Friday, May 12, 2006

Da Vinci Dementia

I've stayed on the sidelines during the whole Da Vinci Code furor. I haven't read the book. I will probably see the movie if only to be able to discuss it intelligently with my students and others. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the reaction it is causing among Christians.

There seems to be great confusion over how to respond to this phenomenon. Some view Dan Brown as the pen name of Satan and would burn every book and frame of film they could get their hands on. Others counsel boycotts of the film or similar strategies designed to "send a message" to Hollywood. Still more, realizing that such "messages" rarely get through and often only serve to garner more attention for a film, suggest we just ignore the whole thing altogether. Then there are those who feel we should embrace it as an opportunity for dialogue with others about the Christian faith.

What's the best approach? I don't know. A case can be made for each option, some stronger than others. What bothers me the most about the whole ordeal is simply that this book/movie is even an issue to begin with. I don't understand people who think they are getting accurate history out of a fictional novel. From what I do know about the book, the factual and historical errors that undergird Brown's story are so blatant and obvious to anyone with a minimal knowledge of ancient history that he makes Oliver Stone look like a paragon of historical responsibility. This book/movie's claims about Christianity are so far off-base historically that it poses no threat to authentic Christian faith. Unfortunately, we live in a society in which most people consider ancient history to be synonymous with the events of the 1950's. And frankly, this historical ignorance extends as much to Christians as to others. As Keith Huey, Rochester College's church historican, has noted, most Christians don't know how the Bible was formulated or who the early Church Fathers are or what other gospels were written beyond those in our canon. For Christians, perhaps the real battle here should not be against the Da Vinci Code, but against our own apathy towards in-depth historical and theological study.


At 7:16 AM, Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Agreed that boycotts only serve to the bring more publicity to the movie in question .. along with studying the real truth, Christians can do their part by staying away en masse and hoping beyong all reason that this glossy piece of garbage just tanks at the box office

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Suzie said...

This is the second blog that I have read today that mentions how we tend to accept the idea that a fictional work can be grounded in truth. Sometimes it can be, but sometimes not. I think Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for example has several historical inaccuracies, yet it is the story that most people believe. I'd love to hear your review of Da Vinci after you see the movie.
Also, have you seen or will you see Flight 93?

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Reel fanatic,
I think you are right that it is a hope beyond reason. The movie will no doubt do well and in fact it would not surprise me if a significant percentage of viewers are Christian.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Greg said...

You are certainly correct that fictional works can be grounded in history. But, as you note, it is the story that drives novels and films and historical accuracy is never allowed to get in the way of a riveting story -- nor should it. That's what fiction is for. The problem is when people read novels like the Da Vinci Code and simply accept its historical claims at face value without critical reflection. Accurate history can be found in novels but it will always be the acception rather than the rule.
As for Flight 93, I have not seen it and probably won't anytime in the near future. I think it is a story worth telling, but personally it seems a little too soon I think. The events of that day are still so fresh that I don't feel the desire or need at this point to relive it through film. If you have seen it, though, I would be interested in your take on it.

At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Mark said...

"Christians can do their part by staying away en masse and hoping beyond all reason that this glossy piece of garbage just tanks at the box office" -reel fanatic

Is this really the best response we (Christians) can hope for, merely because a well told story presents a conflicting view on the history of our Christian faith? I don't think the solution is to boycott those films we deem "garbage" and then turn around to shout our praises towards those "good" films that have been targeted for the Christian audience (Narnia, The Passion, etc). Why not allow this story to be told as it unfolds in the novel, let it exist in the realm of fiction resisting the temptation to treat it as some kind of historical documentary, and then engage in dialogue with the ideas that Dan Brown has set forth. Being able to articulate how certain elements of this story conflict with our own understanding of the Church's history will only strengthen our knowledge in the faith. I suggest we allow the movie/book to become a tool for discussion not a sign post for angry Christians.

At 6:42 PM, Anonymous mark said...

By the way Dr. Stevenson, I recently viewed 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer directed by Kuzui, and I must say that this particular piece of film makes it difficult for me to take Buffy seriously :)

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Greg said...

You present the "dialogue" position very well.
You must ignore the 1992 Buffy movie. That is a good example of what happens sometimes when Hollywood gets its hands on a work that it doesn't understand. They took Whedon's screenplay and then turned it into a piece of camp that was nothing like what Whedon intended. That is why he jumped at the chance to the TV series. It allowed him to present his vision the way he originally intended in a way that allowed him to maintain creative control over it. So, to sum up: Buffy movie: Bad; Buffy TV show: Very, Very Good.

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Sermoniac said...

I, for one, loved the Da Vinci Code, it was one of the best told stories I have read in a very long time. I think the Christian "boycot" reaction is an embarrassment.

When my 80 year old grandmother came home from her church, after a special assembly to discuss the book, I was not really suprised when she had made a vow never to see the movie or read the book. She is one of the people who seem to think that holding the words "Dan Brown" into a mirror would spell Beelzebub in the reflection. I tried to talk to her about it but she would not be consoled. However, she is 80 and she still sings "gimme that old time religion" with gusto.

The book is fiction and Dan Brown wrote a very good story. I think it is a shame that so many people will never read it for themselves because of all the hoopla.

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Mark said...

Dr. Stevenson,
I heard you recently made an acquaintance with a local celebrity of sorts, perhaps Michigan's very own Polka King? I regret not attending the Fleer birthday extravaganza, perhaps if I had gone, you would have been able to convince me of giving Buffy another chance.

At 4:59 AM, Blogger UKSteve said...

I can't believe some churches have nothing better to do than convince people not to see this film! Surely this just lends weight to the idea that there's truth in it?

Oh, and really, don't let the Buffy movie put you off the TV series. The two really don't compare in any way except the name.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anon said...

Having read many of Brown's books I must say that they have a lot in common with cotton candy. They look appealing but when you are done you still feel hungry and there is a suspicious taste of tooth rot in your mouth. I was not bothered by his Xian conspiracy theories (if you want a great Templar conspiracy book read "Foucalt's Pendulum" by Umberto Ecco)and I feel that those who rail against it without reading it will lend it credibility instead of calmly debunking its ridiculous claims.

Brown is merely a writer in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The good-looking hero always wins and gets the girl, everything is wrapped up tight enough that it can easily be made into a movie, and no one asks questions of the ridiculous plot devices that advance the heroes cause. On the other hand, I like Burrough's books. They are a fun read. But, like Brown, they are no threat to the world or to the cause of Christ.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger John Roberts said...

Long time reader, first time comment. I think you nailed the real issue - biblical and historical ignorance - not just in the world, but in our own churches. Yes, the blatant errors are obvious to those who are even minimally knowledgeable about such things, but never underestimate the ignorance of people. The damage the movie does is to place the blatant error and agenda in the mouths of such respected and believable protagonists (and who doesn't like Tom Hanks and Ian McKellan?)
I've read the book (enjoyed the plot), will see the movie (expect to be entertained), and don't want to boycott them. But I do plan to address the major issues (divinity of Jesus, the legitimacy and authority of the Bible, the credibility of the church) in our church, because the movie will raise questions and concerns and will at the very least add another layer of suspicion among those with a marginal faith that what they don't know will hurt them.

Great blog, keep it up!

At 6:09 PM, Blogger Sermoniac said...

John roberts said "but never underestimate the ignorance of people".

That is the reason that I saw Touched By An Angel as problematic. People thought that show espoused good theology. Ignorant people don't walk away from an episode of the Simpsons and think that it was good theoloogy when in fact it is usually more acurate than Touched By An Angel.

As Jesus once said "You will always have ignorant people among you." Oh wait, that was "poor" people wasn't it? My bad.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Greg said...

It's great to see that your pastoral care instincts are still sharply honed!:}

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Eric said...

A few years ago I watched "an interview with Kevin Smith". He talked about hearing of an upcoming boycott of his movie Dogma. He heard that there would be lots of people so he and a friend of his made signs and joined the protestors. He claims he was even interviewed (pretending to be someone else) about the protest.

Being where we are with this movie coming out, and our society being so in love with "conspiracy theories" we have no choice but to prepare and be able to talk about the movie (book) good and bad. Not pat answers, but a look at real history and maybe even touching on some of the real conspiracy behind the sources.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

"You mean we can't trust Oliver Stone either ??? Ahhh!" ...

A couple of reactions for me. I enjoyed the book from an entertainment point of view. It was a decent page-turner. Brown should get credit for taking us on a stroll of art/religious history. However, the historical background stuff was appalling and tough to stomach because it was so inaccurrate.

Normally I wouldn't care except for two reasons. First, in the preface, Brown lists his "3 Facts" as if to suggest, you can trust these premises on which the book is based. Yet all 3 of his facts are bogus. Second, I cannot confess objectivity. I am an interested party. This is my Lord and Savior Jesus he is writing about. Is Christ up in heaven shaking or worried? Of course not. He is the master of this situation as well. And it will be humbled and it will bow before his purpoeses as well. But I think its only a sign of love and loyalty to be upset when someone you love is being defamed. Especially when that defamation isn't in the context of science or fact finding but rather for the shear goal of profit. For me, it is personal. I think I need to acknowledge this and this explains why I'm stirred on it.

Having said that, I think we all ought to see it and engage it, if we can do that. Paul did not encourage the early church to insulate themselves from culture but rather to enlist and transform it for God's glory. This really is an opportunity to talk to people about the historical life of Christ. Much better than "The Passion." I know I have had several really good conversations with many non-Xians about it. So all in all, I'm thankful for Dan for giving us something that will help us talk about Christ. As Paul said in Philippians. "what does it matter the motivation so long as Christ is preached."

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