Worldwide arks!

A full-scale replica of Giraffa camelopardalis peers out from the deck of a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark. This particular replica (of the ark, not the giraffe) is being built by Johan Huibers of Dordrecht, the Netherlands. Photo: Michel de Groot/The New York Times

Just yesterday, the New York Times posted an article about a well-to-do and ambitious Netherlander who has just about completed a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark. The piece points out the legal and NIMBY-related problems that accompany the building of such a structure in any populated area. Fire and building codes and complaining neighbors have introduced some friction that Old Man Noah probably didn’t have to worry about. (Actually, he did have some trouble with hecklers.) Noah’s may have held together on the water for 40 days and 40 nights, or however long it was. This one, however, is not seaworthy. Due to building codes, Johan’s ark is framed by steel beams and is anchored to the riverbed. This is the 21st century, after all. We have rules.

Meanwhile, back in Old Kentucky, work progresses on the Ark Park, that latest love child of free-market capitalism and biblical literalism. (A dubious union, that.) Three million dollars has already been raised, but there’s a long way to go to reach the $24.5M goal. Worry not; the park has already benefited from $43M in tax breaks. This thing will happen. It will be built, and they will come.

There’s more. In Maryland some folks are building another full-scale replica. It’s hard to tell from their website just how far along this thing is, but man are they serious about it.

But none of these are the first full-scale ark replicas to be built. The billionaire brothers Kwok of Hong Kong completed the first one (situated under a freeway overpass) in April 2009. Apparently it’s “all about love, care, peace, and family.” See this video and this WSJ article. So that’s one in 2009, and today there are (at least) three others on deck.

Why do people do it? Here’s a quote from Answers in Genesis‘s Ark Encounter website:

The Ark Encounter is a one-of-a-kind historically themed attraction. In an entertaining, educational, and immersive way, it presents a number of historical events centered on a full-size, all-wood Ark, which should become the largest timber-frame structure in the USA. It is designed to be family oriented, historically authentic, and environmentally friendly. We also plan for the Ark Encounter to include daily live mammal and bird shows, an extensive interactive children’s area, live entertainment, and many themed restaurants, creative food outposts, and shopping. The Ark Encounter will be one of the largest “green” construction projects in the country, taking advantage of the latest environmental technologies to be good stewards of creation.

So it’s being built out of respect for history, perhaps in a spirit similar to Jamestown. This makes sense, because the Bible is a history book, chock-full-o-facts and reliable factual evidence. Right? Sure. Also, just like AiG’s Creation Museum, the Ark Park will make a boatload of dough. Live entertainment! Themed restaurants! Shopping! That, after all, is exactly want God wants all of us to do — entertain ourselves and buy stuff in all righteousness. Third, and this last statement comes to you free of irony, notice how they’re taking advantage of the latest environmental technologies, products of the very science these folks seek to destroy. (You can’t remove just those pieces of science that violate literal readings of scripture without bringing the whole house down.)

OK, none of this makes any sense. But we’re dealing with fundamentalism here, so table the why question in favor of another: Why now? Five years ago there wasn’t a single one of these; now there are at least four, and on three continents. This can’t be accidental. Is it a matter of peer pressure? No, these things are just too big for that.

You know what I think is behind this abruptly-appearing armada of arks? I mean, besides the worldwide surges of fundamentalism and people with too much money?

I think it’s about the end of the world.

Just last week, after Harold Camping‘s failed rapture prediction, I saw a headline for what must have been an interesting article. Then I went on to another page and momentarily forgot about it. I have been looking for that article ever since. I have googled every phrase I thought I read in the headline. I have searched my browser’s history several times. But I just can’t find it. Wherever it is, the author’s premise was that the folks in Camping’s camp are not all that different from many other highly conservative religious believers; they just let their freak flags fly a little higher.

Not that these ark-infatuated persons aren’t letting their freak flags fly, mind you. But they’re not leaving their jobs and breaking up their families over the coming darkness. And they’re not heavy into numerology. And they’re making some sweet bucks in the process, so they can’t be too detached from this planet.

And even if you take the Noahic covenant seriously — you know, the thing about no more destroying the world via deluge — there’s still no denying the end-of-the-world resonance to this ark-building frenzy. Maybe there’s something apocalyptic afoot.

There’s got to be some explanation. I think these questions — Why are all these people doing this? And why now? — are really interesting. They deserve answers. Inquiring minds want to know.

If any Alert Reader knows where I can find that article about Camping, please advise.

Comment Pages

There are 5 Comments to "Worldwide arks!"

  • Todd says:

    The WSJ stuff indicates that the Maryland ark was actually started 35 years ago, but the guy ran out of money and all that is left is a skeleton of steel I-beams. He still plans to finish it, just as soon as God convinces some people they need to donate a ton of money to build a fake ark…..

    The Hong Kong ark has apparently been in the works for some time as well (the WSJ says 17 years).

    So it may be that these arks have just reached a critical mass where they are coming to the attention of a lot of people. But I think you are right that there is something in the air that leads to this kind of thing. Maybe not suddenly, but gradually over several decades.

    I think a lot of it has to do with the sense among many Christians that the world is becoming increasingly un-Christian and they must fight against this by being as flamboyantly Christian as possible. This is kind of odd, because I would bet that there are more Christians now than there have ever been in the past. Even as a percentage of the total world population I bet Christianity is doing well. What is different is that we no longer have the kind of Christian hegemony in the US and Western Europe that we once had. My gut feeling (and it is nothing more than that) is that the general rise of flamboyant fundamentalism is a response to this loss of hegemony. But I could buy the idea that the particular manifestation in the form of ark-building includes a heaping helping of eschatology.

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  • Brent White says:

    Very well said, Todd: “…the sense among many Christians that the world is becoming increasingly un-Christian and they must fight against this by being as flamboyantly Christian as possible.” I feel like it’s a late reaction to modernity—oddly, since modernity itself is finally losing its own hegemony. I don’t know why it’s happening now, except that American Christendom lived very comfortably with modernity for 200 years or so—conflating America’s interests with those of God’s kingdom—and it no longer does. Who knows?

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  • Tom Harkins says:

    Okay, so here is a take from someone in the general range of, but not quite in, the “fundamentalist” camp. First, I don’t know why the “sudden interest.” It may be partly due to there perhaps not being the means to engage in such undertakings previously. Certainly there has been substantial interest in Noah’s Flood for a long time.

    Second, I do agree that creating “theme parks” is probably not high on the list of what the Master would have his servants to be about. However, considering the widespread skepticism about the Flood in modernity, it is perhaps understandable for some “fundamentalists” to want to “argue their point,” as it were, by attempting to show the feasibility of such an effort when taken by Noah. Since there are many theme parks with greatly varying themes, having one based on the Ark may not be as objectionable as it might intially appear.

    Third, if, in fact, the emphasis on the Flood at present IS tied to “apocalyptic” thinking, then there are scriptural passages which bring the Flood and the Second Coming into a common context. Jesus says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall be it be ….” And 2 Peter 3:3-7 also makes a connection between the two events, including: “By these waters the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” v.6-7 (NIV).

    So, while I certainly am both (a) worried about the commercialization, and (b) cognizant that we cannot know the day and hour and that such “prophesies” do nothing but give “fundamentalists” a “black eye,” I don’t think a focus on the Flood or drawing a connection between the two “destructions” are necessarily inappropriate. IMO

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  • Barb says:

    I blame the internet and the vast quantities of information that fill it. As Todd said, some of these arks have been in the works for a while, but I suspect we’d hear very little about them if not for news aggregators and electronic clipping services. 15 years ago, the folks in Maryland wouldn’t have had a blog, and their ark would have been at best a local color filler on page five. People will have their enthusiasms. My husband and his friends put on armor and beat each other with rattan swords and so I say “to each his own”. The Ark Park, OTOH, is in a class by itself. I still don’t know what to make of it, and I can’t believe the people of Kentucky are waving tax incentives in front of the developers.

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  • Paul says:

    You know, I love reading comments I get on these things. I have such smart and dear and entertaining friends. I am a blessed man, verily.

    Barb, thanks for sharing about Jack. There’s a great group of dudes who get medieval together regularly on Emory’s main quad. Rattan swords and everything. I smile every time I see it, and think something like your words: “People will have their enthusiasms.” That’s a phrase I need to remember.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, each and every one of you.

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