A "traditional" theme park, in Santa Cruz. The Ark Encounter promises to be a different experience. Photo: Jeramey Jannene under a Creative Commons license.
Conservative religion and environmentalism are often seen as mutually exclusive. They're filed under right wing and left wing, along with issues such as evolution, creationism and birth control. But as more and more religious leaders are calling on their followers to protect the environment, a new biblical theme park is challenging those categories by using a wide range of sustainable technologies to make itself one of the greenest new attractions in the US.The Ark Encounter will sprawl over 160 acres in northern Kentucky, and will include a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark, according to the dimensions given int he Bible. With a $150 million price tag (fully funded by private money), the theme park will be operated (but not owned) by Answers in Genesis, the Christian ministry behind the Creation Musuem, also in Kentucky. The park will also include a Walled City, the Tower of Babel, a walk-through aviary, and a large petting zoo.
Scheduled to begin construction this year and to open in 2014, the new park will include all of the green technology bells and whistles: low-energy lighting, sustainable heating and cooling, rainwater capture, and even specialized window glazing. It will be built by a firm specializing in LEED construction and design, although the park will not apply for LEED certification.
But why is the Ark Encounter so bent on being green? An article in this week's Washington Post does a great job of explaining the ongoing debate among Christians of dominion vs. stewardship of the Earth:
Fundamental differences in the creation story, and the personalities of the different authors of Genesis, have created a tension between dominion understood as a hierarchical, possessive, even violent mastery of the world, and stewardship as a form of service, to God and the Earth, in God's name. Perhaps only in the past half-century has the more caring, nurturing notion of stewardship taken hold, as man's power over nature has shifted from minimal (in the days of agrarian and herding societies) to near-absolute (atom bombs, deep-water off-shore drilling, plastic grocery bags).
The WaPo article also points out a problem for environmentally-minded Christians - many don't want to be associated with the liberal set that embraces both climate change science and evolutionary science:
[Mike] Zovath [senior vice president of Answers in Genesis] says that the reluctance among conservative Christian groups to use the semantics of environmentalism shouldn't hold them back from embracing a broader idea of stewardship. "There has been a sense over the years that stewardship has been kind of hijacked by the ultra environmentalists who want to worship the creation, not the creator," he says.
While it's hard to swallow the impact that a new 160 acre development, no matter its green tech, will have on the environment, it's good to see that an environmentally-conscious worldview is moving past the realm of politics. And at the very least, we'll have an ark to run to once climate change leaves us underwater.
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More on religion and environmentalism:
Climate Pilgrims March for Interfaith Environmental Unity (Slideshow)
Will "Green Religion" Save Us or Sink Us?
The End is Nigh: How the Religious Language of Global Warming is Failing