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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. LogicDude

    Steve you're comparing apples to oranges. The individuals you are in are at the FEDERAL level and were dealing with a FFEDERALLY-funded organization (the Smithsonian). The Noah's Ark Park is in a STATE and is being endorsed by a STATE Governor. It isn't the purview of FEDERAL representatives from other states to decide how a STATE chooses to spend their money. Now, if you want to speak to the STATE Legislatures and ask them that question, then fine, do so. Just don't confuse the issue by comparing a FEDERAL issue with a STATE issue, okay?

    December 3, 2010 at 7:56 am |
    • ShyguyQT

      In addition, There is a differences between tax breaks and tax money being used to fund something such as an art project. A business receiving tax breaks to build in a certain location is a routing thing. Many businesses have received these benefits because their plans promise to bring in jobs or tourist dollars. Why should this business be excluded? Whether you like to concept or not, it will bring in jobs, and it will bring in revenue to surrounding businesses. In cases like this the tax breaks are an investment in the community.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  2. Cullen

    Sadly, he doesn't see the difference between one exhibit which is offensive to Christians and one which is not. I can guarantee you that had some "artist" been brave enough to have the Prophet Muhammed covered in ants, all you on the left would be decrying it as offensive and intolerant...

    December 3, 2010 at 7:55 am |
  3. visitor

    The best part of visiting this park would be to watch numnuts be deceived!

    December 3, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  4. J.T.

    who says that God didn't make "The Big Bang Theory"? or "Evolutionary Uses" and yes we all evolved from monkeys because we've all seen monkeys evolve since Jesus walked the earth. how stupid.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:51 am |
    • Sct

      The problem that seems common with a lot of genisis creation believers I see posting is that they don't seem to be able to grasp the huge amounts of time, millions of years, that evolution relies on.

      And then, saying "I can't see it (evolution) so it must not be true"....just so hypocritical when your entire faith is based on blind faith.

      December 3, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  5. Bert Hooks

    Absolutely I would pay good money to see a full scale model of Noah's Ark. I'd even make the drive from Orlando to Kentucky to see it. I think that's an awesome idea.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  6. Aimee

    Yes, I would definately pay good money to see a life size replica of Noah's Ark. This is the first I have heard of it and am actually quite excited. How amazing to think we can actually walk in something the size of the real ark.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  7. Big Joe

    The sooner people divorce themselves from the bible and find strength in their own culture and history, within themselves, and family the better this country would be.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:46 am |
  8. Sarcastro

    The difference is this isn't purposefully trying to be vulgar and offend people. It's not purposefully trying to insult a religion.

    That national portrait museum display was timed to be offensive- or at least appeared so.

    I'm just as opposes to the museum exhibit as I would be if we were paying tax dollars to, say, show someone taking a dump on the Torah, or Mohammed being shown in disgusting ways. That's just not what tax dollars are for. It's all of our money being spent- the taxpayers and our elected officials have every right to say "Hold on a second- this is just a disgusting use of dollars" if a huge enough portion of the population thinks it's disgusting.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:42 am |
    • Lori

      I agree let the people who appreciate that art support it and not use our tax dollars for such.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:12 am |
  9. Danielle

    I wouldn't have a huge calling to go see a replica of "Noah' Ark". I mean, I wouldn't travel across the country to see it; however if I were on a road trip passing by I might make time to stop for a photo op. That said, the admission fees would have to be less than $5.00

    & to all those who would be offended by the "ants on a cross thing", or any other "religious" degradation art must not have very strong faith.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:41 am |
    • Aimee

      I have not seen the "ants on a cross" thing, but I don't know that being offended by it would mean the person has a weak faith. Might be quite the contrary. Mocking and supporting the mocking of the Holy God who created us doesn't sound like a good idea to me.

      December 3, 2010 at 7:52 am |
    • Lori

      As Christians I believe God is our father, so that would make Jesus our brother. I would be very offended if anyone did any sort of "degredation" art to anyone of my family members religious or not.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:10 am |
    • Medardus

      Those ants just wanted to be closer to their creator. What's wrong with that?

      December 3, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  10. Avis

    As a resident of Kentucky I find this crusade to build a park like this hilarious. It is hilarious because it totally goes against what God is about and completely cheapens the Christian faith. I'm also totally baffled on how Governor Bashear justifies his support and logic in providing tax relief to the developers in this case.

    What is next? A Haj park? A Wickan park with a full reproducation of Stonehenge? A Buddist park complete with Sidartha's (sp) childhood home?

    And people in this "Bluegrass State" wonder why we are the butt of many jokes and are continuously disrespected in a national light.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:37 am |
  11. dj23unc

    This Guy is so wrong I live in ky, not grant county. I think anyone who tries to do something like this is a great visionary. If the park would employ 900 people, I say go for it. Don't forget, there are people out there needing jobs you nitwit. Bloggers today make me tired. If someone tries to do something good, let them. Spend more time challenging topics that hurt us or depress us. Like, the dangerous effects of alcohol and cigarettes. Statistics shows how many people die daily from these avoidable risks. Let people hope and live life with a purpose instead of trying to destroy the only hope they have in an ever hopeless world.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:29 am |
    • Joel

      I think you've missed the point of the article. He may or may not be against the park, but the problem he is bringing up with this article is the inequality of reaction. If the politicians are using the argument of public funds being used to support a view point that is against christianity, then they should be arguing equally against public funds being used to support a view point that is for christianity. The inconsistency is what he has a problem with.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:32 am |
  12. David Johnson

    @Stephen Prothero

    All is forgiven, buddy! In the past I have taken issue with your articles, but no more! I would break bread or share a bottle with you anytime! Thank you for your opinion on this. May you live a thousand years!

    Cheers!

    December 3, 2010 at 7:28 am |
    • Frogist

      @David Johnson: Ok now kiss and make up! 😛

      December 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  13. LiberateUs

    Glad I'm Catholic, and not an atheist or fundamentalist. My grades in science would go downhill if I were either of those 2 belief systems

    December 3, 2010 at 7:25 am |
    • Joel

      What does your being Catholic have to do with that? Your grades in science are related to your work ethic not your religious ethic. If we attribute your Catholicism to your knowledge of science then we'll have to conclude that you believe the earth is flat, gravity affects larger objects differently than smaller objects, and dinosaurs are just figments of our imagination.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:29 am |
    • Medardus

      How is that exactly?

      December 3, 2010 at 8:41 am |
    • Chase Dorway

      I have an A in Honors Biology and I'm religious.

      December 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I'm not religious, but I believe in a god or goddess. I don't know who.

      December 3, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  14. Tim

    This article was boring. The anty-Christ exhibit was lame and boring. Yawn. Who cares about offending Christians or Buddhists or Hindus...boring.... If you really want to see controversy, if you really want to draw attention, do an exhibit that is anty-Muslim, or anty-Muhammed! Then watch and see what happens...if you are brave enough to do it. That one was left out because the people trying to cause offense and controversy are really wimpy and scaaaarrrrred.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:20 am |
  15. JustPlainJoe

    A few hundred years ago, the "blog" argued about the number of angels on a pin. Today the contexts are larger but the conversation still has no advanced.

    Religion "explains" less and less every day. So the only recourse is to become MORE intellectually rigid and primitive. Believe or not becomes the cry. You or us.

    How much more divisive can an idea get? Even an idea as sugar coated as this author attempts to make it.

    I care less about what you believe than that you are no longer even in the conversation.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:18 am |
  16. Fr33d0mhawk

    Glenn Beck has committed sedition on every show since Obama took office, inspired terrorist attacks, so why do we expect Beck to NOTact like a Christ-Al Qaeda blowhard? Beck is merely the Teabaggers very own Osama Bin Laden an Benedict Arnold all wrapped in one. Mark my words, when one of Becks terrorists make a massive attack killing hundreds of Americans, Beck will go to rehab and tell us he is all better now, no need for prison time for being the domestic Osama Bin Laden.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:14 am |
    • LiberateUs

      He attacks every non-protestant group

      December 3, 2010 at 7:27 am |
    • Bob B

      Oh my goodness...You're saying Glenn Beck sounds like a liberal????

      December 3, 2010 at 7:37 am |
  17. Mike

    I especially love the fact that they are going to put dinosaurs at the park because they believe that they existed at the time of Noah.

    I wonder, if there was a great flood what happened to the aquatic life when the oceans became brackish from all of the fresh rain water mixing with salt water?

    December 3, 2010 at 7:11 am |
  18. Someone

    What I find interesting about this entire argument is that the Pro "G-d in government" types always talk about how in the old times things were so much better than they were now.

    Were they?

    In the fities – racism was rampant and governemnt supported in some states. Companies were free to pollute and build whatever products they wanted regardless of how safe they were. If people remember the power of the US in those days – they have to look at history – it was just post WWII, and most of Europe and Asia was rebuilding itself. We were the only country whose infrastructure was left intact during that conflict.

    Is today better than those days? In some way yes, in some ways no. Like any society – it ebbs and flows. A belief in G-d does NOT guarentee good morals.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:10 am |
  19. Don

    Looks like a waste of funds to me.. How many needy families would want to see it or would they rather see the money in programs to help thier own? 900 jobs? only till it is built, then what? Not to mention is it paid for due to earmarks? or is it going to have earmarks attached to it? Then contractors and biding to get the jobs and then the unions will want to jump in. And to top it all off, tax breaks? Guess who gets to pay the difference? GOP/ Dem two sides of the same worthless coin.

    December 3, 2010 at 7:09 am |
  20. ME

    This guy is ignorantly comparing two different things. A blasphemous picture of Christ is clearly meant to attack another person's religion. A religion based theme park is NOT rooted in hatred or attacking anyone. Why be outraged? Is he outraged over other fun theme parks? Does Disney offend him? This guy apparently just wants to hate on Christianity.

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

      The construction of a religious themepark is clearly meant as an attack on others' beliefs. Giving it government funding or tax breaks is unfair to any non-Christian because they are forced to bear part of the cost of a place advancing opposing religious beliefs, which is outrageous.
      The people building the park apparently just want to hate on anybody who doesn't accept their mythology.

      December 3, 2010 at 7:14 am |
    • LiberateUs

      @Jeff

      Are you saying that the Assyrian and Babylonian Exile never happened? For someone who claims to be "scientific," you ignore the evident archaeology has to present. Of course, you must be the kind of guy whose mind is like a jail cell.

      December 3, 2010 at 7:33 am |
    • Frogist

      @ME: Have you even seen the video? Sounds like you haven't if you think the intent of the artist is clear about offending christians.

      December 3, 2010 at 3:13 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.