Sunday, May 28, 2006

Why the Success of The Da Vinci Code is a Good Thing

I read the book. Eh. I saw the movie. Eh. (Except for Ms. Tautou, of course. She's like a prettier, sexier Katie Holmes who isn't married to a famous scientologist.)

So why am I excited that it's so popular (at least in book form?) Because the majority of theists in this country accept their beliefs uncritically. The Da Vinci Code, although it's of course fiction and implausible fiction at that, has undoubtedly been the first meeting of many people with an alternate story of their religion.

It may not be true that Jesus was married, but if Christians at least ask themselves how they know that he wasn't, it'll be a step in the right direction. Maybe they'll start asking about how and when the gospels were written. I'll bet that for many Christians, TdVC is the first they've ever thought about the people who decided which books get included in the Canon and which don't. Sure most will probably just end up with even more wacky ideas, but perhaps some will decide to try to figure out what we really know about the early history of Christianity. That can only lead to good things, if only a more sophisticated mainstream Christianity.

When I was in high school, I came across the works of Tom Robbins, a fun and playful fiction writer who incorporates a lot of pagan beliefs and skepticism of the Church into his works. Although I was at no point in danger of becoming a pagan, he taught me to look at my own religion's history more critically, and that may have started me on the path that brought me here today.


asher said...

Why is the da vinci code under such scrutiny since it has been a best seller for so long? The answer is that many more people will see a movie than will ever read a book. I remember when Jaws came out....although it had been a best seller for some time, the reports of shark bites increased only after the movie. And the same for the Exorcist.

The theme of the da vinci code was explored in so many books before it. The idea of a major conspiracy of a major idea was included in:
the protocols of the elders of zion which posited that 300 jews were running the world;
the JFK murder which concluded that every person on earth was involved in the assasination and was covered up by the warren commission,
the 9/11 attack was actually the work of the mossad and bush,
we never landed on the moon,
and area 51 has aliens and an alien ship kept secret from the public for years.

this book will not bring any questioning of church doctrine any more than teaching Darwin at an evangelical school will made the students into believers of evolution.

Having not read the book or seen the movie, my question is, what did the church hope to gain by keeping this "secret"?

elf said...

Keep dreaming.

Laura said...

Asher: Even though it is fiction, to answer your question - the book addresses the concept of the divinity of Christ in that many theologians accept the fact that his divinity was invented by men at the Council of Nicea, along with many other widely held church notions. Christ being married would challenge that divinity and put forth the notion that he was just a great man.

I remember when I was at DePaul there was a professor, Dominic Crossan a former Catholic priest and theologian who did extensive research into the real life of Jesus. These theories are not new - but the DaVinci code brought them to a non-academic audience. Just like abolishing Latin made mass accessible to the masses, best-sellers make academic theories accessible as well... and for those who wish to have a monopoly on interpretation and thought - that is a scary thing.

Sadie Lou said...

There was a time when the gospel message was not preached or taught in Latin, you know.
The apostles did a great job bringing the salvation story to the masses and many were saved.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Many theologians accept the fact that his divinity was invented by men at the Council of Nicea.

No, theologians do not think that; theologians know better.

We have a fragment from the Gospel of John which is dated at 125 A.D., plus or minus 25 years. And the Gospel of John asserts the deity of Jesus unambiguously.

Whether Jesus himself claimed deity is another matter. (He claims deity in John's Gospel, but many theologians doubt that John is historically accurate.)

Be that as it may, Dan Brown is totally off the beam when he suggests that the doctrine of Jesus' deity only arose at the Council of Nicea, in the fourth century.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I think the Da Vinci Code might be advantageous to the Church, insofar as it will present an opportunity to engage people on spiritual issues.

It may also cause (a small number of) people to engage in serious study, to inquire where the canon came from and what scholars say about the historical Jesus. And that would be a good thing in my view!

But I'm afraid most people will either reject the Da Vinci Code's message uncritically (because it contradicts what they prefer to believe) or accept it uncritically (because conspiracy theories are very exciting) even though Brown is wrong about virtually everything he says.

Few people can deal with the distress that results when one raises profoundly important questions, only to discover that they can't be answered with certitude. And few people are willing to put out the intellectual effort, even if they recognize the importance of the questions.

Laura said...

Sadie: Agreed - it's only when the political power of the Empire and the clergy were joined that suppression of critical thought started.

Q: Actually, there are plenty of theologians who do question the divinity of Christ. To dismiss that by saying any "good" theologian "knows better" is doing the same thing you criticized in your last comment - to dismiss something or accept something without critical thought.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

You didn't read my comment closely enough. I agree, lots of theologians question the deity of Jesus.

But theologians don't say that the doctrine was invented in the fourth century at the Council of Nicea. They know better: even Paul's letters, written in the early 50s, present a high christology.

David said...

>>the majority of theists in this country accept their beliefs uncritically.

That's misleading even if true. The vast majory of people don't question their basic beliefs about the world. Few people care to examine their assumptions about ethics, language, science, history, politics, art, etc. Plently who identify as atheists do so because they haven't bothered to think about it. To make a statement like that about theists suggests that they "accept their beliefs uncritically" in a unique way. I don't think that's true.

Sadie Lou said...

Sadie: Agreed - it's only when the political power of the Empire and the clergy were joined that suppression of critical thought started.