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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. Bob B

    Pretty incredible! What started as a rant on public funding going to an exhibit that assaults a widely held religious belief vs partial state funding of a theme park that will ultimately create jobs (oh heaven forbid the organization is religious based) has once again given fervor for atheists to come out of the woodwork to express their "intolerance". Sure it doesn't hurt that it's December to boot. I always find that to be ironic. Let's blast Christianity any way possible during this month, because atheists feel depressed during this time. Here's a clue, maybe because you have no faith. How about a novel idea...How about the atheists show some tolerance and understanding that our ignorant religion espouses and give us a break NEXT year and rail against the Muslims during the month of Ramadan for a change. How about that and really demonstrate your courage and convictions in YOUR beliefs. (crickets....)

    December 3, 2010 at 7:03 am |
    • Frogist

      @Bob B: Wow you must be new hear. BTW Your victim complex is showing.

      December 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
    • Bob B

      @Frogist. No victim status here. I just think if atheists were true to their convictions, they would rail against all organized religions, not focus their hatred solely at Christianity. They clearly understand that if a Christian truly follows their faith they will "turn the other cheek". I am simply saying, just be true to your beliefs...show courage...pay for a billboard in Michigan expressing your opinions about Islam. Also have the courage to identify yourself when doing so. Otherwise you are nothing more than a coward. That's all.....

      December 4, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Bob B: You are new here. Atheists on this board, and in general, rail against every religion. Stick around and you might figure that out. Challenging unproven beliefs that can be dangerous with reasoned arguments is not an attack. And the idea that all atheists want to attack gently respectful, "turn the other cheek" believers is a fallacy. And an unfair one at that. Christianity happens to be the majority faith of this country and providing a challenge to it seems the perfect strategy to take on organized religion. Islam is much less of a threat than avenging Christianity has proven to be time and again by the acts of christian conservatives. It is no wonder that atheists, non-believers and respectful christians actually stand up against the rampaging christians literalists who care nothing for the diversity or const!tution of this country.

      December 6, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  2. Marty

    My favorite church-front sign (I should have taken a picture):

    Don't let stress kill you
    Let God help

    December 3, 2010 at 7:00 am |
    • CooCoo

      Love this!!!

      December 3, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  3. rgb

    Talk about a violation of the principle of separation of church and state! Spending a thin dime of public moneys on a mockery of a silly myth would only be worth it if:

    a) They build it out of wood

    b) They float it in a big lake

    c) They try to pack in actual pairs of actual species of all animals and plants that would reasonably be expected to not survive a "flood" and keep them alive for the approximately one year they supposedly stayed on board. with no more ventilation than a less than one square meter window provides, while washing the whole thing down with high pressure fire hoses from above to simulate the inch every twelve seconds of rain needed to flood the earth to the top of Mount Everest in only forty days and forty nights.

    Oh, and they are permitted to use only camels and oxcarts and primitive wooden boats to visit South America and Antarctica to collect pairs of poison dart frogs that only live and breed in bromeliads at the top of the tropical rain forest canopy, penguins that only live and feed in frigid oceans, brown snakes from the Australian outback, spiders that live only on particular islands in the south pacific. No electricity, heating or air conditioning allowed, only wooden cages, no antibiotics or other medicine. I won't even insist that they perform the collection process while trying to get away from Saber Tooth Tigers, T Rex's, and all the rest of the Antediluvian Monsters that were supposedly killed off BY the flood and hence must have been a pretty serious risk to Noah's family during the thousands of years required to collect millions of species, transport them to the middle east, keep them alive while they went back for more.

    I'd like to be there on loading day - several million species all lined up and ready to load through one little tiny door with one single family with nothing like a modern crane doing the loading, all into a volume smaller than that of a typical Wal Mart.

    rgb

    December 3, 2010 at 6:56 am |
    • George

      Ummm... maybe you don't know what a "tax-break" is... but the government doesn't give any money to anyone. They agree that in exchange for the jobs and revenue brought into the state, that a business (or ark park) will pay 'X' amount of taxes less for 'Y' amount of time. No federal, state, or any sort of public dollars being given to this project.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  4. William

    I dont really care if its a state decision to support something. If it is given money at the Federal level than i have more of a problem with it. As for the park i dont care. Let them do their thing, and i can do mine. A huge hHindu temple was built up the road and the city helped them with the road. Im fine with that. If someone doesnt like they they dont have to visit it. Same for that ark boat.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:56 am |
  5. Paul

    The story of Noah's Ark is folklore! In and of itself, it is not offensive or religious, even if it does mention God. It is a story that has also been recorded in other ancient cultures (such as the story of Gilgamesh). Folks, don't turn this into a religious debate to prove your selfish points. As a child I used to go to this place called "Story book Forest", where they had Mother Goose, Hansel and Gretel, Goldie Locks, etc. I don't see Noah's Ark as any different. Calm down.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  6. Justin

    I wouldn't go. I don't mind them having a park. They have that right. I just wish they would shut up when other people exercise theirs. I swear it seems like fundamentalist Christians are fine with freedom in this country until someone with differing views tries to exercise theirs. Particularly if said action runs against their super right wing grain. They even get mad when you dare say that this country was founded on freedom and not Christianity. I don't know about you, but I'd take the first over the second any day. We saw what happened when Christianity had power in Europe and the early Puritan Americas. In theory Christianity is supposed to produce a society of moral perfection when practiced in mass on Earth, but those things that work off of an idea of moral perfection inevitably produce slaughter and the gross restriction of freedom.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:46 am |
  7. George

    Wow... Umm, maybe you have ZERO knowledge of the way that tax-break incentives work for start-up or expanding businesses in a country/states that are struggling with decreasing tax-base and increasing unemployment.

    This 'Noah Park' isn't about religion, from a state perspective – it truly, simply, honestly is a business. Now – I can't say people wouldn't throw a fit if the state did the same thing for an Islamic or Buddhist temple. However – aren't you aware that religious organizations already (typically) qualify for non-profit status, granting them serious tax exemptions. Do you consider that a breach of 'separation of church and state'? No – because it's a (near) equal opportunity for any religion to receive that non-profit tax status.

    So, if a church/religious group of any sort has a business proposal that will bring revenue and jobs into a state – how is it any different than giving any other business tax-breaks?

    What's wrong with this world is the people who keep attacking each other's beliefs. Atheism, Fundamental Christians, Jewish people, and Muslims – anyone who goes out of their way to degrade through art or literature is really only adding 'fuel to the fire'. Honestly Prothero? I mean, I LOVED an article you wrote several months ago about 'all religions as one' but how we need to maintain individual beliefs, and then you write this?

    Go read some J.S. Mill

    December 3, 2010 at 6:43 am |
  8. ME

    Religion is always a loaded topic. This however has turned into a believer vs nonbeliever conversation and has strayed from the actual issue. Does giving crazy tax breaks to a religious theme park cross some boundaries? Setting beliefs aside, I think that giving anyone millions in tax breaks is crazy especially when the entire country is struggling financially. Build your theme park if you want to and go check it out if you want to, but pay the same percent of taxes as everyone else has to. I assure you they wont be passing out the tax break to the people who will buy the concessions or souvenirs. This is a money issue not a religious one.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:24 am |
  9. Pastafarian

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster, with His great and mighty noodly appendages, created this "god" guy to test the non-believers of the Almighty Power of Pasta. These so-called "christians," along with those on carb-free diets, cannot be saved by the Deliciousness which is His Glory. To all those who say this country was founded as a "christian nation," I ask you, how many people are in your churches each week compared to the number of people in Pizza Hut and Olive Garden (not to mention the disciples of Saint Domino's the Crusty and Saint Papa John's the Greasy). I rest my case. The Flying Spaghetti Monster lives, my brothers and sisters! R'Amen!

    December 3, 2010 at 6:23 am |
    • Joel

      How about this - to all those who say this country was founded as a "christian nation", how about they read Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, a treaty that was unanimously approved by the Senate in 1797 and signed by John Adams.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:46 am |
  10. Terry

    More Judeo-Christian bashing from CNN. And you still won't print a picture of Allah. Hypocrites.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:22 am |
    • Dannon

      Its Mohammad not Allah whose image is forbidden. Allah just means God. Also, it isn't CNN who won't print an image of Mohammad, it is the world. If you are going to pretend to be intelligent at least read up on your myths.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:29 am |
  11. schwarzgold

    How much do they pay this guy to be a contributor. He sees this as a comparison? Take the dollar signs out of your eyes...you are the ones who put a value on everything! Someone wants to build a boat based on a story, fine, build it. Someone want to make a video based on parallel portrayal of Christ with ants crawling all over the place, that in fact, relates to no story at all. Fairness? Please! Wood and a person, where is your valued assessment?

    December 3, 2010 at 6:17 am |
    • Dannon

      His comparison isnt about money, it is about freedom of speech and expression. It is an argument that the bible belt is littered with 1950 throwbacks who preach hypocritical rhetoric every month on Capital hill. The dollar sign is about robbing the American people out of 35 million dollars over a fake boat in the middle of KY. Building a tourist trap to profit off of the weak minded is pretty low, but then getting paid by the government to do it.... thats called religious hypocrisy.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:26 am |
    • Frogist

      @schwarzgold: wood and person? No, wood and plastic. And you might not know, but the video Fire in the Belly does have a story it relates to: the story of the artist who died of AIDS.

      December 3, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  12. Russ

    yeah, I don't really see a problem with this. It is not like it is a "real" religion like Islam or anything.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:16 am |
  13. Dannon

    You cannot have a full scale model of something that never existed. I am not religious and I do not want my tax dollars to pay for the bogey man when they could be used to feed the hungry or educate the intolerable.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:13 am |
  14. N. Stephens

    I don't even have to begin wondering what would happen if the bold, brave National Portrait Gallery (NPG) made such an attempt with any religious symbol of Islam as they have done here with Christianity. For some reasons, NPG wouldn't even dare try that one. No, they wouldn't dare. It doesn't take a bucket full of intellect to see NPGs actions (at this holy day season) as blasphemy at its best.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:13 am |
    • Frogist

      @N.Stephens: The Smithsonian is not a church and should not care about your ideas of what blasphemy is.

      December 3, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  15. ILoveJesus

    Yes, I absolutely would pay to see the 1:1 scale model. And I would stand before it and praise God with all my heart for his goodness and mercy and his grace. Amen!!

    December 3, 2010 at 6:12 am |
    • riverrunner

      what's it like to shout out to someone with all your heart and never hear back from them?

      December 3, 2010 at 6:38 am |
    • Rich

      Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

      But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

      But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

      2 Peter 3:3 onwards.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:06 am |
    • Frogist

      @Rich:
      "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."
      Not according to the museum that is building the ark... They are literalists who would scoff at you too.

      December 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  16. warsteiner

    This is America and its a Christian country.The anti's are simply tolerated because its the Christian thing to do. To all anti's warning dont push you luck and remember we out number you. We will defend our belief's with extreme prejudice.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:08 am |
    • bandg33kin3ss

      America was founded on the idea of religious freedom. Technically, we are not a Christian nation. Yes, the majority of Americans are Christians, but it does not mean we have to impose Christian views on everyone, and we don't make laws based only on Christian principles (or we shouldn't anyways). All religions in American should be treated equal and with respect, and should be represented evenly (that includes, but is not limited to, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc)

      December 3, 2010 at 10:07 am |
    • Chase Dorway

      First, Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion. Second, America was founded on Christian values, and religious freedom. They were all Christian or Jewish, and made our nation that way

      December 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Wrong

      @Chase Dorway
      You said that "they were all Christians or Jewish" refering to our founding fathers. This is incorrect. The FACT is several of our founding fathers were agnostic including Thomas Jefferson and Jon Adams. Both of these men (as well as others) were vehemantly against a Christian nation. Thomas J. started the first university in our nation that did not have a theology department. He did this, because he was of the opinion that theology was not an actual academic subject. The belief that all our founding fathers were Christian or religious is an embarrasingly wrong one. You must look into the facts for yourself, before believing what your preacher tells you.

      December 4, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
    • WWJD

      Jesus would not defend your or his own beliefs with "extreme predjudice." Why would you? Don't you want to be like Jesus?

      December 4, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
    • paul.c

      Probably the most unchristian thing said on this forum,dont forget you christians killed american indians and the pagans to get your message across..come after me and i will defend my faith with another cross nailing

      December 5, 2010 at 2:58 am |
  17. James

    Even more outrageous and disturbing is that although the state is forking over $37 million to create the jobs, the owners of the park have in the past required all employees at their intelligent creation museum to sign a pledge affirming they are Christians, and they may also do so for the positions being created with the state money. Would the state fork over $37 million to another employer who made employees sign a pledge stating they were atheists or Muslims?

    December 3, 2010 at 6:07 am |
    • warsteiner

      You point is moot this is a Christian nation deal with it.Liberals have been promoting equality and tolerance but over step our Christian values and we will cut your foot off.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:11 am |
    • Frogist

      @warsteiner: You'd turn us into another Iran if you could, wouldn't you?

      December 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  18. DON ELLIOTT

    YOU SHOULD ALL READ EXODUS CHAPTER 20 VERSE 4
    THOU SHALL NOT MAKE UNTO THYSELF ANY GRAVEN IMAGE. OR LIKENESS OF ANY THING
    THAT IS IN HEAVEN, ON THE EARTH OR IN THE WATERS ON THE EARTH.
    YET THERE ARE STATUES OF MEN, ANIMALS ETC. EVEN THOUGH THE BIBLE OFFERED NO PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
    OF JESUS OR MARY, THERE ARE STATUES OF THEM.

    December 3, 2010 at 5:48 am |
  19. Charles

    Oops I meant Bashear

    December 3, 2010 at 5:32 am |
  20. Charles

    Just sent fairly strongly worded emails to Ernie Fletcher and my representative. CNN needs to follow the money and look at campaign contributions....

    December 3, 2010 at 5:31 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.