Monday, May 22, 2006

DaVinci Debacle

A plausible fiction has much longer legs than any truth. ~ Zoltan

I really did not want to write this piece. When something is as overdone as the sound and fury surrounding The DaVinci Code, I get so ill with it that I'd rather not be accused of participating. But a number of factors have driven me to break down and spend a page on it.

Firstly, I am sick of seeing programs about Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail.

Second, I am appalled at how people are unable to tell a work of fiction from actual history.

Third, I am equally appalled at an author who blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Fourth, someone who has actually read my blog asked why I hadn't written about the DaVinci code, and I am not about to disappoint one of my tiny readership.

I am not about to go into a detailed discussion of the Mary-married-Jesus controversy. It's an intriguing theory, but it has precious little to support it. The biggest clue seems to come from an apocryphal gospel (James, I think). The ancient manuscript was in pretty poor shape, with entire words missing. The “evidence” for Jesus' deep relationship with Mary was this line: “Jesus would [word missing] Mary on the [word missing].” Now a few imaginative researchers have decided that the missing words must be “kiss” and “mouth”. They could just as easily be “pat” and “head” or “kick” and “shins.”

What all this worry about the Jesus-Mary relationship has done is cause a much more interesting discussion to be overlooked: Mary's role, and that of women in general, in the early church. Women evidently played a significant role in the early church. St. Paul says as much in one of his epistles when he lists important church personages. But, in others, he downplays the role of women. The latter viewpoint ultimately held sway for centuries.

It is amazing, though, how great a furor has been generated over The DaVinci Code movie. Personally, I couldn't get through the book. I didn't like Brown's writing style for one thing. In addition, I really don't care for pot-boiler stories. I had thought the novel would be a little more cerebral, more of an historian's search for truth rather than hero and heroine trying to beat the evil assassins to the prize.

But what really chapped my behind was Brown's characterization of a real organization, Opus Dei, as a bunch of Mutant Ninja Catholics. Opus Dei is an archconservative Catholic group, but there is no evidence that they ever have killed people to reach their goals. Yet the book opens with a self-flagellating semi-moron shooting someone. Brown might have well called the Knights of Columbus Mafia hit men.

I didn't know at the time I tried to read this turgid book, but Brown also played fast and loose with some of the “facts” he lists at the beginning of the novel. Specifically, the “Priory of Scion”, which is apparently a very important item in The DaVinci Code, was a hoax created 30 or 40 years ago by some guy who was trying to establish himself as a descendant of the Merovingians, the royal line of France. He subsequently confessed the fraud, but Grail fans have grimly held onto the mythical existence of the group.

However, prior to the release of the movie, there was little reaction that I could see to the whole shebang. Oh, there were dozens of programs generated on the science and history channels, spinning the premises of the book in some cases, and merely borrowing the title in others. Some of these programs were quite good, while others were pretty poor, about par for the course. By following my guide to documentaries, I managed to avoid the dross and enjoyed the rest.

But, unbeknownst to me, there were people who actually believed that the events in The DaVinci Code had a basis in truth. These people actually traveled to sites mentioned in the book looking for, among other things, blood stains of the Opus Dei victims. Matters weren't help by Brown being coy in interviews, implying that there was more truth than fiction to his story, until he got sued by some non-fiction authors who said he stole his plot from their research. Then, by golly, Brown said it was a complete work of fiction. Still, the matter didn't seem to spark much attention until the movie version was about to be released.

There are two factions that are upset. One group, like me, is upset that any real Catholic Church group should be labeled as fanatical murderers. Brown could have invented some group, or he could have used the Priory of Scion as his killers, since they don't really exist anyway. I'm surprised he didn't use the Masons, since people have been accusing them of all sorts of secret rituals for centuries. Why not pick on someone that already raises suspicions in some small-minded people?

(That's a joke, by the way. I'm glad he didn't use the Masons; they've taken enough guff.)

The other group that's upset is made up of Catholics who don't want to think about Jesus having been married. I don't know why this is so upsetting, since Jesus lived His life on earth as a Jewish preacher, spreading his gospel to all who would hear it. It would have been perfectly normal for Him to be married. I guess the concept of descendants of Jesus walking around today is something people don't want to face.

The Church, of course, is not happy for both reasons. Church-sanctioned murder is not a good thing (unless you're talking about the Crusades). As to Mary, the Church went out of its way centuries ago to brand her as the “good prostitute” (a position they have since reversed), even though a careful reading of the new testament doesn't support this.

The ultimate irony is the strange bedfellows that are coming together in this mess. In India, Muslims are supporting Catholics in their opposition to having the film shown. Muslims have a high regard for Jesus, which a lot of Christians don't know, so putting forth what might be considered a heretical viewpoint in a film that has an aura of non-fiction about it is something they would also find offensive.

Ironically, the movie is being panned by critics in early reviews. To keep viewers coming to the theaters, then, the producers are, no doubt, going to try to capitalize on all the controversy by drumming up even more hype, which will, of course, upset the faithful even more.

People, the solution to this is so easy. Don't go to the movie. Don't stage protests at the cineplex. Ignore it. The more noise you make, the bigger will be the audience at the theater. And in that large audience will be gullible people who will believe that they're seeing history, not histrionics. As The Beatles said, “Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

Which Mary was that, do you suppose?

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