This Friday, The Da Vinci Code, one of the best-selling books of all time, hits the big screen.
Although Dan Brown's book is purely an invented story, his following has been "religious." The book has sold almost 50 million copies,has been translated and published into over 40 languages worldwide, and Brown has been named by Time magazine as one of the World's 100 Most Influential People. The film's release is only adding to those numbers and all the hoopla.
Brown's story claims to uncover the "truth" of long-held secrets about Jesus, attacking foundational beliefs of the Christian faith—including accusations that the Bible is not true, that Jesus was not God, that he fathered children with Mary Magdalene and embraced pagan goddess religion. It also depicts the Roman Catholic Church—and Christianity in general—as attempting to cover up these alleged "truths" with a diabolical web of lies and murder.
But these kinds of claims are nothing new. Christian-haters have been spinning conspiracy theories since the day of the Resurrection, when the chief priests started a whispering campaign that Jesus' disciples stole his body. Nero pinned his burning of Rome on the Christians in a first-century conspiracy theory of persecution.
The Da Vinci Code is not unlike another conspiracy theory created in the late 19th century, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." This hate-filled hit piece was written by an anti-Semite to "expose" a non-existent conspiracy of a cabal of Jews to take over the world. Its intent was to demonize Judaism and feed irrational bigotry against the Jews. Millions in the Muslim world still believe it today, which props up their hatred of Jews.
A gullible public
When it comes to Da Vinci, the real problem is not Dan Brown's fiction. He has the moral and Constitutional right to craft any kind of tangled logic and laughable paranoia against Christianity that his mind can devise or "borrow" from other conspiracy nuts and bigots. The problem is the gullibility of the public and its susceptibility to a well-told story, regardless of its historical veracity.
To anyone who has actually read ancient history, this stuff is on the level of Heaven's Gate UFO abductions, but those with an anti-Christian agenda believe it because it makes them feel better about their prejudice. It reminds me of an editor's response regarding the fraudulence of the Dan Rather memo. It may have been a forgery, but it was "probably what happened anyway," so they believed it. So it has been with many who have read The Da Vinci Code—and believed it anyway.
In today's postmodern world, and indeed throughout history, so-called "historical facts" do not usually persuade the masses, but the most convincing interpretation does. In other words, the culture is guided or controlled by whoever tells the best story. And unfortunately, the church has been mired in the story of modernity for too long, slavishly devoted to make Christianity utterly logical, scientific and respectable in intellectual terms, while neglecting the equally legitimate story of imagination that the Bible supports through its use of story and artistic imagery, visual, dramatic and musical.
We need better stories
Christians need to stop boycotting and protesting entertainment, which helps sales and makes us look like sourpuss complainers. We need to stop seeing Hollywood as a Sodom to flee from, and start seeing it as a mission field of unreached peoples. We need to transcend our propagandistic approach to art and media and begin to value excellence and style as much as content. Perhaps the most important thing Christians can do is simply to tell better stories.
In his book, The New Testament and the People of God, scholar N.T. Wright suggests that the way to handle the clash of competing "stories" is not to engage in abstract logical and "scientific" refutations, but to tell yet another story—one that encompasses and explains the opposing stories, yet contains an explanation for the anomalies or contradictions within those stories.
Wright: "There is no such thing as 'neutral' or 'objective' proof; only the claim that the story we are now telling about the world as a whole makes more sense, in its outline and detail, than other potential or actual stories that may be on offer. Simplicity of outline, elegance in handling the details within it, the inclusion of all the parts of the story, and the ability of the story to make sense beyond its immediate subject-matter: these are what count."
We need to write better novels, better plays, better journal articles, paint better pictures, film better movies, sing better songs and through this all, tell better stories that include an authentic connection with those who do not see the world the way we do.
Perhaps the best defense against the deception of The Da Vinci Code is not merely books explaining each factual error of Brown's delusion with intellectual precision, but more powerful all-encompassing stories that capture the imagination like The Passion of the Christ, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
By telling more of those kinds of stories with excellence—whether in print or on film—we'll capture the attention of a seeking public, simple as that. No code-busting needed at all.
Brian Godawa is the award-winning screenwriter of the moviesTo End All WarsandThe Visitation, as well as creator of a satirical film, The Conspiracy Game, which he calls a "humorous but pointed response to the absurdities" of The Da Vinci Code.
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