May 18, 2006
Liking Da Vinci, Loving Jesus: confessions from a Christian fan of "The Code"
Unless you've living in a cave in Tora Bora you know that The Da Vinci Code movie opens this week. Early reviews have not been kind, but that hasn't deflated Leadership editorial coordinator Elizabeth Diffin's excitement. Elizabeth believes enjoying Dan Brown's novel is not contrary to her faith, and asserts that The Code has actually strengthened it.
I have a confession to make: I am a Christian and I liked The Da Vinci Code. At the risk of being called a heretic, I'll admit I'm a fan of the novel.
I read The Da Vinci Code last fall, and although it was recommended to me by a strong Christian friend, I can't claim any holy motivations for reading it. I was looking for an entertaining and quick read; Da Vinci fulfilled those needs. No, The Da Vinci Code is not a great work of literature. It obviously doesn't measure up to Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky. It's pop-fiction, an amusing book for when you're at the beach or working a slow bank window (as I was).
The thing is, The Da Vinci Code is fiction. Dan Brown's cryptic statements at the beginning of the book notwithstanding. It's right there on the cover in all caps: A NOVEL.
No one is trying to trick us into thinking it is true, any more than E.B. White tried to convince us that pigs can talk. That's the nature of fiction: you suspend reality for a couple of hours and experience another world. And I found Brown's world to be a great ride.
Personally, I give kudos to Brown. Not only did he write a hefty volume (a feat in-and-of itself), he wrote a book that millions of people bought, and it has been discussed in workplaces and gyms and coffee shops across the country. Now it's even being debated on CNN and at Christianity Today, of all places.
It's not that Brown came up with these ideas on his own. The Gnostic Gospels have been around since shortly after Matthew and Luke wrote theirs. Other books have already dealt with this controversial subject matter (such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, the 1982 book whose authors recently had Dan Brown in a British court). Brown, I would argue, committed the very great sin of writing a book that a lot of people read. He didn't invent new ideas, or even a radical new take on an old idea. But since a lot of people read his book and discussed it, it became "dangerous."
The Da Vinci Code didn't rock my world much, to be quite honest. It had some interesting ideas ? Brown claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, in case you missed that ? and it taught me some things I didn't know. I had never heard of Opus Dei or the Cult of the Feminine in my pre-Da Vinci days. And even if Brown sensationalized them, which I'm sure he did for the sake of the plot, I was interested and able to do research and became more aware of the world. In the process, I reaffirmed my belief on certain topics, such as Christ's divinity. It took some thought and prayer, and yes, it took some questioning. But eventually I arrived at sound and better informed conclusions.
I guess that is the basis of most of the complaints about The Da Vinci Code. It causes people to doubt their faith, to reconsider what orthodox Christianity teaches. Ultimately, I think that's the great thing about Da Vinci. I recently interviewed a self-described atheist for an upcoming issue of Leadership. His final exhortation to me was to never be afraid to ask the questions. His exact words: "Keep having questions and don't rest until you get answers. If you get a good answer, that makes you stronger in your faith. But if you don't get a good answer, you have no reason to believe in that stuff."
If Christianity can't stand up to questioning, it's not worth believing. I want to have a faith that is worth believing. If Jesus Christ is truly "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," then Christianity will be able to withstand the questions and the doubt and the outright blasphemy. In the past 2000 years, Christianity has faced bigger obstacles than a fanciful novel. The Da Vinci Code might have been a New York Times bestseller, but The Holy Bible is the bestseller of the ages.
So, when The Da Vinci Code hits theaters this week, look out for me. Despite poor initial reviews, I'm excited to see how Tom Hanks and Ron Howard were able to adapt the book to the big screen. The debate over The Da Vinci Code may be huge, but as a Christian, it's my prerogative to like Da Vinci and still love Jesus Christ.