Welcome to Florida's biblical theme park
Neva Chonin (San Francisco Chronicle)
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Karl Marx once famously stated that religion was the opiate of the masses. Karl never saw a theme park. And Karl probably never, in his wildest lumpen dreams, imagined a religious theme park.
Let us trace the genesis of Karl's worst nightmare. In the beginning, there was Disney World. Disney World begat Universal Studios. Christians looked upon these theme parks and saw that they were good. And so it was, in the year of our Lord 2001, that Universal Studios begat the Holy Land Experience, a Christian theme park built in the middle of an Orlando, Fla., wasteland described by park founder Marvin Rosenthal as being "full of snakes."
Maybe the reptiles were just lining up to audition for the Eden Serpent Chorale. Four years in the making, the Holy Land Experience is an exercise in simulacrum run wild. The 15-acre, $16 million park, which opened Monday, re- creates Palestine during the biblical era: Visitors pay their $17 admission fee, obtain Holy Land passports and pass through a life-size Jerusalem Gate. They are welcomed by caftan-wearing actors bleating on rams' horns. Moving along, they encounter Roman soldiers guarding the entrance to Herod's Temple, where they listen to songs about Rome's persecution of Christians.
I hope the Program Committee doesn't decide to hold the 2011 Society of Biblical Literature meeting there.