Power, fear, and The Da Vinci Code

Posted on Sunday 14 May 2006

Polimom is amazed by the hysterical noise rising from Christians (of every denomination and sect) over Dan Brown‘s The Da Vinci Code. The calls for boycotts, “other-cotts”, and the huge reaction to a fictional story epitomize the “my way is the only way” thinking of religious institutions — the exact reasons Polimom rejected religion many years ago. (Houston Chronicle):

Why the fuss about a movie based on a work of fiction? Detractors have a quick answer: Brown’s facts are just plain wrong. Some call the book blasphemous, anti-Christian or anti-Catholic. They worry that moviegoers will get confused and believe much of what is said.

“And that’s putting it mildly,” said Carl Olson, a Catholic theologian and co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax. “I don’t believe we can really call it ‘just fiction.’ Even if it’s a lightweight book, there is a personal responsibility to get the facts right.”

What is it, exactly, that people fear? Surely it’s not the questions themselves… is it? Can a novel really threaten “the faith of millions”? (from WaPo)

Across the United States on Saturday and Sunday, television viewers were to be offered “The Da Vinci Deception,” an hour-long program produced by Dr. D. James Kennedy and his Florida-based Coral Ridge Ministries.

The video, also being offered for sale, exposes “how a best-selling book threatens to undermine the faith of millions,” its promotional trailer states.

Christian community leaders are releasing teaching materials for churches, to help combat the messages in the book and movie, and to leverage the world’s enormous interest into increased church attendance. It’s all very exciting (if a bit breathless), but Polimom thinks they’re totally missing something important: the most valuable debates and discussions aren’t going on in churches. They’re occurring in homes, cars, natatorium bleachers and soccer fields… everywhere and anywhere people gather in numbers greater than two.

I think it’s wonderful, but then, I have a natural tendency to question everything I’m told or read. This entire debate is normal in Polimom’s world.

Shortly after the book was released, Polimom’s DH (Dear Husband – a lapsed Catholic) and I purchased it for ourselves. We read it cover to cover, and then went after the underlying books and research that sparked Dan Brown’s imagination. We spent many enjoyable hours discussing Catholicism, the Bible, Jesus, and why the church would have indigestion over the book’s storyline. The reaction by church leaders, in fact, received some pretty serious discussion in its own right.

We engaged in spirited debate with intellectual friends, both religious and secular, and all of us welcomed the exploration.

For Polimom, though, the most positive outcome was the spark lit for Adorable Child (AC), who has voiced her desire to see the movie itself. Since it’s rated PG13 (and AC is 9), Polimom will have to screen it first, but I can already tell you that it’s highly likely she’ll be allowed to view this movie.

Why? Because it’s already generated enough serious questions and thought on her part to be enormously valuable (imho). In a recent conversation she asked, “Jesus was Jewish?” (in response to my comment about his status as a “rabbi”), “What, exactly, are the differences between Judaism and Christianity?”, and “You mean there’s a whole field of study about various religions???” (when I talked about theology).

When she fully grasped that Christianity didn’t exist until Jesus died (and rose again) she was astounded. She had already learned this, of course, but there’s a vast world of difference between being told something (and just accepting it), and wrapping your mind all the way around it. Up until that very moment, she thought the whole Bible was about Christianity. (Oops.) She just hadn’t considered who, and what, was involved with the Old Testament, and until this incredible controversy over the release of the movie, it never came up.

How are these ideas bad?

Questions are the hallmark of healthy intelligence — not just for children, but for everyone, and although a 9-year-old always asks them (I think it’s in her contract someplace), the spark has obviously been lit for millions of people the world over.

So why would churches be afraid? Since this isn’t a rejection of Christianity, but a reinvigorated discussion of religion and faith, Polimom suspect the fear is more related to perceived challenges to entrenched power… and that’s not a bad thing either, folks.

It’s obvious that minds have been opened to thoughts never considered, and from where I sit — trying to raise a thoughtful child in a world very different from the one in which I grew up — Dan Brown’s book, movie, and all the hoopla and excitement are worth their weight in gold.

That’s an awesome impact for a novel, don’t you think?

    May 14, 2006 | 1:08 pm

    I haven’t read the book and am waiting for a book review by Jon Swift to tell me all about it.

    I do wonder why religious leaders get all bent out of shape over fiction (Da Vince Code, The Satanic Verses). Could it be that they don’t want the follower to think for himself/herself? What are they afraid of? And who died and made them God anyway?

    May 15, 2006 | 1:20 am

    How does the controversy surrounding this film compare/contrast with that of another work of fiction: Oliver Stone’s JFK? Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s article.

    May 17, 2006 | 12:54 pm


    You ask an interesting question (as always) — one I hadn’t considered at all. On the surface there are a number of parallels. There are, of course, many conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I long since gave up trying to follow them.

    A person’s worldview, however, would hardly be threatened by the JFK film in the way The Da Vinci Code is purported to do.

    The funniest thing I’ve read, actually, was from a Catholic organization someplace (not sure which of the bajillion links it was…), who said that their real worry stemmed from the problem that people tend to believe everything they see or read.

    Duh. Kind of a global problem, don’t you think?

    By extrapolation, then… should only scholars and intellectuals be able view or read other (new? radical? heretical?) ideas, since they’d be more like to suspend “belief”? Since evidently the church is afraid that their sheep might follow just any old shepherd with a good story?

    May 19, 2006 | 9:09 am

    To my knowledge there aren’t any American churches or organizations calling for the movie not to be shown (although I’ve read this is occurring in other countries). And my experience is that churches are looking at this film in exactly the way you are — a tremendous opportunity. Much of the “teaching materials for churches, to help combat the messages in the book and movie” aren’t about combatting people and ideas so much as capitalizing on them as opportunities for engaging others in discussion. As you say, serious questions about these issues are enormously valuable.

    Calls for boycotts are interesting. They aren’t censorship, only economic activitism — voting with dollars. Such efforts fall perfectly in line with the ideals of a capitalistic and pluralistic democracy. The crucial distinction I would make, however, is that a boycott doesn’t necessarily mean a fear of opposing ideas, only a desire not to see a person enriched because of them.

    I, for instance, will not go see The Da Vinci Code, nor will I rent it when it’s released, nor will I borrow it from the library, for primarily the same reasons that I “boycotted” Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 — I didn’t want to pay someone for opposing ideas I support. But I also took the first chance I could to watch Fahrenheit 9/11 when I could borrow it from a friend who’d already bought it — because I wanted to consider his (pathetically ill-developed, sensationalistic) arguments. (Actually I went in with an open mind, and was quite disgusted by his hit-and-run approach.) I’ll do the same with The Da Vinci Code — I want to know what’s being discussed, I just don’t want to put my hard-earned dollars into the creators’ pockets.

    Ultimately, the great discourse touched off by the novel that you celebrate, and that should be celebrated, I believe is a credit to us and not the writer. If someone wrote a book casting aspersion on the character of a close friend that I love and admire, I wouldn’t respect that endeavor. But if it also called my friend to international attention, I’d consider that pretty neat.

    May 19, 2006 | 9:11 am

    One more thought: I’d say The Da Vinci Code has much more impact than a bomb-wearing cartoon of the prophet Mohammed — and yet Christianity’s reaction is amazingly civil. Score one for tolerance and pluralism, wouldn’t you say?

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