Since I’ve been back, however, I’ve noticed a strange genre of books and videos popping onto shelves: namely, the anti-Da Vinci Code genre. People — zealous Catholics and uppity historians, mostly — have been pumping out all manner of media in retaliation to Dan Brown’s book, which most of them regard as an all-out assault on their religion. It’s odd. When I was the opinion editor at the Nexus, I employed a certain columnist, Joey, who wrote political pieces that generally fell on the Israeli side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. And he got letters from very upset readers — and, often, I suspect friends of readers who had never seen a copy of the Daily Nexus — who claimed that Joey’s column offended them as Muslims and made the campus unsafe for them. We ran the letters whenever we could. I noticed that they often contained a very specific vocabulary of words like “attack,” “deception,” “outrage” and words like these. And I can understand why they did — Joey was writing about real events with a certain bias. These pieces were, after all, opinion columns that ran in the campus only daily free newspaper.
I’m reminded of that specific vocabulary again as I read the backs of the books and videos denouncing The Da Vinci Code. These people are treating Brown’s book as if it had deliberately accused all Catholics of a role in a murderous cabal that sought to effectively hide half of Christian history from humanity. They’re forceful and angry. And they’re writing these books in droves. Even a cursory glance at Amazon.com yields scads of these anti-Da Vinci Code books.
- The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code: A Challenging Response to the Bestselling Novel, by Richard Abanes
- Cracking Da Vinci’s Code: You’ve Read the Fiction, Now Read the Facts, by James Garlow and Peter Jones
- The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction?, Hank Hanegraaff and Paul Maier
- Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone’s Asking, by Darrell Bock
- Da Vinci Code Decoded: The Truth Behind the New York Times #1 Bestseller, by Martin Lunn
- Discussing the Da Vinci Code Discussion Guide : Examining the Issues Raised by the Book and Movie, by Garry Poole and Lee Strobel
- Exploring the Da Vinci Code: Investigating the Issues Raised by the Book and Movie, also by Garry Poole and Lee Strobel
- Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine, by Bart D. Ehrman
The big difference between these people and the people who wrote in response to Joey’s columns is that the former group is complaining about something that they should have rightly disregarded. Seriously, The Da Vinci Code never makes any pretense of defaming Catholicism. It just merely sets a rather gripping thriller plot in the context of history, art and religion. It’s a hodge-podge of real and fake, much like any paperback mystery novel would be. Not every writer is Tolkein and not every book builds an entire universe from the ground up. It’s easier to pull together pieces from real life. Dan Brown merely picked the pieces that had to do with a religion that has seen more than its share of bad publicity. Like a lot of the statues in Rome, the outer veneer of the Catholic church is crumbling in light of the series of child molestation accusations made against various diocese throughout the country. What’s more, few people with a hesitant attitude toward the religion were trilled with the selection of Ratzinger to the papacy last year. These are legitimate problems, but ones that lay people can do nothing about. To me, it seems like their only course of action was to rail against Dan Brown, who will probably read these anti-Da Vinci Code books as soon as he’s finished counting all the money he’s made.
Maybe the most interesting facet of this reactive literary movement is that it may, after all, be needed. I know more about Catholicism than the average person. Twelve years of religious education saw to that. For that, I’m glad. However, most people don’t know squat about religion, much less the lesser-known corners of the labyrinthine maze that is Catholicism. Maybe people in their relative ignorance of Christian history do believe what the Da Vinci Code purports. Maybe the idea of Jesus fathering an heir seems as likely as anything else the religion puts forth — or if not as likely, then at least no less implausible. And maybe even the Catholics who know a thing or two are so disillusioned with their faith today that they’d buy the notion that the higher-ups would hide things from them, would manipulate them and would even make decisions that, in the end, do not benefit the general public.
Yes, there’s a host of books and DVDs out there defaming a fictional book as fictional. On a religious level, I think it’s sad, but I suppose I’m okay with the notion that these people are just sniffing out a market and throwing something into it an a genuine capitalist bid for success. People will buy them. People will get a different perspective. And hopefully everyone will learn to read with a more critical eye. People will forget about the sacred feminine and what fluids may or may not have been put in the Holy Grail, whatever or whoever that may have been. And life will continue like normal for Catholics.
The funny part is that the one good thing The Da Vinci Code did for the religion is that, for a few brief moments, it made it exciting and steeped in history and mystery, like how I think it may have been when people first began secretly practicing it in darkened halls and basements. For just a moment, Dan Brown helped make a tired, old religion seem fun.