21 May 2006

The Da Vinci Dudd

This weekend Sony Pictures released the highly anticipated, highly controversial film version of author Dan Brown's bestselling book, The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Sir Ian McKellen. The phenomenon that this book has engendered has effectively divided the world into halves: those who've read it and either love it or begrudgingly admit that it's "quite a good read", and those who haven't, but are bored of it already and just waiting for everyone to shut up about it. How much more semi-educational diversions on art, pop-conspiracy-theory history, cryptology and symbology can the book-reading, movie-going world possibly talk about???

Due to the heretical teaching contradicting the Biblical story of Jesus Christ, The Da Vinci Code has been scrutinized and berated by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians alike. I attended the film last night with a small group of friends, intent on watching the film for the purpose of an after-discussion at a nearby cafe... a movie club, so to speak (I know, kinda' geeky). I know this film is one that many feel every Christ-follower should boycott, but I have a very strong conviction about why (some) Christians should be watching and reading the same things the general public is. In this case, the world is having a conversation about the historical accuracy of Jesus Christ. As a Christian I can either boycott the book and film and remain completely out of the 'conversation,' or I can read the book and see the film and participate in the conversation - bringing to it a Christian perspective.

Having read the book already, I must confess that I watched the film, for the most part, with an eye for the adaptation, not the message. I couldn't imagine how this particular story could possibly be told effectively within its 149 minute running time. I was, sadly, correct in my scepticism.
With great films such as Backdraft, Apollo 13, Ransom and A Beautiful Mind to his credit, The Da Vinci Code was sure to be a hit with director Ron Howard at the helm. Unfortunately, not even little Opie Cunningham could do this justice.
In stark contrast to the page-turning thrills of the novel, the movie dragged painfully at times... provoking thoughts of, "Did I leave the iron on?"

Despite the hype, the controversy and the cast, this film was all but set-up to bomb. As if it weren't enough that the entire Christian world was maligning the message of both book and film, the movie-going public will now attack the adaptation from page to screen.
The film quite simply did not deliver like the book did. I know, I know... big surprise. When has a film ever lived up to the book before... ever heard of The Lord of the Rings?
I digress.

So what really is all the fuss about? Has everyone completely missed that this is, in fact, fiction we're talking about? The evangelical community has always attacked fiction titles that in one way or another contradict Biblical truth, from Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter. Why should this be any different? The interesting thing is, that this kind of thing has been going on since Jesus, Himself, walked the earth. He was falsely accused, labled a liar, and judged for the company he kept. There were religious and non-religious groups alike desperately trying to discredit his name and his claims while he was here. Why would that change? The fact is, Jesus still poses a threat to many people who refuse to accept him as the Son of God... as Lord and Savior.

By my best estimation, based on what little research I've done, Dan Brown took someone else's theory (Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent & Richard Leigh, that they claimed to be fact) and made a riveting story out of it. The fact that the Christian/Catholic community takes such offense only exposes what I see to be a deeper issue... a crisis of faith issue. If Christians are so sure of the TRUTH, then why get so hung-up on a piece of writing that is simply inaccurate? If someone wrote a compelling bestseller supporting the existence of Santa Claus or Smurfs would your beliefs... would your knowledge of the truth be compromised? Of course not, so what is the origin of this fear?

The most common fear I hear is on behalf of people who may mistake The Davinci Code's fictional historical account of who Jesus is... or more importantly, who He isn't, with the Truth. But there are countless religions, philosophies and faiths out there that contradict the Bible that have been around for much longer and that have far more followers than Brown's book is accumulating. If we're really afraid of people being misled, why such a fuss over this book that primarily resides within the scope of entertainment? Why not launch full-scale assaults on Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism or Hinduism? The church seems far more enthusiastic about standing against something that makes a claim against its central figure. I don't buy the argument that we need to debunk this claim for the sake of the lost. I think the church has established a personal vindetta against Brown's story because it paints an alternate picture of who we know Jesus to be. In contrast to its recent outcry, the church, in the past, has remained relatively silent about books/films that are equally disputable regarding, for instance, redemptive violence.

If anything, I'm excited about a story, however innacurate it may be, that invites me (Christians) to talk about Jesus. We have a green light, not to solely attack this point of view, but to discuss the True story of Jesus Christ and his ministry. Make no mistake though. I'm about as interested in discussing historical facts about this as I am in performing retinal surgery on myself. The Bible doesn't need my defense. The Bible doesn't attempt to prove the existence of God. It already establishes that in the first verse of the first book - Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." We're talking faith here, not historical proof.

The church's public outcry and outrage directed at this book/film doesn't reveal the church's strength of faith, but rather portrays it as looking spooked. Santa Claus doesn't exist. If you say that he does, that doesn't threaten my resolve on the matter. Furthermore, in the church's relentless pursuit of Truth, it has jettisoned Grace. Attacks on Dan Brown are just wrong. Here is an opportunity to speak openly about our Lord AND show grace to those who may have a different point of view.

If the whole point is to win as many to Christ before our time here is finished, won't we be more effective by being full of grace, truth and love? If the church were to "win" this argument, will She have "won" any to Christ insodoing? The old axiom, "win an argument, lose a friend," comes to mind here.

Okay, so that's my soapbox on the issue. As far as The Da Vinci Code goes, I recommend reading the book rather than seeing the movie. The film just leaves too much to interpretation and also just leaves too much out.

As I was reading the book I was suspicious that amidst all the cryptologic inclusions within the story, I was sure that Dan Brown would likely have his own nods to some of his inspirations. I was quite pleased with myself to discover that the character who embodied the whole controversial message (Leigh Teabing) was an homage to Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. LEIGH, being the first name, and TEABING, being une annagramme, a la the scrambled Fibonacci sequence -- Baigent. Did anyone else catch that?

Afterword 2:
Dan Brown answering "the big question" on his website -
No. This book is not anti-anything. It's a novel. I wrote this story in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me. The vast majority of devout Christians understand this fact and consider The Da Vinci Code an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate. Even so, a small but vocal group of individuals has proclaimed the story dangerous, heretical, and anti-Christian. While I regret having offended those individuals, I should mention that priests, nuns, and clergy contact me all the time to thank me for writing the novel. Many church officials are celebrating The Da Vinci Code because it has sparked renewed interest in important topics of faith and Christian history. It is important to remember that a reader does not have to agree with every word in the novel to use the book as a positive catalyst for introspection and exploration of our faith.

More from Dan Brown can be found at: www.danbrown.com/novels/davinci_code/faqs.html

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