The Da Vinci Code and Christianity in America

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June 01, 2005

The Da Vinci Code and Christianity in America

By Andrew Dobbs

This has nothing to do with politics, but I felt that we should have a post today. I love writing for this blog because it offers me the opportunity to speak my mind on a variety of subjects.

Right now I am reading William Faulkner's masterful The Sound and the Fury in part because I had never read it (I'm not much of a novel reader), but largely to make up for the literary sin I committed this weekend. This weekend I read the best-selling hardback novel in history-- Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It was just sitting there and I was bored, so I innocently picked it up. And though it was atrocious, something about it kept me reading. Perhaps it was the fact that I could read the thing in two sittings and I wanted to see what all of the hype was about. All I can say is that it is the absolute worst book I have ever read cover-to-cover.

To begin, the writing is horrendous at best. Written to a 6th grade reading level with all the literary power of a Harlequin Romance Novel, The Da Vinci Code has a paucity of character development and is filled with two and three page chapters full of "excitement." The characters are supposed to be among the most brilliant people around-- a Harvard professor, a French crack cryptologyist and a former British Royal Historian-- who are so incredibly inane that you feel yourself screaming at them when they fail to solve one of the puzzles for a dozen pages. The prose is vile, the story unbelievable, the pace paradoxically frenetic and boring at the same time. It is filler, a book for an air plane that will occupy your time coasting over the Atlantic and will fit nicely in a trash can once you reach your destination.

But the writing is not what worries me. It is the fact that this book is seen as a masterpiece by a whole class of undereducated Oprah-lovers across middle America. Apparantly the book's outlandish claims regarding Christianity are shaking the faith of these once good Christians. You see, the basic crux of the book is that members of Opus Dei-- a real-life conservative Catholic group-- are murdering members of a secret society known as the Priory of Sion (also real, but rather than going back to the Middle Ages it was most likely started in the 1950s or so) in order to get at the Holy Grail. So far, so contrived. But Brown shakes things up by cribbing heavily from the 1980s book Holy Blood, Holy Grail which claims that the Holy Grail isn't actually a cup, but is in fact the "vessel of Christ"-- his wife Mary Magdalene, who gave birth to his child and whose bloodline exists to this day-- and that they wish to return the world to a time of Goddess worship. This worship apparantly flourished in early Christianity, which did not view Christ as divine until the EEEEEVIL Council of Nicea in AD 325 pulled a fast one and made Jesus god, destroyed the "true" gospels which claimed that he was just a dude kickin' it with his wife Mary and brutally snuffed out Goddess worship.

Now, this story is so clearly fictional that you would think that no one could POSSIBLY believe it. But you would be wrong. Brown made his book a bit more interesting by putting a page in the front that says "FACT" and proceeds to inform us that all of the history in the book is accurate. And since many Americans will only read a history book if it has the word "NOVEL" plastered on the front of it and is sold in an airport, people are starting to believe it. The New York Times reported on April 27, 2004 (the article is no longer available online, I found it on Lexis-Nexis):

One reader, Rob Bellinger, 22, who was raised Catholic and attended Jesuit schools in New York City, read ''The Da Vinci Code'' and said, ''I don't believe it's 100 percent factual, but it did get me thinking about a lot of things.''

For example, Mr. Bellinger said, ''if you just look at the contemporary church, it's really hard not to raise questions,'' like why no women are priests. (...)

There is evidence that Mr. Brown's novel may be shaping the beliefs of a generation that is famously biblically illiterate. Michael S. Martin, a high school French teacher in Burlington, Vt., said he decided to read the novel when he noticed that his students were reading it in Harry Potter proportions.

''We like conspiracy theories, so whether it's J.F.K. or Jesus, people want to think there's something more than what they are telling us -- the they in this case being the church,'' Mr. Martin said. ''The church has a long and documented history of really trying to crush the whole feminine side, the pagan side. I think that's really hard to debate.''

Alright, now for the people who are as stupid as these two guys. Brown claims that before the fourth century there were no writings that claimed the divinity of Christ. I'm sure that would have surprised Paul, who was a contemporary of the original apostles and a prominent leader of the early Church. His epistles predate the gospels and were written from about AD 48-62 (with several attributed to him probably written after his death in the late first and early second centuries) and are chock full of references to Christ's deity. So for Christians worried that that evil woman-hating sonofabitch Constantine foisted Christ's divinity on all of us, don't worry-- Christ's contemporaries were claiming the same thing long before then.

Secondly, the claims that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married has scant evidence in its favor. Holy Blood, Holy Christ was based largely on documents from French archives that turned out (unbeknownst to the authors) to be hoaxes. There are two or three passages in non-canonical gospels discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls and at Nag Hammadi that claim she was his "companion." Yet these same documents also say at one point that women must "make themselves male" to enter heaven (a ridiculous and meaningless verse that largely explains why these books were rejected from the canon) and say absolutely nothing about their bearing a child. The books that were chosen for the canon were the ones most widely used among Christians already. Furthermore, a quick read of non-canonical gospels will make it clear that they are full of ridiculous statements and contradictory information. It had nothing to do with Constantine's efforts to eliminate goddess worship.

So don't worry fellow Christians, Dan Brown is a fiction-writer. He is a very bad at it, yet mysteriously successful. You can go back to church, I promise it is not a gigantic millenia-long hoax based on suppressing women. The book reminded me of another wildly popular yet atrocious book from a few years back-- The Celestine Prophecy (bet you hadn't thought about THAT one in a while). The fact of the matter is that every few years some piece of horrendously written New Age clap-trap hits the shelves and a bunch of overweight and undereducated housewives in sweatpants and sensible shoes run out to read it up between loads of laundry and episodes of their favorite soap operas. In four or five years everyone will have forgotten The Da Vinci Code and will be replaced with some other over-hyped piece of garbage. The whole thing is much more a sign of the apocolypse than any dramatic murders in the middle of the Louvre, and unfortunately a bunch of middle school level word puzzles won't save us all this time.

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at June 1, 2005 03:28 PM | TrackBack


I was with you right up to "a bunch of overweight and undereducated housewives in sweatpants and sensible shoes run out to read it up between loads of laundry and episodes of their favorite soap operas." The mustard seed of truth in that characterization doesn't keep it from being elitist, which on a more-or less leftist blog is as welcome as a fart at a formal dinner party. Next time, no, please.

Posted by: estiv at June 1, 2005 05:02 PM

thank you, estiv. that passage was not only totally offensive, it smacked of white male elitism.

not only that, but this is probably one of the most condescending posts i've ever read on BOR.

let's see, you insult millions of women by labelling them "undereducated oprah lovers", then you go on to call them fat, etc etc. hey, way to reach out to those "security moms". you're really gonna win votes by calling them fat and undereducated. you should be glad that they're reading any books at all, whether you think it's throwaway fiction or what have you. an hour spent reading a trashy novel is better than an hour spent in front of fox news.

adding to the misogynistic pile on, you call someone who decided to openly ask why there aren't more women priests "stupid". you also call a high school teacher "stupid" because he states that the church has a history of supressing female participation in the upper echelons of the church.

i'm sorry andrew, but only the most bible-beating of bible-beaters would deny that christian churches have historically repressed goddess worship, or that they've historically supressed female participation in leadership positions. who are you kidding?

i may agree that the da vinci code is a peice of crap, but this post is filled with hate and misogynistic stereotypes. i really would not have expected to read something with this much bitterness on BOR. really unbelievable man.

Posted by: anna at June 1, 2005 05:32 PM

Oh come on now... I wasn't calling that guy stupid for thinking that the church has repressed women (they have)-- he's stupid for having to read the Da Vinci Code to know or care about it. The point of the post (perhaps I didn't make this clear) is that our country has such a lack of class and education that moronic drivel is the only thing that moves people.

And as for the accusation of elitism, guilty as charged. I am an elitist. I think that there are clearly some people that are smarter than others, some are more fit for leadership than others. This book is filler for the masses, not something to stir the soul of great men and women. Its pervasive influence on our culture is yet another sign that the wrong people are running the show. That isn't a Republican or Democrat thing, or shouldn't be at least.

And as for calling me a misogynist, I think that there is little grounds for that. I suppose I could have been nicer, but I think I was going for a mental image and for shock value. I succeeded in that regard, but I apologize if I offended you. That was not the point.

Posted by: Andrew Dobbs at June 1, 2005 05:45 PM

Andy dear, in reference to your comment;

"..The point of the post (perhaps I didn't make this clear) is that our country has such a lack of class and education that moronic drivel is the only thing that moves people."

SHOCKING! HOLD ON! The Earth is shaking under such an astute and provocative thought! WOW! That was indeed a divine inspiration! Now, if you will excuse me, I have TIVOed MUST WATCH TV; "American Idol", "Lost" and the highly educational show on MTV called "Cribs". And, oh yes, I must download some rap-trap off Bearshare tonight as well.

I guess my point Andy is that America has been dumbing-down for several years now. Your comment above seemed somewhat dated and silly. And I sort of LIKED the book actually! Personally, it would be a terribly boring and eccentric world if only people like you existed. I suppose we would all be stuck reading James Joyce whilst we sip our green tea.

Posted by: gayinmidland at June 1, 2005 08:48 PM

I borrowed the book from a friend at work. Could not put it down. You are correct that the level he wrote some of the descriptions was not at the top of the scale but that did not take away from the book. I would suggest you do some more studying on discovered documents. Paul at one point seemed to be following Jesus's example as far as women were concerned. Then back to the basics, men in charge. I enjoyed the novel. That's what a novel is supposed to do. Sorry you did not like it - I did. My opinion matters to me more than your opinion matters to me. Nancy

Posted by: Nancy at June 1, 2005 08:57 PM

I'm trying to understand what motivates somebody to devote over 1000 words to debunking The Da Vinci Code, of all things. Cripes, next you're gonna tell me that the Bermuda Triangle doesn't exist and all those Penthouse Forum letters are made up.

And just some might be more l33t than 99% of the population, but if you keep calling them "the masses" you aren't likely to get a chance to lead them anywhere. There's nothing the masses hate more than condescension.

I liked the book, and Angels & Demons, for what they were: entertaining fluff. Sometimes I eat Big Macs, too.

If you want really mind-bogglingly bad, try Digital Fortress. Now THAT was a big pile of poop.

Posted by: rayinaustin at June 1, 2005 09:23 PM

The Penthouse letters are made up? All my boyhood fantasies of straight men "doing it" with other straight men while their girlfriends watched were made up?

Wow. I must be really stupid! :)

Posted by: David at June 1, 2005 10:12 PM

"And as for calling me a misogynist, I think that there is little grounds for that. I suppose I could have been nicer, but I think I was going for a mental image and for shock value. I succeeded in that regard, but I apologize if I offended you. That was not the point."

This is the usually non-apology of a straight white guy getting called on anything: "I didn't mean it and I'm sorry if I offended you," suggesting that it's just YOU who have the problem.

Sorry, it's not that everyone's too sensitive. It's that you were incredibly offensive. "Going for shock value" isn't an excuse - if it was, why not some nice racial epithets next time?

I had to double check to make sure I was still reading Burnt Orange Report. This post is such a departure from the usual quality of the blog.

Posted by: John at June 1, 2005 10:34 PM

Come on, Andy's not an elitist. No elitist would ever refer to the "masses" - its the "hoi polloi." The term "masses" is for elitist wanna bees.

Posted by: WhoMe? at June 1, 2005 10:43 PM

Well I never, and I mean never, agree with Andrew Dobbs but I actually liked this post. I listended to the DV Code on tape while I drove home to Phoenix from the Holiday Bowl two years ago and thought it was entertaining but entirely foolish.

Either way, I thought the post was funny, correct and interesting. Then again, I am a conservative of the South Park/Simpsons variety so I revel in elitist offensive condescension. Perhaps Andrew is coming around to our point of view. You certainly must be careful what you post on a liberal blog lest you offend the delicate sensibilities of your constituents, all of whom think in politically correct, focus group tested, unoffensive, newspeak terms that make everyone feel feel just great about themselves. People are not stupid they just understand different things at a different level. Sure. Lawn mowing is the same as brain surgery just different.

Best line of the post had to be "sensible shoes". Great stuff. If you ever want to defect from this Orwellian world of Liberalism, The West Campus Insider would love to have such a prominent contributor.

Then again, what do I know? I am just an ignorant "straight white guy" looking to oppress wherever I can. Call me Constantine.

Posted by: JamesBurnham at June 2, 2005 05:19 AM

Wow. It's easier to invent things to respond to than to actually respond to what people say, I guess.

Posted by: John at June 2, 2005 09:25 AM

My first thought on reading Mr. Dobbs' post was that it sounded like the mind set of a college student: somewhat literate, but much too "righteous" in tone for a non-student. I feel that, as a college professor, I am on pretty solid ground here: I daily see students who allow their egalitarian ideals to morph into total intolerance for any opinion other than their own.

If Mr. Dobbs truly feels that the best seller list has traditionally contained literature from the likes of Henry Miller, James Joyce, etc., then I fear he is even more naive than the "masses" he feels compelled to ridicule.

The important thing, in my view, about the "Da Vinci Code" is that it provoked a discussion of religious history, albeit one that was propelled by a work of popular fiction.

In closing, I would ask Mr. Dobbs to examine the works of scholars of religious history--Elaine Pagels comes screaming to mind. Ms. Pagels is Professor of Religion at Stanford, and her studies of the Gnostic gospels have certainly inspired the discussion that Mr. Dobbs seems to dismiss.

Actually, Mr. Dobbs, there are people who have been discussing these very topics of religious history BEFORE the "Da Vinci Code!"

My two cents...

Posted by: Mike at June 2, 2005 10:35 AM

ok, i'll bite.

"he's stupid for having to read the Da Vinci Code to know or care about it." do you have any idea whether he questioned his faith before reading the DVC? nope, you just make an assumption that fits your (admittedly) elitist attitude.

"The point of the post (perhaps I didn't make this clear) is that our country has such a lack of class and education that moronic drivel is the only thing that moves people." and who are you to judge what is classy? who are you to blanket an entire segment of our population with stereotypes? people of all different classes and walks of life have been touched by DVC - so what if it's "moronic drivel"; at least they're THINKING.

"And as for the accusation of elitism, guilty as charged. " well no shit.

"I think that there are clearly some people that are smarter than others, some are more fit for leadership than others. This book is filler for the masses, not something to stir the soul of great men and women." wow, the audacity. i suppose you put yourself into the "great" category. time to get off your high horse andrew. you are no more special or classy than any one of us, and this post proves it. you're the elitist type that the right wing uses as an example of all that is wrong with liberalism. i hope you're enjoying the view from your ivory tower.

"Its pervasive influence on our culture is yet another sign that the wrong people are running the show." really? how so? there are so many things you could have used to make this point, yet you pick DVC. you know, chris bowers had a thread over at mydd a few weeks ago about how we liberals need to stop pretending that we're not aware of popular culture. you should really go read it because it directly speaks to why your picking on a book is both silly and detrimental to our cause.

"And as for calling me a misogynist, I think that there is little grounds for that." wrong, there are plenty of grounds for that. your phrase "a bunch of overweight and undereducated housewives in sweatpants and sensible shoes run out to read it up between loads of laundry and episodes of their favorite soap operas." is one of the most sexist things i have *ever* read on a blog. and only someone with a bit of pent up hostility towards women would think that saying something like that was even remotely acceptable. it was condescending and misogynistic. if you don't see anything wrong with stereotyping half the population, then i might be wasting my time trying to explain it to you.

"I suppose I could have been nicer, but I think I was going for a mental image and for shock value. I succeeded in that regard, but I apologize if I offended you. That was not the point." with all due respect, that's a lame excuse, but john already made that point upthread.

and you know, when the only person defending you on this thread is a right winger, maybe it should give you pause to reconsider. really andrew, i would not have come down so hard on you were it not for the incredibly offensive tone and attitude you've taken towards women in this post. i don't expect you - as a self-described elitist - to "get that", but i've tried to explain it.

Posted by: anna at June 2, 2005 11:08 AM

I enjoyed the book. It was an easy read, and when I read it, I needed an easy read. Fit the bill.

As to the religious history of the story. Regardless of its accuracy (or lack thereof), it doesn't really matter in a book that does not purport itself to be anything other than a fictional mystery.

For those that, after reading the book, took an interest in religious history, how can that be a bad thing? As a result of this book, many people took a new interest in the world around the, and the historical events of Christianity, that before were either accepted as fact without verification, or were just ignored.

For 15 minutes, people all over the country diverted their attention from American Idol, Survivor, Faux News, and television in general and, heaven help us all, read a book.

If nothing else came of it, that alone is worth the words on the page.

Posted by: David (Austin Tx) at June 2, 2005 11:17 AM

great review!!! I don't see the condescention that others have commented on. I think you are right on target. This book has caused a HUGE uproar among Christians who think that the book is an attack on their faith, when the truth is that its so absurd that only a fool would think that its some sort of serious comentary on Christianity. Its a work of FICTION, yet people who apparently demand to fit themselves into some sort of permanent victim role, want to turn the book into an attack against them. Its just crazy. Anyone who would contort a work of fiction into a serious threat to their spiritual beliefs needs to reexamine their faith. True faith would not be shaken by even meritorious claims, let alone by a work of professed fiction.

Part of the problem are the "pharisees" of today in the Christian media who never miss an opportunity to remind people that *they* are the defenders of the faith and that *they* will protect the people from such terrible attacks like Dan Brown's heretical book that threatens to unravel the entire fabric of decent society with its horrendous "lies" (if you tell people that what you are saying is fictional, is it still a lie?). "...just send more money and we'll fix that Dan Brown and his ilk. ...and remember, Jesus won't let you into heaven unless you send the money. ...and a lot of it."

anyway, thanks for the great post. I really LMAO at most of it.


Posted by: dude at June 2, 2005 01:10 PM

Focusing on the content of the post rather than its rhetoric (I thought it was amusing and, although overgeneralized, at least close to the money,) I'd say this was a great post, but I also agree with Professor Mike in that it's hardly shocking that ficticious drivel masquerading as a 20/20 exposé rivets the American public.

Posted by: Kevin L. at June 2, 2005 02:10 PM

I should add that I agree with most of the original post. I think the point could have been made much more strongly with a bit less snottiness and lot less clueless sexist stereotyping. But I think the point was well taken.

Posted by: John at June 2, 2005 05:00 PM

If you think I am right winger you should see the rest of the people in my party. I am in the McCain/moderate end of the governing coalition.

Besides, you really should not just pigeon hole me like that and attempt to reduce my individualism and self expression down to some harshly delivered and simple phrase. Such prejudiced rhetoric that undermines one's very humanity has no place in contemporary discourse. It is little more than, well, ideological misogyny. I expect more sensitivity from BOR threads. Gosh.

Posted by: JamesBurnham at June 2, 2005 08:12 PM

JamesBurnham, you need to get a dictionary and look up the word misogyny.

Posted by: estiv at June 3, 2005 11:42 AM

This is hilarious. When I read this post, I was astonished to see a conservative take on an issue for once...but, here in the comments thread, the lockstep leftist ideologues rally by heaping intolerant abuse on poor Mr. Dobbs' head. Shades of Larry Summers, daring to speak something politically incorrect!

Whew, thanks, for a minute there this post made me think BOR had become rational!

Posted by: Mark at June 3, 2005 04:06 PM

As to the religious history of the story. Regardless of its accuracy (or lack thereof), it doesn't really matter in a book that does not purport itself to be anything other than a fictional mystery.

By that logic no one has a right to deride the Turner Dairies. Hey, it's only fiction, right? If stupid people take it seriously, that's their business...

Posted by: Mark at June 3, 2005 04:16 PM

Give me a break, I was being mocking - that gives you literary liscence

Posted by: jamesburnham at June 3, 2005 10:46 PM

I can't believe the outrage in these comments. Perhaps it just stings because what BOR wrote is the truth. I do think the book is so popular because it is a new idea to so many people of this country, since religion is so blindly followed without thought or study.

Are our standards so low that we have come to accept six grade level writing as our best writing? Count me out. I still appreciate language and feel that grammar should be taught in school. I for one am ashamed at how this country mocks intelligence, like being able to think and write well is a bad thing. What does it say about a culture when some of the most popular books are children's books (Harry Potter)?

We have some brilliant writers out there who aren't getting the time of day. How many Americans know Richard Powers, Hunter S. Thompson (RIP), or Tom Wolfe? Why aren't they on the perpetual best seller list? I guess there's just too much thinking involved. We can't be bothered with that.

Is it elitist to think?

Posted by: Daedalus at June 4, 2005 06:17 PM
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