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 lifes problems is not met with condemnation, but
incredible success and even significant critical acclaim.
Just as important, the novels 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
dont understand what a novel is or dont appreciate the power
(for good or ill) that fiction possesses. Recall that Rolf Hochhuths
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 Churchs 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
The novel brings to mind Mark Twains classic essay,
"Fenimore Coopers 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 Browns 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 books "plot"
is puzzling, for there really isnt 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 readersand many of
them dont 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 readers patience. Moreover,
its not really suspenseful, and the writing is shockingly banal,
even for genre fiction. Its a pretentious, bigoted, tendentious
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 mens hearts;
they must needs assert and defend what they know to be the truth, or they
would lose their birthright as men."
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 Browns novel.
Carl Olson is editor
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
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,
For more information about The Da Vinci Hoax, visit www.davincihoax.com.