The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. (Revelation 1:1-2, ESV)
“Revelation”, the common english translation of the greek word “apocalypsis” (αποκαλυψις) which opens this text, is such a familiar term that its basic meaning is almost lost to our ears and eyes. Similarly, the term “apocalypse” has come to refer to any large-scale catastrophic event that threatens the extinction of humankind and life as we know it i.e. zombie apocalypse. (Pace Rick Grimes et al.)
But slow down and listen to the text. John’s first readers did not have this linguistic and cultural baggage hanging on these terms. They were not dispensationalists. There was no such thing as guns or atomic bombs. They had not heard of global warming. John and his early readers had their own linguistic and cultural milieu which shaped their understanding of the term “apocalypse” and the other terms, allusions, and images John uses throughout this prophetic letter to the Christian communities in first century Asia Minor. Like learning a new language, it takes some mental effort and yes some reading and research to understand and interpret an ancient text, including those included in our Scriptures.
Ken Ham’s Ark has three decks which are divided thematically pre-flood, during the flood, and post-flood.
Photo Op to Photo Shop
Immediately before entering the Ark, a photographer directs the visitor to stand in front of a blue screen for a photo. In the gift shop, you can purchase a photo of yourself with Ark Encounter themed images in the background. Of course, Joel and I purchased our photos for posterity’s sake. Now, even in this first week, the Ark was not terribly busy. Had it been busier, I wondered at the logistics of stopping people for photos. This process seemed to have the potential for being a log jam in the future. A “gopher wood” log jam, of course.
Boarding the Ark
As I boarded the Ark, a virtual jungle of animal sounds filled the atmosphere. I found myself surrounded by small wooden cages stacked floor to ceiling. The calls and whistles of various birds, the chattering of small rodents, the yowling of cats, and even the hiss of snakes could be heard coming from the small cages. Cool!, I thought.
Ham has stated that he wanted the Ark Encounter to be something akin to an exhibit that you might find at Disney or Universal. In this initial moment, I was reminded of the awesome transformation of sunny California afternoon to cool New Orleans evening on the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. So far, Ken, not bad.
Each cage had a clay feeder and water trough which would have been easily accessible to Noah and his family. The cages are spaced apart in such a way that feces can be gathered easily. However, the cages were designed so that the visitor cannot see into them. The sounds suggest the presence of many small “animal kinds” that Ham posits were on Noah’s Ark.
Okay, I thought, that’s not a bad way to save some money and still get a number of animals on the Ark. It was a cool effect and I was ready for more. Keep in mind, as much as I am critical of Answers in Genesis, I was truly hoping that the exhibit itself would be like a ride at Disneyland maybe more Pirates than Star Wars but I wanted it to be genuinely entertaining. After all, Joel and I spent real money to see this thing. Yet, I came away disappointed because there were far fewer animals on Ham’s Ark than I anticipated and none of them were animatronic but that’s another deck.
Wooden cages with wooden feeders and clay watering devices. The cages are designed so that you can’t see into them. It gives the illusion of many animals.
Like the small cages, the visitor will see pots lined floor to ceiling along the walls. These represent the food for the animals. Remember, they need a year’s supply of food for everything from rabbit-kind to velociraptor-kind. Wait, I guess they can feed the rabbit kittens to the velociraptor pups.
The Pre-Flood Story
On the lower deck, through a series of visuals mostly consisting of posters (often tedious to read), the visitor is told Ken Ham’s version of the biblical narrative from Creation to the Flood. It is a truncated version of Ham’s Creation Museum.
I say Ken Ham’s version for as much as he claims to be offering a plain reading of the text his version includes many details that are not found in the text and, in my view, distort and distract from the meaning of the text. For instance, Ham’s version includes dinosaurs.
I did not expect dinosaurs to play as large a role in Ham’s narrative as they do but there are dinosaurs around every corner. For instance, one will find dinosaurs in every portrayal of the paradisal Garden. But turn the corner and in illustrating the violence of humankind before the flood, Ham depicts human beings slaughtering triceratops for their horns much like modern humans slaughter rhinoceroses. In Ham’s theory, it is human activity of this type and post-diluvial environmental factors (like the one ice age) that wiped out the dinosaurs.
I am truly baffled that Ham’s view of the dinosaurs is not enough to cause even some of the more credulous Christians to question Answers in Genesis’s ability to interpret historical data let alone be trusted to interpret scripture for them.
Disgruntled Workers and Religious Fanatics
There were very few animatronic displays far fewer than I would have imagined. In one of the displays, Noah’s hired workers (another eisegetical moment) are complaining about the work and describe Noah as a religious fanatic.
Like the whole AIG narrative, this scene is more modern than ancient. If Noah was a historical figure and truly a monotheist and who in accordance with the later Mosaic law had no image of his deity among polytheists who worshipped images, then it is more likely that his contemporaries would have accused him of atheism and not being devoted enough to the gods. If there was a great flood coming, then maybe it was because Noah and his family had ticked off the gods by not worshipping them properly (see Job’s friends). As the other extant flood narratives suggest, it did not take much to annoy a god to the point of mass extermination. In one narrative, human beings are just to noisy and the gods can’t sleep. Anyway, his contemporaries would not scoff at the idea of a god causing a natural disaster. Rather, they would ask which god and likely try to appease them all just in case.
Yet, despite Ham’s claims to the contrary, he and the folks at AIG are not interested in historical accuracy but in the us vs. them narrative of the culture war. So, Noah begins to look a lot like Ken Ham and Noah’s critics begin to sound a great deal like the New Atheists (and frankly like anyone who is critical of AIG teaching). The fate of these scoffers is as follows.
Now, I will say that I enjoyed the detailed miniatures more than anything else in the exhibit. There is something about looking at a scale model world and a scale model Ark that is fascinating like a good detailed model train set. So, to end on a positive note, here are some of the images from the lower deck.
IP — Follow the link below to Joel Duff’s blog post at the end of this post. His recent post resonates with my recent post about Ken Ham’s Fantastic Voyage — Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is Fantastic! In that post, I recommend going to the zoo instead.
Dr. Duff inspired me to actually compare prices of places that we might go instead of the Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum.
Rest assured, this post contains no Force Awakens spoilers. I haven’t seen it yet. It does contain spoilers for episodes I-III. So, if you are Amish, you may not want to read this post.
The Star Wars films shaped my childhood imagination. They nurtured in me a sense of right and wrong. They gave me a meaningful vocabulary for good and evil. Lucas’s images of the light side and the dark side opened my eyes to a battle being waged daily in the world that I could see on the evening news, in the playground, and even in my own heart and mind. This imaginative world gave me a sense of responsiblity and the hope that I could overcome the darkness within in me, that I could choose. Eventually, these films gave me my first glimpse of grace and redemption.
Yet, the Christians in my life missed this opportunity to speak to me and who knows how many others. They failed to speak to me in my language. They failed to translate the Gospel, to use my vocabulary. They did not see the Spirit of Christ already at work. The Spirit went before them like the pillar of fire in the darkness. But all they could say to me was “The Spirit of God is not like the force in Star Wars.”