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. Hiai

    When I first saw the news teaser clip I was very uneasy about it, despite being Christian myself. I don't like the idea that taxpayers might be paying for something like that. But then, I heard the rest of the story and heard the key point : tax breaks. That's right, this is not being built with money taken from tax payers, it is merely the development company, who is paying for the whole thing, being given some tax breaks on their startup costs, much as most states give to any OTHER business they hope to attract to an area in hopes of jobs and future tax revenue revitalizing the area. If tax breaks to prison management companies can be given with no fuss, why the big to-do over this other business, just because it's a Bible-themed park? They certainly have ample examples, in the nearby "Creation Museum", that it will provide jobs and tax revenue for the community. What difference does it make what business a locality decides to try to lure? It is not like they are actually using state funds to PAY for anything at all. Make all the jokes you want to voice your skepticism about the story, it has nothing whatever to do with anything but smart economics on the part of a cash-strapped state seeking to lure businesses. Your comparison to the Smithsonian's art exhibit is a very false one, we're talking apples and oranges here. The Smithsonian is a recipient of LARGE amounts of federal funding, and SHOULD be restricted in what it can display, if those grants are accepted. Tax breaks for new startup businesses are a far cry from actual grant layouts. I may not agree with the to-do over the art exhibit, and think the whole outcry was silly, but at least they had a leg to stand on when it comes to funding. Look up how many communities are offering far more than just tax breaks to lure job-creating businesses, and then try to tell me that a tax break is somehow "over the line". Would it be just as deplorable to give a tax break to a company that publishes books, if one of the books includes a religious themed one of some sort? You guys need to come off your judgmental horse for half a second and learn when it's important to take a stand, and when it's simply jaw exercise.

    December 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  2. hb

    So, a Christian group offering an amusement park dedicated to a decidedly Jewish story or as was mentioned ealries, a story told over and over in just about all religions in the world not just as Noah's Ark. Just like adopting the 10 Commandments, which is always promoted as Christian and not Jewish. Both of these are in the Old Testament, prior to Jesus' birth so how can these stories or events be Christian? Let's just go with the Golden Rule or Sermon on the Mount and be done with it.

    December 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  3. Michael

    I would pay good money to see this, only if they also include Pan, unicorns, leprechauns, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Loch Ness Monster and Godzilla.

    Say what? Those creatures don’t exist? Sez you! Huh? There is no proof that those animals exist? Exactly, just like there is absolutely no proof of the existence of the ‘mythological’ Ark, in the best-selling mythological tale, The Bible.

    Tell that ridiculous story to kids, to make them brush their teeth, if you like, but I’m not gullible enough to believe it.

    December 9, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  4. Lucifer

    They should build an actual size model of hell, so people can try it for 5 minutes. Oh wait.... isn't what our government is doing now with our tax money?

    December 8, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  5. B. Andrews

    Are these people who are opposed to the tax incentives also in opposition to the state recieving taxes from this theme park if and when it comes to pass? Then should they be tax exempt?

    December 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  6. Liz

    I still laugh at the words 'biblical scholar'.

    December 7, 2010 at 8:32 pm |

    WHAT in Stephen Hawking name is going on here????

    Why are so many athiests here in the religion section? Don't you have your own area, like maybe Europe?
    Just waiting here for an opportunity to pick a fight and then attempt to be intellectual?

    This is the same argument that has been played out a million times already. No one wins.
    I know this because Stephen Hawking said so.

    December 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  8. Terry

    Here is the problem with drawing this equivalency. The cross crawling with ants things sounds to me (I have not seen it, but it sound pretty evident) was something that was expected to offend some people of a religious persuasion. It may not have been made for that express purpose, but anyone looking at it must have known that it would do so.

    Whereas, the Noah's ark exhibit is being created as a diversion that is not meant to offend anyone. You can question whether it is lawful or even wise to use taxpayer dollars to fund or encourage such a project, but I don't see how someone is going to be offended by this any more than say Disneyland. They are both private businesses, and Disney probably gets incentives for "creating jobs" like any business would.

    But the idea that both things mentioned in this article should draw the same amount of ire doesn't make any sense to me. I disagree strongly with creationism, and thing it foolish. But it is not offensive to me.

    December 7, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  9. Marc

    Where are they getting this "Scale model" stuff from. I don't remember the Bible ever giving blueprints..Or I would have built my own awhile ago. Even just that statement seems to suggest that there was an actual ark. Or maybe they are getting the specifications from the Epic of Gilgamesh..written quite awhile prior which of course the story of Noah plagiarized nearly word for word...But that isn't something your Sunday school teacher would tell you. I hate when people get off topic on these threads but I will be guilty here. The story of the Christ....the entire story. Was plagiarized nearly word for word from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Where of course they got the idea of Moses and all ten commandments. In fact, if you dig deep enough you will quickly find that most of the Bible is taken from other religions...I guess that would make the entirety of both Judaism and of course Christianity fraudulent wouldn't it...ooops.

    December 7, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  10. Arthur Haughey

    Maybe the moral of the story is important to people. "You can't continue to spread evil without holy intervention." You can't continue to mock people and bank on support when you are down. Attacks on Christianity are the desperate cry of the attention seeker and when attention is given, it is the desperate argument to prove to themselves that the are right and that the world is wrong. For all of those who keep faith in something Thank You. For those that don't may God bless you too.

    December 7, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  11. Love&Loving

    I'm not committed to one religion so I don't have the huge bias or stake in the fire, but my main issue with the park is that the money will go to pad pockets instead of doing something closer to what Christ, or other peaceful leaders and historical figures would have wanted. Put the proceeds toward ending hunger, creating world peace or improving the lives of the impoverished and I'll pay to see your ark, so long as it is tastefully done!

    December 7, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  12. wormfood

    Didn't Jesus practice giving and not taking?
    All I see from the churches is taking.
    Why does a Vatican church need to be blinged out with so much gold? Surely the gold could have been used for better purposes.
    Nope, they had to make it real fancy for their fancy fake god.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  13. jellygirl

    Don't they realize all of the rednecks already have somewhere cheesy to go waste their hard-earned money in the "mid-South"? It's called Dollywood and I'm sure most men (Christian or not) would rather gaze at HER "pair" than any "pair" at the Noah's Ark Park 😉

    December 7, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  14. wormfood

    Jesus is the walking dead!!!! Run!!!! He wants to eat your flesh and drink your blood!!!!

    God created us, so he already has the technology we are trying to create.
    He talks on his IPhone 700 to Jesus via video conference. Jesus is using his IPad 3000.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  15. ToddJerad

    Can we tax churches yet and moronic ventures such as the creation museum? Just the mention of this park getting tax breaks in the millions so the crazy fundamentalists can become more rich irritates the hell out of me and it should all of us. They use this money to spend denying tax paying citizens rights to marry and adopt, women the right to choose, to elect politicians with their dated interests in mind, to de-fund global warming research, and to teach our children that the earth was magically created in seven days. Let's call it like it is: these people are 100 percent hypocritical and insane.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  16. kp

    as for tax funding between the two: believe it or not, there -is- a difference between federal expenditure of federal tax revenue for federal projects and state tax breaks for enticing business ventures.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  17. Daryl

    Numerous very intelligent people have set out to try to disprove even one detail of the Bible ( C.S. Lewis. Lee Stroebel, Josh McDowell etc.) but wound up giving their lives to Jesus. Your sins separate you from an infinitely holy God and your only chance to reconcile that relationship is by believing that Jesus died on the cross in your place so you would not face the wrath of God. At this very moment, Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, waiting patiently for you to open up and allow Him to transform your life from the inside out. The Bible says that "Today is the day of salvation!" -Do not wait

    December 7, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  18. J Zien

    And I am very excited to announce a new tourism development project in nearby New Jerusalem, KY - the Holy Water Park and Heavenly Rapture Slide to the Sky. Admission free to the saved; steep price for sinners.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  19. Jay

    A revelation is, by definition, only a revelation to the person who receives it. After that it's second-hand information at best. I refuse to believe in a second-hand version of God. If God is infallible, then we do God a disservice when we assume he would give his one true 'word' to us in any language invented by man. God's language could only be something universal, and no human language in history or existence fits that description. Beyond that, I'd argue that if it's more complex than something a child can understand then there's something very wrong and un-Godlike about it.
    There's a certain amount of hubris in any belief system that places human beings at the center of, or as the main purpose of, Creation. Man looks around, sees that he is dominant over all other life forms, and decides that it must be because God intended it to be so. Practical, if conceited. But maybe we have a right to conceit, I don't know. I suppose it could be argued. We're at the top, so we can do whatever the hell we want. As human being sharing a planet with one another, though, our rights end where they infringe on someone else's. How we define those rights is a continuing question.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  20. Shawn

    Go take an Anthropology class at your local junior college and you'll understand the answer to your sign. It's amazing what a little education will do.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:00 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.