Christians Shouldn't Shrink from "The Da Vinci Code"
- Tuesday, May 16, 2006
A lot of people have read, and will read, "The Da Vinci Code." Millions more will see the movie. In a nation as biblically and historically illiterate as our own, some will swallow the film's assertions without stopping to chew. At such a moment, viewers should not be abandoned by the very people who best can challenge the film's false claims. In a bizarre way, "The Da Vinci Code" may represent the kind of bad behavior that provides what parents recognize as "a teachable moment." The film could create even more opportunity than the book. Reading is a solitary activity. It takes most people days to finish a book. They stop and start, think along the way; it makes it hard to recognize the appropriate time to engage readers in conversation. But movies are group activities. "The Da Vinci Code" film will start and finish in about two breathless hours, and the discerning Christian can arrange for coffee shop time afterward to talk about the claims of the film.
The Power of Story
Some Christian leaders have claimed that marshalling the facts won't be enough to combat the compelling narrative of "The Da Vinci Code." The theory is that stories trump exposition. The odd conclusion some have reached is that we shouldn't bother. Perhaps, if we ignore this film, it will go away? But "The Da Vinci Code" is no "Last Temptation of Christ." Boycotting the latter only drew more attention to a poorly made movie. A Christian boycott of "The Da Vinci Code" will land with an economic whimper – this film is a pre-sold blockbuster.
And, no mistake, the story that it will tell will have power. We live in a time when people feel free to construct their own versions of the truth – as paradoxical as that sounds. One of the ways people do so is through the stories they hear and tell. If people are looking for ways to discount the significance of Christ and distance themselves from a need to bow to His authority, then "The Da Vinci Code" provides seductive cover. The fact that most people are ignorant of world history, Church history, how Christians came by the Bible, and Catholic prelatures makes Brown's explanation of events as plausible to them as any other. Add to that the seductive allure of access to "secret knowledge," and some people will be hooked.
But narrative expert Dr. Walter Fisher notes that in order for stories to be persuasive, they have to be cohesive and have the ring of truth. The problem with "The Da Vinci Code"'s story is that it cannot hang together under scrutiny. It isn't necessary for Christians to craft flow charts and recite dusty details to expose the flaws in Brown's tale – and there are enough critics picking over minutiae, like mistakes in the angles of buildings Brown describes, to make that possible. Instead we should be willing and able to tell the true story of how things actually happened, focusing on important issues: the deity of Christ and the reliability of the Scriptures.
The Real Leap of Faith
And Christians need not spend all of their time merely defending Christian truths. The other side of this story is that pagan goddess worship is the alternative presented in "The Da Vinci Code." The only defense offered in the book for goddess worship is that it is old, that European elites practiced it as part of a secret society, and that it was secretly endorsed by Jesus (who, if he wasn't divine, would have no more credibility on that issue than you or I -- you can't have it both ways). The startling aspect of the book, and I assume of the film, is that everyone involved appears to take all of the pagan goddess worship on faith. It should not get a free pass.
The Bible makes truth claims about God and His dealings with humans in history. Much of the Bible contains historical, testable facts. What claims do the goddess worshippers make that would be open for debate? There is no rationale provided, it is merely assumed. The quality of the truth claims (if you can call what the goddess worshippers believe "truth claims") are not remotely of the same class. Even the "evidence" for the anti-Christian claims is never ultimately produced – the reader is simply expected to believe that the shadowy Priory of Sion has it. Talk about a leap of faith! It is startling that the book which provided Brown with much of the assumptions on which "The Da Vinci Code" is based – Holy Blood, Holy Grail – was dismissed by historians as pseudo-history as soon as it was published in 1982. Strange, isn't it, how the passage of 24 years, and a best-selling fiction novel, can breathe new life into spurious history? Perhaps the best way to expose the folly of "The Da Vinci Code" is to comment on how seriously everyone is taking the "arguments" in the book and then laugh about it.
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