I’m used to hearing absurdities when I listen to conservative talk radio, but this really jarred me: today I heard “The Da Vinci Code” being compared to holocaust deniers. Geez, righties, you should at least make a halfway attempt at rational discourse.
This evening Victoria Taft interviewed Michael Chapman of the Media Research Center, which bills itself as “the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias.” He was frothing about all the Christian bashing that’s gone on with coverage of The Da Vinci Code book and movie.
Funny. I haven’t noticed it. I’ve read quite a few articles about The Da Vinci Code (and the book itself). Without exception they’ve noted that the book is fiction and that its claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a daughter is just that: a claim which neither can be proven nor disproven.
Just like the Bible itself. Almost certainly, the Bible is nearly as fictional as The Da Vinci Code. Scholars agree that there were many conflicting accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings circulating among the early Christian community. There wasn’t agreement about whether he was human or divine, resurrected or plain dead, a Jewish prophet or a harbinger of a new faith.
A few Gospels were picked out of many. Bingo, a religion was born. A fictional religion, in the same sense that second- or third- hand accounts of happenings that may or may not have occurred fifty years ago are fiction. It’s impossible to distinguish truth from untruth in such a mish-mash.
So Chapman was way off base when he said that The Da Vinci Code is to Christianity as holocaust deniers are to the killing of six million Jews. He bemoaned the fact that the media jumps all over someone who writes a book about how the holocaust never occurred, but has been giving The Da Vinci Code lots of positive press.
Earth to Michael Chapman: this is because the holocaust is an irrefutable historical fact; Christian theology, on the other hand, is entirely subjective and thus eminently debatable.
Both Chapman and Taft used the term “Christian bashing” a lot. They’d probably give this appellation to many of my Church of the Churchless posts. Well, if I or Dan Brown (two writers on opposite ends of the best seller list) were to point out that there is no evidence for the existence of leprechauns, I guess believers in Irish elves would call that “Leprechaun bashing.” Me, I call it stating the obvious.
Good Christians, you’re in the same boat as good Jews, good Muslims, and good believers of any other religion. Your faith is the only thing keeping you afloat. There’s no objective evidence that you’re floating on real water.
Dan Brown knows that The Da Vinci Code is a product of his own mind. In that sense he’s more in touch with reality than religious believers who mistakenly consider that because a holy book says “everything written here is true,” that makes it so.
Brown said something of the sort at the beginning of his book and that statement certainly hasn’t been uncritically accepted. So why shouldn’t the Bible be equally open to debate? And, yes, even bashing.
The Media Research Center notes disapprovingly that Da Vinci Code actor Ian McKellen said in an interview:
Well I've often thought that the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying, this is fiction. I mean walking on water? I mean it takes an act of faith. And I have faith in this movie. Not that it's true, not that it's factual but that it's a jolly good story and I think audiences are clever enough and bright enough to separate out fact and fiction and discuss the thing when they've seen it.Right on, Ian. Bible and The Da Vinci Code: two fictional pieces of literature. Read them both. Enjoy them both. Just don’t take them as fact. Or, too seriously.
Paranoid Christians alarmed by Christian bashing, goes to show the dangers of belief in the 'letter of the law' rather than the 'spirit of the law'.
There is an esoteric heart to Christianity, that (to me) hit its peak in Eckhart and Nicolas of Cusa amongst others. A mystical pointing towards unknowingness regarding the Absolute, with a non literal reading of scripture.
That has almost been buried under literalism and dogma that reduces anything of value in Christian teachings to the puerile, ridiculous, irrational and plain silly!
A few scholars and researchers are trying to lift the lid on this destruction of the wisdom tradition in Christianity and have tried to state the case for a 'resurrection' of gnostic wisdom within the tradition. I have particularly enjoyed, 'The Jesus Mysteries' by Timothy Freke and Peter Ghandy; 'The Christ Conspiracy' by Acharya S (somewhat New age but very to the point!) amongst many others.
Posted by: Nick | May 19, 2006 at 01:10 AM
As far as recommending that folks read the Da Vinci Code it's fair to point out that it is the second worst novel ever written (after Bridges of Madison County).
Posted by: R Blog | May 19, 2006 at 08:23 AM
R Blog, you speak blasphemy of The Da Vinci Code! My god, my god--I couldn't put the book down. It was a highly enjoyable read, in my utterly personal (but obviously utterly correct) opinion.
If there's anyone in the world who hasn't yet read The Da Vinci Code, do so. From the reviews it sounds like you should save your movie ticket money and go right to the printed page.
I agree about Bridges of Madison County, though.
Posted by: Brian | May 19, 2006 at 11:11 AM
Although fiction isn't my interest, I have Christian friends who've read it and recommend it as exactly what you described.
What's of more interest to me is the socio-religious timing. There is not only a need, but a demand for a renaissance in faith and religion. With all due respect to Brown for choosing his subject and pumping out the book, timing is the most important factor in the success of his book.
People nowadays want something spiritual, even if it's conspiratorial (perhaps, especially). The skin-deep, literal, gobbledygook of Enlightenment Christianity is like the distilling of the Passover feast down to a thirty second prayer with crackers and grape juice. Oh! That's what happened. :)
Really, this sort of book (and requisite movie with related nursery toys and action figures) is part of a thought shift that may just revive Christianity. Or, maybe not.
Posted by: bill | May 19, 2006 at 11:49 AM
I am sure that Umberto Eco covered the whole sordid affair in his book, "Foucoult's Pendulum," and on a vaster canvas. And then in a subsequent interview, he drew a parallel between this kind of occult-conspiratoid story telling in Europe and the Wild West tales in America: heroic fiction all the way.
But after all, transits of Neptune and Uranus will bring iconoclastic, (or is that icon-o-plastic?) influences.
Who wants their favorite universe shattered by popular literature? And who wants to take someone else's universe literally? In group/out group mentality has the argument built-in. If I see the predominant influence in my life is my sex, I am a sexist. If that influence is age, I am an ageist.
Personally, I like to change hats often, and will announce to my family, "Today's Resentment Is..."
Posted by: Edward | May 19, 2006 at 01:09 PM
Brian, I too enjoyed the book. Brown has a real knack for breaking the action into short, quickly read chapters, not unlike Kurt Vonnegut.
The problem I had with this book, as well as his others, is the statement in the beginning claiming the work is fiction but the societies, technology, etc. are real. That said, he has his characters pontificate on church history as if what they say is fact. It isn't, and he often gets it quite wrong. But the 'facts' are easily checked with a little effort.
The earliest New Testament canonical writings indicate at least some of the first Christians believed in the divinity of Christ. It wasn't 'decided' at the Council of Nicea as Brown has Tiebing state. (Such fanciful ideas wouldn't come into play until the Jesus Seminar). There are many such instances where he gets the history flat wrong - but it serves his plot line. It's a work of historical fiction. Christians ought to welcome the opportunity for open discussion about their faith and calmly, effectively, with the help of history, show where Brown stretches the facts.
Personally, I think Deception Point is his best work. Now if using the rumored Aurora hypersonic spyplane as a rapid transit vehicle for the main characters, flying at Mach 2, just feet above the surface of the ocean - in broad daylight - isn't stretching credibility a bit, I don't know what is. But it sure makes a good read.
I'm not about to touch the 'Bible as fiction' comment. Nor am I going to wonder why you even wanted to read Bridges of Madison County...
Posted by: Steve | May 20, 2006 at 08:27 AM
Steve, in defense of my manliness I need to emphasize that my first wife purchased Bridges of Madison County. I thumbed through it looking for explicit sex scenes and, in the process, realized what a sorry excuse for a book it was.
Posted by: Brian | May 20, 2006 at 11:47 AM
In Name of (God & State: under a cruzifix) took a german court a son his Father, because he is a catholic Priest.
Posted by: Chartaland | May 24, 2006 at 11:27 PM