Has anyone lost their faith because of the Da Vinci Code?
(Well, yeah. I have. My faith in the publishing industry. Just Kidding. Sort of. See post below this one.)
Reason I ask is–as is often the case when a controversial ‘Catholic’ book or movie comes out–it’s become a matter of concern to Church leaders and many Catholic writers that this book and by extension the movie will lead Christians astray.
I notice Dan Brown isn’t too concerned. In between trips (laughing all the way, no doubt) to the bank, he had time to make an appearance in his home state. Giving entirely way too much credit to the extent to which any scholar worth his or her weight in salt would consider the nonsense in his book as worth comment, he said it’s basically up to scholars to judge the “ideas” presented in the book.
But back to those Christians concerned about the book’s effect on the Faithful. On the whole, I think there is certainly cause for concern about a book that promotes falsehoods–and if you think Christians are the only ones who think so, read Laura Miller’s excellent take-down of Brown in Salon.
But…while it’s quite likely that Christians with insufficient background in the history of their own religion will suck for Brown’s crap—hook, line and sinker… I can’t help thinking…to what degree might someone truly lose their faith over this swill? Meaning, to the point where they disregard even the basic morality in the Commandments? In other words, will they become full-blown nihilists because of Brown’s book? Or something in between, or not even as questionable? I’m wondering whether all this running around on the part of scholars, media hopping and discussing the many problems with the book leading up to the movie is really helping, if not making the matter even worse. Barb Nicolosi certainly seems to have had enough, and I don’t blame her.
Having read the novel, my own feeling is, if your faith is such a wisp o’ nothing that it gets blown out by an overwrought melodrama (based on sham research), you probably didn’t have much faith in the Church to begin with. Maybe the Church should be taking advantage of natural selection here, if I may borrow a metaphor, and be grateful for the opportunity to prune the congregation of its intellectually weaker elements.
In fact, given the recent clergy abuse scandal in the American church, could you not argue that a lot more people lost their faith when they saw how the bishops of the church responded–than when they read Brown’s book? Especially because the greatest damage was done precisely by those people in positions of authority whose faith was, shall we say, probably not the sharpest? How else to explain the complacency and complicity? (Interesting follow up question: had the clergy abuse scandal not happened, would so many Christians be as worried about Brown’s froth?)
Some Catholic journalists and bloggers have worried whether some Christians will lose their souls because of the influence of the book. But will they really? Led astray for a while, perhaps most of their lives, yes a very real possibility, I concur. But is that the end of the story for such people?
Let’s take the most average example of such a case. Most novel readers are women. So let’s take a woman from Massachusetts, a pretty Catholic state in terms of population. This woman is reasonably educated, at least nominally Catholic, meaning she goes to Church on Sundays and holidays and confession once a year. She knows one or two priests and nuns as friends; she lives a straight life. Maybe she’s married with kids…
Then… she buys into the whole mess of the Da Vinci code’s oh-so-controversial “thesis”. Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they had a family of super heroes. The church suppressed this and lied, and in outrage the woman stops going to church out of a sudden disgust. And she’s not the only one; still other people suddenly fall for the fashionable idea that the institution responsible for these lies lasted … for 2000 years by fooling millions of people?
The Soviet Union …the last most obvious institution I can think of that was built on lies lasted …how long? 70 years? How much longer do we think the lies propping up Chinese Communism can last?
But to believe the Catholic Church has succeeded in surviving for 2000 years based entirely on a pack of lies I do find hard to believe (with all due respect to Christopher Hitchens who, when it comes to religion, relies more on his bile than his wits). Oft evil will shall evil mar, as the old saying goes. I think the Church has lasted because the Gospel is basically true. The man described in the Gospels, as Einstein once pointed out, mirrors the reality of who he was–which is, enthralling to most people who read his words. Too real to be a product of fabrication. Or to be the tool of second-rate hacks. Somehow the Man in the Gospel strikes me as–and I may be going out on a limb here in my interpretation–the last person in the world to get married and raise children.
So… what if some people do buy into the novel’s nonsense? Maybe it’s not entirely a bad thing. In other words, is it really likely the people to be turned away from the Church by this book weren’t already fairly uncritical to begin with–the kind CS Lewis’s marvellous Screwtape complains about so eloquently in the Screwtape Letters? And is it certain these stray sheep will persist in believing what a candyass novel says–for the rest of their lives? Or, like many people as they get older, like you and me and the prodigal son, as life forces them to become wise, will they change their minds?
My own feeling, and once again I may be overly optimistic, is that anyone with even a modest education in church history will not be fooled by the swill being peddled as history by Brown’s comic strip. Or if so, not for long. The others who do…probably need to be fooled. For a while. And then they can wise up.