"Code" Craze Goes On
Blind guides: Secrets of the Code wont clear up your questions about The Da Vinci Code.
By Carl E. Olson.
A review of Secrets of the Code: An Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code. Edited by Dan Burstein (New York: CDS Books, 2004). 373 pages.
Our Sunday Visitor, July 11, 2004
The implied promise of an "unauthorized guide" is that it will provide readers with the truth and serve up information that will likely upset fans of the person, book, or institution in question. Which means that Dan Burstein, the editor of Secrets of the Code, is a better marketer than editor since his booka compilation of essays and excerpts from various authorsis mostly a long, self-important, and exasperating advertisement for Dan Browns The Da Vinci Code.
Its not that Burstein believes everything in Browns mega-selling novel. But thats only because belief really isnt the issue for fans (including Burstein) of The Da Vinci Code. No, its all about a narcissistic search for a customized spirituality and a rejection of anything containing anything smacking of "orthodoxy," "dogmatism," or Catholicism.
Readers thinking this "unauthorized" book will provide an objective and scholarly response will be disappointed. Burstein, who runs a venture capital firm, barely contains his adulation for Browns novel: "I was as intellectually challenged as I had been by any book I had read in a long time." With a knowing wink at aging Baby Boomers, he recounts sitting with his latte and making his way through "scores of books that had been mentioned or alluded to in The Da Vinci Code: Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Templar Revelation, Gnostic Gospels, The Woman With the Alabaster Jar, The Nag Hammadi Library, and more." All are well represented in Secrets of the Code.
But if Bursteins goal is to ascertain the validity of Browns many claims about early Christianity, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Leonardo da Vinci, his heavy reliance on Browns sources is flawed and unconvincing. But Burstein really isnt interested in rigorously comparing Browns work against, say, leading Biblical scholars, noted theologians, medievalists, and art scholars. Hes already convinced that Brown is on to something big even if hes forced to admit, as he must, that Brown is wildly off on numerous points.
But for many people being wrong about facts is unimportant. The point is to ask questions, seek an "alternative" path, and embrace ideas that resonate with you. "DVC [The Da Vinci Code] is a novel of ideas," Burstein explains, "Say what you will about some of the ham-fisted dialogue and improbably plot elements, Dan Brown has wrapped large complex ideas, as well as minute details and fragments of intriguing thoughts into his action-adventure-murder mystery."
If this is a pleasant way of saying Brown throws everything, including the kitchen sink, against the wall and figures something will stick, then Burstein is correct. You insert enough references to goddess worship, conspiracy theories, bizarre sexual rituals, cryptography, Renaissance art, ancient heresies, and Paris into a novel and youre bound to get someones attention.
But there is something more: "DVC challenges readers to imagine what they have always heard or believed may not be the truth after all. . . . In doing so, DVC is an implicit critique of intolerance, of madness in the name of God, and all those who believe that there is only one true God, one true faith, and one true way to practice religious devotion."
Put another way: Catholic-bashing and relativism are good things. And antagonism towards the Catholic Church is a common trait in most authors featured in Secrets of the Code. Occult and paranormal expert Lynn Picknett has six essays featured. Former Catholic-turned-feminist Margaret Starbird and neo-gnostic "seeker" Elaine Pagels each has four.
Harvard feminists Pagels and Karen King appear repeatedly, and Pagels ("a true Renaissance woman") is thanked for her support of the book. Gnostic priest Lance Owens, neo-gnostics Timothy Freke and Peter Grandy, and the three authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (one of Browns main sources), make appearances, explaining why the Catholic Church is so bad, rotten, bloody, superstitious, misogynist, and otherwise corrupt.
The Catholic side is represented by James Martin, S.J. of America magazine, controversial Richard McBrien of Catholicism fame, and historian Katherine Ludwig Jansen of Catholic University. Martin laments the existence of Opus Dei and McBrien frets over the Churchs alleged problems with sex. Only Jansen stands out for her keen and scholarly observations about Mary Magdalene, which completely refute Browns main premises.
No orthodox Catholic theologians or biblical scholars (or Protestant, for that matter) are represented.
If youre seeking innuendo, conspiracy theories, and baseless conjecture, Secrets of the Code is the perfect "guide." Serious seekers of truth and fact should look for clues elsewhere.
Reprinted by permission of Our Sunday Visitor. ©2004.
Carl Olson is editor of IgnatiusInsight.com and author of the best-selling book, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? (Ignatius, 2003), as well as a regular contributor to Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, This Rock, Crisis, and First Things.
For more information about The Da Vinci Hoax, visit www.davincihoax.com.
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