent in order to discover the truth as not only lazy, but almost blasphemous, since their reticence to doubt suggests that they believe God can be harmed by such doubt.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  16. ILANA

    First, I would like to say this is a fascinating thread. I stayed up half the night last night reading it. Bravo/Brava to all the brilliant, witty, and very patient people who defended reason and science. I wound up reading up on the Scopes Trial the other half of the night, and was amazed by how little has changed since 1925.
    Secondly, I wanted to say that I if I was in KY, I would much rather revisit the truly miraculous Mammoth Caves than this new attraction. Of course the proposed Noah amusement park should not receive any tax breaks! But I would visit it if I was in the area for snark value, because it would be funny.

    December 5, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  17. ILANA

    Hello, does anyone know how long it takes for a post to go through moderation? I posted, but it says 'your comment is awaiting moderation'.

    December 5, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  18. carl johnson

    What you do is let them build the park (through private donations) and the people who visit will actually see the ark and realize how rediculous the concept is (saving 2 of every creature in existence).

    Of course they could say "god" miniaturized all the animals before going on board.

    But then if that's the case why bother with the ark at all and just suspend everyone, including Noah and his incestuous family, at about 8,000 feat while the flood subsides?

    Oh, yeah, but what would they eat? My suggestion is that instead of eating the animals on board an ark (which would cause some unfortunate extinctions) they could eat the dragons that are floating up there as everybody knows.

    December 5, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  19. glen lincoln

    The ark was FIVE HUNDRED FEET long!! Has anyone thought just how HUGE that is? There are no ships in the world that big today. You could fit 10 Earths on a ship that big.

    December 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  20. angeltoes

    Think of this too........ He didn't have to take full grown animals. What if they were young animals like kittens or babies just weaned. he could have fit a lot more on than full grown adult animals. They could have been just old enough to be ready to mate when they got off of the ark. Would have eaten less too.

    December 5, 2010 at 12:30 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.