| || ||
This past year had it all, including an extra dose of the bad and the ugly:
global upheaval, contentious elections, devastating natural disasters, every
sort of scandal, acts of terror, war on terrorism, attacks on marriage,
the passing of a president, the strange death of a terrorist kingpin, controversial
movies and books, and much more.
Considering how dark and difficult the year has been for so many people,
I am very thankful for the blessings God has granted my family and me. In
May I began working for Ignatius Press, the publisher of my two books. I
was asked to develop, design, create, edit, and manage an online magazine,
IgnatiusInsight.com, as well as oversee the Ignatius Press web log/blog,
It has been a challenging and rewarding experience. I have learned quite
a bit, including that there is much more to learn, whether it be about web
design, editing, writing, or deciding whether or not to post a semi-coherent
piece on the blog at 3:12 in the morning (my rule of thumb: if in doubt,
don't do it). The most rewarding part is hearing from readers about how
the articles, interviews, and resources on the web site have helped them
understand and appreciate the Catholic Faith moreafter all, that is
the goal of our work. So please send
me a note anytime with praise, criticism, comments, and questions.
addition to my work on IgnatiusInsight.com, I spent much time the second
part of the year dealing with what I eventually dubbed The Coded Craziness:
the phenomenal, exasperating success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
The thorough critique of the novel that I co-authored with Sandra Miesel,
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code, was published
in June 2004. I gave dozens of interviews and talks, appeared on FOX, CNBC,
and EWTN, and heard from numerous readers.
Frankly, I thought that The Code Craziness would fade away in the summer
of 2004; instead, it
only increased. At one point in the fall I was interviewed, mostly on
radio programs, every day for two weeks straight. I traveled to Hawaii,
Wisconsin, California, New Jersey, Washington, Texas, Delaware, and some
places in between. My plans to write another book by the end of the year
went out the window. And with a major
motion picture based on the novel coming out in May of 2006directed
by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanksit looks as though Sandra and
I will be talking about the topic for many more months. Meanwhile, The
Da Vinci Hoax is being translated in French and Spanish; I will also
continue to post regular comments about The Coded Craziness on the Insight
Scoop blog, so be sure to visit.
What follows is not a journalistic or systematic look at 2004. Nor does
it pretend to be a penetrating examination of global events, Church life,
or matters metaphysical. My goal is much more modest and personal: to share
a few thoughts about things that I heard and saw this past year and offer
brief comments, some serious and others not so serious. Here goes!
"It's only a novel!" If I've heard this comment once, I've
heard it a bazillion timesand that's only a modest exaggeration. It
is, as you may have guessed (especially if you're a regular Insight Scoop
reader) the leading comment made in response to The Da Vinci Hoax
and my other
critiques of The Da Vinci Code. I suppose it's understandable
coming from non-Christian fans of Brown's novel, but when it comes from
Catholicsincluding at least one priest, who said those very words
to me just five minutes before I gave a talk on the topicit's perplexing.
Many do "get it." Francis
Cardinal George of Chicago comes to mind. Other bishops and many priests
have addressed the matter and taken it seriously. But a
recent story in The Guardian quotes Archbishop John Foley, head
of the Vatican's pontifical council for social communications, as saying
the novel is "blasphemous" and "insidious" while indicating
that the book isn't considered important by the Vatican, adding: "I
could punch holes in it all over the place." Well, I sure hope that
a theologian and scholar can "punch holes" in the novel (and that's
exactly what Sandra and I do in our book), but that's somewhat beside the
point since the vast majority of Catholics are not theologians, historians,
It cannot be assumed that most people know much about biblical scholarship,
the "gnostic gospels," the early councils, or the artwork of Leonardo
da Vinci. Its better to assume that they have questions and need answers.
It reminds me of the famous saying that so many teachers use: "There
are no stupid questions." The Da Vinci Code has sold eighteen
million copies worldwide and people have questions. We can either answer
them or say, "It's just a novel." Guess which one I choose
"By death He conquered death!" This past summer my three-year
old daughter was asking me questions about Jesus, including "Where
is Jesus?" As I explained that Jesus is in several placesheaven,
our hearts, His Church, the Eucharistshe got a big grin on her face.
Suddenly she blurted out: "Daddy, by death He conquered death!"
She was repeating the wonderful hymn sung
in the Eastern churches during Pascha (we attend a Byzantine Catholic
parish): " Christ is Risen from the dead! By death He conquered death,
and to those in the graves He granted life." Needless to say, Daddy
was impressed, and marveled.
"The Catholic Church attacks gay marriage" Such are the usual
headlines and sound bites that stream endlessly from the beast more and
more often referred to as MSM (Mainstream Media). There are all sorts of
creative and completely objective (ahem!) variations on this statement:
"Church launches crusade against gay rights" and "The Pope
attacks gay marriage" and "Catholics launch anti-gay campaign."
Media bias? What media bias?
One evening there was a knock on my door. It was an earnest college-aged
girl seeking signatures for a petition. "As you might know," she
sincerely informed me, "the Religious Right is trying to take away
the right of gays to be married." Really? You mean that "gays"
were the first ones to establish the institution of marriage and now we
nasty "straight" people are trying to steal it from them? From
which newscaster, college professor, or New York Times pundit did
you learn that? Needless to say, such notions and the headlines that
shape them aren't going away, nor will this vital issue be debated and discussed
in the public square the way that it should be.
"Hope is on the way!" So said
John Edwards at the Democratic convention in Boston. Clever. And completely
meaningless, even for a political slogan, which is really saying something.
Sure, Bush mangles words and even entire sentences. But I dont know
that hes yet adopted a carefully scripted and mangled phrase as a
campaign centerpiece. And yet his critics insist they know a frightening
secret about the President
"Bush is stupid/a moron/an idiot/etc." I learned at an early
age that when people say, "So-and-so is stupid," they are most
often saying much more about themselves than they are about their desired
target. This sophisticated, clever approach to dealing with President Bush
(and one used repeatedly by
folks from Hollyweird) is quite funny, especially since it means that
their cause and candidate were defeated by a stupid, moronic, idiotic, know
nothing loser. Sorry, but truly stupid people don't become president of
the United States. Yes, they might be liars, criminals, power-hungry jerks,
and cutthroat paranoiacs. But they aren't stupid. As for those who use this
line of "argument," they should try another approachif theyre
"I'm praying for you." From the silly to the sublime. In my
travels I get to meet a lot of wonderful, devout Catholics from all walks
of life. I really enjoy talking to different people about the Church, their
concerns, their questions, and so forth. But most meaningful to me are those
dear people who take my hand, look me right in the eye, and say, "Carl,
I want you to know that I'm praying for you. Keep up the work you are doing."
It's humbling, powerful, and very realthe reality Christ's life made
evident through the touch and words of His people. Thank you for those prayers
and words of encouragement!
"The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semitic." Months before
Mel Gibson's masterpiece appeared in theaters the rumors, rumblings, and
lies began to shape and snake through magazines and
the internet. There was much wailing
and gnashing of teeth about a potential second Holocaust, blood in the streets,
and an explosion of violence by the mysterious (and difficult to locate)
Demands were made of Gibson that no one would dream of making of Spielberg,
Scorcese, or even lesser directors. The historical accuracy of the film
was questioned by an industry that works tirelessly to rewrite and revise
nearly every major (and many minor) event in the history of mankind. The
"pornographic" violence was denounced by people who live to produce
actual pornography and gratuitous displays of cinematic violence. Meanwhile,
that brilliant light and sage, Andy Rooney, railed
that Mel Gibson was a "whacko" and a "real nutcase"
and he "dreamed" that God said to him, "What in the world
was I thinking when I created [Gibson]? (A better question is, "What
was CBS thinking when it allowed Rooney to rant like a mad man on prime
time?" Not that it will ever be answered
"The Passion of the Christ" is not only a
powerful work of Catholic art, it shone a bright light into the ugly,
Christian-hating belly of Hollyweird and the self-proclaimed cultural elite.
Quite fitting for a movie about the Man who said, "The world cannot
hate you; but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil"
"For me, that was just three or four steps too far." Speaking
of Jesus, how about this
comment from novelist Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code,
who was referring to his decision to not include in the mega-selling novel
the claim that Jesus survived the crucifixion. Yes, that really would be
too much, wouldn't it? After all, the novel already insists that the marriage
of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is "part of the historical record,"
that Jesus was not divine, and that no one believed he was divine until
Emperor Constantine "made" him God at the Council of Nicaea in
A.D. 325. No need to go "three or four steps too far" when you've
already walked so far into the fringes of conspiracy theory nuttiness and
esoteric whackiness that you don't even know where you're going.
"The most profound difficulty of our age." Those are the words
of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, writing in Truth
and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions about relativism,
or "the dogma of relativism." The book is a difficult, but rewarding
work, and Ratzinger's critique of false tolerance and relativism desperately
needs to be heard and understood by Christians. "To lay claim to truth
for one religions particular expressions of faith appears today, not
only presumptuous ," writes Ratzinger, "but an indication of insufficient
enlightenment." In other words, if you believe that Christianity is
unique and true, the world will declare you stupid. Sounds about right.
"See, Mother, I make all things new." Being of stoic Scandinavian
stock, I told myself that I would hold fast while viewing "The Passion
of the Christ" and, if I had to cry, would do so in minimal, silent
amounts. But, like so many others, when it came to
the scene of the grieving Mary running to the side of her fallen, bloodied
Son, I was overwhelmed. That scene was an example of how the film masterfully
presented MaryMother and Disciplefully devoted to the life and
mission of her Son, even while being nearly
overwhelmed by the violence and agony of the Passion. Incredibly moving
and, dare I say, theologically rich and historically viable.
"That'll be $3.75." I'll end on a lighter, more temporal note.
I'm a coffee snob and
a compulsive consumer of the roasted bean. Which is perhaps why it took
so long to realizeno, to admitthat paying nearly four dollars
venti, no-whip, extra hot, half-caf mocha is not just ridiculous, it's
probably morally repugnant. So for Christmas I managed to obtain a nice,
but not overly expensive, espresso maker. I'm not good with numbers, but
I calculate that it will pay for itself in some three or four months. It
will keep me away from the temptation of equally expensive, fatting pastries.
And it will allow me more time to stay at home and work on IgnatiusInsight.com,
which I hope will make many people happy.
"There is an appointed time for everything," writes the author
of Ecclesiastes, "And there is a time for every event under heaven."
The past year fades away and a new one begins. May Gods will be done
and may we walk in the light and truth of His mercy and grace.
Carl Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He resides with his wife and
daughter in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland,
Oregon and Sacramento, California.
More of his articles and columns can be found on his personal website, www.carl-olson.com.
If you'd like to receive the FREE IgnatiusInsight.com
e-letter (about every 2 to 3 weeks), which includes regular updates
about IgnatiusInsight.com articles, reviews, excerpts, and author appearances,
please click here to sign-up today!
| || || |