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.

Re: Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?
Glad you enjoyed it, and your outline saved me the trouble. I won't bother to condemn the book, but I won't read it, either. I've read reports the author actually believes some of this dreck, and has been combative and defensive about criticism. He is quoted saying things that attack mainstream Christianity.
Posted by Ed Hurst - Jun 21, 2005 | 10:45 PM

Re: Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?
"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" Or you're in a third group who just hasn't bothered. It has nothing to do with the book itself. I haven't read it and won't make any assumptions about it. I have enough other stuff to read and it hasn't crossed my desk. If it does, I'll likely read it and save any judgement until I'm done, just like any other book.
Posted by kevin - Jun 22, 2005 | 2:09 AM

Re: Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?
I'm in the same category as Kevin. Got too many books on church planting and computer QA to go through. Maybe I'll pick it up in the library some day.
Posted by Jason - Jun 22, 2005 | 2:42 AM

Re: Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?
To repeat Ed's position, Mr Brown continues to pawn his work off as fact. Like he has somehow uncovered some great conspiracy that no one ever thought of before. Adding to that, when the Passion was being made it received alot of press because some people in the jewish faith were hurt by it. Tons of time was given to their views. Yet when Christians, especially Catholics like myself try to raise their voice in the same manner that the people of the jewish faith did we are labeled as fanatics and extremist by MSM. Yet Brown can write and say pretty much anything he wants but he gets to hide behind the "oh its only fiction" view. Another point that I constantly see pop up is this one. "Oh its only fiction, what's the big deal. But you gotta admit that it does make you wonder about the Catholic church." You can't have it both ways. Its either fiction and you toss the ideas aside the minute you are done, or its none-fiction. Adding to that, when you read reviews of this book almost everyone says the same thing, "a well researched book." Then how did they miss this one. ------- Another glaring error is found in character Robert Langdon’s explanation of the origin of the tetragrammaton —YHWH (pronounced as Yahweh)— the sacred name of God, which observant Jews believe should not be uttered. Langdon claims that YHWH comes from the name Jehovah, which he insists is an androgynous union between “the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, Havah.” A quick trip to the encyclopedia (or theological dictionary, if you prefer) shows that Langdon is wildly off the mark. The name “Jehovah” didn’t even exist until the thirteenth century at the earliest (and wasn’t common until the sixteenth century), and is an English word. It was created by artificially combining the consonants of YHWH (or JHVH) and the vowels of Adonai (which means “Lord”), the name substituted for YHWH in the Old Testament by Jews. The Hebrew—not “pre-Hebraic”—word for Eve is hawwâ, (pronounced “havah”), which means “mother of all living.” There is absolutely nothing androgynous about any of this, but that dubious assertion is in keeping with the neognostic flavor of the novel. -------------- And that's just one, out of the hundreds of mistakes he has. My favorite has to be that the Merovingians founded Paris. Oh and what is being made into a movie with tons of stars just lining up to play a part? Yup the Code. As a Catholic I really get tired with all the pop shots that are taken at my faith. And to see a book that is full of fallacies being embraced by so many, many of whom call themselves catholic, is annoying. Sorry to rant but the constant insults gets tiring after a while.
Posted by Mark - Jun 22, 2005 | 3:51 AM

Re: Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?
Well, Ed, I agree that Brown makes some comments that are off base. Kevin: Good point. Well, you're in the group that shouldn't have gotten to that line in the post, hence no need for the third group. ;) Jason: I think you'd find it worthwhile. I usually make it a practice to be reading one non-fiction and one fiction work at the same time. Usually, I'll read the fiction while laying in bed trying to get my mind to slow down. That's when I read the Da Vinci Code, although alas it is not good for putting one to sleep. ;) Mark: Well, the point I was trying to express in this entry is that it is not anti-Catholic. It may be anti-orthodox Christian as a whole, but not Catholic. Hence, to the extent that the book puts anyone under fire, us Evangelicals are getting it as much as you. Catholics really do come out looking good in the book since the two main Catholic characters end up being sorts of tragic heros, if anything. Somehow I don't recall Langdon claiming the tetragrammaton was formed from the combination of two names, although he _does_ claim that there was a repressed feminine deity in Israelite religion. I think I agree: if we read through the Bible, the Israelites were *always* trying to add other deities... doesn't mean they were anything other than temptations of the Evil One, but they did worship them. Think of Baal, etc. One other thing I'd note is the point about it being well researched. It was. That doesn't mean Brown didn't take lots of liberties. But, you could tell he knew about art, secret societies, etc. Very few, if any, works of fiction are pure fiction. The best blend large amounts of fact with fiction to make them believable. The point being that I can read a book and finish it feeling like I've been dealing with something that really could be, without actually deciding it was fact. For instance, I'm reading the _Glorious Appearing_ right now, and the way LaHaye and Jenkins have handled the second coming of Christ strikes me as very unbelievable -- it seems very fictional. On the other hand, I've also recently read Jenkin's _Silienced_ and it struck me as fairly believable. See what I mean?
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jun 22, 2005 | 6:51 PM

Re: Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?
I respect your opinion but not anti-Catholic. Jesus being married to Mary M?? the bible being put together differently to keep certain information out? IMHO, those fly right in the face of my faith. But to be perfectly honest, I think the thing about this book which really lets me down the most is not the book per say but the people's reaction. I know a few people who have practiced their faith for a long time, taught sunday school, went to lectures, etc, etc, etc, who are willing to just toss everything they know just because some guy says something in a fictional book. I dunno, maybe this book is good in a way. Maybe breaking ties with some people who were only paying lip service to the religion instead of living it. And I'm sure this happens in everything faith. Again sorry for the rant. And filling up you DB with my comments. :lol:
Posted by Mark - Jun 23, 2005 | 3:07 PM

Re: Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?
Mark: Thanks. :) I agree that some of it flies in the face of my faith as well. However, I think you hit an important nail on the head: if someone has such weak faith that they are willing to abandon it all because they read this book, then I really wonder if they had any faith at all. It is probably better that they admit they did not, and that way they cannot just comfortably rest in their house of cards that does no good in the end. Personally, I think it would be great if this forced churches to address these kind of issues and explain to people why the view Brown presents is not right. Perhaps do a sermon series on the Code, or something. If people can lose their faith because of a novel, then the Church is not doing its job (and I tend to think that we aren't, so we need a wake up call). The novel does have lots of flaws -- as shown by the fact that not only Catholics, but also conservative and *liberal* Protestants are busy writing rebuttals -- and this is a perfect opportunity for us to improve as a Church. As a side note, I like the Orthodox Church in America's response about the Da Vinci Code: bq. Frankly, the book is interesting as a fictional novel -- in the same sense that the recent mini-series "Revelations" was interesting as a fictional novel -- but both are about as factual as a book or mini-series about 18th century chicken breeding on Mars. Sadly, there are people out there who are incapable of discerning between fact and fiction. Rant away, btw., I like comments! :grin:
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jun 23, 2005 | 4:34 PM

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