The other day I posted a satirical article criticizing Ken Ham’s goal of building a life-size Noah’s ark. Mark Hamilton then offered a good comment in response:
“You know, regardless of what you think about the Ark theme park, it always drives me nuts when people talk about how money could be better spent on schools or feeding the poor. You can say that about literally any project that isn’t helping schools or feeding the poor. Disneyland, that office building downtown with the fancy windows, that art installation on main street, the bakery across the road from Starbucks, all the Starbucks worldwide, the escalators at the mall, your car, your cat, rainbow pony stickers, toy robots, balsa wood airplanes, the Eiffel Tower, all of these are projects where you could say “wouldn’t the money be better spent on schools or feeding the poor?” It’s not the state funding the project, and if people want to put their money into building an Ark I’m not going to tell them they can’t.”
I promised to reply later. But Jason Thibodeau helpfully kicked things off with this comment:
“The fact that the argument can be made in every instance of a proposal to spend gobs of money doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work as an objection to at least some instances. Surely the concern that the money could be better spent is at least sometimes a good objection to a project.”
That’s a good way to put it. So then the question is this: why might the money in this case be better spent elsewhere? In answer to this question, I’ll make three points.
First, judgments as to how money is best spent are always made relative to one’s beliefs about the true and the good. I remember in university there was a professor in the business department who had spent twenty years building a massive bomb shelter underneath his house, replete with independent plumbing and ventilation systems and food stockpiles for at least two years. (And every year he’d bring a cadre of lucky business students down into his lair to show it off.) Is that a good investment? Well that depends on one’s beliefs about the likelihood of nuclear war. And should one pay extra on their homeowner’s insurance for a policy protecting against meteorite strikes? Once again, that depends on our beliefs. If one believes that the likelihood that a meteorite will hit one’s house is vanishingly low, one will not be inclined to purchase the insurance. And so it is for Ken Ham. If a person rejects his reading of the Noahic flood story as naive and falsified by the plain evidence, one will be duly skeptical of the value of him building a monument to that reading.
Second, I made reference in the article to “kitsch”. This word is borrowed from German and identifies low quality, mass produced art or entertainment. For some decades now Christian entrepreneurs have baptized kitsch in a misbegotten attempt to meld the spirit of capitalism with Christianity. The resulting products, from Precious Moments knick knacks to “Testamints” for fresh and holy breath, have a very negative effect often not appreciated by those who consume them: they desacralize, thereby rendering the sacred mundane. God and holy things become the object of commodification and marketing. And the Christian tacky tourist destination, such as the one Ham is proposing, has to be about the crassest and most worrisome exemplification of the trend.
Finally, we must pay attention to the social location of our economic choices. If you’re in New York or Dubai, going out for a fifty dollar dinner once a week has different moral implications than if you live in the slums of Mumbai or a refugee camp in Sudan. The HuffPo article I reference makes this point by noting that the theme park is being built in Kentucky, one of the poorest states in the nation. This is a legitimate point to make.
Now my hour of daily Lenten blogging is up so I must conclude…