A Noah State of Mind

AS THIS IS written, the big, fat Hollywood blockbuster Noah is opening amid condemnation from some Muslims and evangelical Christians and praise from most film critics.

Today, any product that touches the Bible is bound to be perceived as another entry in the culture wars. But that doesn’t seem to be what the producers and filmmakers had in mind with Noah. After all, it’s time-tested public domain material that presents great opportunities for computer-generated imagery (CGI) special effects. Paramount, the studio that put up the $125 million production cost, mostly wanted to peel off a slice of the Christian audience that flocked to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and the History Channel’s Bible series.

But Noah was a culture war surrogate long before Russell Crowe donned his biblical robes. That’s because the creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG), which runs an anti-evolution Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, has for the past few years been trying to raise money to build a theme park anchored by a Bible-sized replica of Noah’s Ark. The Creation Museum is famous for such attractions as exhibits that depict humans and dinosaurs as neighbors. You may have heard it described as the museum for people who think The Flintstones was reality TV.

It’s a big job rebuilding Noah’s ark. The makers of the movie Noah only built to about a third of the biblical dimensions and used CGI for the rest. The price tag for the one planned in Kentucky is about $73 million. Early on, the project got a surprising boost from Kentucky’s governor, Democrat Steve Beshear. You may have seen Beshear on TV recently hyping Kentucky’s rollout of the Affordable Care Act. But before that, in 2010, Beshear came in for rounds of derision when he announced that our state would give $37 million in tax breaks to the ark attraction, as an economic development measure. When—or if—completed, the park is supposed to create 900 jobs and bring $250 million into Kentucky in its first five years.

Despite this handout from one of the country’s poorest and most ill-educated states, the ark project languished for lack of funds. That is, until Bill Nye came to town. Back in February, AiG staged a debate between its CEO, Ken Ham, and freelance science educator Nye, who is known mostly as host of the now-defunct PBS children’s program Bill Nye the Science Guy and more recently as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.

That debate was an ill-conceived mismatch from the start (as you can still see on the web if you choose). In front of a live audience of hundreds of evangelical Christians, on Ham’s home Kentucky turf, Nye insisted on talking about Carbon 14 and such while Ham hailed the authority of scripture and the saving power of Jesus Christ. The event drew saturation media coverage and gave AiG a public relations windfall—and, it turns out, a financial one as well. In March, Williamstown, Ky., the projected home of the new ark, announced a municipal bond issue of $62 million that will allow construction to proceed.

Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with rebuilding Noah’s ark in northern Kentucky. And state and local governments have a right to help if their due diligence tells them it will pay off for the taxpayers. The problem is not with the ark, but with the ark mentality it represents. Answers in Genesis promotes a brand of Christianity that finds its deepest purpose in pulling up the gangplank on the outside world and battening down the hatches against science and reason. And, in the long run, that boat won’t float. 

Danny Duncan Collum, author of the novel White Boy, teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort.

Image: Noah's ark construction, photostockam / Shutterstock.com

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