“If somebody wants to come into Kentucky and build a Harry Potter park and teach all the fun things about witchcraft, nobody would say a word about it—they’d just think it was so cool. But if we want to come in and build a Biblical theme park, everybody goes crazy.”
Everyone, it seems, has their complaints about news media, but Mary Wisniewski’s promotional piece for a creationist theme park—lovingly edited for Reuters by Arlene Getz and Prudence Crowther—does not make any effort to hide its purpose.
In an office park in Hebron, Kentucky, the designers of the proposed “Ark Encounter” theme park are trying to answer questions like these in order to build faith in the Bible’s literal accuracy. The project has run into delays because of lack of financing, which could cost it millions in potential tax breaks. Despite the uncertainty, a recent Reuters preview of the project showed that plans for the ark are continuing.
“We’re basically presenting what the Bible has to say and showing how plausible it was,” said Patrick Marsh, design director for the park, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden ark and other Old Testament attractions, including a Tower of Babel and a “Ten Plagues” ride. “This was a real piece of history – not just a story, not just a legend.”
The project is currently in the design phase. Not enough private donations have come in to start construction, and building permits will not be ready until November, according to Ark Encounter co-founder and Senior Vice President Michael Zovath.
The project has $12.3 million in hand and $12.7 million more in committed donations; it needs $23 million more to start building the ark alone. Zovath does not know when that will happen.
Like Noah before the Flood, the builders are in a bit of a time crunch, since Kentucky tourism tax incentives for the project are set to expire in May 2014.
The longer it takes to start building the $150 million park, originally planned to open in spring 2014, the less the project stands to gain from the rebates, which allow it to receive up to 25 percent of project costs over 10 years from sales taxes generated by the business.
Zovath said the project may refile for the incentives, which critics argue are a violation of the constitutional divide between church and state. If the rebates applied to the full project cost, they could amount to $37.5 million.
This seems to be the thrust of Wisniewski’s appeal, which is in turn bracketed by quaint inquiries and appeals intended to charm:
What is “gopher wood”? How did Noah fit all those animals on the boat? And how did he stand the smell? ….
…. Zovath argues that the tax breaks do not violate the Constitution, since the state is not giving the park money up-front, but is only returning some of the tourism money the park will bring to the state.
“If somebody wants to come into Kentucky and build a Harry Potter park and teach all the fun things about witchcraft, nobody would say a word about it – they’d just think it was so cool,” Zovath said. “But if we want to come in … and build a Biblical theme park, everybody goes crazy.”
Oh, the poor creationists. Wisniewski certainly does include certain counterpoints, such as questions of whether a religious theme park should receive public endorsement, but this sort of he said/she said kind of reporting tends to smooth rough spots in the narrative by ignoring them altogether. One need not demand that the writer, editors, or news agency necessarily include a specific disclaimer against Zovath’s appeal, but questions of primacy and recency have clear answers.
The funny thing is that atheistic jokes including Jesus Christ as a fantasy character alongside Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny often offend people of faith. One might, of course, make the point to Mr. Zovath that nobody has ever been arrested, tortured, executed, or otherwise been held to account by religious or civil authorities for the crime of failing to believe in Harry Potter, or holding heretical beliefs about The Boy Who Lived.
And, to be certain, if those of Christian faith who have fought so hard against marriage equality should stand on their religious rights, what says Mr. Zovath to the Potterverse, wherein Albus Dumbledore was gay?
After all, by Zovath’s comparison, the two are equal, right? So if we must deny civil rights to others in order to accommodate Christian belief, does that mean we must finally acknowledge those civil rights in order to accommodate Potterite beliefs?
Most likely, Mr. Zovath failed to think through the implications of what he said. Neither Ms. Wisniewski, her editors, or Reuters in general have any apparent obligation to consider such implications. After all, they’re just in the business of reporting real facts; reporters are just the people who tell you what other people said, regardless of the actual reality.