In recent weeks, Christians have produced an astonishing array of books, videos, and materials dedicated to “debunking,” “cracking,” or “breaking” The Da Vinci Code. The seemingly countless errors in the book leave one with the following dilemma: either Dan Brown’s self-proclaimed attention to historical detail is self-delusory, or he is engaging in a very sneaky misdirection play. Perhaps these errors service another agenda, and act as a distraction tactic, if you will. If this is the case, then perhaps Dan Brown is having the last laugh after all. Here’s why.
The most important thing an author can do is to know his audience. In the case of Americans and Europeans, they are postmoderns. Facts just are not that important to them. They are taken more by emotions, such as resentment, anger, desire, and the like. The Da Vinci Code taps into some powerful feelings at work in the culture, some of which have merit, and some that do not. These include the sense that religious leaders have betrayed the public trust and have not been honest with us, and the impulse to question or abandon traditional mores. And yet, there is the persistent feeling that people still need spirituality, even ancient religious spirituality. Brown’s entertaining and superbly written novel touches a nerve on all of the above.
Given the scandalous material in The Da Vinci Code, it is predictable that Christians from Nome to Rome would respond to the accusations. It is the responsible thing to do. For some groups, in particular, the stakes are very high. For example, one feels badly for members of Opus Dei, a real-life organization that has helped revitalize the faith of large numbers of Roman Catholic laity. But Brown’s fictional rollercoaster ride presents ordained clerical representatives of this religious order running around assassinating people. For Opus Dei, significant resources have had to be expended to restore their name.
Elsewhere, pastors of evangelical churches have spent the last few weeks scrambling to get up-to-speed on a cultural conversation everybody seems to be in on except them.
Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have dispatched their best thinkers to respond to the film with the truth. Meanwhile, the novel continues to intrigue the hearts of readers with an alternative “truth.” Could it be that conservative Christians have been duped to venture out upon a mission with little or no reward? In other words, whilst the modern day heroes of Christianity are out there “proving Dan Brown wrong” with their presentations of fact versus fiction, their efforts, culturally speaking, are being met with a collective yawn. People are far more likely to remember the thrill of The Da Vinci Code plot, the sights and sounds of the Ron Howard directed film, and memorable dialogue from their favorite scenes.
But there is also something much deeper and more insidious at work here than the mere damaging influence of pop culture. Dan Brown seemingly hopes to offer something that “we” orthodox Christians don’t. Da Vinci protagonist Professor Robert Langdon describes the matter bluntly as he reveals the meaning of this so-called religion of the “sacred feminine”: “Physical union with the female” he says, is “the sole means through which man could become complete and ultimately achieve gnosis—knowledge of the divine. Since the days of Isis, sex rites had been considered man’s only bridge from earth to heaven. By communing with a woman . . . man could achieve a climactic instant when his mind totally went blank and he could see God.”1 Langdon contrasts this worldview with the repressive sexual ethics of the Church, a perspective that is, of course, “a threat to the Catholic power base.” Simply put, he reduces salvation to the act of orgasm.
This stuff is nothing new. The ideas rehearse the same old ancient pagan fertility cult worship that was confronted variously by Moses, Joshua, the prophets, and the apostles in their day. But if there ever was a generation that wanted to believe it could be saved by sex, it is this one—right here, right now in the 21st century West.
Despite praise from feminists’ groups, the irony in all of this stems from the fact that a pagan sexual religious ethic actually demeans women. The female functions as little more than an instrumental means to the end of male sexual/spiritual enlightenment. Sex as religion? What could be more au courant than that, right? How convenient for a culture determined to normalize pornography and perpetuate the “hookup culture.” Ultimately, even despite Dan Brown’s intentions, The Da Vinci Code is not pro-women. It is decidedly anti-women. By contrast, it was the Hebrew-Christian revelation—and particularly the ministry of Jesus Christ—that made women’s equality a possibility in Western civilization. That may prove to be a most helpful reminder for summer readers and moviegoers everywhere.
1 Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 308-309.