Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 7:33 PM

On Sunday, I provided a critique of a musical for its immoral view, now I'll defend a book that is commonly attacked by Christians — I'm just trying to keep y'all on your toes. I've touched on the Da Vinci Code before, but not since I finished the book last month. I'd like to make a few observations. First, however, let me say this: I am going to spoil some of the plot; and I do mean seriously spoil it (unless you are like my friend who figured out what was going on far earlier in the book than I did). If you've been holding out from reading the book, and you think it might be possible to be convinced that you should read it (Hi Mark :)), stop reading this entry and go pick up a copy of the book. Right now.

Ok, so the rest of you are either so against the Code that you know you won't read it, or you have already read it. I went into the book expecting to disagree with it. I read some of the “decoding” pieces that show its problems, before I ever cracked it open. (I also bought a small book down in the Ozarks on the same, which I have not read just yet.) Let's lay out what I see as the major accusations against the book:

  1. Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene.
  2. The Novel's Claim of Being Factual.
  3. Vilification of the Catholic Church.

Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene: This book is not the first to assert this, nor does it assert it any more powerfully than any other case I've seen for this. However, it is central to the story, since the story asserts that the Holy Grail is really all about the descendants of Jesus (including, we find out, Sophie Neveu, one of the main characters).

The question is whether anyone is actually going to be convinced that this is a factual assertion (and therefore that the church is incorrect) merely by reading this book. I don't think they will. Maybe a few people who are indifferent might take up the view, but really I doubt it. A close observation of the book will reveal something interesting: the boldest Sangrail claims are those made by the man who eventually is revealed to be the villain of the story: Sir Leigh Teabing. While protagonist Robert Langdon seems to be in agreement with Teabing, this is an interesting observance.

Moreover, the church is not accused of lying. Langdon seems to believe in the sincerity of the church's view — at least the modern church leaders' view — despite his disagreement with them. The matter is never presented as something where one side is truthful and the other is deceitful, unless you really want to read it that way. The book does suggest that the early Christian leaders of Constantine's time, especially, changed doctrine dramatically and forced out supporters of Magdalene, but this is about as far as an actual church conspiracy pans out in the story.

The Novel's Claim of Being Factual: The novel begins with a page of “facts.” Now, this does indeed add an air that is perhaps not appropriate to the story. But, I cannot argue with it. The facts it states on this page are perfectly true. It does not claim that the rest of the novel is some how pure fact, on the contrary, here is what the book's web site says:
If you read the “FACT” page, you will see it clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist. The “FACT” page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader.
Given that the characters are fictional, the events are fictional, etc., it is hard to see how anyone could read this and really think that everything being reported was fact. Those that do, will probably fly over to the Louvre because they believe the Holy Grail is really hidden in that building, just as it is in the book's epilogue.

As a side note, the only one of the facts I think Brown takes perhaps a bit too much liberty on is the Priory of Sion, which, as far as I can tell, exists, but is more of a 20th century con man's creation than a legitimate organization.

Vilification of the Catholic Church: The book supposedly casts the Roman Catholic Church in an evil light. This is a reasonable impression… if you only read the first quarter or half of the book. During a lot of the plot, it looks like the monk Silas and Bishop Aringarosa are the “evil” villains of the story. Their mysterious colleague, “The Teacher” also claims to be a clergyman and it would be hard to ever doubt that “the Teacher” is very much a villain.

However, as the plot becomes clearer, we see what really happened. The Teacher is a villain, but he is not part of the church at all, he is the devious Sir Leigh Teabing. Aringarosa, as a desperate man being forced to reckon with a future wherein his organization, Opus Dei, has been ejected from the church, has seized on to the Teacher's offer to help him find the Grail, since Aringarosa believes that would allow him to keep Opus Dei within the Roman Catholic Church. Blinded by the circumstances, he naively entrusts the Teacher with his protege, Silas, who has a violent past, but escaped that when he came under the care of a young Aringarosa many years ago, and was led to Christ.

Aringarosa, is, as I said, naive. He trusts the Teacher's assertion that there will be no killing involved in obtaining the Sangrail and trusts that the Teacher is in fact a believing member of the church. By the end, I believe the unbiased reader will find himself feeling sorrow at the death of Silas and the downfall of the bishop.

Therefore, while the book makes some assertions, which, if taken as truth, are disturbing, it does not vilify the Catholic church. Moreover, it is one of the best reading novels I've had the pleasure of ever opening up. If you read it as fiction, it ought not be any more offensive than other fiction that assumes a non-Christian view of the universe, such as Star Trek, for example.

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