Da Vinci Code - Are Christians over-reacting?

I haven't read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - not my sort of literature. In fact, anything with pages and a spine these days is likely to get ignored.

But one thing I do know about the Da Vinci Code is that it is fiction. When it comes to fiction, anything is fair game - there are no "rules" with which writers and readers have to abide by.

So the fact that Dan Brown has managed to pepper his novel with false claims about the origins of the Christian faith is not inconsistent with the nature of fiction. Fiction is successful when it is able to "suspend our disbelief", and any novel which is written in the setting of the real world is easier to understand than, say, a novel about Bob Dylan and Santa Claus getting married and ruling over the Roman Empire.

The Da Vinci code is fiction. If you go into your local bookstore you will find it in the fiction section (that is, if it isn't sitting in the best seller section). As soon as a text becomes fiction then its values and background immediately become suspect.

The same can't be said for the book Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken. That book was released as popular non-fiction, puportedly showing archaeological evidence that our ancestors were contacted by aliens from outer space. Certainly the premise was interesting (which is why it sold so well) but as soon as it was touted as being a result of objective research it got into trouble. Rightly, Chariots of the Gods was exposed as being the result of an overactive mind - it was essentially fictional, but its intention was to be factual.

Every time you read or view a fictional text your disbelief is suspended. Suddenly it is possible that aliens exist, or that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, or that Bob Dylan married Santa Claus.

I remember as a kid desperately wanting to be a character in Doctor Who, where I would walk around following the Doctor (Tom Baker) and getting into all sorts of adventures. At the same time I realised that it was just a TV show and found my desire to be a character on the show split with the idea that the show is actually fictional, and that the Tardis and the Doctor did not actually exist.

The difficulty that some people have in discerning fiction from reality was also present during the run of Gilligan's Island. Some people were convinced that a real bunch of castaways had actually been marooned on an island and contacted the US Coast Guard on numerous occasions to try to rescue them.

But such people were in a puny minority - in fact I'd probably guess that those who rang to rescue Gilligan and his pals probably had some intellectual disorder.

What has happened in the past is that sometimes a fictional text somehow gets remembered as factual. This happened with the film Capricorn One, where US astronauts pretend to land on Mars but are, in actual fact, acting out in a warehouse in the desert somewhere. This has led directly to the rise of a conspiracy theory that US astronauts did not actually walk on the moon.

But I somehow doubt that the same sort of thing could happen with Dan Brown's book.

Christians everywhere are obviously concerned about how our beliefs are portrayed in both fiction and non-fiction. Usually, if an author is using their fictional work to promote a certain agenda that is anti-Christian then, of course, they are fair game. I don't think that is what the Da Vinci Code is about though. From what I understand it is a thriller/mystery that exists in a fictional world in which the historicity of Christ's life on earth is actually in error. I'm not sure if Dan Brown is actively trying to harm the Christian faith through this - instead he is using a mish-mash of popular and ahistorical beliefs that are assumed to be true, and based a mystery around it.

For any ordinary person who reads the Da Vinci Code, I'm certain that they found the story interesting, but would not be surprised to find out that the book's premise is actually based on fiction. So we have a fictional story based upon a fictional understanding of reality - that's not dangerous, it's actually quite normal.

Which is, of course, why I have no problem reading fantasy novels like Harry Potter. Rowling's books are exactly like Dan Brown in the sense that it is a fictional story based upon a fictional understanding of reality - Harry Potter is a fictional being, and so is the magic and the sorcery that undergirds the entire story.

So I'm wondering if this anti-Da Vinci code thing is actually a useful thing to do. Of course, when certain events occur in popular culture it is often very important for Christians to carefully look at the issues. I remember back in the early 1990s when Barbara Thiering was selling her warped view of New Testament history - but this deserved to be addressed because Thiering was (allegedly) a historian, she was saying stuff that wasn't true and her methodology was flawed. But Thiering was also trying to push her view that her understanding of New Testament history was actually correct, which meant that knowledgeable Christians needed to respond. I don't see Dan Brown in the same way.

I probably won't read the Da Vinci Code - mainly because of the hype surrounding it. It will remain, along with The Passion, texts that I refuse to read or view.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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