More questions about The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown


  • Yet again The Da Vinci Code is the focus of some questions for freelance theology.

    Question 108 from TLJ, United Kingdom
    Is the Christian response to the Da Vinci Code actually detrimental in that it’s giving extra publicity to it?

    Question 109, from JG, United Kingdom
    In The Da Vinci Code the author says that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. My question is not did he marry, but if he had, would it theologically have affected our salvation. I was wondering what you think about this question. My church is up in arms about this. Please help.

    Whatever one’s views on The Da Vinci Code, it seems as if the controversy around it will not die down, despite the poor critical reception for the film version released this summer. Further controversy has been stirred by the court case in which the author, Dan Brown, was accused of plagiarising a number of ideas (Brown was later acquitted).

    Opinion within Christian circles seems to be mixed. There are those who dismiss the whole controversy as irrelevant, others who regard it as a positive sign of ‘spiritual hunger’, and still others who condemn it outright as ‘blasphemous’. Previous articles on freelance theology have highlighted the numerous historical inaccuracies as well as other significant plot omissions. But certainly, as with the campaign by some Christian groups against Jerry Springer – the Opera, it would seem that the more extreme reaction to The Da Vinci Code have increased its notoriety and given it more free publicity than its really due.

    In a way, perhaps Christians do have something to be worried about in the success of The Da Vinci Code. Certainly, the National Secular Society thought so, when it publicised an opinion poll conducted by the Roman Catholic Church. Obviously, the NSS take a particular stance on religion, hence the way the following quote is phrased, but it does make interesting reading:

    “But does the Catholic Church have cause to be concerned that its own fantasies are being superseded by someone else’s? Yes it does, according to a new poll published by the Church this week. The poll shows that people who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code believe its version of events rather than the official Christian version. Two thirds of Britons who have read the book believe that Jesus fathered a child with Mary Magdalene, a claim rejected as “baseless” by religious historians.

    Fans of the book are also four times as likely to think that Opus Dei, whose members include the Cabinet minister Ruth Kelly, is a murderous sect. Seventeen per cent of readers are convinced that the lay group, whose founder was canonised by the late Pope John Paul II, has ordered or carried out a murder, compared with four per cent of those who have not read the book.

    The poll found that more than one in five British adults have read the book, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, and that a large proportion believe its central claims. Sixty per cent of the adults polled said after reading the book that they believed there was truth in the suggestion that Jesus had children and that his bloodline survives, compared with 30 per cent of those who have not read it.

    Just under a third, 27 per cent, think that the Catholic Church is covering up the truth about Jesus, and the figure rises to 36 per cent among those who have read Brown’s novel.”

    [Taken from the National Secular Society’s email newsletter Newsline in June 2006 – for more information see www.secularism.org.uk]

    In the USA, the Barna research group have also been assessing the impoact of The Da Vinci Code. According to their research, roughly 45 million adults in the U.S. – that’s one out of every five adults (20%) – have read the book “cover to cover”. Barna claim: “That makes it the most widely read book with a spiritual theme, other than the Bible, to have penetrated American homes.

    Barna also note that critical responses form church leaders seem to have the opposite effect to that intended:

    “The audience profile of the book is intriguing. Despite critical comments and warnings from the Catholic hierarchy, American Catholics are more likely than Protestants to have read it (24% versus 15%, respectively). Among Protestants, those associated with a mainline church are almost three times more likely than those associated with non-mainline Protestant congregations to have read the book.”

    Additionally, Barna asked people about the perceived spiritual value of the book:

    “Among the adults who have read the entire book, one out of every four (24%) said the book was either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” helpful in relation to their “personal spiritual growth or understanding.” That translates to about 11 million adults who consider The Da Vinci Code to have been a helpful spiritual document.”

    So, does that have an impact on what people actually believe? Among the 45 million who have read The Da Vinci Code , only 5% – about two million adults – said that they changed any of the beliefs or religious perspectives because of the book’s content.

    “Before reading The Da Vinci Code people had a full complement of beliefs already in place, some firmly held and others loosely held,” explained George Barna, the author of numerous books about faith and culture. “Upon reading the book, many people encountered information that confirmed what they already believed. Many readers found information that served to connect some of their beliefs in new ways. But few people changed their pre-existing beliefs because of what they read in the novel. And even fewer people approached the book with a truly open mind regarding the controversial matters in question, and emerged with a new theological perspective. The book generates controversy and discussions, but it has not revolutionized the way that Americans think about Jesus, the Church or the Bible.”

    But George Barna does add the following salient point: “On the other hand, any book that alters one or more theological views among two million people is not to be dismissed lightly. That’s more people than will change any of their beliefs as a result of exposure to the teaching offered at all of the nation’s Christian churches combined during a typical week.” [All quotes and research taken from www.barna.org]

    The big question that Christians need to address is why a novel would have any effect on what people believe. One explanation, for which credit must go to Brother Bruno Clifton OP, is that books, by their very nature, carry a certain authoritative weight. There is a power in the written word, which isn’t present in cinema or television. It may be that the recent big screen version proves to be the book’s undoing, as the film was generally held to be unconvincing nonsense.

    However, something that is written down is deemed to be more important and trustworthy. Dan Brown plays on this, as Stephen Tomkins pointed out in Third Way magazine: “…the very first word of the book is ‘FACT’, and Brown explicitly claims that the historical background is true.” No wonder then, that Tomkins goes on to say: “I have heard an appalling number of people talk about what they have learnt about the history of Christianity from The Da Vinci Code.” His explanation is that: “In truth, we know that all fiction contains fact, and we learn from it. Our knowledge of Victorian London is Dickensian (and less happily so is our version of the French revolution); we know about heroin from Irvine Welsh, Asperger’s from Mark Haddon, regency manners from Jane Austen, police procedure from The Bill. It is perfectly possible for fiction to tell the truth and for fiction to lie.” [Third Way, Summer 2006, p.30]

    That last comment of Tomkins’ is crucial. While it does not benefit Christians to be ‘outraged’ by a fictional work that borders on ‘blasphemy’, it is also important that Christians stand up for truth, even in fiction. The Constantinian era of church history is well-documented. The canons of of the Council of Nicaea have been preserved, not just in ‘official’ records, but by opponents of the Nicene Creed as well. The central premise of The Da Vinci Code – that Jesus’ divinity was decided at a vote at Nicaea – is either unfathomable ignorance or a deliberate lie. Perhaps Christians should give Dan Brown the benefit of the doubt, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be corrected for his mistakes.

    However, moving on to the question regarding the theological significance of Jesus being married, this is one of those ‘if’ questions that is interesting as a ‘thought experiment’, even if it has little practical value. One would assume that if Jesus had been married, then that would have been part of God’s pre-ordained plan of salvation and our theology would be slightly different accordingly. Certainly there wouldn’t have been the emphasis on celibacy in the early church, which then influenced the adoption of celibacy by the medieval catholic priesthood.

    Alternatively if Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were not predestined, then maybe marriage was a possibility. Again, how much of a difference it would make is a bit of a moot point. It would be interesting, if Jesus truly did experience every human experience, to know how he would have reacted to possible domestic disharmony and marital conflict. The gospel accounts do record at least one instance of Jesus resolving a domestic dispute (see Luke chapter 10, verses 38-42) – so presumably, he knew how to handle familial arguments.

    One other knock-on effect would be that, if Jesus had been married, it would eliminate the ‘church is the bride of Christ’ metaphor that seems very popular in some churches at the moment. It’s up to the individual Christian to decide whether that would be a bad thing, or not.

    Posted on