Thursday, May 18, 2006

I have been asked several times if I have read the Da Vinci Code, and what do I think about it. I thought, in honor of the movie's release tomorrow, I would devote some thoughts to this topic. I think I wrote about it in my old blog, but it's certainly a topic with a great deal of interest and controversy behind it.

My main beef with this book, besides the fact that it feeds into pre-existing negativity towards the Catholic Church and its impact on society, is that it is very poorly researched. The novel makes a great deal of claims about the "Vatican Power Base" (boy did I get sick of that phrase when I read it over and over again) and its attempts to stifle Jesus' true identity and heritage. There are way too many discrepancies in the novel to list or even remember, but a few have stuck out for me. The example that I always use when people ask me about the book is a passage where one character (Teabing) realizes that a code they are looking at is in English. Of course it is, he proclaims, because English is the only pure language that has not been influenced by Latin (the language of the Vatican Power Base).


Anyone who has taken any Latin at all, even if it is just the prefixes taught in high school Biology, would have enough sense to realize that English is heavily influenced by Latin. Yes, it is also derived from Germanic language, but there is a whole stinking lot of Latin in English. And this Teabing guy isn't some idiot- he's probably the most intelligent character in this book. I think he may need to go back for his GED.

Another one of my favorite oversights is the history given about the development of the Bible as we know it. According to the main characters, Jesus was simply a cool man, and the Catholic Church really wanted to make him more than that in order to boost their numbers as a religion (we'll call it primitive marketing techniques- celebrity endorsement at its best?). So a bunch of scripts that proved that Jesus was only a man were destroyed in order to make it seem that Jesus was God. This is a fairly common argument obviously- Christians believe that Jesus is God, and lots of other people don't. The part that was funny to me was that supposedly the good ol' Vatican Power Base influenced early councils in order to create a Bible in which Jesus is seen as divine. Funny- the Vatican wasn't even around then. At least refer to them as "the powers that be" or something like that, not an anachronistic name that makes the argument seem completely unfounded. It's like calling Elliott Ness and his posse "NYPD Blue".

All of that being said, I realized in a discussion we had with some friends last week that this book (hopefully) isn't as influential as I previously feared it might be. My experience so far has been that those who were angry with the book and didn't want to believe what it said before they read it, felt the same way after they read it. And those who already take issue with the Catholic Church, or Christianity, or any religious institution, will just feel a little more justified after reading the book. I haven't met anyone whose opinion has really changed, and I think it's because no one really thinks that Dan Brown or his characters have the authority to change a person's mind. Well, that's what I'm hoping for.

I still don't understand why people thought the book was a good read, though. I want to know if they've read classics like Hugo or Steinbeck or Austen, but I know that those books were written in a different time. Even so- have they read Harry Potter?? The literary quality of those books is so far above and beyond that of The Da Vinci Code, it's almost laughable.

One thing that does surprise me, though, is the Opus Dei. I know that the group was highly offended about their characterization in the book (and the subsequent movie). I just checked out their website, and a priest answered some questions regarding the accuracy of the book's portrayal. Much to my surprise, it turns out that the group does use the cilice belt and the "disciplines" described in the story (albeit to much less of an extent than the character in the book). It definitely bothers me that these practices would be turned into something grotesque and bloody by an author and a director, but I am very curious to try and understand why a group would use such practices. They even call it mortification, and it certainly seems a little extreme to me. But I won't be writing a sensationalist novel about it to get my point across, either.

I will probably be going to see the movie tomorrow. I told someone that I am curious about it, much in the same way I might be curious to look at a car accident. I hear it is very melodramatic and that Tom Hanks doesn't work very well as the main character. But I will see for myself, and I won't be left in the dark when everyone and their mother is talking about it in the months to come.

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