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Ajabanistan

Comparative Religion
Theme Park

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a.k.a. "Amazing (Grace) Land"

Overview

What the world needs now is Ajabanistan! A comparative religion theme park. One physical location showcasing all the world's major religions and many of the minor ones with space for visiting religions. A great place to go and take your kids so they can see what all religions have to offer, as presented by true adherents of each faith, all in one convenient location!

This place would not be like a pantheon - it's not a place of worship (because some religions might be insulted to be located in the same facility as others). However, worship can take place there. The main purpose of the park is to enable all the faiths to present themselves and offer clear comparisons to other faiths in an entertaining, absorbing environment.

I was going to call it "Amazing Grace Land" at first, but don't want to run into trouble with the Presley estate. Of course, if the park is in the Middle East (Cradle of the worlds major religions) then there probaly wouldn't be an issue with that. Nevertheless, since "Amazing Grace" is associated with Christianity pretty exclusively, we need a name that goes beyond it, while keeping the spirit of wonder and grace intact. Hence the word "Ajaban" which means "Amazing" + "istan" which is the suffix for "place of" - (e.g., Afghanistan, Uzbekistan) will be used.

Architectural solutions to spiritual dilemmas

The goal here is to design a physical forum for constructive public discussion. We want to turn divisive believes into constructive projects.

The spiritual dilemma we are facing here is that there are many religions that purport to be the one true faith. The elements around which the architecture of a park that compares religion should be designed include: Guidance, Uncertainty, Choice, and Consequences.

Finally, an important element to construct architecturally/visually is Paradox. The park should be like an Escher drawing. It's the physical manifestation of a Mandala or a maze. You need to get lost in it. Before you can get found, or find your way.

Park Layout - Entering the Park - Religious Real Estate

The Senior VP of some entertainment corporation that controls theme parks told me that the biggest issue for a comparative religion theme park would be "real estate". I was thinking "yeah, finding the land for it will be hard", but he said that's not what he was talking about. He meant the internal real estate of the park. Each religion would want to have the prime location in the park, and their success would in part depend on that location. Location is everything. Shelf space. Just like with consumer goods. If a religion wants to have a better impact, it will want to be placed closest to the entrance. Have the nicest space.

We thus need to design a park to mitigate the real estate impact. For example, in order to prevent entrance proximity from being prejudicial, or people from feeling slighted when their religion is in the "back of the park" we're going to take a "round table" "pantheon" approach. The park will be round, radiating from the center. And that center is where the park entrance has to be. How? We can have a tunnel lead you from the parking (or the parking is underground and comes up) into the center of the park. A tunnel is good because it's like a birth canal. We can make it all spacey. Cool. Black walls. Images of the cosmos and stardust twinkling all around you. But then, you come up some spiral steps into the light and in the middle of the park, which functions as a compass.

The Compass Rose

The entrance/center of the park will be be designed as a plaza, the floor tiled with many different flagstones from different parts of the world, laid out in a mosaic. The image will be of a a multi-pointed spiraling star/compass in the center - kind of like how the "yellow brick road" starts out in munchkinland for Dorothy. The different colored bands of tile will show you which way to each faith. The compass rose plaza itself will be a neutral, quiet peaceful ground for reflection, so you can find your own bearings.

The Soul Token

At the park gates you get a "Soul token". This looks like one of those chips you get at a Las Vegas Casino. We do that on purpose. What you are about to do is gamble with your soul. We've designed the park and the token to underscore this reality. (I guess this isn't part of the architecture so much as part of the experience). First of all, the soul is yours. You are the only one who can decide what to do with it. (OK, first of all, it's just a chip. It's a representation of your soul. Don't freak out and think it's your actual soul. Don't be breaking and entering into the park to get your "soul" back. This is a meditation.

So anyway, you wander around the park. By the end of your wanderings around the park (Sunni town! Catholicville! Scientology plaza! Mormon mountain! Buddha Boulevard!) you deposit your "soul" with one religion (or keep it).

On a personal level, this has been a meditation for you on your own beliefs and committments. On another level, for the information and strategy of the religions themselves, something else is happening. Every day, we take these soul tokens and do a tally and see who won the most souls that day in the park for their religion. They get the headline in the parade at night. Or they get more resources allocated to their sector/for their works at the park or outside of it.

Market Economy model for religion

See, we're using a market economy model with religion, so in order to get bigger market share in the park, the religions will have to appeal to their followers to visit the park and have thier souls counted, or appeal to the undecided visitors and out-compete the other religions. Also, as embodied in the soul token, the choice of the religion rests with the individual. That's the only over-arching belief of the park. The park doesn't endorse any one religion over the other. We just host the market. And we promote good market practices among religions. No poor sportshmanship or anti-trust or monopoly efforts. Free and fair competition. Open access to information and comparison.

Events and attractions

A great place to take your children so they can see what all religions have to offer, as presented by true adherents to each faith, all in one convenient location. Kiosks for the smaller religions and cults. Temporary spaces for visiting special religion exhibits (e.g., tribal religions from the Amazon, visiting tribe that probably can't have a permanent presence because there are only 30 tribe members and one shaman in the whole world for that particular god). Stage space for daily debates, passion plays, and other fine orations. Crusade films and re-enactments. A central arena space for celebration of major events from each religion (seasonal - e.g., festival of colors, ramadan, christmas, hannukah, etc.) unless of course they don't want to celebrate on the same space, which is why they are fixed in sacred locations around the park.

Gift shops with all sorts of books and religious kitsch. Food (because a lot of religion has cultural roots and that means good food) Food rules (certain areas of the park can't have food during certain times - lent, ramadan, other fasting periods). Music! Chants! Incense! Animatronic representations of each faith's heaven and hell and an "it's a reincarnated world after all" ride. Purgatory! Interactive judgment day suite for you to answer questions and face up to your sins. The questions and ultimate judgment vary depending on what religion you're in. Eventually, we'll have parks in every region of the world. I have a vision.

Rules and Security

Park security will, of course, be a big concern, but I believe that it's very existence will prove that religions can exist side by side and retain their exclusive views in an atmosphere of open discussion and individual choice. The operating principle is that the individual has the responsibility to choose their view for themselves. All the religious can do is share their view and the person is responsible for their choice and afterlife is between them and god. On site psychiatric services will be available.

Comparison Matrix

We need an area for an overview and perspective of the non-spiritual aspects of religions. For example, the perception that all wars are due to religious conflict. We provide perspective on that, give the statistics. It's not that bad. For those who want to experience other religions but only through the lense of their own religion, or who want to guide thier children through but with their own religion's lense, we have guided tours by one religion of the other, or a walkman with tape recording or some such. So you can control your experience.

Transcendent Elements

I've had a lot of friends and housemates who attended Seminary. And I always ask them, what is a "spiritual experience" and how is it different from an emotional, physical or intellectual experience? I have never gotten a satisfactory answer. Perhaps spiritual experiences are more mundane than expected. Or...I think it is defined as seeing the divine in the ordinary. The eternal in the temporal. And so on. In any case, I don't know how to set up a space to ensure a spiritual experience, but that's what we're going for. We don't want this to just be an intellectual exercise. Gotta think about this.

Investors Wanted

I could go on with this. Do you want to be part of it? Help me organize, plan (including map/design) , raise money (can you say venture capital) , find a site location, recruit religions, draft an agreement governning participation in the park for religions and for visitors? And how 'bout that free speech insurance idea. Too cool.

Endorsements

Both my techno-Sufi-secular Dad and my born again Christian Mom liked the idea.

Not to be confused with "Armageddon Plaza"

Aside from Ajabanistan (which is all about comparing many religions), I have another theme park concept which is much more Christian in flavor, but probably more secular in appeal. It will exist to be a physical manifestation of the fulfillment/pre-emption of "End Times" prophecy. For example, we'll have an armaggeddon count-down booth. Showing at any given point in history how close we were/are to fulfilling the prophecies that mean God's imminent return, and all the times people prophesied and it didn't happen (Comparison note: this varies by faith, is there a hindu end of the world? Tribal religions? Bhuddists reincarnate but there is some kind of big thing for them too.)

But the centerpiece of this park will be a big throne, which will be empty, waiting for the Lord's return.

The idea is that we have set a place at the table for Jesus to come down whenever he wants to and be here with us. Please. Come. In peace. We're not going to do that "rivers running with blood thing" ourselves, but invite you to return anyway, even if we don't self destruct and start persecuting Christians. (That's a big part of the end times. The Persecution of Christians. This is great because it means that in order to put off Armageddon, all we have to do is not persecute Christians. Luckily, our world is headed towards global human rights, tolerance, freedom of religion, so I don't see this being an issue every. But "Armageddon Plaza" will really drive this home. A visual representation of the book of revelations, and suggestions for how to make a pre-emptive strike against it. And if you're not coming, then don't hold it against us. Let us get on with things and not be so worried about the end all the time.

Aren't there already plenty of Religious Theme Parks?

Yes, there are. However, those parks are each devoted to one religion (or one family of religions), and as such miss a large part of the human demographic in their appeal. What we really need is one stop shopping for all your spiritual fulfillment needs.

Really? There are others? Where?

Mostly where people of Latin descent congregate, e.g., in Brazil and Florida. Actually, I was wrong about them being devoted to just one religion. The Aparecida Magic, Cultural, Religious and Recreational Park tries to cover several bases at once. It's located in Aparecida do Norte, Brazil, a fishing town where destitute fishers pulled up a black statue of the Virgin Mary, and thereafter began to suffer untold miracles. The place has been a site of pilgrimmage ever since, and with this new park (a $70 million dollar investment by Italian and Brazilian entrepreneurs), they hope pilgrims will stay for longer and download their tourist dollars.

Spiritual Tourism

I think the Middle East needs to capitalize on its location as the start of major world religions. Instead of making religion seem scary, it needs to transform its reputation (deserved or not) to be inviting. A place where people flock to for inspiration and insight. The park is one step in that direction.

We're out talking with various religious elders to bring about consensus on Park Real Estate. We'll complete this section when we get back!


 


 

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