KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–The best-selling and perhaps most debated book of this decade, “The Da Vinci Code,” is now in film production. The controversial action drama from Columbia Pictures set for release in May 2006 will be directed by nice guy Ron (“Opie Taylor”) Howard and feature Tom Hanks as the novel’s protagonist, Harvard professor Robert Langdon.
Despite its simplistic literary style, which contains conspiratorial themes intended to rock the Catholic Church and the Christian faith, The Da Vinci Code has become something of a cultural phenom. In it, “secrets” are revealed claiming Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had a child in that union, and a clandestine society once headed by Leonardo Da Vinci has protected this information for centuries against a threatened Catholic hierarchy.
In an article for the Institute for Religious Research titled, “Cracks in the Da Vinci Code,” theologian Ronald V. Huggins, also an unabashed fan of pulp-fiction thrillers, writes, “The mere fact that I’m a historian of early Christianity does not mean I don’t like picking up an occasional pulp-thriller, checking my brains at the door, and spending a couple of evenings riding a surging wave of cheesy prose down an implausible course of events that eventually breaks with the bad guy getting his comeuppance, and the good guy getting whatever it was he was looking for, and the girl he was looking for it with.”
But as great literature, Dr. Huggins is not so impressed with The Da Vinci Code, noting: “Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is fantastic as a flash-in-the-pan pulp thriller. It takes you on a white-knuckle ride, without ever once distracting you with a well-turned phrase or a round character. Not only so, but its plot is also a good deal tighter than many of its market competitors. Still, the only reason I can conceive of anyone wanting to read The Da Vinci Code twice is that they forgot what it was about.”
Patrick Moody, pastor of Northwood Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., adds, “The Da Vinci Code is written in a formulaic style similar to the video game concept. It’s very similar in its concept to an older game known as ‘Myst.’ You go here and get a little nugget of information, then you go here for another nugget. Then over here. You had to figure something out before another door opened.
“If you’ve grown up with video games rather than real literature, then a book that falls into the formula Dan Brown used works. Drop on top of that this abject heresy of the ‘secret’ that claims the greatest story ever told really isn’t, then you have a formula for selling lots of books and making a lot of money.”
As for the story’s subject matter, most theologians are concerned that the book and the upcoming film will mislead and confuse both unbelievers and those in the Christian community who have not studied the Bible. The following excerpt from The Da Vinci Code exemplifies the author’s ability to cross between fact and fiction with sleight of hand throughout The Da Vinci Code.
“Every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith -– acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessible. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors” (p. 342).
As Patrick Moody observes: “We live in a biblically illiterate nation. Like the old joke, many churchgoers believe the epistles were the wives of the apostles. There are a lot of people who are willing to buy into the tenet that this is truth. That it is a real secret and the church has been keeping it from them. If I were to teach a child an untruth, and I taught it with conviction, the child, not knowing any different, would think, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s the truth.’ If you don’t study the Bible and real church history you begin to wonder if there is some truth to The Da Vinci Code.”
Columnist and culture analyst Chuck Colson describes Brown as having used “a combination of lies and half-truths, founded on a skewed perspective of church history…. [I]t has confused and disillusioned even many Christians,”
Pastor Rick Lamb of West Haven Baptist Church, Tonganoxie, Kan., adds, “I think that people who are well-grounded in the faith recognize fact from fiction fairly quickly. Those who are not as well-grounded are looking for something … anything … that transcends the human plane. Unfortunately, however, they are sometimes far too ready to accept something scandalous or salacious that feeds the carnal appetite rather than that which is matter-of-fact but reliable.”
If, as Brown writes, Christ had married, would it have taken away from His purpose?
“I don’t know the answer to the effect married life would have had on Jesus,” Moody says, “but according to God’s divine plan, He didn’t prescribe that Jesus was to marry. The mission of Christ would have been secondary had He married and had kids. His mission was to fulfill God’s purpose for His coming, which was to die on a cross for our sins.
“One thing is clear,” Moody continues: “The Christian community will need to put on the full armor of their belief as this film nears release. As with ‘The Passion of The Christ,’ The Da Vinci Code will afford believers the opportunity for witness. But they had best know their church history and the Scriptures. The proof is there, Christians just need to look it up.”
Should the success of this book and the making of the film threaten the Christian community? Are the disputable topics dangerous to the faith? Why did Ron Howard and Tom Hanks decide to bring this story to the cinema? And how can Christians prepare themselves for the onslaught of criticism toward organized religion that will no doubt be associated with this movie’s release? We shall explore these and other questions in the months to come. Until then, it has been well-advised that your Bible should gather no dust. For the best weapon in our armory is God’s truth.
Phil Boatwright is a film reviewer and editor of The Movie Reporter, on the Web at www.moviereporter.com.