Holy Land Experience

IMAG4422Only in America would you find a theme park dedicated to fundamentalist Christianity, and only in Orlando, the tourism capital of the world, could that experience be so strange that even now, 3 days after my visit, I’m still at a loss for words.  Well, almost.  The Holy Land, holy-roller style, is at once a museum, a theater, a Bible store, and a living reenactment of events in and around Jerusalem circa 33 AD.

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The brainchild of Marvin Rosenthal, a cradle Jew who is now a Baptist minister, the Holy Land is an over-the-top experience in what happens when evangelism meets show business.  Here, you can see Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, anguish over His Passion, and even root for Him as he fights the Devil in Hell (including, and no I am not making this up, a ten-count from the evil “referees”).   You can hear a modern day minister praise God or watch a whimsical show about Daniel in the lion’s den.  And you can enjoy a fountain/light show set to music, just like at Disney, only smaller.

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But the entertainment isn’t limited to the live shows.  The kids can enjoy “Smile of a Child Adventureland”, where they can fight with rubber swords and climb rock walls.  The adults can enjoy the architecture, which mimics the Temple of Jerusalem, the Bethlehem bell tower, the birthplace of Jesus, and the Qumran Caves.  And everyone will be able to partake of the awful food, which is so bland and uninspired that even the birds refuse it.   Guests are encouraged to use the greeting “Shalom” by actors in period costumes as they stroll the immaculate grounds.

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The crown jewel of the Holy Land Experience is the Van Kampen collection of ancient manuscripts, which is indeed world class.  Here, you are herded through different eras of the written word, beginning with Sumerian cuneiform stone carvings and continuing on through Egyptian papyrus to 3rd century Biblical texts written on animal hides.  A voice track accompanies you as you marvel at an original Guttenberg Bible and a blood stained manuscript from an English martyr, and wonder at the intricate detail of hand-illumined 12th century monastic text written on cotton leafs.  Erasmus, Luther, Wycliffe, and first editions by John Bunyan are represented.  Ancient writings in every conceivable language from high Church Slavonic to Latin are here.  It’s an amazing collection, and I’m glad to say it’s presented without any of the bizarre showmanship of the rest of the park but rather with a degree of respect and gravity that surprised me.

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But there is serious intent with some of the other park events as well.  If you so choose, you can be baptized and even take Communion with “Jesus” here as a Last Supper participant.  And this is where I have to say I was deeply disturbed.  The day I went to the park, “Communion” took place every 15 minutes, assembly line style, for hours at a time.  If you think this rite is nothing more than sharing some grape juice and stale bread with fellow believers, then I guess it’s pretty harmless.  But that’s not the way it’s presented, and frankly the idea of an actor in a Jesus costume administering this holy ritual in a banquet hall full of tourists smacks of sacrilege rather than fun, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to trivialize the most important Christian ceremony in such a cavalier fashion.  Some things should be approached with a degree of trepidation and awe that is missing when you’re a bit actor in an amateur play.

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Entrance fees are $40.  If you go, and I recommend you do at least once, bring your own food (good advice in almost any theme park) and a sweater.  Due to the fragile nature of the books on display in the Scriptorium, they keep it pretty cool.  I could actually see my breath at one point.

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This place isn’t for everyone. It’s designed for American Fundamentalist Christians for the most part as a sanctuary from the secular entertainment that pervades our culture today, and the other guests, from what I could see, were delighted by it.  One man effused (unsolicited) to me “Hallelujah, a place where we can be ourselves”, and a woman confided she’d come to the park every year since she was 5.  I myself am off put by too many things to happily come here again.  In the gift shop, for example, you can buy a print featuring a muscular Messiah in the boxing ring, on the ropes, wearing trunks.  His handsome visage peers out at you with a look of…what?  I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s redemption.  Have these people no shame?  Jesus, the King of the Ring?  All of the baby Jesus’ (and most of the adult versions) were blonde-haired, blue-eyed men, while the oldest icons of Christ show that he, like most Israelites of that era, actually had very dark hair, an olive complexion, and brown eyes.  And then there is the Communion issue.  If you are orthodox in your beliefs, these things will turn you off….but it’s still worth it to get a glimpse into history.   If you are a Sola Scriptura believer, though, you’ll probably have the time of your life. You can “do” this small place easy in one day and it doesn’t wear you out.   So go and enjoy, but please…let’s allow Jesus to keep his robe on, shall we?

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7 Responses to Holy Land Experience

  1. K says:

    I try to follow the Orthodox Christian teachings to not judge others. Not to be negative or to condemn. To always look at the bright side. To be thankful. Thankful in that at least these are Christians! At least they love Christ. They might be in error. They might be downright tacky. They may even be guilty of blasphemy. I should not assume ill will. Should not assume bad intent, but instead, perhaps just ignorance. I try, but I fail. What can I say? I’m far from the perfect Christian. I can’t help by shake my head at this. Brightside, brightside I say! At least they are “brothers” of sorts, unlike say some Jews who urinate on images of Christ and the Ever-Virgin Mary and consider it entertainment on HBO. A past version of myself would probably be declaring these people as heretics or heathens. Now, I’m justifying them as tolerable by comparing and contrasting to the scum of the Earth.

    Christ is Love. However, Christ wasn’t an “everything goes, I’ll love you” kind of guy. He said it how it was, and put a few people in their place in His time. That said, yes – they ought to draw a few lines and perhaps give what is the most sacred aspect of our Christian religious practice more respect.

    With the world rotting its way in a race to the bottom – filled with crime, smut, degeneracy and all manners of debauchery and filth, how can I complain? I will say this though, Orthodoxy is unfortunately the best kept secret out there. Crave a truly spiritual experience? Crave that history, the TRADITION of the APOSTLES? Have a need to know, see and feel something original, whole, ancient with a direct lineage to Christ Himself? That is the Orthodox Church. Pick one, any one. While there may be many thousands of diocese and churches, with millions of followers across the world. None of the churches run by any central authority (other than the Authority of Christ) – they ALL have exactly the same teaching. The same faith. That itself is a miracle. It is the very proof that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. A Church that legitimately traces back to Christ. A Church with true Grace. What other church can claim this? None. Zero. We Orthodox cannot even take credit either, because it certainly isn’t ourselves who make it so. Far from it. We are sinners like anyone else. It is the Holy Spirit that is the glue that keeps it all together – spiritually. Keeping the faith. Keeping the truth. Economically, financially, governmentally, ethnically divided up? Sure. To each his own. Spiritually – identical. That is miraculous. No other possible explanation. No where in human history, nor in human works or nature has any kind of consistency like that exist or existed.

    If Christians want to see what Christianity was like in its earliest days – I suggest they visit a monastery. If they want to know Christ, they should read and study the Holy Bible for themselves, with the guidance of a spiritual father. Not listen to the cut-and-paste verse ramblings of a televangelist who is appealing to emotion, rather than sharing the Word. Don’t think for a moment Orthodox clergy are some one-dimensional preachers. Most are well-educated. Many have PhD’s or Masters of philosophy, psychology, engineering of all sorts and so forth and so on. These are people you can sit with and have a serious discussion, exploring ideas. Debating the ideas. They will always show and teach the truth – but are flexible enough to be practical and human. Not some zealots. These are real people, with the same questions and wonders as us. Christianity IS intellectual.

    Anyway, the great tragedy is that Orthodoxy is in a way a secret. I truly believe there is a big market for it. I hate to use the term market, but there is a demand for it. Too many people I meet and see have a void. A spiritual void. They are missing something. They keep looking and looking. Orthodoxy is missing from the lives of many people. I try to point them there, but it’s a journey. Orthodoxy is not an acquired taste. It’s more like a book that you need to start reading to really appreciate, rather than just the cover or a few pages.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Klepht, you old dog-it’s good to hear from you! It’s been too long. Years and years!

    Anyway, thanks for the comment. I can only say we are in complete agreement. I am glad that you suggested people study the Bible with guidance…indeed, it is quite dangerous not to.

    Thanks for visiting, and i hope to hear from you again! Say hello to all for me at FSZ if you still inhabit the place.

  3. K says:

    I no longer hang in those cesspools. Although, we did have some good times. I’ll stop in every great once in a while and rattle the cages. I can’t help it, I do like to throw gas on the fire sometimes. It’s fun. Those forums, the best analogy I can think of to describe them is coffee. The coffee got made, and all that is left is some old, nasty, dried out bitter grounds.

    🙂

    PS, I’m not that old!

  4. Jonathan says:

    Ha! Good analogy on the coffee grounds. Totally agree. My outlook on life improved dramatically when I left…it was like I’d beaten an addiction. Maybe we should start an Internet Anonymous organization?

    Old boy was just an expression, K. Where’s your sense of humor?

  5. K says:

    I know it’s just an expression, I’m just kidding around. Addiction? Yes, I think everyone was at some point.

    I think that perhaps early on, from DR – I could say it did play a role in being a downer on me for a little bit. But that’s because things were right near that downhill slide. It was a crappy decade. I used it for entertainment. To vent and whatnot. And I did have some world-class rants, as well as some scathing ultra-hostile vents. I’ve looked back at times and I both laugh and am shocked by some of the things I’ve said. But I still keep the vast majority of those opinions and ideas.

    What is interesting is that no matter how much better things get, there are those who have committed themselves to a downer world view. There is a market place for gloom and doom. Some of them I believe are genuinely depressed or worse. Others adherents of misery loves company.Some found their identity in it, which is tragic. They don’t know what else to think, do or say! One-dimensional. It was very apparent when “fun” topics would come up on sports, cooking or whatever else other than crashing markets or global doom, and you could tell by who had input or things to share, and those who did not. No, it wasn’t they were shy. These were some dark people.

    What annoyed me most was that at least at one point in time there was this small respect for quality and that little respect had then gone. There was some real diamond in the rough kind of stuff. That got trampled. Like others before me, I began to retract and decline the posting of interesting observations, ideas or comments. At some point, while it’s all just internet BS, one must admit it is a commitment of time and some effort was put into these words. A lot of great material was literally being wasted. We used to have a lot of very intelligent, interesting people. Hence my analogy. All the good is used up or gone, and nothing but the trash and crazies left behind.

    The blogosphere, vlogosphere, youtube world and facebook have pretty much killed the web-forum. I knew this in 2006 at least. Forums are now all specialty places focused on single subjects. They are ideal for enthusiast and special interests.

    I don’t write enough, nor often enough to maintain a blog of my own or contribute either. Plus, I don’t really have any desire to be heard much – except to perhaps a few people I feel like communicating to. You’re definitely one of them because you are a great person in many ways, and I respect you.

    Ironically, I’m fairly long-winded for a guy who doesn’t want a blog of his own…lol.

    Anyhows, this place is great for you because you can say what you want and it is preserved and the format gives it the dignity it commands. It isn’t lost or wasted in a sea of childish nonsense.

    Your words, whether just words on travel, some thought of the day, something funny, something political – or a serious commentary- whatever it may be, simple or deep, short or long, doesn’t matter – they have value. They are worth something. Whether seconds, minutes or even hours spent on them – an investment of sorts is there. There is value there for others, those who read and share. The words deserve better, and it’s good to see the words in a place more fit for them.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for your kind words, K. Greatly appreciated.

    I agree about both FSZ and DR. The trouble with no moderation is that the comments become…immoderate. 🙂 Certainly the quality was always sporadic at best, but even though we had looney tunes, freaks, crazies, etc.-at least it was a place where people spoke their true mind.

    The only mainstream outlet where the commenters are close to being as free is Taki’s Mag. You might want to check it out. Disqus does moderate, but they use a pretty light hand.

  7. Reyes says:

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every
    day. It will always be helpful to read articles from
    other writers and use something from other websites.

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