The Ark Encounter: A real life Jurassic Park with a noble goal of saving its guests from eternal damnation

IMG_4753After visiting many Buddhist shrines in Japan and having direct contact with their national culture it has been very obvious that the United States has been deeply damaged by the loss of Christianity as the primary, unifying religion.  In Japan they have at least a basic understanding of culture as a nation which unifies them toward basic tasks successfully.  So I have watched what Ken Ham has been doing down in Kentucky for quite some time with a hopeful eye.  I’m not a “young earth” believer but as any reader here knows I love functional mythologies and think that often there are great truths in the stories of culture that point to important needs all human beings have—so a functional mythology is essential to human existence.  By allowing Christianity to be pushed from our culture as a solidifying force, it has harmed the United States politically, economically—but most of all spiritually.  So When Ken Ham and his organization opened the Ark Experience a year ago as of this writing I was very intrigued.  I have been meaning to go but have been very busy with travels around the world—particularly a visit to the Canterbury Cathedral and Stonehenge that were high on my priority list.  However, a day shy of its one year anniversary my wife and I took a midweek Thursday afternoon trip to see the recreation of Noah’s Ark in the Kentucky hillsides and were quite astonished by what we found there relative to our travels.

My primary objective in going was to compare the size of the Ark to the Zheng He treasure ships of 1401 AD which were just a bit smaller than the massive 510 foot long, 51’ high Noah’s Ark recreation at Williamstown, Kentucky—one of those previously lonely exists on I-75 about halfway between Lexington and Cincinnati.  After all, a ship that big would clearly show how ancient cultures traveled the world well before Christopher Columbus so I was able to visit the Ark Experience with a clear understanding that much of our sciences are still in their infancy and are not correct about traditional historic formulations.   People have been building ships the size of Noah’s Ark for many years.

One of the reasons that the Christopher Columbus and Mayflower voyages were so miserable was that the ships were just so small.  Water was hard to come by and living quarters were cramped.  Zheng he was able to grow food on the decks of his massive fleet back in 1421 as he was circumnavigating the globe showing off the wealth of the Ming Dynasty to the world.  But even better was the access to all the fresh water that the big ships captured from rain at sea. The large decks could sustain a massive crew for quite a long time allowing travelers to navigate long voyages for a sustained period of time without hardship—and that was the key to ancient travel around the world much earlier than European historians wanted to admit.   So Ken Ham’s Ark and the details of how it worked was something I was interested in seeing.

What I discovered was that The Ark Encounter was essentially the emergence of a real life Jurassic Park which was all I could think of while visiting—only the theme was not resurrecting long dead dinosaurs—which ironically are part of the Ark Experience—but it was in resurrecting the Christian evangelicals into a theme park of their own by dusting off the 2000 year old religion into a modern functional mythology.  It was an ambitious enterprise to say the least.  After just returning from Stonehenge the way that Ken Ham had the whole park set up reminded me of how the English Heritage have set up that classic site to tourists.  All have taken a page out of the Disney playbook at the Magic Kingdom in that you can’t get to their attractions on foot; you have to be transported there to separate you from the outside world.  In the case of the Ark Experience tour busses take you from the parking lot to the Ark itself over a mile long road that carries you to the destination.   After buying our $40 dollar tickets and noticing that the parking lot was filled at just 10 AM in the morning with cars from every single state east of the Mississippi River—and many cars from well west, it was obvious that something very special was going on.  The way that you got onto the buses and arrived at Noah’s Ark reminded me of the way John Hammond took visitors to his fictional Jurassic Park in the now famous book and movie.

In doing a little research for The Ark Encounter it was obvious to me that Ken Ham was very much like a John Hammond type of person.  I always liked the Jurassic Park movies but I was always impressed with John Hammond’s character in the novel—which was given great respect in the first Jurassic Park movie with the charismatic Richard Attenborough.  It takes a lot to start a theme park in the middle of nowhere—especially when the cost of entry is so high.   At least the fictional John Hammond character of Jurassic Park had dinosaurs to lure in visitors. What the real life Ken Ham has done was significantly harder—he endeavored to create a $100 million dollar evangelical amusement park about essentially recruiting people back to Christ.  Using the Ark as a metaphor to tell the story of God’s first attempt to save mankind from sin by picking the favored Noah to be all that saves life on planet earth from the punishment of mankind’s wicked ways—the third floor inside the Ark delivers the essential message—that Christ is the second ark and all you have to do to ride it is accept Jesus Christ as your savior and all is good in the world.  It was nothing short of optimistic but as I watched the presentation which was very carefully planned to overcome whatever modern opposition a visitor might have had from the outside world it was easy to like what Ken Ham was doing.

Like Jurassic Park the Ark Encounter isn’t quite finished–but they had what counts—the massive Ark which is the largest wooden structure on earth currently.  It is worth the price of admission just to see it.  Built by Amish craftsman to the kind of perfection they are known for, it became obvious quickly that the entire site serves to inspire people toward Christianity with overwhelming optimism.   The park itself had construction going on everywhere and was led by a charismatic president of the operation who narrated the arrival with the kind of fanfare only seen previously in fiction.  By only hiring people of the faith, there are no gay people or sour employees who were covered in body piercings and experimenting with atheism to muddy the experience, the whole place had a workforce much like Chick-fil-A where they wanted to be there and enjoyed the visit by the guests.   They currently have open the Ark—which by itself is worth the money, but they also have a nice little zoo and a few gift shops.  There is a zipline experience to help bring a little adventure to the park with obvious big ideas blooming later as the park matures.  But I think where the Ark Experience really shined was at their very nice restaurant called Emzara’s.IMG_4790

The gift shop was very impressive at the back of the Ark.  In it was a lot of material designed to be keepsakes, but I thought the best of it was of course the book selections.  There is a lot of reading material to delve into.  I don’t think it’s important at a place like the Ark Encounter for everything to be factual—after all, I’ve been to the actual Jurassic Park at Universal Studios and nothing they had there was real—but people suspended belief long enough to enjoy a functional mythology designed to get visitors to at least ask the “what if” questions.  At the Ark Encounter there is an obvious message of evangelical scholarship that is going on.  Nobody is force feeding anything but the opportunities are obvious and they most bloom from that short walk from the back of the Ark into the wonderfully spacious Emzara’s restaurant.

That place had a buffet style offering with abundant food to satisfy the sensibilities of southern expectations in America—and it’s big—designed to handle thousands of customers comfortably.  The building is two stories and also offers outside seating very spaciously provided.   That’s where my wife and I ate, away from the noise downstairs where things were a bit quieter on the second story.  It was up there where I saw several young people with open laptops off in the corner reading and doing Christian based research with their peers.  It was like church only at an amusement park with all the optimism that comes from such a place.  That’s where it was most obvious the brilliance of Ken Ham’s work there.   He has essentially created a Biblical refuge from the outside world where scholarship can be explored in the context of real scale to open up the thought process toward evangelical thinking.

Obviously, and it’s already happening, Ken Ham plans to make that 1-75 exit 154 an evangelical dedicated enterprise where the persecuted can gather to recharge together in the masses and return to the world to spread the word of God.  What he has created from nothing reminded me a lot of the early days of Disney World in Orlando.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see where things are going—rapidly.  The place is built to handle crowds and as I said, we were there on a Thursday afternoon just an hour after the place opened and the parking lot was full.  People were coming from more than 1000 miles in some cases to visit and I didn’t see a single beat up car in the parking lot.  The kind of people I saw visiting were good, hard-working people who were personally successful enough to have new cars to drive and families with two to four children who attend church regularly.  They were not the dregs of society let me put it that way–and they were willing to drive out of their way and spend a lot of money to see a life-sized Ark, shop at the abundant gift shop and eat at Emzara’s.  There is no pretense that you have to agree with Ken Ham’s “young earth” theories.  If viewed as a functioning mythology, there are a lot worse things for people to be thinking about.  But at least at the Ark Experience good people have been given an opportunity to spend some time around other good people with a soft sale of immortal enlightenment and let me tell you something folks—that’s a very powerful thing in our young American culture.  The Ark Experience is worth the trip, the money, and the hope it has for the soul of mankind and its “think big” massage is timely, and potent.  I predict big things happening in Williamstown, Kentucky over the next decade—and beyond.  And maybe, just maybe—we’ll find that America can find its national identity and return to a foundation rooted in Biblical scholarship which unifies our nation productively, and spiritually for the better.

Rich Hoffman

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