Okay, so they’re building a life-size Noah’s ark in Kentucky. Answers in Genesis is funding it after the huge success of their young-earth Creation Museum, and the nation’s coastal urban dwellers are in disbelief that (1) Americans are still so 18th century, and (2) the government seems to be funding a religious project.
All quite predictable, except possibly the large amount of visitors at the Creation Museum. Nevertheless, I chalk this up to cultural disconnect – when each part of America doesn’t really want to know what’s going on elsewhere, except to be wowed back to their own prejudices.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has leveraged some state funding (potentially $37.5 million) for the project. “The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” he said at a news conference. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”
Granted. And as Bill McClay notes, church-state funding lines have actually blurred in recent years. Welfare money was spent through church groups under Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush (and now President Obama) has pushed the program of Faith-Based Initiatives. Some of us, though, are less concerned about the legal issues here than the Bible theme park itself.
McClay, in the Wall Street Journal: “[I]t is also possible that there is no way for Ark Encounter to bring the Bible to life without demeaning or cheapening the very things it is intending to exalt.”
We all know the real reason kids like amusement parks: screaming their brains out and having lots of fun. Is it possible some of these delighted faces will furrow their brows at an older age, and think about the childishness of the Bible? Does the Bible become trivialized? (“trivialize,” by the way, was a word coined in the Middle Ages, referring to the Trivium given as classical education to adolescents; hence, trivial = childish)
More to the point: the Creation Museum is part of an attempt to create Christian culture, which Christians can center their lives around, and understand life within. The new Noah’s Ark would be the same. It is true that certain parts of the broader culture must be rejected; furthermore, the Church needs to be intentional with forming group identity and practice within her bosom – that is part of how Christ forms us through the Church. I do not reject these things, which I see in the Ark project. What I do suspect are the apparatuses of culture based on consumerism, self-gratification, and mass communication. When these are used in the architecture of Christian culture, the same alienation that drives people to seek meaning will drive them away from the Church which holds it.
A more difficult project emerges when we engage fully with the evangelical emphasis on personal relationship – with the Lord, and with each other. If God himself is a being to be known, people too demand being known – as beings, in the context of personal relationship. Mass culture is a virtual reality and a sarcastic leech on the Christian culture that is so needed. Theme parks will not build the Church’s culture; indeed, nothing newsworthy ever will.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.