Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Da Vinci Rant

OK, so I recently finished listening to The Da Vinci Code on CD. I put in a hold request at my local library over a year ago, but I was something like 49th in line, so I didn't get it until last week.

I'm not really sure on what basis to evaluate it. I don't often read mystery novels, so I'm not sure what people expect. If you're looking for a book where it is possible to solve the puzzles before the answers are revealed in the book, then I guess it's probably OK, although I was occaisionally appalled at how utterly oblivious the "experts" in the book were to some things that I thought were obvious. I was pretty sure I knew the "main" secret of the book by disc 5 of 13 and wasn't shaken when Langdon explicitly ruled it out as a possibility. Still, the story did suck me in.

The history is, of course, awful. I feel like I'm going to get branded as a fundamentalist for saying that, but I think it's an objective fact. Most appalling, of course, is the scene in Teabing's library where Teabing "unmasks" Christian orthodoxy while Langdon stands by and nods like an Ed McMahon bobblehead doll, both treating Sophie with unmasked condescension. The dynamics of the scene are quite realistic, as anyone who has been in the company of two or more academicians will know, but what they actually say borders on ridiculous.

I know this book is meant as fiction, and as such I am prepared to give it a lot of leeway, but even in a book of fiction when an Oxford-affiliated British Royal Historian speaks and a Harvard professor stands by nodding, the reader ought to be able to expect something that is at least reasonable.

About a year ago, I was on an airplane and I overheard two women in the seats next to me talking. One was reading The Da Vinci Code. The other said, "It's just fiction right." The first woman replied, "Yes, but it's very well researched." I think that about sums up the popular consensus. It doesn't matter that it's just fiction, Americans don't understand realistic fiction that way. I've actually heard someone talking about the "close vote" by which the Council of Nicea "approved Jesus' divinity" as if it were a fact, without making any reference to where they picked up this "fact."

Between listenings, I visited Dan Brown's web site, which has some pretty interesting stuff, by the way. One of the things I was most surprised to discover is that Brown considers himself a Christian. He says that the novel isn't anti-Christian in any way (which is basically true), and that he is very excited about the way it is stimulating people to examine the basis of their faith (which is a very good thing).

The thing is, if people "examine the basis of their faith" without any reliable guidance (and this book most certainly does not provide reliable guidance) then there is a very real danger that they'll end up in a worse state than they started out in. If the blind lead the blind, both fall into a pit.

I don't know anything about the personal faith of Dan Brown, so I'll use his fictional character Robert Langdon as an example. Langdon stands by nodding his agreement as Teabing makes the quite ridiculous claim that before the Council of Nicea Jesus followers' regarded him as "a mortal prophet... a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless." So I would presume that Langdon shares this belief that Jesus was just a man. And yet the book closes with Langdon praying at the feet of Mary Magdalene.

So, the objection which screams out to be spoken is, if Jesus was just a man, why on earth would it make any difference whatsoever whether his bloodline is preserved? I mean, if I somehow discovered that I was descended from Alexander the Great that would be very interesting to me personally, but it wouldn't in any way make me an important person. And, if Jesus does not incarnate the divine anything how does Mary Magdalene come to be the embodiment of the divine feminine???

And that kind of leads me to my next complaint. One of the Common Questions on Brown's web site begins with the statement, "This novel is very empowering to women." Now, I'm not a woman, so I'm supremely unqualified to say, but is it really? I mean, the female lead is a professional and occaisionally independent woman, but at other times she is the absolute stereotypical damsel in distress, and in the scene in Teabing's library she is a downright pile of jelly -- to say nothing of the fact that in the end there is innuendo to the effect that Langdon is going to bag her.

And then, as I heard Luke Timothy Johnson observe, there is the suggestion that Mary Magdalene might have been an important figure if she was Jesus' wife, but not if she were a prostitute (a position, incidentally, which is nearly always brought about by socio-economic misfortune rather than moral indecency). Is this guy Brown reading the same Bible I am?

Finally, an observation brought on by the fact that I am a geek....

King's College desparately needs a Google Search Appliance. According to the book, when Langdon and Neveu go to the King's College library and search the theological database for "LONDON, KNIGHT, POPE" the librarian could "feel the hum of the massive mainframe downstairs scanning data at a rate of 500 MB/sec." I performed the same search on Google, scanning the entire World Wide Web (certainly terabytes of data) and got back 328,000 results in three tenths of a second.


LutheranChik said...

I don't see where "The Da Vinci Code" is very empowering to women in general, or gay women in particular. It's the same old patriarchal paradigm -- if you want to be empowered and fulfilled, hook up with the right alpha male and bear his children. Yeah, that really empowers me. Snort.

mindflame said...

National Geographic did a special on the supposed factual background of the Da Vinci Code. If you get a chance I encourage you to see it. It pretty much silenced every claim in the book except that there is no good reason to believe Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. I really believe that the book had an agenda trying to undermine Christianity in general.