Noah’s ark, manna, and a convenient device for ignoring the inconvenient point

So shortly after writing a post about how the last thing the world needs is another bunch of Christians building a life-size replica of Noah’s ark, I learn that — you guessed it — yet another church is building a replica of Noah’s Ark.

This time it’s John Hagee’s church in San Antonio, Texas. Hagee’s son, Matthew (whose singing is much better than his theology), says the purpose of the $5 million project is to convince people “to say it happened,” because clearly the question of historicity is the only thing that matters in the story of Noah. And because building a replica proves something happened, just like the way Peter Jackson proved the existence of Rivendell.

And what else should Hagee’s Cornerstone Church spend $5 million on? I mean, it was either this or else waste all that money on something like feeding all the poor children in San Antonio for a year.

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk posted this promotional poster from Cornerstone’s website:

If you can’t read the image, it says:

Cornerstone Church invites you to attend the unveiling of its newest addition, a 28,400-square-foot Noah’s Ark-inspired building!

The Ark boasts true-to-size animatronics animals, custom-designed wall murals, synthetic trees and grasses, LED shooting stars, custom wood-plank carpeting and more. The building will host the children’s church Sunday school as well as Mother’s Day Out program. With its unique, stimulating, and larger-than-life elements, the Ark experience will truly bring to life the famed Bible story and be an inspirational adventure to all who enter.

  • Continuous Tours
  • Carnival Rides
  • Biblical Puppet Shows
  • Story Readings in the classrooms by Sunday school teachers in Bible costumes
  • Moon Bounces, Face Painting & Balloon Clown Artists
  • Hot Dogs, Roasted Corn, Kettle Corn & Cotton Candy

I am dazzled by this. It’s so appalling that it almost wraps all the way back around into a kind of delight.

Here’s more from the delightfully appalling/appallingly delightful Christian Post article:

“I want them to say it happened,” Executive Pastor Matthew Hagee told “The Ark was real. Salvation is real. What God desires for Noah, God desires for me. For Noah, it was a boat. And for me, it was Jesus Christ.”

… Hagee, son of founding pastor John Hagee, described The Ark, saying it has vestibule entrances with outdoor scenes of the ship’s hull, crafted with alder wood panels. At one vestibule will be a talking macaw playing host.

Each of the animals in the central area of the hull – from a tortoise, sheep and zebra to a rhinoceros, lion and elephant – will be named for a great church figure from history, as a springboard to lessons on John Bunyan, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Wesley and others.

Nine of the 16 creatures will be animatronic, created by Animal Makers, a Southern California firm that specializes in robotic animals for Hollywood movies. Some are new, and some were formerly leased. The rhino, for example, had a short appearance in the John Cusack film 2012.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find any church with animatronics,” Michael Chanley, executive director of the International Network of Children’s Ministry, was quoted as saying. “It communicates so much value to the family, ‘We don’t just want your kids to come here and learn. We want them to experience God,'” he said.

You’ll recall that the Apostle Paul rebuked the church in Corinth for not having animatronics. That communicated such contempt for the family, and it denied children the chance to experience God the way one only can in a sacred space like the Hall of Presidents.

I’m not sure that moon bounces, kettle corn, or a talking macaw named Hudson Taylor will really help to achieve Matt Hagee’s goal of convincing visitors of the historicity of Noah’s ark. But those carnival touches — Chaplain Mike calls it the “Disney-ization of Christianity” — serve the same purpose as that preoccupation with proving the historicity of a story that never itself demands such an interpretation. The whole point of both of those is to distract from the whole point.

Fundies and inerrantist evangelicals like to pretend that they take the Bible more seriously — and more “conservatively” — than other Christians, and yet they’re always willing to go to outlandish lengths just to avoid engaging the meaning of the text. Read them the story of Noah and they’ll start talking about the carrying capacity of all those cubits, reciting arcane non-facts suggesting that the hydrological history of the Grand Canyon “proves” there was a global flood in antiquity, or whatever else they can come up with to change the subject and avoid dealing with the actual story the text actually gives us.

The story of Noah is one of many in Genesis where, as Tim O’Brien wrote, “absolute occurrence is irrelevant.”

“Did exactly this actually occur precisely in this way?” is probably the least interesting, least insightful, least helpful, least edifying, least inspirational questions one could ask about this story. Those who make it their first question, and their most important question, seem to be trying to hide, to evade, to distract themselves from actually engaging the actual story on its own terms.

They’d rather talk about historicity — by which they mean cubits and kettle corn.

Cara Sexton has a nice, rambly post up this weekend on being a rich Christian in an age of hunger. It’s titled “On Hoarding Manna.” The reference there is to a story from Exodus 16, in which God miraculously provides bread from heaven for the Israelites in the wilderness:

When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. … Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.'”

The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.

And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.

Sexton’s reference to this story tackles its meaning head-on. She doesn’t flinch from the implications of it and she wrestles with those in her post.

Her approach is very different from that of the literalist evangelicals I’ve heard preach and teach from this passage. For them, the key thing was, as Matthew Hagee put it, “to say it happened,” to believe the manna was real — that the above story from Exodus 16 is a historical account of actual events. That was what they preached on and taught about. That was the first question they brought to this passage and the thing they treated as most important.

With manna as with Noah’s ark, the whole point of this obsession with historicity seemed to be to distract from the whole point of the story.



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  • … because proving that God once nearly wiped out all life on the Earth proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves each and every one of us!

  • and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.

    Kitchen Nightmares, Bible edition.

  • And because building a replica proves something happened, just like the way Peter Jackson proved the existence of Rivendell.

    Hey, do not get all sacrilegious on us now, Fred!

    Peter Jackson was doing his part to spread the gospel of salvation, that one day we too will leave this fallen realm behind for the shores of the Undying Lands, there to join in the company of the Valinor eternal.

    I mean, mortals have not been there since Sauron deceived the last Númenorian King, Ar-Pharazôn, in the Second Age.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Well, I can honestly say that animatronics is one thing I didn’t try while working through and ultimately leaving my faith…Maybe that’s God’s ultimate convincing device?

  • Love isn’t the thing to this kind of thinking. Power is the thing, threat is the thing, absolute authority and an overwhelming terror at not believing the right thing is the thing. The love is really just a spoon full of sugar to make the pants-darkening terror go down.
    God and unaired Wonder Woman pilot… hrm.

  • But the important thing is that it exists. You need to interpret it literally, as described in the Scofield Reference Red Book of Westmarch.

  • hostofwords

    I’m intrigued by the “Mother’s Day Out” program. Do they keep the kids or the mothers?

  • Y’know, LaHaye and Jenkins could have easily written that pilot. Especially the bit where everyone agrees that the evil company is evil for… discovering that one of their drugs had adverse side effects after it was released, then tracking down everyone who was afflicted and… giving them state-of-the-art medical care and trying everything they could to reverse the side effects and save the people who were hurt. Those FIENDS!

  • flat

    Well considering that I have been on the ark Huibers build, they also had an exposition about the ark in other cultures and a lift for the disabled, which was nice if you are in a wheelchair.
    But personally I find it annoying now that suddenly every American Megachurch decides to build an ark, just to compete with each other.

  • flat

    they keep the kids out and keep the mothers for Reproduction.

  • flat

    Amen brother amen.

  • One of the many delightful touches in the rebooted Archer and Armstrong comic book is that Archer, raised as an assassin by his televangelist father and right-wing politician mother, literally grew up in an evangelical theme park featuring a full-sized Ark. In which he faces off against his score of adopted siblings to prove his worthiness to set out on a mission to assassinate what he’s told is the Antichrist.

  • The tale of Noah’s Ark has to be allegorical. The worldwide flood, the storing away of animals on a boat, the landing on a mountain – those all mean things, probably a message about the losses that happen after great catastrophes and the importance of being prepared for them.

    This insistence on failing to concede that perhaps the Bible does contain mythical elements to it is really dismaying.

  • I’d say that’s a more secular perspective, though. My take on it is that it’s meant to be a reassuring story, almost purely myth, but allegorical as you said. Double meaning:

    1) God’s watching out for his chosen people. If terrible things were ever to happen, God will protect his own, even if by means of designating a spokesperson and giving them a message. Trust God, trust your elders.

    2) God has promised never to flood the world again. No matter how bad it gets, that’s off the table.

    Imagine this story were told a bit south of Egypt, say, in Sudan, where they have a monsoon season. A story like this could be very reassuring to people afraid of it raining forever and drowning them all. “Now, now, if God were going to do that, he would have told us to build a boat for all of you! And he won’t, because he already promised never to do that, so there’s nothing to worry about. Have some waterlogged sugarcane.”

  • The flyer depicts tigers and lions as a mated pair, which has to be giving an unnatural and perverse message to impressionable children. (j/k; ligers are pretty damn awesome!)

  • I suspect the flood narrative likely has something to do with the end of the last ice age. Sea level did rise quite spectacularly and that would leave a mark in the stories of the various groups effected which by the time they developed writing would have diversified and been embellished to “and the whole world flooded”.

    But I’m far more interested Cara Sexton’s piece because I know exactly how she feels.

  • Anonymous

    It’s like when I saw the remastered “Star Wars,” looking for clues that might indicate why Han Solo said he made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs. I think he meant he found a physical shortcut that would enable him to get to Kessel without having to travel the same distance as most pilots, so I really wanted some evidence to back up that theory. Because if a space pilot mistook “parsecs” for a unit of time rather than distance, that would invalidate “Star Wars” as a whole.

    Meanwhile, everyone else who saw the remastered version was all hung up on some unrelated shooting incident that had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not “Star Wars” was plausible as science fiction or Han Solo was a competent pilot.

  • arcseconds

    Well, they might be thinking that this is about proving Noah’s ark existed.

    Or, they might be thinking: hey, we can make some money off this!

    Given that Fred is often inclined to point out how a certain visible form of American Christianity is big business, I’m surprised there’s none of this angle here.

  • Amtep

    You know, if I were unsure before, visiting this Ark would definitely convince me that all the animals would never have fit. It looks pretty full with just some giraffes and rhinos!

  • There are too many other flood stories that appear in other cultures to say that “No cataclysmic flood” ever happened. And a guy probably got a forewarning, and put his family and a bunch of animals in a boat. Totally plausible. What is more important to my faith, believing a worldwide flood, and a literal story, or that God warns me, looks after me, and keeps his promises. (And that I had better listen) Its hard to explain to people though, that I can get more application from this story by believing it to be myth, than a literal account.

  • 1a) Maybe the chosen people will be just one family. I don’t find that so reassuring.
    2a) But He has a variety of other interesting fates in store – see Revelation.

  • walter comer

    for god so loved the world that he killed almost everybody.

  • I think a big part of the issue here is one of dualism, which I think is a big problem with an ideology based in “eternal reward.” Sure, they could feed a city’s worth of starving children, but if even one child is saved & comes to eternal salvation forever & ever, amen, then isn’t the better than feeding actual real starving children? Man does not live by bread alone, after all! They NEED Mickey Jesus & his 200 cubit tall Cavalry Roller Coaster!

    Also, I like the up-vote Disqus system; Slacktivist gets a lot of comments & a high percentage of them are top notch, but I can’t go through every comment on some posts. The new system seems like it will help with that.

    (& I haven’t read that manna post but I’m assuming it talks about economic justice & wealth hoarding based on your quote so I’m excited to click through.)

  • Heretic! The Gift of Men is the true way! None will return to the world, not even Valinor, until after Dagor Dagorath & the Second Music.

  • Oh man, you know about The Maw & how the Extended Universe really actually did that exact thing, right? If not, you’re in for a treat.

  • Turcano

    So, um… What the everloving fuck is “wood-plank carpeting?”

  • Mrs Grimble

    Possible – the Black Sea may have have flooded in just this way.

    However, a much more likely explanation for universal flood stories is that early civilisations tended to have developed in fertile river deltas that were subject to flash floods, tsunamis and the like. Somebody riding out such a flood in 5000Bc in someplace like the Tigris-Euphrates basin may well have believed the whole world was under water.

  • They should all build arks, big, glorious, expensive arks. Every dollar spent on an ark is one that can’t be spent fighting gay rights or lobbying for anti-abortion legislation.

  • I would expect carpeting that looks like wood. So…what’s the rest of the ark made out of? I can’t think they’d use real wood, but if they didn’t that sort of makes it useless as any kind of ‘proof’, no?

  • It doesn’t even have the decency to feature living animals, just fancy-schmancy animatronic imitations! As the article mentioned, the money spent on this enormous clubhouse could have just as easily fed San Antonio’s children, or at least go to protect endangered animals, living, breathing things. Why spend it on toys no else can play with? “And you can’t even touch them because God loves ME best, nyah!”
    I will confess right here that the idea of a real zoo, with a Noah’s Ark theme, would be fun. Moreso, the Biblical story of the Ark mentioned saving two of EVERY species, not just the useful ones, not just the pretty ones, but two of every creature on earth, even things like carrion flies, horseflies, killer bees, wombats, vampire bats, starlings, black rats, etc.
    How literal the Flood was is always going to up for conjecture, but the point was that, when the chips were down, God was looking out for everything, not just humanity.

  • Nick Gotts

    The end of the last ice age was, at a minimum, 10,000 years ago. Even if it caused sudden flooding, it’s most implausible that oral traditions should last the 5,000+ years between that and the invention of writing. The catastrophic Black Sea flood event Mrs. Grimble refers to is not supported by recent research, as her link records.

  • Eamon Knight

    And on the same note: I always wondered how the TOS Klingons metamorphosed into the TNG Klingons. Just proves that Star Trek is a complete fiction!

  • Eamon Knight

    But, but….it has *LED shooting stars*!!!1111!!!eleventy!!!
    What’s not to like?

  • zoie

    They will know you by your ark…

  • Anonymous

    (Putting on snippy attitude)
    Oh, if you pay attention to all the apocrypha….
    (Taking off snippy attitude)
    Thank you! I like treats. I shall look into this.

  • Alanlionheart

    I am tempted to ask …………………. and the point of this article is exactly what???????

    All you seem to be doing is taking a swipe at those that have a different view. Is your view the correct one or is anyone allowed to disagree?

    It’s like the old issue of freedom of speech, we are allowed free speech only if it agrees with the establishment’s view

    Taking swipes at brothers and sisters in Christ who hold a different view is NOT showing any love towards them. Quite the opposite in fact and is more akin to the
    Pharisees who were so caught up in “religion” that they missed the truth and ended up rejecting the Messiah.
    If you are going to criticise a brother in Christ, do so Biblically and to their face.
    No one has all knowledge and truth, not even you or I.

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t someone on the show (might’ve been DS9) mention that to Worf and he got all starchy and said something like “We never talk about that.”
    Which really just makes one wonder all the more….

  • Asha

    You’re new here, aren’t you?

  • Alanlionheart

    Hi Asha
    Yes I am, is it that obvious? :)

  • Hth

    I am going to believe that the rhino is named after Dietrich Bonhoeffer and nobody can stop me. Because there *should* be a Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Rhino somewhere in the world.

  • flat

    For the record there are often moments I do not fully agree with Fred Clark and I am worried that sometimes I am rather sitting in my comfort zone than too change something I don’t like.
    But anyway welcome at slacktivist.

  • flat

    You know that sounds awesome.

  • Dash1

    One of the curious things about these various arks is that what they’re building isn’t really an ark. It’s a big building, sometimes sitting on the water or on some water. But it’s not a ship. I am not a naval engineer, but my understanding is that, as described, Noah’s ark would not be seaworthy. Ships couldn’t be made that long until they developed steel to reinforce the structure, and even then, you don’t want wood (which is flexible and hence likely to leak) for your hull.

    There was a journal called Creation/Evolution, which did a superb special issue looking carefully and in detail at the claims of “literalists,” including one co-authored by a guy named, um, it says here, Tim LaHaye–anybody heard of him? I was delighted to see that the journal has been incorporated into the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and I think it’s searchable online. The issue is well worth reading. It’s Winter 1983, Issue XI, special issue by Robert A. Moore, “The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark.”

    Moore analyzes the claims about the vessel and it’s structure (completely unseaworthy), the number of species and how they fit, the management of parasites which require a host, species that require more than two for procreation, those that will only eat live and active prey (which is a problem if you’re taking only two of every kind of unclean animal, ’cause the wolf spiders are going to eat all the insects the first week), the management of that amount of livestock, and whether the 8 people on the ark (sick as dogs from all those parasites) could in fact do care and feeding of the number of animals that would have to be there. It’s a fun read and well supported.

  • RJ (TO)

    So, the logic is: If they can build it with a large crew, modern equipment, materials and technology that proves they could’ve done it thousands of years ago without all that stuff??? How do these people get through a day with such appalling lack of logic?

    If they want to be truly authentic, they should build that thing with only a crew of 4 (like Noah did), no modern equipment/technology (cranes, buzz saws, etc.) and no metal (nails, bolts, reinforcements). How can they prove Noah did it back then if they don’t build it with only what he had to work with back them?

    P.S. To Mr. Clark: I know authenticity was not the point you were making. I’m just venting—and appreciate you providing a forum for which I can do so.

  • Alanlionheart

    Hi Flat

    I’ve not browsed the site yet. Whether I’ll have the time is another matter but I agree with you. I’ve got the T shirt on judgementalism and by God’s grace was delivered from it some years ago. I still have to watch not only what I say but how I say it, and I do get it wrong at times.
    But I can tell you one thing that I hope will encourage you, get out of your comfort zone and smell the coffee.
    As the Bible says, we are to be ready to give to everyone a reason for the hope that is in us. So what if they disagree? That’s their prerogative and God will show them HIS truth.

  • Dash1

    This isn’t a private disagreement of the sort that is meant to be handled face-to-face. What Fred is doing here is providing good teaching to counterbalance bad teaching. It’s not really very different different from what Paul does in some of his letters when he criticizes bad teachers.

  • misanthropy_jones

    they are bred for their skill at magic…

  • misanthropy_jones

    hagee and his ilk seem unable to accept any truth that cannot be shown to literally exist. sorta like doubting thomases, they only have faith in what is seen and proven.
    as to the piece by cara sexton, i know just how she feels…

  • Dash1

    I would just like to add that one thing we DO know is that, with the technology of 1200 B.C.E., it would have been possible to construct a large wooden horse inside of which, say, a bunch of men could sit for 18 hours or so. This proves that the Trojan Horse was real.

    This is fortunate, because without being sure that it was connected with a real event that happened exactly as described, the story of the Trojan Horse would carry no lessons and contain no useful concepts that we could use today.

  • Aside: The fact that the “flat” format persists when you disable Javascript sounds like someone could write a surrogate script that a JS blocker runs in place of the actual JS, that renders the Disqus posts in a flat format.