Monday, May 15, 2006

Code Red!

I was recently at a friend's blog, reading his take on the current DaVinci Code scandal when I came across a commenter there who wrote, "I do believe that this (The DaVinci Code) is the biggest threat to Christianity ever."


Not trying to pick a fight with my friend or upset the person who left the comment, but is it too much to ask for a little historical perspective?

A bigger threat than say, the Roman or Jewish oppressions, the Gnostic gospels or the brutal persecution of millions of believers worldwide throughout history? Frankly, I'm one of those people who think that the church is often its own worst enemy. A bigger threat than say, the Crusades, the Inquisition, wayward Medieval Popes, or pedophile priests? A bigger threat than you and I not reflecting the love of Christ to our neighbor?

For too many Christians, this weekend's release of The DaVinci Code is the ultimate assault on thier faith, the latest in a long line of products from a Hollywood system whose sole reason for existence is to wipe Christianity from the map.

Everywhere you turn, it seems that somebody is railing against this film and the book upon which it is based. The Vatican has denounced it. There must be a dozen anti-DaVinci Code books on Christian bookstore shelves. Churches everywhere, including the one in which I was raised, are speaking out against it from their pulpits. Barbara Nicolosi, a Christian filmmaker and educator whom I admire and who has linked to this blog in the past, is livid that The DaVinci Code has been made. "This film is based on a book that wears its heresy and blasphemy as a badge of honor, and I intend to stay far away from it." A Catholic who perhaps feels ganged up on more than most, she has made it her life’s ambition to discredit and destroy this film.

Don't get me wrong. These are all great folks who feel, for one reason or another, threatened by this and want, in all sincerity, to spare themselves and others from the poison they see in it.

But are they stopping anything? Are they really helping at all?

The novel has sold more than 40 million copies. An estimated 100 million people or more have read it or at least know its plot. It is an undeniable cultural phenomenon and will be on the cultural radar screen for a long time to come. Like it or not, you cannot ignore The DaVinci Code.

This sort of Christian response to a film happens every few years or so. I'm not talking about films like Brokeback Mountain or Harry Potter. These films challenge Christian morality. I'm talking about the films that challenge the very tenets of Christianity itself. The last time I remember this sort of fervor was for Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (which, interestingly enough, deals with some of the same themes).

The response is acidic. Scathing diatribes are issued generally without any interest in actually seeing the thing they are attacking. There are marches. And lots of signs. And lots of screaming and yelling. And occasionally a violent altercation or two.

And who does this convince to stay away from the theater? The choir. It certainly doesn't curtail the public at large. In fact, they're all the more intrigued because of the controversy. All publicity is good publicity. When The Last Temptation of Christ was released in 1988, the studio reported a measurable boost at the box office directly attributed to the free publicity garnered by protesting Christians.

Belligerence rarely works. Why? It is more for the speaker than for the listener.

Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about.

Yes, I've read the book and enjoyed it thoroughly. No, it is not written by a master craftsman of the English language, but if Dan Brown knows one thing, it's how to move the plot and set up cliffhanger moments. That the book is a page-turner that you can't put down is an understatement. Perhaps the juvenile writing may have hamstrung the novel had it not been for Brown's subject matter. Part religious text, part thriller, part detective story, the plot about a cover-up of one of humanity's most prized beliefs is, if anything, compelling.

I confess I have to scratch my head when people level charges of blasphemy at the book (and now the movie). Yes, there are wild historical inaccuracies. Yes, the book is rife with situations, allegations, and supposed actual events taken out of context. Yes, Brown has taken a fringe conspiracy theory and spun in into the mainstream. Yes, in doing so he occasionally challenges both Biblical tenets and established church history.

However, I think that the primary issue Christians have with The DaVinci Code is, frankly, misplaced. Fellow Christians, exactly what is so scandalous about the possibility that Christ was married or even that He bore children? Is there anything in the Scriptures that says He couldn't? Didn't? Wouldn't? There isn't. Do I believe it occurred? I do not. I find it difficult to believe that God, wrapped in human flesh, could find a person with whom His divinity was so comfortable that He would take such a large step as marriage. But then again, the Bible is replete with proclamations of Christ’s deep and powerful love for His disciples—a love not contextualized as the same sort of love He has for each and every one of us. And let's not forget Mary, His human mother, with whom God the Father found exceeding favor. While the lack of evidence in Scripture for Him being married is, on some level, an indication that He bucked the overwhelming cultural trends of His day and remained single, the lack of confirmation can hardly be seen as proof of His singleness. Would the fact that Jesus Christ married really mess with our theology that much? Would it in any way alter the Christian's salvation or the way in which they relate to each other or the world? I think not.

I realize there are other issues, specifically relating to the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and claims on Christ's divinity or smear campaigns against women (some truth to that one, folks!), etc. But these things are merely historically inaccurate, not heretical. We do not and should not hold to Church history, no matter how established, with the same fervor with which we hold to Biblical texts. To elevate one sullies the other.

In the end, what Dan Brown has shown is not that Christians are lacking faith but that they are lacking a proper grasp of their own Church history. Christians may know their Bible but do they know the story behind it? This novel/movie should encourage us all to be better students of that history.

And even if you think that heretical, even if you think I am making allowances for the Devil, it all comes down to one very simple and very forthright issue--it's a novel. Meaning it is fiction. End of story.

This book and this movie are not going away. And a ton of people are going to go see it, whether you want them to or not. While choosing not to go see the film is a perfectly acceptable and for some, Holy Spirit led decision, I, for one, plan on seeing it as soon as it comes out. Like the "Harry Potter" novels (which I also read...and loved) I do not believe in addressing that which you have not personally investigated. You cannot develop a thoughtful and strategic reaction to the book or film if you are simply going off of hearsay and word of mouth.

See the film and use it as a springboard for conversation with those in your life regarding your faith and its roots. The reach of this film will mean it will raise countless such opportunities. Christians need to spend less time being combative and more time recognizing and engaging moments of opportunity to advance the cause of truth.

God, I am pretty sure, is not afraid of The DaVinci Code. I doubt very much that He sees it as “the greatest threat to Christianity ever.” He has had far, far worse things written and said about Him. He's God; He can take it. And when He reaches the end of His omnipotent rope, I think He's more than capable of defending Himself.

From Dan Brown to Ron Howard to Tom Hanks, God loves the people who made this film and those people who will watch it and bite into its lies. And He loves the truth seeker, even the one whose pursuit of truth has led him temporarily astray. Knowing what this film is about and being willing to discuss it is the first step in aiding that search. Attacking the makers of this film is not the right way to go about confronting misinterpretations, especially not when it is done in God's name.

St. Peter wrote,” Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." Exactly.

I am only suggesting that the Christian community consider and be willing to take part in the greater cultural discussion about the film and the book, rather than dig in their heels with the reactionary approach of noisy protests and organized boycotts, as is so often the case. If Christians hope for secular culture to take part in discussions about "their" movies, like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Passion of The Christ, the least we can do is be willing to return the favor.

Besides, you want to talk about movies that threaten the very fabric of Christendom and our witness for it, just watch Left Behind or The Omega Code. Now there are some films worth protesting...


Anonymous Nate said...

Hey! Nothing could be more American than having a strong opinion about something that one has not seen/heard/read!

I, of course, couldn't agree with you more. One quick question, though: How does Harry Potter "challenge Christian morality"?
I suppose you are referring to the "witchcraft." But isn't that just against Christian practice? Are the two distinguished from each other?
At the heart of the moral universe in the HP books are themes of humility, friendship, loyalty, family, forgiveness, and courage in the face of trial. I'm not even saying those themes are handled with the same kind of brilliance I've read in other children's lit, but still, they are there front and center...and somehow they seem...familiar. Hmmmm.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Grinth said...

It's interesting that you mentioned 'Passion of Christ', because with all the hoopla and outrage I've been hearing from the various reaches of the christian community, I can't help but noticing these are the same people who basically told the Jewish community to stuff it.

Now that the tables are turned, of course everything is different...

As far as the 'Harry Potter' thing is concerned, I'm with Nate. If anything 'The Chronicles of Narnia' are more of a threat to christianity than the Harry Potter books are.

The arguments that Tolkien got into with C.S. Lewis about the dangers of misrepresenting pagan mythological figures in the 'Chronicles..' has been well documented...

11:17 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Perhaps "morality" is the wrong word, or perhaps it is simply too broad in this context.

You certainly don't need to convince me that the themes of Harry Potter are strangely familiar. I've always found it odd and disingenuous that so many Christians lambasted Potter while barely questioning LOTR and adoring Narnia.

Either mythology can or it can't be used (I feel it certainly can). There isn't some sort of middle road depending on the author's spiritual state.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Robin said...

Ok, this may be totally cynical of me (nothing new there, I suppose) but I think the reason that so many Christians are up in arms over The Last Testament of Christ, Harry Potter, and Da Vinci Code, and not over LOTR, and Narnia, is because, bottom line, they've been told to.

Most of those protesting have no idea what they're protesting. But their pastors tell them it's evil, so they protest, to prove their "good" Christians. They don't question Tolkien and Lewis, because their pastors have been reassured by the fact that they were two of the triumvirate of Christian fantasists. Now the fact that the Christianity in LOTR is no more than the same Christ/sacrifice mythos we see in much of western literature (and film), and that Lewis was a constantly questioning Christian, to the point that some don't consider him to have been a Christian is irrelevant: because those protesting haven't read either one. They *don't* read. They follow. They do what they're told. They're sheep. Ok, harsh, I know. But most of the people I know personally who follow the Christian faith, who *have* read Potter, LOTR, Lewis, and the Da Vinci Code, *don't* feel the need to go shout about the downfall of Christianity. Because they a) know better and b) aren't so easily scared.

And that's the bottom line about all these silly protests. They happen because people are so afraid, and frankly, so Unsure in their own faith, that anything with an idea other than those they've allowed to be spoon-fed to them, scares the hell out of them (or into them?) They can't defend their faith themselves, and when those to whom they look to defend it tell them to make a fuss, they don't know any better.

They'd BE better Christians if they read the book(s) saw the Movie(s) and figured out how it fits with their faith and how it doesn't, and just reject those things that don't wash.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Brandon! Yer old pal Sheri here!
Congrulations on the confirmation of you and your wife!
Ironically, Martin and I just picked up the soundtrack to to the DaVinci Code and we're listening to it right now as I'm reading your's actually quite good!
Curious how these things cause such a stir. I remember renting the Last Temptation of Christ when it first came out (geesh don't remember if DVDs were around that much then) and strangely, it made me more interested in Christianity. I mean, since I never quite believed in the whole divinity thing as a literal thing, I found it was rather interesting to imagine Jesus as a real human person (without the headstart of being divine) and making real choices.
Anyway, never did find a church I'm really comfortable with, oh well, but I do have a more open mind to hear what wisdom can be learned from the believing crowd.


10:29 PM  
Blogger c_neil said...

Thanks for the link to my blog. I certainly don't believe that The Davinci Code is "the biggest threat to Christianity ever." I don't know who the Anna person is that posted that comment either. However, it did make a nice straw man for you to take down in order to introduce your thoughts.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

If Christians want to scuttle this film, they need do nothing but sit back and watch. It debuted yesterday at Cannes and the reviews are not good.

11:23 AM  

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