D/Ark Encounter

Wilfred McClay teaches history and the humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he has also held the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities. He is also a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. We’ve taken note of his work on several occasions, perhaps most notably in connection with his lecture on Thomas Jefferson at 265 and, most recently, in “The report of our death…”
In the Wall Street Journal this week Professor McClay tells the story behind the construction of a full-sized, biblically correct replica of Noah’s ark in the development of a taxpayer-subsidized theme park. The ark is to be the featured attraction at Ark Encounter, a sprawling theme park on 800 acres of rural Grant County, Kentucky.
Under Kentucky’s Tourism Development Act, the state can compensate approved businesses for as much as a quarter of their development costs, using funds drawn out of sales-tax receipts. Kentucky’s (Democratic) Governor Steven Beshear announced the tax incentives to support the theme park earlier this month.
Professor McClay drily notes that Ark Encounter “plans to offer an array of animals to serve as ark-dwellers, a 10-story Tower of Babel, a recreation of a first-century Middle Eastern village, high-tech simulations of Old Testament stories, and a petting zoo. Designers say that every detail, down to the construction techniques of the Ark itself, will plausibly reflect the biblical account.”
Professor McClay’s point of view on Ark Encounter is a little difficult to discern. He touches on what he calls “the paradoxes of American evangelicalism, a non-worldly belief system with a restlessly entrepreneurial and commercial spirit.” Professor McClay’s judgment is probably embedded in the observation that it is “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. In that sense, the theme park may challenge not the proper separation of church and state as much as the proper separation of faith and commerce.”
Via reader Kent Dahlberg.


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