MONDAY, May 1, 2006 Monday of the Third Week of Easter
If I had been told two years ago (When our book, The Da Vinci Hoax was first published) that the Coded Craziness would be even more intense and surreal in May 2006 than in May 2004, I would have suspected that you were some sort of conspiracy theory nut. But three years after the initial publication of Dan Brown's Catholic-bashing, truth-twisting, history-revising novel, The Da Vinci Code, the interest has indeed grown--largely, of course, in anticipation of the major motion picture based on the book that will be in theaters on May 19th.
I'd like to think that I've learned many things over the past couple of years because of my experiences related to the Coded Craziness. Some of those things are small and even humorous: giving radio interviews (by phone) at 5:20 in the morning can be challenging; flying to northern Michigan takes two days and five flights from Oregon; being on televison via satellite is like talking to voices in your head--and looks the same way. I know that I'll hear certain questions on a regular basis: "Why try to debunk a work of fiction?" and "Have you ever met Dan Brown" and "Should I read the novel/watch the movie?" and "Are you going to see the movie?"
About twelve books, many of them excellent, have been written by Christians critiquing and debunking the historical and theological claims made in The Da Vinci Code. But even Christians have disagreed about various matters related to the novel, including how best to deal with it. Some have even suggested that it's best to ignore the novel's success--that responding to it has only made it more popular. That is, I'm convinced, a flawed tactic, and ignores that the novel is popular because of what it claims, not because it has critics. Others say we shouldn't warn people about the novel (since we might appear too defensive), nor should we be strong in our criticisms of what it says (since we might appear meanspirited or angry).
However, the tasks of apologetics, evangelization, and catechesis are not mutually independent, even if they are distinct and have unique characteristics. Each are important; each serves a vital place in the life of the Church. All of us are called, to some degree or another, to defend, proclaim, and teach the truth about the Gospel and the Christian Faith. And so it's not as though, in responding to questions (or accusations) based on The Da Vinci Code, we cannot offer both a defense and an offense; in fact, we should. Or, in the words of Saint Peter, be "ready to make a defense" when asked to "give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). So defending, proclaiming, and teaching the Faith can happen all at once--and oftentimes should when addressing the Coded Craziness.
Recently, Monsignor Angelo Amato (who worked closely with Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) noted that if the "slander, offenses and errors" found in The Da Vinci Code had been directed at the Quran or the Holocaust, they would have "provoked a worldwide revolt." But, he said, "because they were directed toward the Catholic Church, they remain 'unpunished.'" I agree.
Far too many readers--as well as Dan Brown and the makers of the soon-to-be-released cinematic version of the novel--have tried to have it both ways: giving or accepting praise for supposedly raising deep and important questions, but deflecting legitimate criticism by appealing to the fictional character of the book. I hope many people will go see a movie on May 19th, but will see something other than The Da Vinci Code, sending a clear message to Sony, Ron Howard, and the makers of the film that overt historical revisionism and blatant anti-Catholicism are not only bad for business, but bad for a society based not just on freedom of _expression, but also on authentic tolerance, respect, and artistic integrity.
Finally, one last note on this topic: Sandra Miesel and I will be guests on "EWTN Live" this Wednesday, May 3rd, with Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., and will be talking about these and related subjects.
Carl E. Olson