'Just' Fiction?

Spirit & Life

It's just fiction!” I've heard I this remark quite often I over the past few years, referring to the Left Behind series and the Harry Potter novels, and now to the latest fiction sensation, The Da Vinci Code.

It seems that fiction, for many people, is simply entertainment and escapism that can have only a positive effect. So, the Left Behind books explain Scripture but never misinterpret it. The Harry Potter books inspire children to read but never to explore the occult. The Da Vinci Code explains the true history of Christianity but never misrepresents it.

Meanwhile the enormous success of the Left Behind series and of The Da Vinci Code in particular indicates that novels promoting esoteric beliefs, presented in a fast-paced fashion and loaded with attacks on the Catholic Church, make for best sellers. It also suggests that best-selling fiction — despite being “just fiction” — is a source of theology, philosophy and history for a formidable number of readers.

The Illinois Conference of Catholic Bishops recognized this fact and recently issued a statement describing the Left Behind series and its creator, fundamentalist Tim LaHaye, as anti-Catholic. LaHaye denies the charge, saying the bishops are “reading into these books something that's not there.”

However, in several nonfic-tion books, LaHaye claims the Catholic faith is “pagan” and is a “Babylonian idolatrous religion,” marked by corruption, murder and numerous false doctrines. The anti-Catholicism is more subtle in the Left Behind books, but it's obvious to the alert reader. LaHaye is adamant that “true Christianity” was nearly destroyed by the emperor Constantine, who allowed pagan practices and “Babylonian mysticism” to infiltrate the Church. In his commentary Revelation Unveiled, he asserts that the Catholic Church promotes “Babylonian mysticism in many forms and salvation by works.”

Armageddon, the latest installment in the Left Behind series, was published in April and quickly topped the best-seller lists. The Da Vinci Code, a whodunit with a theological agenda, appeared around the same time. The author, Dan Brown, states he is a Christian, “although perhaps not in the most traditional sense of the word.” That's a mild understatement, considering his novel is based on the beliefs that Jesus was not divine, he was married to Mary Magdalene and had children, and that the Catholic Church has kept all of this hidden through intimidation, deception and even murder.

Just as many readers believe the Left Behind novels are God-given guides to understanding the “end times,” readers and critics are fawning over The Da Vinci Code and its explanation of the real history of Christianity and the Catholic Church. This, despite Brown's stiff, disjointed thriller being packed full of historical errors, feminist propaganda and neo-Gnostic sermonizing.

The absurd assertion is made that Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to deify Christ. As one character, a historian, soberly explains, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … Jesus’ establishment as 'the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.”

Sadly, these distorted views of history and the Catholic faith — views that really are fictional — are the closest thing to theology and catechesis that some people will ever read. Bad fiction distorts truth by pretending to be more than just fiction. Good fiction should reveal truth, not misrepresent it.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Envoy magazine and the author of Will Catholics Be “Left Behind“?

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy