Monday, February 27, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Pledge
for Thin-Skinned Christians

Article I.

This coming May Sony Pictures will release a film version of The Da Vinci Code based on the novel by Dan Brown. It stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Ron Howard.

Dan Brown prefaces his book with a page bearing the boldface headline “FACT”; on it appear three short paragraphs comprised of claims about various persons, institutions and objects treated in the book’s subject matter. The most charitable interpretation of the content of this page is that it is the clearest possible evidence of Brown’s monumental ignorance, since most of what is stated there is false, or at best a matter of opinion and not fact.

[For example, the Priory of Sion is a proven hoax. Opus Dei is not a “sect” — the Catholic Church does not have sects. “Mortification of the flesh” (the correct term), a mild form of which is preserved by Opus Dei, has a long mainstream history within Catholic practice. Calling it “dangerous” is a subjective characterization, not a “fact”.]

The less charitable interpretation of the FACT page is that it is a brazen mask for the brazen lies which are the scaffolding upon which Brown has draped his inflammatory novel.

[Spoiler Alert! -- pledge plot twist in Article IV!]

Article II.

The Da Vinci Code is a book which is grievously offensive, on several grounds, to a great number of people. Among these are:

A. Christians

The subject matter of The Da Vinci Code is the blasphemous and fantastical notion that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and produced a female child who subsequently gave birth to a family line which became the Merovingian kings of France; and that this entire sequence of events is an obsessively-guarded secret buried for 2000 years by Catholic secret societies from the medieval Knights Templar to the modern Opus Dei, all of whom would stop at nothing, including murder, to suppress this “truth.” These postulations constitute the highest possible level of blasphemy to Christian believers, for whom Jesus Christ is not simply a great prophet but is the Incarnation of the One God.

For Catholics, Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition are the only definitive sources of information about the life and nature of Jesus. For other Christians, the sole inerrant source of information is the text of Holy Scripture. The historical existence of Jesus is confirmed beyond doubt in a handful of non-religious sources, but these provide no details whatsoever regarding his personal life. Any elaboration upon the life history of Jesus beyond what is held to be true in Christian doctrine is speculative at best, and in the case of The Da Vinci Code, is rank fabrication.

Whereas earlier Christians did speculate and elaborate creatively upon the bare bones of the Gospel narratives, (producing narratives usually relegated to the category of pious legend and apocrypha), their imaginations worked in the service of increasing faith and devotion to the Son of God. The blasphemous fantasies which form the substance of The Da Vinci Code have always been promulgated in service of undermining Christian faith. The word “always” is used here because Dan Brown’s book contains no original theories. It is all old news.

B. Roman Catholics

The most important doctrines which The Da Vinci Code dismisses as pious nonsense are beliefs commonly held by all Christians. But the conspiracies, lies, and perverse hypocrisies in the book, not to mention the taste for homicide and other crimes, are attributed to people and institutions that are wholly Roman Catholic. This book is relentlessly, virulently, and systemically anti-Catholic, perpetuating some of the most outlandish and bigoted (not to mention desperate and pathetic) libels with which the Church has historically been tarred. Uniquely Roman Catholic traditions regarding sacraments, veneration of saints, the teaching authority of the Church, and the whole history of its governance and doctrinal development are dismissed as jokes, adhered to only by dupes and slaves.

On the subject of Opus Dei, Dan Brown’s malicious fantasies reach their zenith. This lay prelature has existed for less than 80 years, and would thus be a curious choice to guard the millennia-old earth-shattering secrets that are the subject of The Da Vinci Code— especially since there are several orders of Catholic knights in existence today that are the direct descendents of the medieval orders Brown would have us believe were custodians of the secrets in centuries past: still with us are the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Knights of Malta (St. John’s Hospitallers of Jerusalem), the Knights of the Cross, and even a Portuguese-based Order of the Knights of Christ, the sole chapter of the Knights Templar permitted to continue (under its new name) after the Templars were suppressed in the 14th century. Even the 19th-century American Knights of Columbus are older than Opus Dei!—Brown’s thesis regarding Opus Dei’s alleged secret mission not only reflects ignorance and bias, it is brainless.

About the only straight fact on Brown’s FACT page is that Opus Dei has been controversial. But whatever differences or suspicions any person may have had with Opus Dei, no accusation has ever come close to the deliberate, twisted evil with which Brown cavalierly smears this group. Opus Dei is a lay-persons’ institution, not a religious order—no monks, no hooded robes, no blood-letting. (The membership, including the vowed numeraries, carry on day-to-day jobs of every description—that is the whole raison d’être of the prelature— with their token mortification of the flesh utterly undetectable.) Brown’s lodging of a deranged, religiously-motivated murderer within the bosom of Opus Dei is itself nothing short of a blood libel—a literary axe-murder which disgraces everyone associated with the book’s publication (by Doubleday), and is soon to disgrace Sony Films.

C. Art Historians

The most ridiculous item on the FACT page is Brown’s claims that “all descriptions of artwork [and] architecture… are accurate.” It would have been a simple matter for him to see to it that they were—dimensions, materials, floorplans, etc., are all observable and measurable things. Moreover, errors about any of these things are easily exposed. So it is needless, bizarre, and inexcusable that The Da Vinci Code is riddled with errors of fact about works of art and architecture, as well as absurd and insupportable interpretations of their meaning.

These mistakes are legion, and well-documented elsewhere. One example serves to stand for the sloppiness and fraudulence of the book as a whole: the artistic centerpiece of the entire novel is that most famous among the thousands of paintings of The Last Supper, the one by Leonardo Da Vinci, painted on the wall of the refectory at the Dominican convent of Santa Marie delle Grazie in Milan, between 1496 and 1500. It supposedly contains visually encoded secrets which prove that the core of Christian belief is a myth. One of the book’s main characters, grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing, introduces The Last Supper into the story (at p. 235) with the question, “I assume you recognize this fresco?”

The Last Supper, as art historians well know, is not a fresco. If it were, it would not have begun to deteriorate beyond repair within fifty years of its completion. When he gets this one wrong, there is little reason to believe that any of Brown’s “descriptions of artwork [and] architecture… are accurate.” On the same scale is Brown’s persistent use, from the title on down, of the name “Da Vinci” to refer to the master. He is called “Leonardo,” universally, in any creditable work of art history one can pull off the library shelf.

The Da Vinci Code, and its author, exude from every pore a claim to esoteric knowledge of art, religion, and history (and guns and cars and urban geography, among other things), even as they reveal an embarrassing lack of the most rudimentary familiarity with much of the subject matter. This book is a particular insult to art historians and to their field of expertise, because a charlatan has profited from a comic-book version of their life’s work.

D. Historians and historical novel buffs

Historical theories and their application in novels have some obligation to be at least plausible if they are to be marketed and sold for money to the book-buying public at a level above that of the Harlequin Romance. The Da Vinci Code is, by that standard, a laughable fraud. It is a sad comment on the state of general historical knowledge that something approaching 30 million copies of this book have been sold without at least some millions of readers raising outraged howls at having been hoodwinked out of their twenty-five bucks.

The book is full of subjective conclusions or assertions about the meaning of historical events, many of which can be refuted into dust, but worse, like the art component, there are blatant, inexcusable errors of historical fact.

A few examples: there was no “new Vatican power base” (p.233) under Constantine I, since the Papal court did not abandon the Lateran palace complex and move to Vatican Hill for another 1000 years; Constantine could not have “upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death” (p. 234) because Constantine died three centuries after, in 337 A.D.; the coronation of William the Conqueror (1066) and the canonization of Edward the Confessor (1091) could not have been “hosted” or “witnessed to” by the “dazzling sanctuary” (p.395) of Westminster Abbey since the current structure was built in 1245.

There are dozens of similar demonstrable errors and falsehoods in this book. Historians should give no quarter to the cheap sale of pre-modern history as a vast dark-age wash of undifferentiated “olden days” – that is rightly the province of Monty Python. This is less a matter of accumulated mistakes than of an attitude. The Da Vinci Code is not a history mystery—it is a fairy tale—a five-dollar Rolex—a work of sloth. It is also the most successful literary con-job of the new millennium. Lovers of history should have no patience with it.

D. Detective fiction fans:

Is there any mystery-novel fan in the English-speaking world who could not read every single word of the “cryptic” text on page 298, without aid of a mirror, in about 6 seconds? The book-reviewers who most betrayed their profession were those who described The Da Vinci Code as a “page-turner” or “thriller”. What mysteries it does contain rely substantially on characters who are “experts” either forgetting or failing to notice what should be obvious to them, only to realize it all at a later moment more convenient to the plot.

There is no genuine suspense in the book—there is only the regular interruption of the narrative to switch the scene to the sub-plot, returning to the main plot at the next chapter heading.

Clearly the book was written to be filmed, but Brown’s ambitions did not seem to reach beyond a television movie-of-the-week — you can smell the commercial breaks all through the book, tarted up as suspense. Had this mildly successful pop-novelist, or his publisher, suspected that such crudely-executed Catholic-bashings would be ripe for Hollywood treatment at the hands of Academy Award-winning talent, they might have seen fit to invest in the services of an editor before sending Brown’s scribblings to the printer.

E. People who like good books:

The Da Vinci Code is not a good book. In fact it is dreadfully written, in a wooden, oafish style with paper-thin clichéd characters, stilted and implausible dialogue, an exhibitionistic larding on of irrelevant details, and a fatally bloated sense of its own self-importance. It pretends to gnosis even as it parades the author’s ignorance; it exudes snobbery even as it betrays that the author is an uncultured rube. It contains one lone instant of irony, where the main character makes the embarrassing claim that he is “a Harvard historian, for God’s sake, not a pop schlockmeister looking for a quick buck.” (p. 163) This petulant foot-stamp in quest of gravitas is in fact Brown’s Curriculum Vitae—minus the Harvard part, of course. He is the King, the Emperor, dare we say, the Pope of Pop Schlockmeistering, and he has made more quick bucks than God.

This book is unrelieved crap. The only thing more distressing than its sky-high sales (outnumbering the lifetime sales of To Kill A Mockingbird by three to one) is the fact that so many book-reviewers gave it a pass for no other discernible reason than that they liked its message: that Christianity is a global hoax based on misogyny, sexual repression, and (in the Catholic Church) a lust for power so overwhelming that it will stop at nothing, including mass murder, to consolidate and preserve it. While many critics declined to endorse the book’s idiot theories, they sheltered their approval behind claims that it is a suspenseful thriller. This has to constitute one of the largest collective abdications of critical faculties in the history of literary criticism. In their eagerness to nourish any weed that might choke off the roots of Christian belief, did they really think no one would notice what an utterly lousy book this is?

* * * * *

Article III.

For myself, as a Catholic Christian, a friend to adherents and projects associated with Opus Dei, a historical novel buff, and an art history aficionado, I am offended to my very soul by Dan Brown’s work The Da Vinci Code, in every possible respect.

That this talentless ignoramus has prospered through the mass acceptance of his dull, clumsy, transparently fake piece of junior-high-grade literary schlock is an offense to any decently-educated person capable of putting pen to paper and producing lucid, original communication.

That Brown’s success is based entirely on the eagerness of the book-reviewing and book-buying public to devour any collection of anti-Catholic, anti-Christian scandalmongering conspiracy theories is a sickening grief to all sincere Christians on the planet.

That such a work of naked blasphemy has been re-packaged in a commercial film by people with genuine talent, for far wider circulation than achieved by the book, is both a moral outrage and a fearful prospect— an event which the Christian believer can only anticipate with feelings of anger, frustration, intimidation, and insult. No one involved in the making of this film can be unaware that Christians regard it as an overt and deliberate act of hostility and bigotry against everything they hold most sacred.

* * * * *

Article IV.

Therefore, in the face of this conscious insult to one third of the earth’s population, Christians have no choice but to band together and


We will NOT be issuing death threats against director Ron Howard, his family, his production company, or anyone associated with him now or ever.

Because we are capable of distinguishing between what is relevant to our complaints and what is not, we will not advocate the beheading of Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Show), nor will the gravestones of Aunt Bea, Barney Fife, Otis, and Floyd the Barber be desecrated (may they rest in peace). George Lucas and Harrison Ford (American Graffiti) need not fear for their lives and livelihoods —likewise Henry Winkler, Anson Williams, Penny Marshall, and Scott Baio (Happy Days); Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton, and Tom Hanks (Apollo XIII); Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man), Tom and Nicole (Far and Away), or Curious George the Monkey.

We pledge no threat of harm or death to Da Vinci Code star Tom Hanks (again), his family, friends, and co-stars (again: relevance!), from Peter Scolari (Bosom Buddies), to Gary Sinise (again) (Forest Gump), Matt Damon (Saving Private Ryan), Denzel Washington (Philadelphia), Shelley Long (The Money Pit), Buzz Lightyear, or Smiley the Soccer Ball. [offensive cartoon alert?]

We solemnly pledge NOT to burn a single Blockbuster Video or Best Buy store for providing rental or purchase of movies associated with any of these persons and the equipment for watching them, nor shall we boycott Wal-Mart for selling the stuff cheaper.

We shall issue NO fatwas against Bill Maher, Al Franken, Christopher Hitchens, or anyone else who we think might one day possibly express their disdain for Christians who object to blasphemous films.

We pledge in all good faith NEVER to behead, explode, stone, starve, rape, or vivisect any of the above-named persons or their associates, nor shall we mandate that all Hollywood plastic surgeons first perform clitorectomies when starlets come in for botox and collagen.

We shall not burn their flags, boycott their cheese, or stab and shoot their favorite documentary filmmakers.

We shall not refuse to educate their daughters.

Upon the release into the public theatres of the filmed version of The Da Vinci Code, a book we have deemed blasphemous, dishonest, historically fraudulent and literarily worthless, WE SHALL REFRAIN FROM ANY AND ALL OF THE HEINOUS ACTS CATALOGUED ABOVE.


Article V.

The Da Vinci Code is a tissue of lies and slanders motivated by the desire to convince the undereducated of that which is patently untrue. Jesus Christ said that “Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Matt 18:6] We’ll leave that to Him—He can handle it.

Adapt. Disseminate. Enjoy.

Advisory: What to DO?

See the film, or don't see the film-- wait for the reviews (from all sources) to decide.

Whatever you do, don't waste your money on the book.

In my New Year's post I reported that President Bush had read Imperial Grunts over Christmas, which was a good thing.

However, a couple of Christmases ago it was reported that he and Laura had both read and enjoyed The Da Vinci Code.

Now THAT scares me.