Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On discussing the DaVinci Code as a non-expert

PB said a few days ago:

Probably many times, especially with those who come musing about their reactions to some religiously-themed item from pop culture, such as The DaVinci Code. Instead of just listening to their thoughts about the possibility of a married Jesus, I jump immediately to correct their credulous ignorance, greeting their enthusiasm with Important Information and establishing myself, not as a sister seeker, but as an Authority On the Subject.

I have an advantage on this one.

I'm not an expert.

As the non-holder of a theology degree, I can assure you that discussions about the DaVinci Code among the non-theologically educated I've had included the following points.

1. The book was a fun read.
2. the movie was a little slow.
3. Who cares if Jesus was married? Most people are married?
4. Shouldn't somebody have sex with Sophie really soon? What if she gets struck by lightening and there are no more Jesus relatives?
5. I hear the book was factually pretty crappy, but I don't know the details.
6. Weren't the Dead Sea Scrolls Jewish? How could they have talked about Jesus?
7. Maybe they talked about the messiah in general.
8. That's not what Teabing said.
9. I wonder what it would have been like if Jesus was born a girl.
10. Probably no one would have listened to her.
11. So is the Catholic Church pissed because of the Jesus marrying thing or because the movie makes them look evil?
12. I think it's mostly the evil part.
13. So did Sophie heal what's-his-name's headache? Does she have Jesus powers?
14. I didn't finish it.

So there y'all go.



Anonymous said...

Who is an expert on historical fiction?

This is a genre that is always controversial, because as fiction it challenges the historians to feel they need make corrections.

The difference is that this is historical fiction about a central religious event and all clerics suddenly act like historians defending the official story which we all know was a also a fiction based on a historial event, but we don't know all we think we know about those events.

Doug Muder said...

My take on DVC is that it's basically an idea that surfaced in the pseudo-history "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", and bounced around the fringes of pop culture for years -- the comic book series "Preacher" did a hilarious version of it, in which the effort to preserve the bloodline had resulted in the usual problems of inbreeding.

As for factuality, it's not great, but not as bad as the Catholic Church would have you believe. Most of the false things in DVC are at least similar to defensible theories.

And (though I haven't seen the movie) I don't think the book makes them look that bad. The Opus Dei Leader bad guy is being duped by the really bad guy, and all the Opus Dei people you see have gone rogue -- there's no indication that the Pope would approve any of this.

So the Catholic Church is getting the same treatment that governments often get in action movies: There are positions in the Church that, if held by a rogue agent, could do a lot of damage. Hardly anti-Catholic propaganda.

LinguistFriend said...

Unfortunately I could not bring myself to actually read the "Da Vinci Code". I tried, and at least I got the general themes. However, the resulting collisions
between enthusiastic novel-readers/moviegoers and others who have different opinions and information can be productive in the long run. They make people aware of questions about early Christian history, even if the authors are not qualified to answer them. Occasionally, scholars such as Bart Ehrman will take the opportunity to write a good little book ("Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code") which can for instance set people right on the facts relevant to the DVC background, and introduce the non-specialist readers to relevant recent research results (the four rs). Thus such fiction can be productive and raise the general level of popular discourse and awareness about early Christian history. That is a positive outcome in a number of respects.
There can be a locally negative result if members of the clergy react in a defensive posture. They have to be organizers, writers, fund-raisers, psychotherapists, social workers, etc., and cannot reasonably be expected (or claim) to be current either on all recent historical work or even remember everything they have studied. But such moments of discussion when a parishioner's enthusiasm and curiosity have been aroused by popular literature or a movie can be a fine time to point out a good book ("Let's see what the "Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" says"), or suggest a more detailed treatment such as L.Michael White's amazingly good "From Jesus to Christianity" as a subject for small group study. Such discussions are an opportunity, and should not be allowed to become a wedge between the interested parishioner and the

Anonymous said...

The part that bothers me is that if Jesus did have descendants -- why would they be special? Is it hereditary? Why? Are we monarchists all of a sudden, that we think dynasty is so important? If the offspring of Jesus had his "special powers", wouldn't they have been hard to hide all these years, and why would they have remained hidden through all that's happened? If there were no hereditary "special powers", then what's so special about being related? Was Jesus' specialness in his genes?
Anyway, it was a fun read, but lacked logic to a striking degree.

Anonymous said...


My boyfriend is pissed off at both the Da Vinci Code and Dogma, not because they annoy religious people, but because the combination means Kevin Smith never will get greenlighted to do Preacher.

The main conversation I have about the novels Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons is that a) the facts/fictions it presented were interesting; b) the writing was seriously wretched. And I say this as an open reader of romance novels.