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Imagine a novel based on the premise that the Holocaust had never happened, but was the invention of a powerful group of Jewish leaders who have used that "myth" to garner themselves power and fortune. Or consider a theoretical novel claiming that Muhammad was a not a prophet at all, but a drug-addled homosexual who married multiple wives in order to hide his deviant behavior and who killed non-Muslims in fits of rage against heterosexuals.

Needless to say, such novels would be immediately and rightly condemned by a majority of critics and readers. Yet The Da Vinci Code, a novel claiming that Christianity is fraudulent, the Catholic Church is a violent, misogynist institution run by murderers and liars, and androgyny is the answer to life’s problems is not met with condemnation, but incredible success and even significant critical acclaim.

Just as important, the novel’s dubious and often ridiculous claims about historical events and persons are taken seriously by many readers and members of the media. Brown has drawn upon the old stereotype of the Catholic Church as blood-soaked, evil institution, an image that has sold well in the U.S. for decades, even centuries. As Philip Jenkins, a non-Catholic, notes in The New Anti-Catholicism, "Most contemporary attacks on Catholicism or the Catholic Church draw heavily on history, or at least on a kind of mythic history that has become deeply imbedded in popular thought. And so The Da Vinci Code is filled with talk of murder, intrigue, hatred of women, sexual repression, mass murder, religious oppression, and intolerance. "Today, likewise", Jenkins explains, "hypercritical examinations of Catholic misdeeds are intended to support contemporary political positions, commonly in debates over morality and sexuality."

Some readers, puzzled by the concern over The Da Vinci Code, insist that it is "just a book" or "only a novel". They either don’t understand what a novel is or don’t appreciate the power (for good or ill) that fiction possesses. Recall that Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play Der Stellvertreter (The Representative or The Deputy) was responsible for radically influencing perceptions of Pope Pius XII (1939-58), eventually resulting in a host of books (mostly published in the 1990s) questioning the Catholic Church’s activities (or alleged lack of them) during the Holocaust. Was that "just a play"?

It should be obvious that what we read, whether for entertainment or education, says much about who were are, both individually and as a culture. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, in his book Heretics, "Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves". The Da Vinci Code is custom-made fiction for our time: pretentious, posturing, self-serving, arrogant, self-congratulatory, condescending, glib, illogical, superficial, and deviant. It has managed to tap into a deep reservoir of spiritual longing, restlessness, distrust, suspicion, and credulity. But how ironic is it that a novel that continually advocates distrust of authority is so easily trusted by millions of readers? How strange is it that a book so bent on criticizing religion in general and Christianity specifically is so overtly religious in preaching the gospel of the "sacred feminine"?

Also strange is that the novel is presented at a thriller but is rarely, if ever, thrilling. We estimate that over twenty percent of the book consists of lectures, almost all of them directed at the character Sophie, who first appears with " a haunting certainty to her gait" and with a striking boldness, but is soon little more than an empty-headed and helpless student in the impromptu classrooms of Langdon and Teabing. Symbologist Robert Langdon is hardly any more believable than Sophie, a sort of emasculated pseudo-intellectual who is continually surprised that others know anything at all and constantly offering up lectures that are as flawed as they are unbelievable.

The novel brings to mind Mark Twain’s classic essay, "Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses", in which the great wit dryly complains that Cooper violated eighteen of the nineteen rules–"some say twenty-two"–governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction. Many of the same criticisms can be applied to Brown’s novel: "a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere", "the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances", "the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate", and "avoid slovenliness of form."

The effusive praise that many readers have for the book’s "plot" is puzzling, for there really isn’t much of a plot, save a set-up and twist that is more in keeping with Days of Our Lives than it is with best-selling thrillers such as The Bourne Identity or Eye of the Needle. It is standard romance novel fare: boy meets girl, they get into a bind, they get out of the bind, and they kiss. Characters stand around and loiter endlessly, very little ever happens, and the ending is a bust. The "story" is simply a vehicle for a lengthy indictment against Christianity and the Catholic Church and an excuse, much like the Left Behind books, for endless lecturing and proselytizing. Brown appears to have little respect for his readers–and many of them don’t seem to mind, or to notice.

The Da Vinci Code is a perfect post-modern myth, pulp fiction style. Occasionally clever and hip, it is never wise or insightful. Often cheesy, it is never artful. Seriously contrived, it is never believable or engaging. As Amy Welborn, another Da Vinci Code debunker, acidly notes, the characters are one-dimensional and the novel "is neither learned nor challenging – except to the reader’s patience. Moreover, it’s not really suspenseful, and the writing is shockingly banal, even for genre fiction. It’s a pretentious, bigoted, tendentious mess."

So what is The Da Vinci Code. Is it just a fad? A one hit wonder? A novelty novel? Will people remember it in ten years? Will it matter? Is it worth writing an entire book in response to it? We think it is necessary, especially considering the impact and influence the novel has had and continues to have. Our hope is that readers will not only consider the truth about specific topics and issues, but will agree that Truth does exist and needs to be respected. "Truth, once it is rightly apprehended", wrote Ronald Knox, "has a compelling power over men’s hearts; they must needs assert and defend what they know to be the truth, or they would lose their birthright as men."



This article adopted from The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius, 2004), co-authored by Olson and Miesel and described by Francis Cardinal George as "the definitive debunking" of Dan Brown’s novel.

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.

Sandra Miesel, who holds a masters degree in medieval history from the University of Illinois, is a Catholic journalist. In over twenty years of publishing, she has written hundreds of essays and articles, chiefly on history, art, and hagiography.

For more information about The Da Vinci Hoax, visit www.davincihoax.com.




   




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