Friday, May 12, 2006

Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code

23But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:23-26


Ok, I've been holding off on commenting on The Da Vinci Code until I felt that I could clearly express my thoughts. Well here goes.

First, the book is in bookstores in the section labeled FICTION

fiction. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
...The act of inventing such a creation or pretense. 2. A lie. 3a. A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact....

Therefore, even though The Da Vinci Code revolves around the most sacred Christian figure, Jesus the Christ and his relationship with Mary Magdalene, the story was published as a work of fiction. And while many works of fiction involve elements of historical fact ( such as the works of Leon Uris, James Michener, John Jakes, etc.), the story lines stem from an individual's imagination.
Second, no person that professes the Christian faith and studies the teachings of Christ should be threatened by a work of fiction. Conversely, it is highly unlikely that most non-Christians will be so greatly influenced by this book/movie that it will change their view of Jesus and/or Christianity. After all, most people will recognize that this is a work of fiction like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. And,
if anyone was actually buying into the conspiracy premise, National Geographic's special "Breaking the Da Vinci Code" did an excellent job in pointing out all of the fallacies in Dan Brown's story.
Third, all of the people that believe that Jesus had a more intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene than traditionally portrayed in the gospels, wanted to believe that long before Dan Brown published the Da Vinci Code. And even if the book had never been published there will always be those that share that belief.
Fourth, fictions about scions of Jesus are not new. Somehow Christianity survived the 1999 release ( and on-going popularity) of the movie Dogma. Is it because Dogma was a comedy and The Da Vinci Code is a thriller that the latter is perceived as a threat to the faith?
Fifth, the most frightening thing about The Da Vinci Code is not the book/movie but all of the whoopla from the Christian community railing against it. The truth is that if we ( and I include myself) were truly living lives that reflected Jesus Christ to the world we would not have to spend as much time trying to tell others what not to believe in.
Finally, the same principle applies to all of the sermons warning parents not to let their children read Harry Potter books. These sermons are often preached by and to audiences of adults that grew up watching talking cartoon animals, Snow White, Cinderella, men that flew through the air empowered by earth's yellow sun, and believed in the tooth fairy. Yet somehow they all grew up, heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and believed.
Well, these are just my thoughts.
P.S. I've read quite a few commentaries on this whole Da Vinci Code debate. Among the absolute best are those of Pastor Mark D. Roberts. The following is just one of his commentaries.

Opportunity #4: The Empowerment of Women in Orthodox Christianity (Section A)
Part 25 of series: The Da Vinci Opportunity
Posted for Friday, May 5, 2006

When I was in college I learned that Christianity was a patriarchal religion. This was not intended as complement by those who spit out the word "patriarchal" as if they had just tasted spoiled fish. Patriarchy, the word refers to a society in which men have ultimate authority and women are largely subordinate, was considered to be one of the world's great evils. The rule of men over women, we were told, had stripped women of their dignity, freedom, and individuality. The Christian church, perhaps more than any other human institution, promoted and perpetuated patriarchy, and was therefore misguided at best, and permeated with evil at worst.

That Christianity has been patriarchal for most of its history is mostly true, whether you like it or not. The popes, after all, have been exclusively male. (Well, okay, there's a story about Pope Joan, but it doesn't have much basis in fact.) The word "pope" actually comes from the Greek word pappas, which was a child's word for "papa." In the Eastern Orthodox Church the highest leaders are called, appropriately enough, patriarchs, and their regions of authority are called patriarchates. You can't get much more patriarchal than this!

What has been true of the highest levels of the institutional church has also been true of most individual parishes, which have been headed by male priests, ministers, bishops, and elders. Though women have been active in these patriarchal churches, they have usually not exercised broad leadership, with their official authority limited to ministries with women and children. (Unofficially, women have often had much more power than it might seem, but this is another story for another day.)

Although there's a lively debate among Christians today about the extent to which patriarchy is essential to Christianity, and though most churches, no matter which side they take in this debate, have sought to empower women in various ways, the "patriarchal" label still gets applied with disdain by many critics both within and outside of the church. So, when a novel comes along that appears to raise the status of Mary Magdalene, and in so doing empowers womankind in general, this novel has intrinsic appeal among those who dislike Christian patriarchy. Moreover, when this novel advocates "the sacred feminine" and criticizes the church for its sexism, it resonates with our contemporary Zeitgeist. Thus, fans of The Da Vinci Code herald it as pro-Mary and pro-woman. The empowerment of women is to be found in Mary-Magdalene-inspired worship of the sacred feminine, not in the patriarchal shackles of Christian orthodoxy.

Here are some of things that Dan Brown, speaking through Sir Leigh Teabing, has to say about women and Christianity:

"The Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church. The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. . . ." (p. 238)

Of course, according to The Da Vinci Code, Mary was not merely the one into whose hands Jesus entrusted His Church. She was also Jesus's wife and the mother of His child. In this unique role she is the Holy Grail, the ultimate symbol of the sacred feminine.
In the next few parts of this series I will address the question of Mary's marriage to Jesus and examine the way she is portrayed in the earliest Christian documents. (I will not duplicate what I've done in a more expansive form in my series Was Jesus Married?, but instead provide a succinct summary.) I will also make a few observations about the empowerment of women in the early church. But before I finish today's post I want to note a couple of ironies about the portrayal of Mary Magdalene in The Da Vinci Code.
Irony #1 – The scene in which Sir Leigh Teabing reveals the secrets of Mary Magdalene and the sacred feminine seems on the surface to empower women. This is true if you note the content of Teabing's revelation to Sophie Neveu. But if you note the rhetorical structure, a far different impression emerges. Sophie is the classic ingénue: uninformed, naïve, easily impressed by men who claim to have lots of knowledge. Though she's a police cryptologist who should receive Teabing's claims with due skepticism, she devours them hook, line, and sinker. Thus I would argue that the characterization of Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code novel is rather classically sexist. It will be interesting to see if she is empowered a bit more in the movie version of the story.
Irony #2 – Secular feminism has fought a long, hard battle against stereotyping women according to their sex. In this fight, feminists have argued that women should not be looked upon as sex objects, and should be set free from the traditional roles of wife and mother. So along comes Mary Magdalene in The Da Vinci Code, the new poster child for feminism. But why is Mary special, according to this book? Not because she was a committed disciple of Jesus. Not because she helped support Him financially (Luke 8:1-3). Not because she was exhibited far more courage than the male disciples by following Jesus to the cross. Not because Jesus chose her to be the first "evangelist" of His resurrection. Not because she has exemplary wisdom, as in the Gnostic gospels. No, none of this. In the story of The Da Vinci Code, Mary is special because she is a wife and mother. She is significant precisely because she has what secular feminists have been working so hard to say doesn't really matter.
In light of these two ironies, it would seem that feminists should be critical of The Da Vinci Code for perpetuating sexist stereotypes. But, strangely enough, such is not the case.

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