The book was a gift from one of the students in the youth ministry I was directing during my semester out in LA. I was touched by the gift becasue I thought I hadn’t made that much of an impact in just a few months. Over the winter break, I read the book in about three days. It was the first novel I had read in a long time, and the suspense and drama kept the pages turning.
After I finished it, I picked up "Angels and Demons" and read it while flying to Europe for my honeymoon. It seemed to be much more detailed, with the cryptic artwork and the papal lore that wove the story together. Both books were brilliantly conceived and for me, connecting the dots as the reader was excitingly fun. I tried to guess where this thing was going, just like I do when I watch Lost.
Never once did I replace my copy of The New Testament with Dan Brown’s novel. I don’t think many people have. The church I was serving back in California had a discussion group organized before the book began its lofty tenure atop bestseller lists. It was on the Da Vinci bandwagon before it had wheels. The church was progressive and intellectual enough to have a skilled person lead a thoughtful discussion about the history, theology and pop culture that merged to give the book its appeal. The group wasn’t used as a marketing tactic to entice new members; it was offered to the regular churchgoers who often lost themselves in things like literature and art.
The big budget motion picture being released a week from today is exactly that: an attempt to make lots of money by asking people to divert their attention from their real lives for a few hours. It is not an attempt to begin a new movement within Christianity or a new religion based on a Jesus who was a dad or a husband or a grandfather or anything else. In fact, this movie is no more blasphemous than any other movie Christians spend money on week after week.
If you want to feel good about spending your $9 at the cinema, then by all means go see The Chronicles of Narnia or The Passion of the Christ. And if you think you’re going to hell if you pad Dan Brown’s or Ron Howard’s bank accounts, then let’s go ahead and have a discussion about the other movies you went to see last year (top 5 grossing movies domestically in 2005):
- Star Wars: Episode 3 – Supports intergalactic violence as a way to get things done; contrary to Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Blasphemous portrayal of the human ability to use the supernatural; allusions to the occult; contrary to Paul’s comments in Acts 17:23 that unknown and false gods are not to be worshipped.
- War of the Worlds – Condones the belief that there is life on other planets, a direct contradiction of a literal, seven-day earth-only creation story found in the first chapter of Genesis.
- King Kong – This movie shows giant beasts like dinosaurs, which do not exist according to accounts of creationism and the fact that the earth is only a few thousand years old, again according to Genesis 1.
- Wedding Crashers – Attacks the traditional view of marriage as two men try to fornicate with as many women as possible, a direct contradiction to Romans 1:29.
I can only assume that many Christians went to the above movies and many more will go to The Da Vinci Code for the same reason: humans like to be entertained. We like to go to the movies and be swept over with emotion, to lose ourselves and our boring lives as we live vicariously for 120 minutes through movie stars and special effects. And very few of us turn around and make a codified religion based upon what we see on the silver screen. If we do that on any movie, Da Vinci or not, there’s a problem.
However, I tend to think that there must be something deeper about this movie that is causing it to make headlines. Clearly, the notion that Jesus married (and did not ascend to heaven) flies in the face with long-held tradition. But, as Brain McLaren has suggested, perhaps there’s something deeply resonating about Brown’s work of fiction. Perhaps we are drawn to notions of exploration and discovery, two things Christianity has eschewed and dismissed.
For years, various denominations have insisted that the cannon is closed, or that to be a Christian one must believe certain things about baptism, glossolalia, women, or communion. Only certain people can be ordained in certain ways, and only certain things can be said on certain occasions. From the start, creed after creed began to pile up, and rule after rule was made in order to keep certain people out and certain other people insulated. And more and more, today’s church looks like the second coming of the Pharisees.
We all like to think where we could find Jesus today. Some think he would be waving his hands in the air on the set of TBN; some see him with a dirty face holding a cardboard sign at the offramp; others see him clean shaven and in a pressed suit nodding to three points and a poem; and still others are so mystified every time they read the gospels, that to try and guess which doorways he’d darken would flirt with heresy. I, of course, selfishly and sinfully see him by my side, drinking coffee, railing against oppression, and first in line to see Tom Hanks next week. But I am as right and as wrong as everyone else.
I read about this one night
Where you chose to go a party
Instead of talking theology with
Some of the brightest minds of the day
You choose the table of the 'B' students
And resisted the urge to debate Augustine
Barth, Frei, Gadamer, Kuhn and even Cone!
You passed on scholarship for lightweights.
We couldn't believe you didn't come with us
We couldn't wait to list off what we've been reading
We wanted to embarrass you by asking you
What new theories you've been wrestling with
But you didn't want to come with us that night
And we couldn't resist finding out why
But to find you at their table giving credence to their ethic
We realized that you weren't one of us.
For some, the scary thing about The Da Vinci code is that to entertain the thought that Jesus is something other than we imagine scares the hell into them. If Jesus is not the blue-eyed, fair-skinned man from the Sunday school paintings, or if he doesn’t vote republican, of if he isn’t a member of the ACLU, or if he doesn’t like to hunt, or if he isn’t a CEO-type, or if he isn’t purpose-driven, or if he did have crushes on girls, or if he didn’t do exactly everything like the Bible tells me so, then Christianity crumbles to pieces - which makes me wonder how sturdy it was in the first place.
My Jesus is big enough to be interpreted one way by Hollywood, another way by the Mormons, another way by Joel Osteen, and still another way by me. He doesn’t need my defense. As the definitive manifestation of God, Jesus is big and small enough to surprise me over and over again with his radical love and revolutionary peace. I don’t need to save him or protect him; he does those things for me. And as much as some may want to stand for truth and boycott a movie, I will go for a two hour ride to nowhere courtesy of Sony Pictures.
Why? Because to me, things like excitement, fun, and dates with your wife are important. I mean, WWJD?