‘Can Odd Vice Be a King, Sir?’ — ‘Breaking Da Vinci’s Code’
But some church members are taking the best-selling fiction book seriously.
She didn’t find anything in the book that shook her faith, but Lavella McMillan said that the novel raised concerns nonetheless. Not concerns for herself so much as for a family friend — a struggling Christian.
“I felt very uncomfortable reading it, and got more concerned as I went along, knowing that a weak Christian had read it,” said McMillan, a member of the Melbourne, Fla., church. “I just cringed hearing his reactions.”
“My concern was that our friend … would swallow it all whole. He did just about that.”
Author Dan Brown gives his readers plenty to swallow in the 454-page book, which has camped out on the New York Times best-seller list for nearly a year and a half — and also tops best-seller lists in Europe.
In the book, a murder in the Louvre art museum leads the protagonists through a series of clues to the location of the true Holy Grail — not the cup of Christ, but a series of documents that proves Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and produced a royal bloodline for the church. The Catholic Church has repressed this information for centuries and demonized the role of the “sacred feminine” in Christianity, according to the book.
The book even describes a “Christian” sex rite with masks and chanting, reminiscent of a scene in the Stanley Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Historical inaccuracies in the book are numerous, according to scholars. Online store Amazon.com lists at least seven books refuting claims made by The Da Vinci Code, with more on the way.
One such book, The Gospel Code: Novel Ideas About Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Da Vinci, is due out this month from InterVarsity press. Its author, Ben Witherington III, was a panelist at an April 25 “CrossTrainers” forum about the book at the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville, Tenn.
Witherington, professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Ky., was joined on the panel by a Catholic nun and John Mark Hicks, professor of theology at Lipscomb University, Nashville. About 300 people attended.
“My general impressions were that the Catholic sisters and Witherington were quite troubled by the book … especially because of the ‘fact’ page with which it begins,” Hicks told the Chronicle. “This gives the book a veneer of credibility …”
Before the story, Brown states that two societies referenced in the book — the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei — really exist. The book claims that Leonardo Da Vinci was once head of the Priory, which protects the true identity of the Holy Grail — Mary Magdalene. But scholars claim that the connection of the Priory to Da Vinci is faulty at best.
In the book Opus Dei, a Catholic society, murders members of the Priory in an effort to seize the Grail for itself. On Opus Dei’s Web site, members of the order refute Brown’s depiction of their society.
More disturbing for Hicks is the final statement on The Da Vinci Code’s “fact” page, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” According to scholars, this is far from true (see below).
Nonetheless, it is the book’s perceived credibility that makes The Da Vinci Code appealing to readers, said Matt Brown, a member of the International Church of Christ in Austin, Texas.
“Honestly, if the information weren’t presented as fact, the (book) wouldn’t be as intriguing,” Matt Brown said, “but this is unfortunate at the same time because I believe it can lead many people astray.” He agreed that the book could be dangerous for new Christians, but said that he has recommended it to people “whom I feel are mature enough to handle the content and still enjoy the story.”
Jerry Roberts, of Fairhope, Ala., writes fiction, and said he understands that adding factual information increases a story’s appeal. “But to twist and turn actual history to provide ‘proof’ that does not exist … is out of bounds,” he said.
Ethan R. Longhenry, a member of the church in Rochelle, Ill., said that the book didn’t appeal to him. “This work just saddened me to think that anyone would ever give credence to such ridiculousness,” Longhenry said.
Brad Newton, a member of the Cherokee Hills church, Oklahoma City, said that the book had little use as an evangelistic tool to reach non-believers.
“It will either solidify their non-belief, or put them in a false religion that won’t (leave them) better off than where they were,” Newton said.
But for Lacey Turner, the book’s blurring of the lines between reality and the author’s imagination caused her to question what she believes. Turner, who begins graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla., this fall, attends the Wilshire church, Oklahoma City.
“(The book) caused me to question whether Brown’s portrayal of the Catholic Church — and Christianity in general — could be accurate. His argument is persuasive and convincing,” Turner said.
“In the end, though, my faith was not eroded or shaped by this book. After all, Christ is the foundation of my faith — not the fallible history of a particular institution.”
Characters in the book make continual references to the “fallible history” of the Catholic Church, from the Crusades to the recent scandal involving the sexual abuse of children by priests.
They also claim that Christians have repressed women. This argument may have some validity, but blaming Christianity itself is problematic, said Glenn Pemberton, Bible professor at Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City. Many of the scandals in church history have resulted from culture acting on religion — not religion acting on culture.
“Just because (the book) talks about Christian history doesn’t mean that it is Christian history,” Pemberton said.
But the book could be more dangerous than any error-ridden historical account, said Tim Woodroof, minister for the Otter Creek church, Nashville.
“I think it says some blasphemous and heretical things about our faith,” he told the Chronicle.
Woodroof has preached two sermons on The Da Vinci Code for his congregation. The sermons were among the most interesting — and most provocative — of his tenure, he said.
One church member who heard Woodroof’s first sermon told the minister that an unchurched friend who read the book was inspired to investigate its claims, opening the Bible and even going to church.
Some church members agreed with Woodroof’s warnings about the book. Others said that the minister insulted their intelligence, claiming that they couldn’t tell the difference between fact and fiction.
“I’ve had a lot of people respond, ‘Hey, it’s just a novel,’” Woodroof said.
“But novels have changed the world. They’ve changed minds and hearts and cultures. The most powerful carrier of truth is story.”
And members of a postmodern society, who tend to believe that truth is relative, may form opinions on Christianity from The Da Vinci Code — opinions as valid to them as opinions formed after reading authoritative sources, Woodroof said.
The book also may appeal to postmoderns looking to construct a faith from existing religions, Hicks said. Dan Brown’s presentation of Christianity is “a neo-pagan one that seeks religious experience through the vehicle of a Christianity informed by ancient pagan rites and modern, New Age spirituality.”
“The book invites the reader on a spiritual journey, but the guideposts are different from the Jesus story in the canonical gospels,” Hicks said.
* About the book (and the headline)
Rearrange the letters of “Can odd vice be a king, sir?” and you’ll find “Breaking Da Vinci’s Code,” an attempt to replicate the anagrams found in The Da Vinci Code.
In the book, Jacques Sauniére, curator of the Louvre in Paris, is assassinated, and in his final moments he scrawls anagrams on the floor. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu rearrange the letters and interpret the clues, learning that Sauniére was the head of a secret society known as the Priory of Sion. Sauniére hides a series of clues near paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci, the Priory’s former leader.
Langdon and Neveu look for the location of the true Holy Grail — a series of documents that detail the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and their royal bloodline. Pursuing them are members of Opus Dei, a branch of the Catholic Church that seeks to repress the information in the Grail.