As I read the opening paragraphs in an article in the travel section, I have to confess that I cringed. ”An Orlando theme park of biblical proportions: Holy Land Experience aims to feel a world away in the town of Mickey Mouse” begins with the following statements,
In Orlando, America’s thrill ride capital, one theme park is making a killing–twice each day, except Sundays.
At midday and again before the doors close for the evening, visitors to Holy Land Experience gather to watch a graphic reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Wearing a tattered robe and a blood-spattered face, a man portraying Christ lugs a cross on his back through a lifelike “Jerusalem Street Market” as packs of tourist in sunglasses scurry to snap photos. Mickey Mouse, this ain’t.
After reading the article, I had several reactions, none of which were all that positive. One reaction was to think, No wonder the world doesn’t take Christianity seriously when we act like religious hucksters. We put “Jesus” on everything from T-shirts to frisbees. Now, we have created an amusement park.
A second reaction was to equate the Holy Land Experience with a spiritual flu shot. People typically get a flu shot so that they don’t get the flu. You are inoculated with enough of the disease to prevent you from getting the real disease. The danger of visiting a religious amusement park is to think you’ve had a religious experience. One minister who visited the park said he felt “the consuming presence of God.” I confess I’ve had a similar experience in watching the JESUS film. But I cannot substitute a movie or an afternoon at an amusement park with actually spending time with God in his Word and in prayer. I’d be concerned that visiting the Holy Land Experience would be like eating cookies before dinner. It will take away my appetite for more nutritious fare.
A third reaction was to be reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy about what to expect in the last days. Paul wrote the following warning in 2 Timothy 3:1-5,
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (emphasis mine)
I may be old-fashioned and narrow-minded, but a religious amusement park seems to fit into the “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” category.
I love amusement parks. I would love to visit the Holy Land. But the idea of combining the two makes me cringe. It feels like one more example of “Jesus Junk.” It feels trivial and tacky.