Friday, April 28, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Controversy

I'm going to diverge from my usual topic and talk about the book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and the movie of the same name that is to be release this month. I know that there are much more pressing and potentially exciting topics to write about, but I miss writing and I haven't had the energy to rant and rail every day about the failings of the gop and this administration. So many other people are doing a much better and more consistent job than I and I feel like talking a little fluff today.

I'm in the middle of reading this book, The Da Vinci Code, and I have to say that it is fairly exciting. I can see the appeal. Brown is hardly the first author to pose that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus and had children. He was, however, able to create an exciting story full of conspiracy, intrigue and action around the notion that there are descendents of Jesus alive today.

I admit, it is a compelling an idea. Almost as compelling as the story of Jesus as the son of God come to earth to save the human race. And the fact that Brown has weaved into his story real historical documents and real secret societies (at least one anyway) to create the penultimate conspiracy theory has brought a lot of controversy and attention to this book.

Do I think the story has any based on facts?


I was reading an article on today about the Vatican and the fact that it is trying to urge Catholics to boycott the film. Why on earth does the Catholic Church even care?

Why? Because the Church is afraid that people will think that the story is true. This really ticks me off. It makes me angry because the Catholic Church operates from the false presumption that people are stupid and cannot discern fact from supposition, which if the Church had been doing its job properly the last 2000 years about educating people in their faith, would not be an issue.

I understand that its nice to think that history has progressed in a clean even line with easily documentary facts and that the agreed upon version of events is the absolute truth. This is hardly the case. History is messy. History is the story of human interaction and the events that result from that interaction. There are somethings that are based on documentary facts. The dates people are born and died, where and when there is available documentation; the dates treaties are signed; census data; court documents, scientific data. All are some of the ways historians can find 'facts' and use those 'facts' tell the history of humankind.

The compilation of events into stories can be highly controversial. Example, everyone agrees that in the mid 19th century America had a Civil War where the southern states seceded from the union. But ask the question why the seceded and the answer is not so clear. Most people agree that the war was fought over slavery, but there are people who contend that the war was fought for state's rights, or to protect a genteel southern lifestyle. And to this day, the question of 'why' is still hotly debated.

The assembly of the Bible and establishment of Catholic Church doctrine is equally controversial, although people don't like to recognize that. Many people believe that the Bible is the direct word of God; that the person(s) who wrote the texts had God writing through them. The fact is that there were many 'gospels' circulating in the first few centuries after Jesus died. The men who assembled the Bible had the daunting task of trying to discern for themselves what was true and what was fabrication. Does that mean the versions they chose are the absolute truth? Many people think so.

There has been much controversy in recent history because of the discovery of ancient texts, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Gospel of Judas, the Gnostic Gospels and so on. These gospels paint a much different picture of Jesus than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Do these newly discovered gospels invalidate the gospels in the Bible? Do they offer us any new information about Jesus and the formation of the Catholic Church and the Christian religion? Is this evidence of a Church conspiracy to cover up the truth about Jesus?

I'm not sure that these are questions that can be easily answered with a simple yes or no. Except the last one, actually. I don't think that there was an open consirpacy to cover up the truth. I am inclined to believe that there was an earnest effort to preserve as much of the truth as possible. Were mistakes made? Probably. Does that make Jesus's story and his message any less relevant or inspiring? Absolutely not.

I actually think that these other texts are very interesting and can teach us a lot. Mostly, I think they can teach us a lot about the people who wrote them and what people at that time were thinking. Why they were buried or hidden away. I find those 'gospels' facinating from that perspective. This says to me that Jesus was such an inspirational and enigmatical figure, that people were writing about him and talking about him all over the Roman Empire and beyond, long before an 'official church' was created. His story touched a lot of people's lives in a very personal way and they went so far as to write those stories down and try to preserve them from destruction by those who thought those stories heretical. The knowledge that these texts exists or what they have to say does not diminish my faith. On the contrary, I think the existence of these texts can only strenghthen it.

What upsets me about the Catholic Church campaigning against this book is that it clearly has no faith in the people, from whom they expect absolute faith. Here are some snipets from the article about what the Vatican representatives have said:

Amato, addressing a Catholic conference in Rome, called the book “stridently anti-Christian .. full of calumnies, offenses and historical and theological errors regarding Jesus, the Gospels and the Church.” He added: “I hope that you all will boycott the film.”


Amato said the book, written by Dan Brown, had been hugely successful around the world thanks in part to what he called “the extreme cultural poverty on the part of a good number of the Christian faithful.”


In his address to the group, Amato said Christians should be more willing “to reject lies and gratuitous defamation.”

He said that if “such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust they would have justly provoked a world uprising.”

He added: “Instead, if they are directed against the Church and Christians, they remain unpunished.”

Unpunished? Dan Brown and anyone who reads this book needs to be punished? Come on, what vile and hateful rhetoric from an organization whose main premise and message is supposed to be one of love and redemption.

I don't have a problem with people reading fiction, even if it may attack long held ideas. I, quite frankly, think that people are smarter than to be swayed by a work of fiction.

I was raised Catholic. I went to public schools until I was in 6th grade and went to CCD classes during that time. I switched to a Catholic school after 6th grade and continued going to Catholic schools until I was a sophomore in college. I then graduated from a public university. And let's not forget the requesite Vacation Bible School (VBS) during the summer until I was 13!

During my lifetime, I have learned a lot about Catholicism, Christianity, Jesus and the Bible. I remember at a very young age that when God created Adam and Eve, he wanted us to choose to love him. Because God doesn't want blind allegiance. He wants us to choose to have faith.

HE wanted us to CHOOSE. What does that mean? To choose---a choice---to elect---to decide---to resolve---to arrive at a conclusion---to make up one's mind---to judge---to determine---to conclude.

To me, that means using one's mind to reach a reasoned, intelligent conclusion based on knowledge and facts and inspired by faith.

An example of this might be one's choice to go to college. Statistics show that people who go to college earn more money. Not everyone who goes to college accumulates wealth. And not everyone who chooses not to attend college will be poor. But the fact is, you stand a better chance of getting a good job if you go to college. So you look at the facts and choose to go to college and have faith in the fact that you will graduate, get a good job and make a good living. Nothing is guaranteed, but the hope of a good future gives you faith.

So, I see nothing wrong with people reading a work of fiction that questions Catholicism, Christianity or the Catholic Church.

Now, I know as a Catholic, I'm supposed to believe that the Pope is infallible. Blah. Blah. Blah. But if he really is infallible, why does he allow his spokesmen to have such little faith?

But I digress...

As far as Dan Brown's book goes. I'll finish it and put it on my bookshelf. I'll even go see the movie. I think it's a good story and very exciting. A real threat to Catholic doctrine or even anything approaching truth? Eh, I doubt it.

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