Long before “The Passion of the Christ” broke box office records, the book “The Da Vinci Code” was topping the best-seller lists. Dan Brown‘s historical fiction murder mystery suggests Christianity is a farce and that the church kills to keep its secret. It has also angered Catholics by attacking the clergy and implying that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.
In fact, “The Da Vinci Code” is so popular and so convincing that pastors, priests, and new book publishers are making a point to rebut it.
Entertainment or blasphemy?
On the Today Show, Brown said that the main character, Robert Langdon, is fictional, but that "all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies— all of that is historical facts.” Among the controversial details are that Jesus was married, that he was a mere mortal, and that he has descendants living in France.
Are readers getting bad religion from this book?
“That‘s part of the romance and the intrigue of the book,” says Peter Jones, co-author of “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” on Tuesday's 'Scarborough Country.' “I personally don‘t find it particularly obnoxious to learn that Jesus might have been married, but the fact of the matter is that no sane scholar has ever proposed that. It works for his novel, but it‘s not historical fact.”
Beliefnet.com’s Steven Waldman says that the combination of fiction, debatable ideas, and actual facts may make it confusing for some readers. “Historical novels ought to come with footnotes,” says Waldman. “You need to actually see which parts are debatable and which parts are true.”
Waldman, however, argues, that everything in the book is necessarily false. “The interesting thing is that what is resonating is not the claim that Jesus wasn’t divine or even Jesus being married, though that‘s pretty salacious. It‘s the idea that early Christianity had more of a feminine emphasis. That aspect actually is a subject of great debate among scholars. There‘s no consensus in either direction on that. “
Mixing debatable ideas and facts isn’t exclusive to “The Da Vinci Code,” says Waldman. He says the same thing could be said of the “Left Behind” series—and even “The Passion of the Christ.” “The part where Pontius Pilate‘s wife was a big fan of Jesus and surreptitiously helped him out was just made up. A lot of things in the movie weren‘t in the Bible as well. I think all of these things mix fact, fiction, and things that are kind of in between without making any distinction… but I think it‘s great to have this debate.”
But the critical acclaim “The Da Vinci Code” has received is problematic to some. Former Congressman Joe Scarborough and MSNBC host thinks that anybody should be able to write whatever they want and sell it, but that the media has shown a bias in coverage against Christianity. “What bothers me is this: ‘The New York Times’ has been bashing ‘The Passion’ over the past several months. This is an account that was based very closely on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Gospels. And yet ‘The Da Vinci Code’ comes out and basically tells one-third of the world‘s population that their faith is based on fiction. Isn’t there a double standard here?”
Jones thinks that all the conversations about “The Passion” and “The Da Vinci Code” are good for dialogue, but that people should be aware that Dan Brown may have a personal agenda himself.
“It’s an excellent book, but as you know, novels can carry messages like anything else," says Jones. "The underlying message of Dan Brown‘s book… is the promotion of a different religion and spirituality than the one that‘s found in the Bible. Dan Brown admits to being a believer in this new spirituality. There is a certain lack of fairness, I think, in the treatment of the two cultural icons of 'The Passion' and this book.”