Last year I was asked to do a adult Sunday School class on the Da Vinci Code inspired in part by the Rector’s observation that some people within the parish, in particular a High School student, were really eating it up. I read the book and admit that I found it to be the sort of enjoyable brain-candy one wants to read after a long day or messing with a lot of technical stuff. But I will say that I really had to work at suspending disbelief for this book. For one thing, my BA is in history with a minor in religious studies… I took several classes specifically related to the origins of Christianity, the Medieval Church etc.. and have read countless books besides and have continued my education in this area in seminary. While this doesn’t make me a definitive expert on all things, I was certainly able to discount the great majority if not all of Brown’s claims to historicity and cite precise historical details to discount them to others. Additionally, I had the benefit (if you want to call it that) of having read Holy Blood, Holy Grail prior to reading Brown’s work, so I knew his sources (and their own tendency to not allow facts to get in their way.)
All this is to say that I had a hard time taking the book seriously as a threat to people’s faith. But in preparing for that adult Sunday School class, I found multiple examples–some online and at least one in the parish–of people having their already extant bias against Christianity (or “institutional religion” as some might say) affirmed and fed, some to the extent of discounting Christianity and Christ alltogether. So I can now say that while I wouldn’t advocate banning the book as some places are doing, i certainly believe it should be challenged in the realm where it is doing damage, i.e. from the historical and theological perspective. As a book, as a work of fiction, when appreciated as such, I don’t imagine it is particularly demonic, at least in the sense that Brown was motivated by anything other than the general modern love of mammon; but because people are taking it seriously, it has to be dealt with seriously. Below is an interesting article from Radix magazine (which I admit to being ignorant of until Kendall posted another portion of this commentary) about the Da Vinci Code. Enjoy, and I encourage you to read more of it.
Finally, 11 months after its release, Laura Miller wrote an article for the New York Times Book Review entitled The Da Vinci Con, in which she pointed out the authors dependence on the notorious Holy Blood, Holy Grail and that the so-called Priory of Sion, was a hoax invented by a man who had pretensions to the French throne. Since Laura Millers essay we have seen a spate of new books critiquing DVC (see below).
Why should Christians be concerned with a book like The Da Vinci Code, which has no credibility with scholars?
(1) The book has been read by millions of individuals, many of whom have been duped by its fraudulent historical pretensions. It is likely to be read by many, many more during the next couple of years and perhaps for a decade to come. Its only fiction, of course, even though the authors prologue and his interviews with the media claim that the books historical allusions are accurate. To a historian, the claims are ludicrous. But to many people they seem as credible as any other claims they are exposed to on soap operas or talk radio.
(2) DVC reflects the Zeitgeist of the time in which we live. The part of the USA that stretches from the northwest Canadian border down to a hundred miles or so south of where Radix is published is the part of North America where people are least likely to be regular churchgoers. It is also a region where neo-paganism and new age spiritualities are flourishing, Thats why our unchurched friends are enthusiastic about DVC: it rings true to what they already believe. If we are to be effective in sharing the Good News with our neighbors, we need to know the culture in which they live and breathe.
(3) Dan Browns pretensions to careful research and the historical claims he makes are easily answered by historians:
Contrary to what is suggested by DVC, the church from the earliest days nearly universally recognized Jesus divinity, as the New Testament bears witness. It was his humanity that was more frequently questioned. The Council of Nicaea was concerned about clarifying exactly what that implied.
No one prior to the mid-20th century (Kazantzákiss Last Temptation of Christ , 1955 and William Phipps, Was Jesus Married? , 1970) ever suggested that Jesus may have had a sexual relationship with or been married to Mary Magdalene. Neither the traditions and legends about Mary Magdalene in Ephesus (the earliest) or France (medieval) nor the Gnostic texts quoted in DVC say such a thing.
Brown repeats the familiar factoid that during the Inquisition the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women. Historians would put the number closer to 25 to 50 thousand women and men, most of whom were tried and executed by the state rather than the church. In some countries (e.g., Switzerland ) more men than women were condemned. There is also a lot of evidence that in some countries both church and state resisted such attacks. (See Ronald Hatton, The Triumph of the Moon: The History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, 2000.) Its also worth noting that the neo-pagan assumption of a historical link between ancient and modern paganisms is also without basis in fact.
Some feminist scholars claim that both pagan and Gnostic Christian traditions held women in higher esteem than did/or does orthodox Christianity, but that is questionable. Evidence suggests that ancient and modern non-Christian religions, particularly those dominated by a mother goddess figure (often served by thousands of temple prostitutes), have been much less liberating for women than virtually any form of Christianity.