Stepping out of the drizzling rain and into Barnes and Noble last Sunday, I was greeted by an enormous display dedicated to Dan Brown and his most famous book, The Da Vinci Code. The display consisted of numerous Da Vinci-themed books, merchandise and spin-offs, including calendars, guides, maps, board games, journals, CDs and tons of other books, even a self-help item entitled “The Diet Code.” I suppressed a chuckle.
Near the main display was a special section labeled “The Da Vinci Debate,” containing scores of books written directly in response to Brown’s fiction novel, and each claiming authority to rebut the “horrible errors” and “dangerous misrepresentations” that appear within it. Many known theologians have contributed to this collection, and the canon has become quite large. As I looked around me, a little overwhelmed by this gross capitalist spectacle of merchandising-meets-history, I started thinking about God’s role in this. What might He be doing with this entire ordeal? Why are Christians getting so worked up over a single piece of fiction? Is God trying to tell us something here?
The first thing that I think of when I think of Da Vinci is that the book is, in fact, fiction. Obviously, it would be preferable if our society were able to distinguish more clearly between what is and isn‘t real, but this has never been the case, particularly within the evangelical community. Evangelicals have always waged war on fiction titles that they felt in some way contradicted the Bible, from Mark Twain to Harry Potter. Why would I or anyone else expect Christians to react differently to Da Vinci, particularly considering that the subject matter is so rooted in Christian pretenses? Nevertheless, The Da Vinci Code seems to receive special attention, and I wonder why that might be.
The premise of many of the secondary Da Vinci books, especially those written by Christian authors, seems to revolve around statements made by Da Vinci’s fictional expert Leigh Teabing, regarding the early church. The statements are made matter-of-factly and are frequently inaccurate. As Bart Ehrman points out in Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, which is perhaps the best overall analysis of Brown’s historical mistakes, “If the author had simply done a little bit more research, he would have been able to present the historical back-drop of his account accurately, without in any way compromising the story he had to tell.” And while I agree with Dr. Ehrman, his statement does little more than to further reinforce the already known fact that The Da Vinci Code is a fictitious story. And if Christianity is already well aware of this truth, then what, pray tell, is our true concern? Surely there is something deeper.
Christians aren’t stupid, not in general. Why, then, is our community so hung-up on a piece of writing that is simply inaccurate? Evangelicals typically have less contempt for the so-called Gnostic Gospels or the Apocrypha than they do for fiction that outsells the Bible.
And then I realized it.
We’re afraid of this fiction for the same reason small children are afraid of the dark. It’s the fear of the unknown. The reason that the inaccurate statements of Leigh Teabing in Da Vinci strike such a nerve amongst evangelicals is because so many believers are so poorly equipped to rebut them. Pastors know this about their flocks, and as a result, may be inclined to instruct their followers not to read the book. As the Body of Christ, we know so horrifyingly little about the history of what we believe that any information presented with authority may very well threaten to skew our understandings.
Take Teabing’s statements about the Deity of Christ. In the book, Teabing ascertains that the council of Nicea, from which was born the Nicene Creed, was called by Emperor Constantine to determine that Christ was indeed God. Having done my research, I can tell you that this statement is entirely untrue, and that the understanding of Christ as divine was believed hundreds of years prior to the Council of Nicea in 325. However, I can understand how an uneducated Christian, when presented with the idea that “the divinity of Jesus” was “debated and voted upon” might be dangerously unequipped to know just what to what to think about such a proposition.
It is not the fault of Dan Brown that we as Christians are so horribly uneducated about our own faith that we would blindly believe the fabrications of a fictitious character in one of his novels. It is utterly shameful that a fiction novel could have such a profound effect on us for our lack of knowledge and, to a great extent, even our seeming unwillingness to seek the truth. All Christians claim to believe that what we know about God and Jesus is indeed the truth; few Christians go so far as to prove it for themselves. Many write it off quickly as a matter of faith, leaving themselves quite open to attack in their ignorance. What every Christian should know is that what we believe actually is the truth, and not simply what we believe because we are too foolish or arrogant to understand otherwise.
When Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life …” (John 14:6), He was not speaking metaphorically nor in generalizations; our Lord does not seek to confuse us. He was being literal.
Christianity is the truth, and those who seek to prove that most certainly can and often do. Certainly, there are tensions in Christianity, as there are in science or in language or in math, however the underlying reality is that we do ourselves and other believers around us a horrendous disservice by blindly accepting our faith without ever seeking to truly understand why we believe what we do. With all this in mind, it becomes painfully obvious why those evangelicals so enthralled with capitalism, twelve-hour work days and the so-called American Dream would feel threatened by Da Vinci. It is easier to ban something than it is to analyze or learn from it.
I am in no way professing the idea that all Christians should go to school to earn an M.Div. or seek to become formal preachers or priests. What I am saying is that all Christians should feel a sense of pride and obligation to understand their faith and God as best they can. It is for this very reason that believers should read The Da Vinci Code. Much is to be learned, and a great deal of Christian understanding can be taken from it, but only if you are familiar with the context. There is no need to fear nor to avoid a book or movie, fiction or otherwise, when you know the Truth. God is that Truth, and only God is to be feared by those who believe in Him.
So far as I have yet observed, this is what God is showing us through Da Vinci. He wants us to see that our ignorance is not bliss, is not pleasing to Him. He wants us to thirst for knowledge and to be ever curious about His majesty and grace. I believe that God has used this book to inspire curiosity in non-believers, as well as to further the understandings of those of us who already know Christ.