Evolving Faith

Designers of the ‘Ark Encounter’ theme park in Hebron, Kentucky want park-goers to have an authentic experience of biblical events. They want to literally “bring to life” the boarding of the ark, the fall of Babel, and the horror of the plagues.

After all, what brings people into close encounter with the Holy better than amusement park rides, corn dogs, and souvenirs reading “I survived 10 plagues and all I got was this lousy t-shirt?”

Ok, the shirt design is mine (somebody copyright that!). But seriously, design director Patrick Marsh says, “You want everyone to have fun and buy souvenirs and have a good time, but you  also want to tell everybody how terrible everything [was]…” Seriously, he said that. Right out loud.

Just…I mean… I scarcely know where to start. First off–talk about a conflicting message about the serious nature of one’s faith. On the one hand, insisting that every word of scripture is literal and historical, and that God is to be feared and honored; while also making a theme park out of the sacred story. There’s that mixed message to examine.

There’s also the ‘bad science/irresponsible scholarship/dangerous theology’ trifecta to address here:

-bad science: The world is 6,000 years old. Believe in evolution or don’t believe in it. But the world is older than 6,000 years. In the grand scheme of the universe, 6,000 years is a heartbeat. I’m pretty sure there are cans in my mom’s spice cabinet that are older than that.

-irresponsible scholarship: The world is 6,000 years old, AND WE CAN PROVE IT. Except that… well, in the language of faith, “prove” is a very dangerous word. The minute your faith depends on physical evidence of anything, it is no longer faith. It is documentation. And if the Christian faith hinges on ‘proof’ and the historical rightness of scripture, we are preaching ourselves into an awfully tight corner. Standing on the flimsy soap box of inerrancy means that any discrepancy in any part of scripture, effectivelydisproves the rest of it. Right? I’m just saying… if you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, it’d better be a dang good basket.

-dangerous theology: If you don’t mind your manners, God is gonna kill you. Literally, take your face off.   If I was going to introduce someone to God for the first time, and I had my pick of all the stories of God in scripture–I don’t think I’d start with the Genesis God who flooded the whole world and killed a bunch of people for worshipping the wrong way. Fair enough, it’s an important story… but maybe not the place to start when connecting with folks who are new to the faith journey.Or children!This is sooooo not a kids’ story.

Reaching people outside the faith may not be the goal of the theme park; but as a PR rep for Jesus, those are the first folks I think of when I read something like this.

Granted, Marsh and company are perfectly free to believe whatever they want about God, the Bible, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I just wish, if they’re going to be kind of ridiculous about it, that they wouldn’t be so loud and showy. I mean… a giant theme park, in Kentucky, is kind of hard to miss.

Especially if taxpayer money is paying for it. Did I mention that part?

Sure, the park might bring some tourism dollars into the state. But I don’t know…kickbacks for, say, Churchill Downs or Cumberland Falls or Natural Bridge do not feel nearly as icky as supporting this brand of creationism. State support for a faith-based attraction seems like–forgive me–a ‘slippery slope.’ (in case you didn’t read the article, this is what Marsh says about Christians who believe in evolution–it doesn’t send youstraightto hell, exactly, but it’s a ‘slippery slope.’)

Meanwhile, back at a ranch in Wyoming, right this minute, scientists are digging up the remains of a triceratops family. The bones are thought to be about 67 million years old.  67 million years!!   I’m no scientist. But that’s old. Even with a margin of error of several million years–say they are actually just 40 or 50 million years old–that is a stunning and spectacular act of preservation on the part of the earth. The blessed, created, sacred ground that’s been holding the bones, these many fragile years.

For my money, such powerful evidence of life on this planet only affirms the power of God, and the presence of a still-working Creator. How can my faith be threatened or shaken by something so awesome as DINOSAURS?! (I mean, real ones. Not the ones that the Creation Museum says can be found in the Bible). How can faith be diminished by the ancient wonder that is the Grand Canyon? Or a deeper, more narrative reading of the greatest stories ever told?

Was there actually a Noah, a flood, an ark? Sure. Probably. But did the flood cover the literal whole world? Or just the whole world from the perspective of those telling the story? Ask any disaster survivor–the “whole world” takes on new and smaller dimensions when you are stranded by the elements… Did the real Noah actually save one of each kind of animal? Did God really wipe the unfaithful from the planet, in the interest of a fresh start?

I don’t know. I really don’t. But my faith doesn’t hinge on historical accuracy. I don’t need to see the ark–or a living, to-scale replica of it–in order to believe in the reality of God. Nor do I need to walk through the Red Sea, or touch the wounds of Jesus, or see the loaves and fishes multiplied with my own eyes. I’ve encountered the living Christ in real, live people; I’ve witnessed the power of God in creation; I’ve known the transforming grace of community. For my money, that’s enough.

Speaking of money… My initial double take at this story had to do with the price tag on the ‘evolving’ (ha ha) project: $23 million. Not for nothing, but that would feed a lot of hungry people. Care for quite a few widows and orphans. Heal a few lame and blind folks while we’re at it.

Not for nothing, but that’s kind of the point of the Jesus parts of the Bible. If somebody wants to meet God for the first time, that’s where I take them. Literally.

Anyway… a thing doesn’t have to be real to be true. But if we start with what’s real and right in front of us and work our way out to the edges, we are left with some pretty powerful signs of life: rainbows, dinosaurs, and broken people made whole again. All in the sacred pages, and all in our own back yard.

 

My favorite dinosaurs live in California. They are about 40 years old. Not 40 million. Just 40.

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Kory Wilcoxson

    You will love that the Creation Museum’s newest attraction is a display on Dragons. Cuz, ya know, dragons are so biblical.

  • mhelbert

    “I don’t know. I really don’t. But my faith doesn’t hinge on
    historical accuracy. I don’t need to see the ark–or a living, to-scale
    replica of it–in order to believe in the reality of God. Nor do I need
    to walk through the Red Sea, or touch the wounds of Jesus, or see the
    loaves and fishes multiplied with my own eyes. I’ve encountered the
    living Christ in real, live people; I’ve witnessed the power of God in
    creation; I’ve known the transforming grace of community. For my money,
    that’s enough.”

    YES!

  • Don Long

    That was a great dissection of the topic. I wouldn’t know where to begin to address all the implications. I’m glad you did it instead. Keep up the good work.

  • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

    “Scientists have cataloged 1.3 million species of animals, but Ark Encounter protagonists figure Noah could have brought on just 1,000 to 2,000 pairs…” (from the Business Insider link)

    The evidence for Evolution is so strong, even creationists can’t avoid it. But why are they trying to avoid it?

    The literalists’ interpretation of the Bible is as silly as Nicodemus’ literalist interpretation of Jesus’ born-again narrative. Jesus quickly corrected Nicodemus from a literalist to a literary interpretation.

    I think that literary lesson can be applied elsewhere.

    “The moral of the story” is a teaching concept that doesn’t necessarily need to lean on “the moral of the literal.”


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