Spirit and Life
Religious bigotry. Distorted views of history. Nasty stereotypes. Fundamentalist attitudes. Dogmatism. Confrontations at the water cooler. Ugly remarks.
No, I'm not talking about the now-disproved predictions that preceded The Passion of the Christ into the hearts and minds of movie patrons. I'm talking about The Da Vinci Code, a book that is every bit as anti-Catholic as Mel's movie was purported to be anti-Semitic — at least according to his most paranoid critics.
Since The Passion was released, I've heard of exactly zero instances of angry Christian viewers confronting Jews and demanding an explanation for why they killed Jesus. But I've heard several stories of Catholics being confronted by co-workers and relatives angrily wielding a copy of The Da Vinci Code, demanding an explanation for the Catholic Church's cover-up of Jesus' marriage, the murder of millions of witches and the violent suppression of lovable, cuddly heretics.
Some of these confrontations have gotten a bit tense as those confronted are a bit irritated that they have to answer to a work of mediocre fiction filled with endless clichés and historical howlers.
But it's Passion's alleged historical inaccuracies that made the headlines for several weeks. Hordes of liberal, progressive and non-Christian scholars bemoaned the endless failings of the movie: It's too violent, bloody, Catholic, Eurocentric, obscure, obvious, raw, stilted, confusing, reliant on stereotypes, conservative. One local television station put together a special panel of experts to “discuss” the movie; the panel members included a Jew, a Muslim, a liberal Methodist pastor and a Baptist minister. Catholics? What Catholics? Bias? What bias?
Topping it off was a special commentary in my local paper, written by a retired National Public Radio host, that contained these priceless lines: “Gibson says that Jews are not singled out. Everyone is responsible for Christ's death, he says. But how many Scots are depicted? How many Australians? Or Germans? There aren't any. Everyone in the film is either Jewish or Roman.” So it is historically correct after all?
Meanwhile, The Da Vinci Code claims that the Catholic faith is a big, bloody, woman-hating lie created out of pagan cloth by the manipulative emperor of Rome. It also opines, through its thinly drawn characters, that “the Vatican power base” is the source of nearly all evil, although direct links to cancer, AIDS and global warming are not made explicit. The reaction of Time, Newsweek and other big, important magazines was swift and decisive: “Hey, this is a golden opportunity to write endless, empty articles about the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene!” And write conjecturing fluff they did, with so much ink spilled about the big (secret) wedding that I half expected some historically-challenged paparazzi to show up in Cana and start staking out wedding halls.
All of this madness reveals a couple of simple but significant truths. First, the leading bigotry of our day is not homophobia or racism but Christophobia. As long as Jesus is a mere human — a happily married hippie with a message of dewy-eyed love — he can hang out with the post-modern elitists. Safely locked in his first-century cage, he cannot come out to haunt us in our lonely hours and confront us in the quiet corners of our hearts.
Second, true Christianity is radical and scandalous. It's offensive — not because it's inherently violent, nasty or anti Semitic but because it is sacrificial, humble and bursting with truth. The Code might sell, but only the cross can save.
Carl E. Olson is co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax, due out from Ignatius later this year.
- April 25-May 1, 2004