Theater of Cruelty

Jesus at Disney World

What happens when you exchange Mickey Mouse with Jesus and his friends?


[essay] Welcome to Holy Land Experience, a Christian fundamentalist amusement park designed to alert us that the end is near. A few minutes drive from Disney World in Florida no longer plays Mickey Mouse starring. Between the crowd of shortsighted American tourists and some Japanese, Jesus comes bearing a huge cross. Seemingly bloody, horrified and abused, he no longer manages the burden and collapses. Roman soldiers watch out for another man to carry the cross. Together they move on through the mass of photographing tourists and onto a nicely artificial mountain shaped of concrete. Then Jesus is crucified.

The scene of Jesus' crucifixion is by no means unique. This repeats every day for half past five in the Holy Land Experience theme park. By this time, paying guests have already had the opportunity to see a number of biblical events recreated. They have witnessed how Moses as an infant is placed in a basket on the Nile, they have gone through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, they have attended the wedding in Cana, they have seen Jesus heal various sick people and they have seen Jesus accused by Pharisees and scribed Jews and condemned by Pontius Pilate.

Better than the Bible!

Those who know their Bible will not only be able to nod in recognition, but at times be pleasantly surprised. As I stand below Calvary, waiting for Jesus, a lady on my cell phone speaks directly behind me: “Bless you. Now I stand at Jesus' tomb, "she tweets. «It's wonderful! It's probably even nicer than it really was. " And she is probably right, because the places that the Romans used for crucifixion were seldom the subject of extensive landscaping and meticulous gardening.

Perhaps to ensure that the audience does not find any of the biblical events tedious, they are peppered with song and dance. Skilled actors in pseudo-biblical outfits are constantly breaking out in musical songs, presenting various dance numbers that would probably appear quite foreign to the common Jew or Roman in the 100 century Palestine.

Having already been to the Holy Land Experience, there is no reason not to come back. The attractions alternate with the calendar and, just like in other theme parks, are constantly improving. For the 2007 season, for example, the Crucifixion has been enhanced with a brand new original song, "Keep the Lamb of God".

A completed concept.

American theme parks are never limited to different attractions. Theme parks, or theme parks as they are called in English, usually present a completed concept. For a short time, within a limited area, one lives in a parallel reality. At Disney World, for example, you can walk around with Mickey Mouse ears, buy Disney memorabilia of all kinds, get a hug from Donald Duck and eat Minni Mus' pancakes.

Holy Land Experience offers a similar complete experience. If you wish, you can walk around Roman plastic helmets and "The Holy Land" headgear. The latter are of such a design that one should not move far outside the amusement park if one does not want to be exposed to anti-Arab reactions.

Jesus' interaction with the audience is limited to a friendly greeting (among other things) as he goes back and forth to the various performances, as well as to some direct contact with the tourists as part of the performance. But if you want to, you can easily be pictured with Marta, the three Marys or other more peripheral biblical figures. Roman soldiers also pose for pictures with the tourists.

If you get hungry, you can buy the Apostle Paul's plate and Martha's portion "in an authentic Mediterranean atmosphere" at the local Oase Palme café. The gift shops are also full of tempting offers. Moses, Jesus and the Virgin Mary exist both as plastic figures and cloth dolls. A variety of Bible-inspired games for the whole family are offered. You can also buy "forgiven nails", in nice packaging illustrated with Jesus on the cross, as a reminder of why Jesus was crucified.

The meaning behind.

That a deeper meaning lies behind the Christian theme park is clear to most. The extent to which it is not only intended to make the visitors more Christian on a general level, but in a special way, is not as obvious.

Holy Land Experience is run by the organization Zion's Hope, which has its explicit goal of preparing all Christians for the Day of Judgment and converting the Jews to Christianity. Marvin Rosenthal, the founder and leader of the amusement park, is himself a so-called messianic or converted Jew. The money to buy the area in Orlando was given to Rosenthal by the recently deceased billionaire Robert Van Kampen, who, after earning a fortune in insurance, spent most of his time writing about how we must prepare for recent times.

To ensure that visitors have a clue as to how we should think, everyone is given a free choice between three different books by Rosenthal and Van Kampen, all explaining how to prepare for the last days when choosing between Antichrist and Jesus. The local bookstore also offers a number of other books in the same genre. If one does not cope upside down with theological admonitions, one can enjoy Van Kampen's novel of the end time, where it is embroidered how all unchristian will be punished forever. The same book also exhorts good Christians in their preparation for the end times to get plenty of crises and, most importantly, diesel-powered pickup trucks.

All amusement park presentations of Old Testament scenarios also point in a clear Christian and messianic direction. When we have demonstrated what the books of Moses say about the ark of the covenant (the one from the first Indiana Jones movie) and the sacrificial cult, we hear the voice of Moses stating that all this sacrifice is only to be understood as a test of the final sacrifice, when God will sacrifice his son forever in the crucifixion. This in itself represents a strong interpretation, for the Bible's Moses has no idea about neither Jesus nor the Messiah.

Happy ending.

It's closing time soon. Jesus has died on the cross, been taken down and buried in the grave. The hired actors stand around the tomb and sing sad songs. For those who do not remember the Bible so well, this does not seem like a particularly uplifting experience.

What happens in a few minutes is a contraction of the three days of the gospels. One of the women in Hollywood biblical ways goes to the grave, only to find that it is empty. Jesus is no longer there. He is resurrected. And he certainly does not reappear right where he was crucified, in new fine chalk white garments and an equally dazzling smile. More song and joy. Happy ending.

Now that Jesus is resurrected from the dead, visitors can leave the amusement park with good courage. The park closes in a few minutes. Some tourists buy a last ice cream of milk and honey on their way out. Other small talk with different biblical figures, others can be photographed with the Roman soldiers as just before the crucifixion of Jesus. And tomorrow, Jesus is crucified, dies and resurrected. About half past five. Just off Disney World.

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