Monday, May 01, 2006

Let Da Vinci Rest in His Tomb, You Monsters

Since I’ve been peddling books for these last six months, I’ve had occasion to examine certain books and videos that I would have never given a second thought to otherwise. For example, I didn’t realize such a genre as Amish fiction existed until a woman asked me where we keep ours. Same with gay Christian fiction, the covers of which imply that the archangel Gabriel has a whole life outside heaven that I don’t remember learning about in school. Whether it’s “The O’Reilly Factor for Kids” or the novelization of “The Incredibles,” there’s just a lot out there that you all are probably overlooking.

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.
And that’s just the first two pages of the search results. I’ll bet they’ll write another as soon as they come up with a new twist on that tile. (My version: The Da Vinci Code is Whack, Yo: Dan Brown Ain’t Got Shit on Jesus.) All these books, all written my people with boring-sounding names, and all up in anger over a work of fiction — a breeze of a read that I finished in a weekend and that I read with the same gravity I’d take to a James Bond movie. I don’t remember this happening when “Sister Act” came out when I was a kid, though I wish it had. (Official Vatican statement regarding the film: “Most nuns are not, in fact, lounge singers on the run from the mob. Most do not know the lyrics to Motown hits and most approach church not with levity and joy but with deadening somberness. Whoopi Goldberg is not and has never been an ordained sister, therefore she, Dame Maggie Smith and Kathy Najimy are charlatans whose ruse cannot fool the watchful eye of the papacy.”)

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.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:38 PM

    One reason you may have overlooked that people are writing response books to "The da Vinci Code" is to clarify for people what is fact and what is fiction. Bart Ehrman, for example, is a New Testament Scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina. He has no agenda to defend Catholicism or any of its beliefs but wants to clarify that Constantine did not in fact have anything to do with the creation of the New Testament of the Bible, the gospels excluded actually portray Jesus in a more spiritual manner (not more human), and it wasn't as if there were 6o gospels sitting around to choose from. Now is it logical to think that there is a hidden stash of documents including records of Jesus' ministry written by himself or his followers. The historical Jesus may not have even been literate. Most of his followers certainly were not.
    So just know that some people aren't out there just to sell books, perhaps they just want to clarify for people who think that everything Dan Brown writes is true, although I'm sure they're not turning the paycheck down.
    Just to note, I read "The da Vinci Code" and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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