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Some positive and some new things in “The Da Vinci Code”

The Positive thing about “The Da Vinci Code” is what its success has shown: that even in Europe many people are eager to know the Truth, and concretely, Truth related to religion. The New thing, however, is that false ideas with respect to Christianity are having an immense echo in Europe, preached moreover by a non-European. I will explain in the following article my reasoning concerning the above statements.

The Positive Things
Westerners, and in particular us Europeans, who frequently claim to know everything, have discovered that we are ignorant. Or perhaps better said, we have discovered that cultural nihilism is not what the people want. After World War II, in my opinion, our politicians – perhaps even before and to a greater degree “our” cultural and religious leaders – experienced a tremendous fear with respect to the Truth. This was not a vain fear, since it proceeded from the disasters caused by Nationalism.

But it was an error for people to tire of seeking after Truth, no matter how much someone (i.e. Hitler) took advantage of the eagerness of justice by their peoples to commit horrible crimes. The fact is, that Europe – to avoid saying the West, or for that matter the world at large – decided that the only Truth that would exist, is that there would be no Truth, and it was necessary to impose the dogma of tolerance. To the point, where in social gatherings, or manly get-togethers, it is prohibited to speak of religion and bullfighting (and in some cases soccer), with the result that the meetings are lacking.

But there is a country where it still is legal to speak about God: the United States, and it is from there that Dan Brown comes to us to tell us about Christianity, and revealing that everything that has been taught to us for the past two thousand years was an enormous fabrication, and that he, is going to tell us the truth.

Some people will think that this is not true, that “The Da Vinci Code” is just a work of fiction, that only suggests certain things, and in the end every person can think what they want. In effect, part of the novelty of the book – and the future movie – is its sweetness. But Mr. Brown believes what he tells us, and he tells it in a manner or style to be believed, after all he is a writer, and not a TV-evangelist. His objective is to convince the reader that it is the reader who is making the decisions, which will lead to the conclusion that: Mr. Brown is to be more trusted than the Gospels; or to accept that what the Church teaches is just one version amongst many; or that Mr. Brown’s version and none of the others is believed; or in any case that the version that the Church presents is not authentic. Let’s see what Mr. Brown says on his website FAQ:

“While the book’s characters and their actions are obviously not real, the artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals depicted in the novel all exist (for example, Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings, the Louvre pyramid, the Gnostic Gospels, Hieros Gamos, etc.) These real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters. While it is my belief that the theories discussed by these characters have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters´ viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations. My hope in writing this novel was that the story would serve as a catalyst and a springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith, religion and history.”

Mr. Brown’s merit must be granted with respect to his having had success in causing people to recognize that religion is something important. But, although I don’t dare tell the readers what he must do (I am, after all, a European) I do note that Mr. Brown: considers his theories – those of his characters - meritorious, to the point where the reader must explore these viewpoints. Well, I am not going to say that I am not interested in what Mr. Brown thinks, but I do think we can ask ourselves if other people, perhaps not less prepared, said something interesting about these questions.

What is not New, and other Reasons for the Success of The Da Vinci Code
The “merit,” or better yet, the reason for the success of “The Da Vinci Code” is not because of the author, but rather thanks to his readers. The public is truly thirsty for the Truth, or they just want to be entertained, and the current cultural mess that envelops Europe does not satisfy us. Most of what is written in Europe is going to lose out when compared to Dan Brown, above all if it tries to explain the Christian religion to people that want to learn about the Truth, and to not simply reaffirm their lack of faith.

The author of “The Da Vinci Code” simply does not try to explain his vision of Christianity - that would not be enough for it to be successful. What is more, he does hold religious beliefs, and he tries to demonstrate them in an attractive manner that is more or less convincing. This is relatively new – compared to the imbroglio that we are used to finding in Europe, and is one of the reasons for this book’s success – along with there being a lack of competition. But as I said, this does not seem to me to be the primary reason for its success, not even its principal novelty.

Clearly though part of the book’s success is related to the cultural and economic power of North America. The publishing company of “The Da Vinci Code” distributed 10,000 free copies on Amazon, something that not too many European publishing companies have the ability to do. But this still does not guarantee success: if you take junk, and distribute 10,000 copies free, the rest will often have to be written off.

The success of “The Da Vinci Code” could either be a fleeting one or not, I do not have the capacity of guessing the future since I do not work in marketing. But with respect to where there is something new, or not so new, regarding Christianity, yes, I can comment.

That “The Da Vinci Code” claims that Jesus Christ is not God, but rather only a man, is not new. There have been many people throughout history, from those who condemned him to die, to the Gnostics that considered him to be an angel or a demiurge, to the Arians who claimed to be Christians, to Mohammed, who considered Christ to be a prophet, etc. … Even Christ manifested this diversity of opinions, when he asked his disciples who did the people say that he was, precisely so that despite what others said, he could make the affirmation that he was God.

Therefore, “The Da Vinci Code´s” claim that Jesus is not God is nothing new: Unless we accept what the book’s author says, that the Catholic Church has such power that it has been able to cover-up these opinions, until now when Dan Brown has been able to revive them.

To claim that “The Da Vince Code” dismantles the greatest conspiracy in history, a conspiracy that has lasted for two thousand years, seems to me to assume that its readers have little culture or education. To claim that the opinion that Christ is not God has been silenced is an insult to Muslims, who are more than 1 billion, and who do not believe in the divinity of Christ. There are many other religions that to do not believe in Christ’s divinity, nor that he was a prophet: from Hinduism to Shintoism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is widely known that the Catholic Church has had limited influenced in China, and not many, quite the opposite, people there believe that Christ is God.

Naturally, Dan Brown does not claim that the Catholic Church is the supreme power in the world and that it wishes to silence all critics: The Catholic Church’s power reaches to Catholics, to whom, according to Brown, they propagate a message that is false. And given that he does not want to accuse hundreds of millions of people of being idiots, or that they have been submitted to this belief in a manner so violent, or a manner much more subtle, he argues that they have been deceived by means of a formidable conspiracy. Where the elements of this tyrannical power or hidden truth would in centuries past been held by powerful emperors, inquisitional monks or friars, in more recent centuries has fallen to the Jesuits, and lately to Opus Dei.

Conspiracies and Inquisitors: Miracles and Martyrs
Dan Brown did not live in Israel twenty centuries ago, nor is it possible to find documents claiming Christ did not perform miracles. So then, in my opinion, this resorts to the following syllogism, which is a partial truth: We can all recognize the Truth, meaning it is not required to use violence to spread the Truth. Meaning, if somebody resorts to violence to spread the Truth, that which is spread is not the Truth.

The problem with this argument is that it is not only bearers of falsehoods that use violence. This argument, in my opinion, is just as false as the claim that it takes two to have a disagreement (or fight), and only happens because both parties wish it to happen. Napoleon invaded Spain without provocation; Hitler unjustly invaded several countries in which some did not resist (Denmark), others did (Poland, France) and another one (Russia) was preparing to attack the germans. In all but the last of those invasions, one party did not want to fight, and in some cases some did fight, although they did not want to, but they decided to defend themselves.

In various ages there have been various religious arguments urging military-political wars. But it would seem that the key to this lies in the era when Rome fell at the hands of the Visigoths and there were some people who reproached the Christians for not fighting and defending Rome. As an outcome of this criticism, Saint Augustine used the occasion to develop the doctrine of Just War, which argued that while one can personally be resigned to accept death, as in the case of Christian martyrs, it can also be obligatory for members of society to fight to defend the social order – even when the social order appears to be threatened by religious elements. According to Saint Augustine, this also pertains to instances when authorities are Catholic or Christians, and the invaders hold beliefs contrary to that of the threatened nation: as truth cannot prevail against violence, it holds, according to Saint Augustine, that the authority corresponds to the Church, and not to the civil power, which only fights to defend the social order, and not the purity of the faith.

Naturally there have been civil powers that have appropriated titles, such as Defender of the Faith, to gain power and prestige, or in other cases by a sincere eagerness to defend the right of its subjects or citizens to live their faith freely. But, in the moment in which somebody has tried to condemn another person for his faith, and not because it might have been actually fomenting social injustices, or has tried to violently impose the Catholic faith, then that person is acting against the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. The Church has not only condemned these abuses, but it, via Pope John Paul II, has also in recent years requested forgiveness of such past actions as some people who did commit such acts were (at least nominally) Christians, and to make it clear that this is neither the doctrine, nor the authentic practice of Christ’s faithful people.

Certainly the first Christians were impressed by Christ’s miracles, but they did not force others to believe in them, not even those that personally witnessed the miracles were led to act violently against others. If Jesus had wanted to use miracles to force people to believe, then he would have performed miracles when the Pharisees asked him to do so – apparently they were willing to believe- or when Herod asked, or Pilate, and to defend his cause, he would not have asked Peter to have sheathed his sword when they arrived to take him away.

Christ was opposed to violence, but he did not oppose those who believed that he was God when they called him the Son of God and the Pharisees protested; he said that if they were quieted, then the stones would speak. If in society, somebody tries to impose their faith by force – or unjustly impede its practice – all people who are conscious of and respect human rights must resist such forms of aggression…. even a society which population is primarily catholic has this right.

Therefore, Christ claimed to be God, and whoever denies that fact cannot claim to be a Christian, despite what Brown argues. For Brown, Jesus is not only not God, but he is a second-rate leader, since not even his first followers, who accused the Jewish authorities of having killed the Author of life, were faithful to his message.

All of this, I must say, is as old as the first heresies that arose from within Christianity, and from the first criticisms coming from outside of the faith. The relative newness of Brown is, it seems to me, adding both things: to dress simultaneously as both an “insider” and an “outsider.”

The New Things About The Da Vinci Code: Insiders and Outsiders
I suspect that Dan Brown, despite having traveled, has a mental universe that does not go far beyond the physical borders of the United States. And it seems to me that it is there that lies the “newness” of “The Da Vinci Code”: that it introduces to readers, who may have been or are Christians, including Catholics, a way of thinking that is typical of the “Made in USA” philosophy. Where Truth is defined by the status of the person who is claiming to be (apparently) a Christian, and what is more, he comes from the “most Christian country in the world”.

Brown is not the first person who has had success in telling Christians something different from that which Christ said, and selling it as if it were Christianity, but it is possible that he is the first American who has globalized the selling of his product, and packaged his product as if it were more genuine than the much more rancid form of Catholicism.

In the past, there was the phenomena of people arriving to countries and claiming to be Christians, but who were not so, such as the Germanic Arians. But in no place was there a massive passing of Catholics to Arianism: all who heard the Arians speak realized that they had only heard the partial truth of Christ. Later came the Muslims, who were also not Christians, but whose image of Christ as a prophet is essentially the same as Brown’s. In this case, the difficulties with respect to “normal life” (we are not going to talk about the aspect of violence) led many people to convert to Islam. And much later came Luther, who was originally Catholic – he could not be accused of being uneducated, such as the Arians or Gnostics – and always believed in the divinity of Christ, if at least subjectively.

It can, however, be questioned if Luther’s faith with respect to the divinity of Christ was coherent, since he considered that the Church, founded by Christ, was not faithful to his message. Or in other words, that Christ, being God, did not have sufficient power to avoid the Church “turning wild.” In his role as a reformer, Luther placed himself above the institution, which he did not deny was founded by Christ. At least Luther was an authentic “insider.” He was not the first person to be expelled from the Church for preaching doctrines that tried to revise that which Christ said.

Dan Brown is an outsider because he is not a Catholic: but he intends to tell Catholics what they should believe. In this way, he also intends to be an insider. He says he is a Christian, in fact more Christian than the Catholics. How should we respond to this?

A response to Dan Brown´s readers
I do not have anything in particular to advise Dan Brown, other than he stops his marketing campaign, and given that I suppose he has earned enough money, admit that he is not a Christian. I am more interested in saying to the possible readers or interested persons with respect to the subject that “The Da Vinci Code,” because this religious preoccupation to me does appear to be important.

With respect to Dan Brown’s historical errors there have been sufficient responses from authors like Carl E. Olson or Michael Gleghorn, and regarding his errors with respect to Opus Dei there have responded numerous authors. I want to respond to only one question: Is there such a thing as “cafeteria Christianity?” Specifically, can there be a form of Christianity that does not believe Christ is God?

The sociological response is, yes: there are many people, such as Brown, who call themselves Christians, but do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Is it possible to respond to them, so that they will not come to us, Christians, and tell us what we need to believe? And in what should the response be based?

If Christ is God, well then, demonstrate it. Well..., there are his miracles. Note that the miracles that the disciples of Christ said he worked did not have the purpose of obliging anybody to believe, rather they were done to help people to believe who were willing to believe. For the Pharisees the miracles only served to help them be further decided in seeking a solution via killing Jesus. But they did not deny the miracles: not even the resurrection, as they paid the soldiers to say the opposite of what they had seen, and they did not show even the slightest interest in investigating the incident to see if what they soldiers said was true: it is coherent with the logic of one who does not seek to know the truth, but rather to defend — even if necessary with violence — ones social position, since it is probably certain that the Pharisees did have access to certain information, such those persons who witnessed Lazarus´ resurrection, to only cite one miracle which happened immediately before the Passion of Christ.

Christianity does not impose it’s beliefs on others, but it is not absurd. That God would become man is hard to believe: any man could claim that he is God. But it is not impossible, if one believes that God is omnipotent and it is understood that there may be motives why God would become man. It is logical to ask for proof of this divinity. And this proof is in the miracles. These miracles had many witnesses, who not only did not force others to believe, but they preferred to accept to die rather than say that these miracles were false.

Now Dan Brown logically is not the first person to claim that the miracles are false. Cannot we ask him to present some proof? That he show, if not to demonstrate their falseness, than to test other possibilities, to another group of people who have let themselves be killed rather than to deny that certain miracles were indeed true? That another institution be presented that has maintained without changing its doctrine in 2,000 years (which is, in my opinion, another miracle)? Dan Brown cannot present anything, other than deny this continuity. Is it possible to believe him? I do not believe so, and it certainly seems to me, that whoever gives credence to Brown’s testimony to that of the Church’s martyrs can above all not be called a Christian.

Christ warned his disciples that in the world they would have many difficulties, but that they should not be afraid, that he would be with them until the end of time. I cannot add anything more than that.

Santiago Mata, 8.11.2004. Translation: Robert Duncan. Last update: 12.05.2006