Monday, May 22, 2006

I guess I have to spoil it all by saying something stupid like...

Now I still say, "to each his (her) own," but because I do feel my growth in ICTUS hemming and hawing at me, and besides that I really am no fan of the Da Vinci Code (sorry, tried reading it but grew bored by it ... and Angels and Demons offered nothing new either as I've read quite a number of books of similar ilk), I'll be posting this here. Besides, her argument are rather persuasive, although there's a bit about male suppression of females and femininity in Roman Catholicism that even I disagree on, and just warn people about being too gullible. Sadly, this intelligent argument is above and beyond some people I know who would rather point hither and thither instead of answering each point. v^_^0 Propagate this at your own risk. v^_^v


What do you say to a Da Vinci Code believer?
By Amy Welborn

[*underlines originally italicised, and are the original author's]

Just as in any religion, there are different levels of The Da Vinci Code faithful:
• Those who believe every assertion made in the novel is true. These people come to my talks clutching copies of The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, one of Brown’s main sources for the novel. They stand in front of reproductions of Leonardo’s Last Supper and solemnly point out the presence of Mary Magdalene.
• Those who are startled by the claims of the novel, suspicious because they’ve never heard them before, but at the same time accepting of the possibility. These folks usually lack any background in history and suspect that there’s no way to know the truth anyway.
• Finally, there are those who really don’t care about the exact content of The Da Vinci Code, but are glad that it subverts Christianity, and so “believe” in the project in general, and heartily approve of it.
So…how to deal with them?
In answering the questions of those first two groups, “evidence” is the word to keep in mind at every point, and to stay focused on the basics.
The Da Vinci Code is a mess, a riot of laughable errors and serious misstatements. Almost every page has at least one of each. It would be easy to get swamped up in the small stuff, to spend hours debating the relationship of Marian imagery to Isis or who’s who in Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks The good news is, however, that’s not necessary. When discussing the factuality of The Da Vinci Code, all you really need to do is stick to a few fundamental points – and stick to them!
They say….. “But there’s a page in the front of the novel that says “Fact.” There’s a bibliography in the novel and on the website – those are real books – I’ve seen them in the library. His characters say that historians believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, for example.”
You say…There is enough truth in The Da Vinci Code to be seriously misleading. Yes, the sources – like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation exist. But they don’t reflect serious historical scholarship. You’re not going to find a university history department on the planet that uses the works that provide the meat of The Da Vinci Code theories as part of the syllabus.
What’s also important is what Brown doesn’t use. There are scores and scores of texts that have survived from the mid-1st century through, say, the era of Constantine in the 4th, that tell us very clearly what early Christians believed. Brown uses none of these.
It might be interesting to ask - and discuss – why. What do these reliable sources say that Brown would prefer to ignore?
They say….The case is pretty convincing – that the Priory of Sion has been protecting this secret about Mary Magdalene, the real Jesus and the real Holy Grail. It sounds like a tight case to me.
You say…Well, maybe – until you consider the following:
• The Priory of Sion, as Brown describes it, did not exist. The Priory of Sion was a small group of disaffected right-wing anti-semitic monarchists founded in 1956 in France. They forged the documents Brown describes in this book, and snuck them into French libraries. The fraud was widely exposed in the early 1970’s in France. Repeat: There was no Priory of Sion for Leonardo to belong to or to hide secrets.
• There’s actually no evidence to support a marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Gnostic writings that suggest a special relationship between them were written at least a century after Jesus actually lived, and reflect, not the events of Jesus’ life, but the Gnostic interpretation of them. Mary functions as a symbol within those narratives, not as a historical person.
• There are voluminous studies done on the myth and legend of the Grail. Mary Magdalene factors in exactly none of them. That association is a modern invention of 20th century pseudo-histories.
They say…Well, there’s probably no way to know the truth anyway. Jesus lived so long ago; we can’t know for certain who he was or what he said. This explanation is as good as any of them.
You say…That is simply not true! Historians apply the same standards of evidence to early Christian documents as they do to any other text, and the general conclusion is that there is a consistent picture of Jesus and the early Christian movement that arises from those texts. There are ambiguities and differences of ultimate interpretation, but it’s generally agreed that:
• Jesus preached in a Jewish environment, drawing on the themes and traditions coursing through the Hebrew Scriptures.
• Central to his preaching was the “Kingdom of God.”
• He preached, did mighty deeds (miracles), told parables, and was finally arrested and executed by the Romans
• His disciples claimed that he rose from the dead, and made this the center of their earliest preaching about Jesus.
Note how radically different this is from the Da Vinci Code scenario. It’s different for a reason: the Da Vinci Code version is fabricated from whole cloth and bears no relationship to the evidence.
Yes, there may be different interpretations of what Jesus meant by “Kingdom of God” or the precise shape of the early Christian communities. But hold fast to this basic truth: There may be different theories about some aspects of early Christian history, but Jesus wedding Mary Magdalene, his chosen successor…is not one of them.
So, as we discuss these particular points, here’s where we need to focus. We need to challenge the evidence used in The Da Vinci Code and not let up. These works aren’t serious history. Why use them? There are plenty of interesting texts, easily available on the Internet, that do give a good sense of what early Christianity was all about. Why not check them out, indeed?
They say…oh, but the material on Leonardo da Vinci is very interesting.
You say…Perhaps, but it’s all wrong. The Da Vinci Code is wrong on every single point in makes about Leonardo: from his name, to his religious and philosophical beliefs, to every statement about every art work mentioned: the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, the Madonna of the Rocks, and The Adoration of the Magi.
I once gave a talk at a university. At the end of my talk, an art historian stood up and addressed the group. She said, “So many people come up to me and gush about how much art history they’ve learned from The Da Vinci Code…I tell them they’ve learned nothing about art from The Da Vinci Code!”
Indeed, if you asserted to any art historian that what is really going on in the Last Supper is that Leonardo is revealing that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and she is the real Holy Grail…they would laugh. They would.
Besides, just keep repeating…There was no Priory of Sion. There was no Priory of Sion. How could Leonardo be working on behalf of a group that didn’t exist?
There are, of course, many more questions that you’ll be asked. But if you can stick to the basics and keep questioning the evidence, you’ll go a long way in undercutting the assumptions that are brought to the dialogue.
But what about that third group?
I’ve met them – they write to me all the time – and perhaps you have too. They’re all over Internet discussions of The Da Vinci Code as well.
These are the folks that aren’t as much interested in defending the particulars of The Da Vinci Code, but are committed to this premise: that the Catholic Church is the enemy of truth and has been largely engaged in a 2000-year political power play.
To be honest, there is not much that an intellectual discussion is going to do to change these people’s minds. They are truly True Believers, largely immune to reason. But there are a few things you can say.
They say…forget the details. The fact is, there were alternate visions of Christianity, and they were brutally suppressed by the Church so that Mary Magdalene’s presence would be erased and women’s voices would be silenced and the males in charge would retain power.
You say….let’s try some logic, before we get to the facts.
If early Christian leaders were determined to suppress Mary Magdalene’s role in their history, they did a lousy job of it. They forgot to take out the part in every Gospel in which Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the Empty Tomb, the witness on which the whole story rests.
If the Church through history were determined to silence and demonize Mary Magdalene, again, they failed, considering that by the 8th century her feast day had been established, she was, after the Blessed Virgin, the most widely-revered saint of the Middle Ages, and she’s called, in Eastern Christianity, “Apostle to the Apostles,” among other honorifics.
If those early Christian male powers wanted to suppress the “real story” of Jesus’ ministry and purpose, you would frankly wonder about their sanity.
Given the fact that a female disciple carrying on a movement based on the wisdom purveyed by one of many wandering teachers of the time would have not caused one Roman eye to blink in surprise during the first century, much less prompted anyone to arrest and execute followers of such a movement….you’d have to wonder why these power-hungry men decided to make up a story that would get them arrested and executed, and then stick to it during those same arrests, tortures and martyrdoms.
This, in my experience, is not what power-mad people do.
They say….it’s the bigger truth that matters. It doesn’t matter what particular version of the Jesus story you pick. You need to pick the one that’s right for you, that fits your spiritual needs. That’s why The Da Vinci Code is important. It encourages people to do that.
You say…the crucial issue in The Da Vinci Code isn’t “spiritual truth.” It’s history. And the fact is the story of early Christianity is not a total mash of conflicting, yet perhaps all equally true, accounts.
More over, most people are interested in basing their views and opinions, as much as possible, on reality. When we’re in a relationship or friendship, just “believing in the truth” of the relationship doesn’t work. It’s based on the reality of the lives we live together – what we really say, what we really do – our real histories.
It’s the same with religion. Faith is, indeed, a step forward in trust. But it’s not blind, and Christians have never described it this way. Our faith is built on what the apostles said about Jesus. We believe what they said was true, we move forward in faith, and, we believe, we encounter the real Jesus along the way, just as they did, through the Scriptures, through prayer and through sacrament.
No, not everything can be true all at the same time. Either Jesus was Lord or he wasn’t. We know what the early Christians believed – there’s no question about that. It’s not up to us, if we have any intellectual integrity at all, to just make up another story that pleases us. If we don’t like what the early apostolic witnesses said, we don’t have to listen. But if we do have that intellectual integrity at work, and if we are interested in Jesus and his movement….we do. The decision we make at the end is ours to make. But at the beginning, we do have to listen to the witnesses who were there and what they passed on about what they saw.
They say…The Jesus of The Da Vinci Code is so much more human. I can relate to him so much more easily than I can the Jesus of the Gospels and the Church.
You say… The Jesus of the Gnostic writings more human than the Jesus of the Gospels and the Church?
If you believe that, you’ve never read a Gospel.
If you believe that, you’ve never set foot in a Catholic Church.
Because, when you read the Gnostic writings, you meet the most unearthly, abstract, and frankly, boring and yes, barely human figure you can imagine. He walks around talking, talking and talking. He doesn’t suffer, and for sure he doesn’t die.
But when you actually sit down and read a Gospel, what do you see? Or rather…who?
You meet a man who was born of a woman, who, it is said in the Gospel of Luke “grew in wisdom.” He eats with his friends, goes visiting, gets into arguments, has to get away from people at times, weeps, and is even afraid. He dies. On a cross, in agony, he dies.
You’re going to tell me that’s not human?
Think about Christian iconography, as well. What are the two most frequent ways of depicting Jesus that you see in 2000 years of devotional art from this church intent on suppressing the humanity of Jesus?
An infant on his mother’s lap…and a man suffering his death throes.
You’re going to tell me that’s not human?
So yes, those who are enraptured and obsessed with The Da Vinci Code, who believe its lies, are being misled. For the truth is exactly the reverse of what this work would have you believe: it’s the Christian Church that has preserved, in that mysterious but necessary tension, the full humanity of the One it also proclaims as Lord.
I sometimes wonder why people are so fascinated with the Jesus of The Da Vinci Code and why they so resolutely ignore the Jesus we meet in the Gospels and through the Church, why people don’t want to take that Jesus seriously. Why they just want to brush him off and focus on esoteric, abstract windy speeches on inner light offered by a stick figure.
But then I go back to the Gospels, and I read, "…Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor…love your enemies….Feed the hungry…clothe the naked…visit the imprisoned…Blessed are the poor…those who mourn…the peacemakers…what you do to the least of these, you do unto me…the last shall be first…"
Of course. No surprise. No wonder we don’t want him to be the real Jesus. No surprise at all.

[Amy Welborn is the author of 13 books, including "De-Coding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of the Da Vinci Code," "De-Coding Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legend and Lies" and "The Da Vinci Code Mysteries: What the Movie Doesn't Tell You" all from Our Sunday Visitor Publications. She was also the founding General Editor of the Loyola Classics series of reprint editions of great religious-themed fiction of the 20th century.]

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