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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. A

    So many of you keep writing about theory based on evidence. What evidence? The evidence of theory? lol What scientist has proven evolution? Which scientist has proven the big bang theory? Why, after thousands of years, has nothing concrete actually BEEN proven? Why are scientists still searching for answers? Are they not smarter than our Creator after all? Shocking! And what, may I ask, is the POINT of figuring it all out. It won't make us anymore superior than we were the minute before we find out the Truth. Although, for those of us who are believers we know when that moment will be...we've been told there WILL be a time when when ALL will see the Truth.

    @ Ted Linguini = As for contradictions in the bible – the bible was written by MAN. There is no big mystery there. The fact that there are different accounts for the birth of Jesus means there were more than one take on the events surrounding his birth. The one thing truth that is in ALL accounts is that God sent His son. Period. You can't confuse that truth. However, if you have actually read any part of the bible you will see that the basic accounts of Jesus life are the same – just told from different points of view. And since the bible was written by only a handful of men you will see a few differences in those books, yet the same underlying believe – Jesus is God's son and he walked this earth.

    There is nothing hypocritical about the bible or God. His commandments haven't changed over the years, and the people of this world haven't changed. We are doing exactly what generations of inperfect people have done since the beginning of time. I'm happy to follow a God who gives me the CHOICE to follow Him. He hasn't forced me into believing Him. He doesn't force anyone to follow Him. Yet He still loves ALL of us, those who choose Him and those who slander His name. What an awesome God we are able to serve.

    December 3, 2010 at 9:19 am |
    • rgb

      Evidence provided by radiometric dating. Evidence provided by simply counting layers. Evidence provided by physics, chemistry and biology. Evidence provided by measuring the distances to the stars, to the galaxies, to the edges of the visible Universe. Evidence provided by studying DNA, by studying animal species, by causing evolution to happen in the lab, by simulating evolution, by studying the mathematics of evolution. There is overwhelming evidence for the big bang, for the age of the visible Universe, and for evolution.

      What is the "proof" of Genesis?

      Absolutely nothing. Not one single empirical observation supports its assertions. They are, in fact without exception absurd and contradicted by both common sense and evidence galore. The six days of creation myth is absurd in every single way it is possible to be absurd. How do you even compare it to other absurd creation myths? "My myth says that it is really true!" "No, MY myth says that it is really true, and it also says you'll be tortured in hell for an eternity if you refuse to believe that it is true." "Well, MY myth says that you're going to have your skin burned off and regrown to be burned off again if you don't believe IT, so there!"

      Yes folks, even a small child can see that this isn't proof, it isn't reason, it isn't reasonable, and it isn't right.

      rgb

      December 3, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • A

      @ RGB = "Evidence provided by radiometric dating. Evidence provided by simply counting layers. Evidence provided by physics, chemistry and biology. Evidence provided by measuring the distances to the stars, to the galaxies, to the edges of the visible Universe. Evidence provided by studying DNA, by studying animal species, by causing evolution to happen in the lab, by simulating evolution, by studying the mathematics of evolution. There is overwhelming evidence for the big bang, for the age of the visible Universe, and for evolution."

      Again I ask – what has this "evidence" proved other than one more theory to to try and figure out how the universe began? Scientists studying these "facts" are like dogs chasing their tails. They don't finish one theory before moving onto another, based on their "evidence."

      "What is the "proof" of Genesis?"

      Simple. God says so 🙂

      "Absolutely nothing. Not one single empirical observation supports its assertions. They are, in fact without exception absurd and contradicted by both common sense and evidence galore."

      Says you? Based on your "evidence", "theory" or "opinion?" I just want to be clear before theconversation anywhere else...

      "The six days of creation myth is absurd in every single way it is possible to be absurd. How do you even compare it to other absurd creation myths? "My myth says that it is really true!" "No, MY myth says that it is really true, and it also says you'll be tortured in hell for an eternity if you refuse to believe that it is true." "Well, MY myth says that you're going to have your skin burned off and regrown to be burned off again if you don't believe IT, so there!"

      God doesn't tell you your skin will be regrown to be burned off again. He does tell you there is a hell for all who choose to not believe. You are able to believe whatever you want. And if you choose to believe none of this is true than you have nothing to worry about. Because you see – I believe all of it is true. However I have no fear of hell because I have the truth of Jesus in my life and I know exactly where I'll be when I leave this earth. Do you?

      "Yes folks, even a small child can see that this isn't proof, it isn't reason, it isn't reasonable, and it isn't right."

      What's not "right" about it? What isn't "reasonable" about it? Is it not right because you don't like it? I know plenty of small children who believe in the proof of God. They are much more capable of understanding than you give them credit for it seems. The wonders of God are all around us...unfortunately as an unbelieving adult your eyes have been blinded to it.

      rgb

      December 3, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • sjenner

      A, respectfully, you're missing the point. Scientific theories are derived from observable, testable data. In other words, scientists sits down and observe a set of natural phenomena; for example, fault lines coinciding with earthquakes and volcanic activity, growing mountain ranges and eroding mountain ranges, the shape of continents and the fact that they clearly fit together, and volcanic activity along rift valleys on the ocean floor, growing the ocean floor towards subduction zones at the edge of the continental shelves. So how do you explain these phenomena? They are related. After a number of false starts, the theory that stuck was plate tectonic theory. It was the one theory that explained the observable set of data in the simplest manner possible, and that provided the basis for a predictive tool–i.e., a way for scientists to hypothesize and falsify, to test their ideas and predictions and further refine the theory in a way that was able to accommodate future findings and predictions. Evolution, genetics, quantum physics, particle physics, chemistry etc. all use the same basis. And the result is our modern world (indeed, the fact our microprocessors work better and faster is, in part, due to the accurate predictions of quantum mechanics. Thus, science is not the same as Biblical creation cycles. Science reasons forward and is logically sound as a way of explaining the natural world. Further, you need to be aware of your own circular reasoning: the proof of Genesis is God said so, and my proof of God is Genesis. Your conclusion presupposes itself, which is logically unjustifiable. Also, your notion that God's laws haven't changed is simply untrue. Leviticus, for example, is hardly followed in any of its regards: a whole book of law rendered obsolete. Rabbis, priests and theologians have seen to that, as society outstripped the law as it was, and moved closer to a deeper level of truth over the course of Jewish history. Ultimately, St. Augustine cautioned against believers arguing Biblical stories about the natural world when the reasoning of Greeks–scientists in the modern idiom–would merely render the believer's perspectives unsound. The Bible is not a science book. And trying to treat it as one merely undermines its veracity and the faith those who use it would attempt to defend.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:17 am |
    • A

      @SJenner = "A, respectfully, you're missing the point."
      Respectfully, I'm not missing any point.
      "Scientific theories are derived from observable, testable data. In other words, scientists sits down and observe a set of natural phenomena; for example, fault lines coinciding with earthquakes and volcanic activity, growing mountain ranges and eroding mountain ranges, the shape of continents and the fact that they clearly fit together, and volcanic activity along rift valleys on the ocean floor, growing the ocean floor towards subduction zones at the edge of the continental shelves. So how do you explain these phenomena? They are related. After a number of false starts, the theory that stuck was plate tectonic theory. It was the one theory that explained the observable set of data in the simplest manner possible, and that provided the basis for a predictive tool–i.e., a way for scientists to hypothesize and falsify, to test their ideas and predictions and further refine the theory in a way that was able to accommodate future findings and predictions. Evolution, genetics, quantum physics, particle physics, chemistry etc. all use the same basis. And the result is our modern world (indeed, the fact our microprocessors work better and faster is, in part, due to the accurate predictions of quantum mechanics. Thus, science is not the same as Biblical creation cycles. Science reasons forward and is logically sound as a way of explaining the natural world. Further, you need to be aware of your own circular reasoning: the proof of Genesis is God said so, and my proof of God is Genesis. Your conclusion presupposes itself, which is logically unjustifiable. Also, your notion that God's laws haven't changed is simply untrue. Leviticus, for example, is hardly followed in any of its regards: a whole book of law rendered obsolete. Rabbis, priests and theologians have seen to that, as society outstripped the law as it was, and moved closer to a deeper level of truth over the course of Jewish history. Ultimately, St. Augustine cautioned against believers arguing Biblical stories about the natural world when the reasoning of Greeks–scientists in the modern idiom–would merely render the believer's perspectives unsound. The Bible is not a science book. And trying to treat it as one merely undermines its veracity and the faith those who use it would attempt to defend."
      And this is why I'm not missing that point – I didn't say I treat the Bible as a science book. In fact, I would argue the Bible is far from a scientific book. God doesn't give us any scientifc accounts as to HOW He did anything. He simply tells us WHY He chose to do anything He did. And I'm sure you know that some of the most famous scientists in the world have believed in God and include Him in the groundbreaking "theories" that are the foundation of what we know today. I think science is a wonderful thing: mankind wasn't created to sit and be useless. God created us with the ability to LEARN and intended for us to reign over the plants and animals. Period. He didn't put any limits on the intelligence level we could achieve. And He knew we would question everything. If you've read Genesis you know why. Personally, I believe it's an awesome thing that people keep pushing the limits and trying to figure out why the earth does what it does. It only makes my belief that much more concrete in it's thinking 🙂
      FYI, I don't take stock in the words of any man appointed Saint where my faith is concerned.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  2. rgb

    Can the moderator for this do the moderation, please? I've got several comments awaiting moderation, which is silly and directly contradicts the assertion below that "Comments are not pre-screened before they post". Obviously, they are indeed pre-screened, and individuals can even be flagged in some way for screening.

    This sort of censorship is enormously annoying. Please stop it.

    rgb

    December 3, 2010 at 9:13 am |
    • Frogist

      @rgb: Actually no they are not pre-screened by a person anyway. But there is an insidious filter that tags words and prevents your comment from being posted. Regular posters Reality and Sum Dude usually have a post explaining it all with a list of word sto modify. Basically if you have a bad word within a word, your comment gets "moderated". eg const!tution... has the word t!t in it.

      December 3, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  3. james

    No one has anserwered my quistion yet. Where did the water go after the flood? Rember the whole earth was covered with water.

    December 3, 2010 at 9:00 am |
    • The answer is 42

      Magic

      December 3, 2010 at 9:11 am |
    • A

      Did you open the bible before you wrote this comment? It's very clear on where the water "went." lol

      December 3, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  4. Yepper

    The answer is 42.

    I believe the theme park is pushing a religious agenda and should not be financed with tax payer dollars.

    December 3, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  5. Jake

    How about we save the tax payers a lot of money and just do away with all federal funding for all art. Being an artist myself that sounds like and is heresy but seriously, our artistic 'culture' can and will survive without federal dollars. Once that is done, let the states decide for their own. End of story.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  6. Ed

    @John C – why should we move to Afghanistan? Tax-payer dollars shouldn't be used to support a theocracy – do you not realize what country you're living in and the reasons it was founded? Perhaps it is you who should move. I don't care where – just go and take your single-digit IQ with you.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:35 am |
    • heliocracy

      Um, anyone with a higher than single-digit IQ realizes that John C's post was satire, not a serious argument.

      December 5, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  7. B.J.

    Arguing over the origins of the Earth and man may be intellectually entertaining to some, but proving ones' opinion is impossible. However, what is easy to discern from the author's article is his need to defend the indefensible position of publicly ridiculing both Jews and Christians' belief in the Bible. Whether it is Noah's Ark or the Cross, why would anyone intentionally want to hurt those who believe in either or both. Equally interesting is why anyone would publicly defend those who purposely offend people's religious beliefs, because doing so is divisive and intentionally cruel, with no discernible redeeming value whatsoever.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:34 am |
    • ajbuf

      Critique, examination, and discussion of religious images and ideals must never be limited or viewed as aimed at intentionally hurting those who hold them. Are you relying on a bunch of Republican politicians to INTERPRET that art for you????? What if it symbolizes peopel's reaction to religion – the busy work that goes on focused totally on the source and not branching out to carry forth the ideals of the religion? Focus on the worship and hovering over the cross rather than going out and doing and being? That interpretation is not offensive at all – it's a commentary on how people react to and rely on religion – needing the constant closeness to the text or symbols and details instead of the moving forward? Who are the Republicans to tell us what it means????? I am just horrified as an American. I have the asolute right to see that artist's work and interpret it for myself. Certainly I am more capable than some politicians. (And those KY folk can build and explore their Noah's Ark too! )

      December 3, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  8. ajbuf

    With two graduate degrees from an an ivy league univeristy, I know that I am perfectly capable of interpreting art at the Smithsonian without any censorship from a bunch of dumbed-down Republican politicos. How dare they? (I also believe I could "handle it" even without a high school degree!) What right to do they have to tell me what perspectives I can explore? Whose opinion I am allowed to hear? I want to hear and see it all – not just what they, with their limited brainpower, feel I should be allowed to view? I am an American – that is what the 1st Amendment is about – people should be allowed to go see a "replica" of a mythological ship, and I have the right to view someone's critical commentary on religion (or ants, or whatever it was – we'll never know since they pulled it!) Maybe the Republicans would like to come and clean out public libraries as well? That would keep them very busy. They are full of all sorts of religious critiques – the problem would be that the Republicans would have to actually READ and COMPREHEND the texts to determine who was being criticized so they could censor out just the books which attacked fundamentalism. They would surely leave all the rest.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:34 am |
    • Frogist

      @ajbuf: Well since they didn't even bother to view the film before condemning it, they probably wouldn't bother reading the books either. I'm constantly amazed at how up in arms people can get over something they have never bothered to learn about.

      December 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Ed

    LogicDude is illogical. Regardless of whether it is FEDERAL or STATE, they should not be endorsing one religion over any other and should not be funding this park. Period. The display attributed to the Smithsonian was paid for by donations, not public funding so the intervention amounts to censorship. No one in government these days cares one bit about anyone's rights – just their own agendas.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:32 am |
  10. A replica without an original?

    Not sure if this has been mentioned, but... how can this be a "replica" if no one knows what the original ark looked like? Sure, it can be "an ark", but it's not a replica. Pretty soon folks are going to start thinking that's what it really looked like because it's at a theme park – so it must be true.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:20 am |
    • NL

      You're right! There's no reason to even assume that the ark was even boat-shaped. Remember the other ark in the bible, the ark of the covenant, was just a box. By that standard any rectangular building matching the biblical dimensions would qualify as a 'replica' for Noah's ark as long, of course, it only has one small window.

      December 3, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  11. Lori

    Wow after reading so many of these comments I can only say I understand why our country is in the mess it is. Heaven help us!

    December 3, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  12. John C

    As a devout Christian fundamentalist, I hope that all tax-payer dollars are devoted to ushering in a Christian theocracy. I don't believe in the Big Bang theory or in evolution–after all, if I can't understand something, then it must be false. So all you atheists can take your science and move to Afghanistan, as far as I'm concerned. There's no evidence for all of your scientific theories, so I'm going to instead rely on a book that claims the earth is 6000 years old, that the sun stood still for a day, that people should be put to death for being gay, that the true value of the mathematical constant pi is actually three, and that some guy a few thousand years ago was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:18 am |
    • p34ch

      @ JohnC : Wow. Your naivety is astounding.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:21 am |
    • p34ch

      But the sarcasm is even better.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:23 am |
    • mary had a little lambie...

      lmao. glad to see someone still has a sense of humor

      December 3, 2010 at 8:23 am |
    • Benjamin Wall

      Poorly used sarcasm may still be sarcasm, but poorly used straw-men are still straw-men.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:31 am |
    • Medardus

      I was goning to invoke Poe's Law on this one but I read it again and it's kind of obvious.

      Nice try but it needs some work.

      December 3, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  13. mary had a little lambie...

    The best part of this article is reading all the pro & anti-religious comments when really the part that no one seems to mention is the THIRTY SEVEN MILLION in tax breaks! Come on, people! Let's focus on the real issue here. This private (and I'm sure since they are a religious organization will also qualify under the 501c category) will be getting government A$$istance to build this place. I'm sure they won't be donating their proceeds to hungry families anytime soon. So ummm my question would be... what happened to the separation of church and state? anyone? anyone? just say'n

    December 3, 2010 at 8:17 am |
    • Lisa

      Theme partks don't qualify for that.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:23 am |
    • mary had a little lambie...

      where there's a will there's a way, besides the state reppies are all for the $37 MILLION in tax breaks... why in the world would they qualify for that? wake up

      December 3, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  14. ja

    """I happen to take the bible at face value when the language it was written in is literal. """

    .
    .
    .
    .
    and right here is where most people stopped reading

    December 3, 2010 at 8:11 am |
    • Joel

      I wonder if he reads it in Aramaic as well since that's what it was "literally" written in.

      December 3, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  15. NJ Bob

    What a waste of time and money. A real monument to Americans' stupidity. A way for Americans to glorify their own ignorance and backwardness. These fundies shouldn't be getting tax breaks. Instead, all churches and religious organizations should lose their tax exemption.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:09 am |
  16. Jim

    Personally I love Jesus and would not spend a dime to see any theme park based on any religion. As an artist I have no problem with the crucifix being covered in ants as a creative work. Most crucifixes in Roman times were covered with much worse. This whole argument is based on two things.....power and money.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:07 am |
  17. You Missed The Boat

    The "Ark" is a metaphor for the vessell that contains
    all of the DNA on earth.
    Noahs Ark......Ark of the covenant..
    We created stories so the ignorant and uneducated could understand truth.
    But they took the "stories" as truth.
    Epic fail.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  18. Edmund

    All religions are cults. Not one has any more proof than any other... or any more proof for monkeys flying out of my butt for that matter. Zeus was once a "fact." Believe in love, peace, and believe in yourself.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:02 am |
    • mary had a little lambie...

      I think they should include those same aforementioned flying monkeys in the menagerie. I mean who's to say they didn't really exist? Dorothy saw them, it must be true! (and btw the visual your statement incited... omg way funny! better than the coffee jolt in the a.m.!)

      December 3, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  19. Commontater

    How exactly does a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is exempt from taxes, receive "tax breaks"? Common sense people.

    December 3, 2010 at 8:01 am |
    • George

      It's because the 'ark park' won't be 501(c)(3) – that tax code doesn't cover theme parks/business ventures, which the 'ark park' will be. (Not attacking your statement, just pointing out the tax law)

      December 3, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  20. I see dead republicans

    Can't we all just get along....

    December 3, 2010 at 7:57 am |
    • Norman

      sixth sense...

      December 3, 2010 at 7:59 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.