Having spent the last three weeks in London, I’ve discovered that a significant portion of its attractions are places of worship, built to glorify and celebrate God. While they do carry some importance to the evolution of some Christian beliefs and practices today, they don’t give a lot of insight into the beginnings of Christianity. Where did the Bible come from? What was Jesus’ life like? What did he do?
Leave it to the Americans to turn Jesus into roadside attractions. Faith-based “theme parks” like the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida are proving quite popular amongst a growing number of tourists. Debbye Turner from CBS’s The Early Show recently reported (VIDEO) on some of these attractions and they seem to be increasing in popularity. According to research by the National Tour Association in 2009, religious trips are up 10% in the previous three years. It’s definitely a growing trend.
The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky is a high production value attraction that illustrates the origins of our world based on a “young earth creationist” interpretation of the Book of Genesis. While this is not the most popular understanding of how humans got their start on Earth, it certainly shares some common elements and would provoke critical thought from many of the museum’s visitors.
The museum features elaborate walk-through dioramas of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, depictions of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, and a creationist-correct planetarium. Despite its more controversial interpretations of the Bible, it has been an immensely popular attraction since it opened, greatly surpassing projected attendance figures. The museum’s mission is to glorify God, educate Christians and inspire them to share their beliefs with the world. While I think the museum does this very well for Creationists, it leaves many other Christians with a weird taste in their mouths.
A less controversial attraction, The Holy Land Experience allows visitors to step back in time to experience Israel in the time that Jesus would have been there. The experience is truly immersive, featuring a bustling Jerusalem street market, the Calvary Garden Tomb where Jesus’ body was laid to rest, a Last Supper Communion (dine for the last time with Jesus!), and daily crucifixion re-enactments.
The Holy Land Experience has the advantage of location, being just a few miles away from other top Orlando destinations including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and Sea World. Vacationers may come for the larger attractions, but may be persuaded to spend a day at the HLE. The attractions and shows with in the park do a great job of bringing stories from the Bible to life. But does that enhance one’s beliefs? One could argue that understanding the stories and struggles of people in the Bible help a believer to empathize better, and have a better understanding of where their faith comes from. Whether it strengthens visitors’ beliefs of not, it’s always comforting to be vacationing with a crowd of like-minded people, regardless of faith.