Someone came up to me the other day and asked: “So are we going to talk about the Da Vinci Code in church? My first thought (that I kept to myself at that particular moment) was “sure, we are having a book club sermon series coming up that will focus on fictional prose … Poetry will be later in the fall … and we’ll look at some biographies during Advent.'”
Despite my knee-jerk reaction, the question about Da Vinci does raise an important point that my response fails to wrestle with – namely that Dan Brown’s book and the subsequent debut of the movie by director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks certainly seems to be the buzz these days and people seem to think it warrants attention – especially from Christians.
I am not oblivious to such talk but the truth is I don’t always understand it. I read the book last year and it was ok as far as thrillers/murder mysteries go (have to admit this has always been a genre I can read quickly). I would give Brown a B+ for writing a page turner, though I have to say that his sloppy approach to history was a problem for me then and now – not because I felt my faith was being challenged, but because I consider such writing lazy, especially when fairly obvious and undisputed details are treated so lightly and flippantly that the “believability factor” is drastically diminished – a factor that I find crucial in keeping my attention for movies and novels. The irony is that the reason so many people are “buzzing” about Da Vinci is because of a different kind of “believability” factor that seems to have challenged or at least called into question the Church and the Christian faith.
According to CNN, the movie had a huge opening weekend – $77 million domestic and $224 million worldwide, making it the “second-largest worldwide release after “Star Wars: Episode III.” Some of the success was no doubt due to the book, since bestsellers turned movies tend to have a built in audience ready for opening day – but there also seems to be more interest here than just a novel turned film.
Christians, for their part, have reacted in a variety of ways. Some have boycotted the movie and picketed theatres that are showing it. Others are using it as a springboard to garner renewed interest in Bible study and Church history. Other have ignored it or disregarded it. Still others, like myself, know of it but still find it fascinating that it is being treated so seriously.
All of this buzz does reaffirm one of my long standing convictions though – that people today love conspiracies. We eat them up like double fudge chocolate cake with a dollop of fresh whipped cream that has raspberry sauce dribbled on top. We especially love spiritual conspiracies that debunk, or at least attempt to debunk, long standing institutions that have historically been the object of our derision. Can anyone say Church? Can anyone say Catholic? These days such words are just as likely to be found in the center of an over-used dartboard of disdain than in the center of our communities as strongholds of reverence and respect. Here the church can find both a word of caution and a word of hope. Our faith has too often been used to justify practices and behaviors that fall far short of the glory of God – but our faith also does not stand or fall with the fickle winds of public opinion either.
One other word about The Da Vinci Code and the contemporary hankering to bash all things that look, smell, or taste like Church (or Catholics): don’t. Protestants have a long history of bashing Catholicism – failing to realize that they are engaging in domestic abuse (beating the mother should never be an option for the child – even the wayward child that has issues with the parent) . The even sexier temptation to bash anything that smacks of an “institution” is equally pointless and nonsensical. It is in and through this human/divine institution called “Church” that Christ has chosen a people to be a sacrament to the world. That does not mean that we can’t hear and respond to critique from within and without – I engage in quite a bit of it myself – but such conversation should not degenerate into cynicism that is, in my humble opinion, an intellectual cop-out.
PS: Since there are plenty of voices that seek to address aspects of The Da Vinci Code and do so with integrity, I chose not to spend time redoing their work here. To find out more about the “fact vs. fiction” debate in the book and movie, you may want to check out Collin Hansen’s article in Christianity Today entitled: “Breaking the Da Vinci Code.” It is not the only one out there, but is worth a read.
Update: This article by Taylor Burton-Edwards entitled Enjoying (but not falling for!) The Da Vinci Code is one of the best I have read so far.
PSS: To hear another voice, you may what to look at Brian McLaren’s interview with Lisa Cockrell on Da Vinci Among other things, he seeks to point out how the church has often proclaimed a domesticated Jesus that the world finds less than compelling – and rightly so. It is also worth a read, but I think he is in danger of assuming that all outside critique of the church is legitimate, as if disastisfaction is a virtue in and of itself. Sure, some people are predisposed to such wrangling and finger pointing, but that doesn’t make necessarily make it legitimate nor truthful.