Saturday, May 20, 2006

Da Vinci: It bleats, it leads

The trouble with The DaVinci code is certainly this:

the fundamentals of the Christian creed can be summarized in a few sentences easily learned by schoolchildren and recited aloud from memory by the whole congregation on Sunday. They are great mysteries to be sure - Trinity, incarnation, redemption, salvation, crucifixion, resurrection - but they are simple enough to explain. Contrast that with the account Mr. Brown offers of a centuries-long fraud, sustained by shadowy groups, imperial politics, ruthless brutality and latterly revealed by a secret code "hidden" in one of the world's most famous paintings.

The Christian Gospel offers a coherent, comprehensible account of reality that invites the assent of faith. It requires a choice with consequences. Mr. Brown's dissent from Christianity offers a bewildering and incredible amalgam of falsehoods and implausibilities, painting a picture of a world in which the unenlightened are subject to the manipulations of the few. Call it paganism, Gnosticism, or simply hucksterism, but Mr. Brown is in a long, and occasionally lucrative, tradition.

My suspicion is that the popularity of The Da Vinci Code lies precisely in that it avoids putting the simple choice of faith before us - a choice that has consequences. It provides instead the comfortable paralysis of not being responsible; after all, if the whole religious architecture of the West is the mother of all frauds, what is left to do but simply go to the movies?

This is why I have no interest whatsoever in Dan Brown's book, or the movie. I've resolved this question am not interested in revisiting it. It's been done - and by better thinkers and writers than Brown and his Sony cohorts.
The trouble, however, is not limited to Father DeSouza's points. Catholic responses to the movie have been mixed, with too many simply condemning the film. It's possible that they are the only ones we see in the media coverage: ie. "it bleats, it leads". That is not the sort of coverage anyone needs. Even when you're right, you have a delimma: what are you going to do about it? The smarter response in any case is to invite discussion with people who are willing to at least hear. It has to be a given that people have questions. They don't have a firm grasp of theology (most of the time). They fear power and the claims of the Church really are breathtaking. So, invite them in and answer their questions as best you can. It is a pilgrim church, but it is also a teaching church. Burning the book - as I saw happened in at least one Italian town today - might be an emotional release for people who feel put upon, but the very last thing we want is for people on the fence on these issues to draw a parallel between our reaction to this controversy and, say, the Islamic reaction to the Danish cartoons. Present a coherent case and trust that most people will, in due time, come to see it. It's better to be talked about than ignored.

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