In a crafty marketing move, Sony, along with Grace Hill Media, launched a new website on February 9th, 2006. TheDaVinciChallenge.com claims to be a site “offering informative essays by a broad array of leading Christian scholars, pastors and educators addressing many of the historical and theological issues touched on in The Da Vinci Code. The essay writers represent an eclectic group of experts from Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions.”
So what we have is a forum for critics who seemingly don’t mind promoting a book and film they are critiquing. Or something like that. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read the book, and I don’t plan on reading it. I’m still undecided about seeing the film, though I have seen the trailer for it.
It’s kind of surprising to me that there has been such controversy over a work of fiction. But then, Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, has been crafty in his own right about the fictional aspects of the book versus the “oh-the-historical-stuff-is-true” aspects which likely fueled its sales.
On his website, Brown writes:
The Da Vinci Code is a novel and therefore a work of fiction. While the book's characters and their actions are obviously not real, the artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals depicted in this novel all exist (for example, Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings, the Gnostic Gospels, Hieros Gamos, etc.). These real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters. While it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters' viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations. My hope in writing this novel was that the story would serve as a catalyst and a springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history.
In response to the The Da Vinci Code’s immense popularity, books debunking its, er, “truthful” aspects have been written by noted Catholic authors including Amy Welborn, Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel.
As to TheDaVinciChallenge.com, Amy Welborn had this to say on her popular weblog (edited):
These experts [writing for the website] are not paid, but of course, Sony is paying Grace Hill Media for their work. I've not yet seen any figures, and in the name of transparency and honesty, it would be helpful for this Christian organization to be up-front about how much they're being paid by Sony to help sell their movie.
Hollywood Jesus, the old (in Internet years) website that was really first on the Christian-engaging-culture scene, is also involved.
What is striking is that in all of the “Who's Who” and “What's What” material about people and things in the book, there is no mention of Opus Dei, at least that I can find. A rather interesting omission. And glaring.
A website of this nature, with experts (we hope) telling the “truth” about The Da Vinci Code could have been dreamed up and promoted without taking a dime from Sony. Could have. Because frankly, you're now in bed with them. Hope it's good for you….
And here's the snarkiest, rudest question of all: Could it be possible that this mainly Protestant-driven enterprise is perfectly happy to point people towards The Da Vinci Code because, in fact, it is the Catholic Church that is constantly besmirched, by name? In encouraging (or at least not discouraging) people to see the film, they are reinforcing bad vibes around the word “Catholic,” then are happy to “correct” the film by directing them to their own resources, produced by their own denominations?
If a biopic were produced that dramatized ill-founded, negative “alternative” histories of Billy Graham, John Wesley or Martin Luther, would Grace Hill agree to push the film to Christian audiences, thereby making more money for the film's producers, all for that “teachable moment?” Would Campus Crusade for Christ and [Protestant apologist] Josh McDowell be producing materials that have the impact of encouraging people to see the film? I'm not completely sure, but I tend to doubt it.
Carl Olson had this to say on the Ignatius Press weblog (edited):
Perhaps Amy and I are just full of sour grapes? I'm sure some will think so. Frankly, it's irritating that the vast majority of news articles and television documentaries/infomercials about the Coded Craziness contain hardly any content from Catholics who actually know something about The Da Vinci Code, who directly address the salient issues (that is, don't just talk incessantly about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which is only part of the problem), and who aren't embarrassed by Church teachings. But it's a rather moot point in this case, since I don't think I'd want to be eating from the hand that is slapping me and making money off of me….
[I]s being involved in a website produced by the one attacking your beliefs really the the way to address controversy? Analogously, if Playboy magazine asked you to write an article explaining why pornography is bad, would you write the article and then encourage people to look through the entire issue before reading your article? Don't get me wrong I don't think that boycotting the movie or telling people they shouldn't see it is going to evangelize.
But warning people about spiritual and intellectual dangers doesn't have to be solely motivated by the desire to evangelize; rather, it should be motivated by the desire to spare them from intellectual pornography that they might not be able to adequately handle. Giving people living water is one thing. But telling them that they need to wallow in dirt before you show them how to shower is quite another….
We Don't Need to See This Film to Defend Jesus
Catholic scriptwriter Barbara Nicolosi weighed in with an appeal to “just say no” on her weblog [edited]:
I just read a ludicrous statement by some Christian pastor, calling for all Christians to go to see The Da Vinci Code when it opens. His statement was something to the effect of “Every Christian needs to see this film!” I beg to differ.
No. We don't need to see this film. We all know what is in it. (Especially me, as I have read the screenplay.) It is a movie which begins from the point that Jesus was a fraud. He was not only not Divine, He was less than a man. And His Church is a sham association of meglomaniacal conspirators whose unifying principles are in the oppression of women….
The almost irresistible hook for us all is that we supposedly need to see The Da Vinci Code so we can then tell all the other people what is wrong with it. All these Christians are being hooked in to write and speak about the film in the name of “dialogue.” “How could you criticize something that you haven't seen?” And, “Everybody is going to be talking about this film! We won't be able to talk back if we haven't seen it.”
Folks, there is no dialogue here. The dialogue which might have happened involved Sony and Imagine making changes in the story that would have reflected some kind of fidelity to history or fairness. They didn't make those changes. Basically because they wanted to bash Christians….
Further, we absolutely do not need to see the film to talk about Jesus. No more than we need to see porn to talk about human sexuality. Or to read Mein Kempf to decide whether we can have an opinion about gassing Jews. Besides, it would be dignifying a really inane story. The Da Vinci Code is so ridiculous in its premises that it is giving it a false gravity to even take it seriously enough so as to argue about it. Yeah, let's all find a starting point for dialogue in the notion that a secret coterie of albino monks has been mythmaking about Jesus' Divinity for 2,000 years. No, you go first.
Now, Christians being coaxed into writing anti-DVC pieces on a stupid web site are meekly accepting that they are being given “a seat at the table” in some grand cultural discussion. Duped! There is no seat, folks. There is no discussion. What there is, is a few PR folks in Hollywood taking mondo big bucks from Sony Pictures to deliver legions of well-meaning Christians into subsidizing a movie that makes their own Savior out to be a sham.
The masses that will see this film will not be coming to the Web site. They will go into the theaters, eat handfuls of popcorn, and then come out marveling that millions of people for 2,000 years could have been so duped by a lie. They won't go to any Web site. They won't be coming to any Christian forum….
Father John Trigilio, president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, EWTN contributor and author of four books, is calling on Catholics to boycott the film [slightly edited statement]:
I am asking my parishioners and Catholics everywhere to boycott the film and any of its advertising sponsors. I am asking them to protest by sending email, snail mail, phone calls, and faxes to those who made this film.
The Da Vinci Code is offensive, sacrilegious, blasphemous and historically inaccurate, as well as [not credible].
Those who proclaim 'it is only fiction” forget that any and all written words have an impact on the reader; and erroneous conclusions based on imaginary premises can and often do lure many readers to accept and believe as true what their normal common sense and ordinary human reason tell them is utter nonsense.
When I read historical fiction or any fiction for that matter (even science-fiction), if I find sloppy research as evidenced by inaccurate historical or scientific facts, no matter how peripheral or essential to the plot, I stop reading the book or stop watching the movie. I expect the author to use logic and reason in addition to overcoming [his] laziness and investigate material [used] in [the] work. Hence, if I read a historical fiction set in the Civil War era and the author erroneously inserts U. S. Grant as President when it was actually Andrew Johnson who was in office at the time the plot is supposed to take place, I refuse to read the rest of the book.
Poor scholarship discourages me; manipulating and distorting history annoys me.
No credible, scholarly evidence exists to support the ludicrous claims about Mary Magdalene. The Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene was not written before the fourth century at least, whereas the Gospels have been verified to the first century. Not even the worst enemies of the Church, be it the pagan Roman Empire or the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees of the same period, made such bizarre claims.
Would you find in a scholarly scientific journal an article on archeology which proposed as a valid hypothesis that [creatures who came to earth in] UFOs built the pyramids in Egypt? Of course not. There are crackpots who believe that, but you will not find them and their ideas being given any credibility in Scientific American. So why should anyone give credence to theories concocted by a 20th-century French forger who admitted he faked documents to establish his ludicrous claim to the French throne?
The Apocryphal scriptures were never hidden nor forbidden. They were discredited and discounted. They are declared non-inspired, and in the case of the Gnostic Apocryphal writings, they are deemed completely inaccurate and untrue. Brown is using a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion in his book so that after reading it, Catholics and non-Catholics alike will say a day or two later, “It is so bizarre, it just might be true.” Josef Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for Hitler and the Nazi party said, “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.” Well, Elvis is dead, the lunar landing in 1969 was not a fake and Mary Magdalene was not the wife or lover of Jesus Christ and not the mother of His children, either.
Conspiracy and Catholicism begin with the same letter, ‘C,’ and that is the only similarity between the two. Opus Dei has no monks, let alone an Albino hit-man who sounds more like a character in a James Bond movie.
Fiction, yes. Literature, no. Recommend, no. Repudiate, yes. Had such ludicrous conspiracy theories been written about Islam, Judaism or any other religion, there would be lawsuits and protests galore. Catholics let their enemies kick them in the groin too much. It’s time to wake up, stand up and defend our religion and our Church. Dan Brown should find another hobby.
Will The Da Vinci Code be a success at the box office? I'd say a moderate one at best. After all, the book is still popular. I’d be quite surprised if the film tanks. Will it have much of an effect on the Church? I doubt it. Even The Passion of the Christ, which I consider one of the best films of all time, didn’t have much effect on church-goers. A majority of Catholics still don’t attend Mass on a weekly basis.
Well, we'll see. In the meantime, watch out for those albino monk assassins!
Mary Kochan here: As Matt Abbott argues above, we do not have to see the film to know how wicked and ridiculous its premises are. The Proverb reminds us: “A prudent man sees danger and hides himself; but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Prv 27: 12). Besides, there is something better we can do with our time and money than enrich the makers of this blasphemy.
We don’t have to be dupes; we can fight back by actively countering the destructive message of this film. What we all need to help friends and relatives who have fallen, or are in danger of falling, for Dan Brown’s lies, is an antidote. And we have it in the form of a new book, The DaVinci Deception: 100 Questions about the Fact and Fiction of The DaVinci Code, written by Catholic Exchange’s Mark Shea and Dr. Ted Sri. This well-researched yet accessible book uses the same popular question-and-answer format of our million-selling book, A Guide to the Passion.
Available now at Catholic stores and major booksellers like Borders and Barnes & Noble, The DaVinci Deception is the perfect tool to prepare you for the inevitable water-cooler and coffee-table discussions about the film. It will equip you to give solid Catholic answers, grounded in real historical data to the most common questions you’ll hear: Was Jesus really married? Is the Church anti-woman? Did the Church really make Jesus a god three hundred years after his death? and 97 more. You will be able to charitably, yet firmly, make mincemeat of Dan Brown’s preposterous claims, while demonstrating the reasonableness and dignity of the Catholic Church through the centuries.
There is more. We are offering free study guides for The DaVinci Deception. These downloadable easy-to-use study guides are prepared to help you run study groups at home, school, and church at the high-school, college, or adult level. Visit www.DavinciOutreach.com today and let’s put our money and time into defending our faith and our Church from this slander, and defending precious souls from this demonic deceit.
The first two subheadings of this article were prepared by Matt Abbott for MichNews.com and are reprinted here by permission of the author.
Catholic journalist and commentator Matt C. Abbott is the former executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee and the former director of public affairs for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League.
Mary Kochan, Senior Editor of Catholic Exchange, writes from Douglasville, Georgia. Her tapes are available from Saint Joseph Communications.