We hope Tom Hanks repeats his 1990 record.
That’s the year that he starred in the movie version of one of the biggest books of the 1980s, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and the movie flopped so badly that a book about its making was subtitled “The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco.”
In May, Hanks stars in the film version of The Da Vinci Code, a multimillion-selling detective thriller. We hope that after the initial crowds its controversy will inevitably attract, it will suffer a similar fate.
It’s not that we don’t like detective thrillers. Detective thrillers are fun. They offer an escape into a fictional world of international intrigue and suspense with a satisfying conclusion to a perplexing mystery.
But The Da Vinci Code’s author, Dan Brown, claims that his book is more than a work of fiction. He says, “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
Then, as the novel unfolds, the solution of the mystery turns out to be a startling secret that these “accurate” documents supposedly prove: Jesus Christ was an adulterous fraud and the Catholic Church kills people in order to perpetuate his lies.
Many people see no problem with this. It seems like no more than a clever and quirky literary device that plays on a historical/religious figure whose followers have fascinating ritualistic behaviors. But we know that Jesus Christ is not just a vague historical/religious figure. He’s a real person that many of us happen to love passionately.
To understand why Christians are upset by The Da Vinci Code, imagine that instead of Dan Brown’s adulterous Jesus and Church of liars, the novel and movie were called The Mrs. Brown Code. Imagine that the startling conclusion of The Mrs. Brown Code — based on “accurate documents” — was that Dan Brown’s mother is an adulteress and the Brown family kills people to cover up their life of lies.
The book would be an abomination. The defense “Don’t be silly; it’s just a novel” would make the defender, not the critic, look bad. Everyone would understand if the Brown family reacted by going to every expense to suppress the movie and punish the authors of the book.
We should be even more outraged at The Da Vinci Code than The Mrs. Brown Code. After all, Jesus Christ isn’t simply a loving person we happen to know, but the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord and Judge of us all.
But, for the same reason, we should have a very different reaction from what we would have to a book about a regular person.
That’s because our primary responsibility as Christians isn’t to punish those who disbelieve, but to increase the number of those who do believe.
The Gospel is full of examples showing how Christ himself responded to false accusations in his own day. When he was called a “drunkard and a glutton,” he taught the crowds about his role in salvation history. When he was accused of violating the Sabbath, he taught about human dignity. And when he was accused of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, he went to his death teaching his greatest lessons of love and mercy.
In other words, Christ saw false accusations as an opportunity to talk about his true mission and message. We should do the same.
Instead of simply being angry or condemning The Da Vinci Code, we should use the opportunity to tell people about who Christ really is — and how he’s as close to us as Dan Brown’s mother presumably is to him.
The window of opportunity will be a brief one. The Da Vinci Code movie will make headlines in the next few months, and for a few weeks after it opens. We hope it will tank at that point, but in any case we need to start preparing now.
Christ is going to be in a spotlight. We should make sure that people learn the truth about him while they’re focusing on him, and not just the lies.
Tim Drake’s front-page story in this issue directs readers to some of the many resources that are available to debunk the movie and deliver the truth about Christ. We urge Register readers to use them.
— Ask your pastor to allow you to set up a Da Vinci Code study group in your parish to discuss the story’s misinformation.
— Talk to the Da Vinci Code fans in your family about the book. Anger won’t be helpful here. But genuine love for Christ and corrective information can do wonders.
— Use the movie’s popularity as an opportunity to teach older CCD students about what the Church’s ancient wisdom really tells us about Christ.
If we respond the way Christ did, we just may share in the victory he won.