Christians ready to refute 'Da Vinci Code' movie
Rather than organize protests or boycotts, Evangelicals and Catholics are mobilizing 'truth squads.'
In a world accepting of docudramas and reality TV shows that aren't real, how does one counter a blockbuster movie whose theme challenges the orthodox religious history of the Western world?Skip to next paragraph
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That's the task facing Christians already distressed by Dan Brown's wildly popular novel, "The Da Vinci Code," and his claim that the thriller is based on historical facts.
With sales of more than 40 million, the book has become a cultural phenomenon. Unless the copyright-infringement trial in London (which now awaits the judge's decision) brings an injunction against use of the material, the May release of the film starring Tom Hanks will surely magnify its global impact.
Rather than organize protests or boycotts - steps taken in the past against controversial films - Evangelicals and Catholics instead are mobilizing "truth squads." They're producing books, websites, TV documentaries, DVDs, and study guides. Some hope to use the film as a "teachable moment" that could turn the occasion to their advantage.
"Our task is to be the missionary to the unbelievers," says the Rev. James Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, Calif. He's developed a four-phase strategy for churches leading up to the film's release.
Yet others suggest there's more involved than a question of historical accuracy. They say part of the book's appeal is that it raises deeper issues about the nature of Christianity that many people, including devout Christians, want to talk about.
Eric Plumer, a theology professor at the University of Scranton, a Catholic institution in Pennsylvania, has been surprised by the intense interest he's encountered when giving talks about "The Da Vinci Code" in public libraries, colleges, and senior-citizen centers.
"The turnouts have been mainly standing room only," he says. "Some want to know how to refute the book; some want their belief in it strengthened.... Even if people can't wholly accept what Dan Brown has to say, they feel he has touched on something they want to discuss."
Dr. Plumer is now writing a book on why the novel has struck such a chord despite dozens and dozens of books published to debunk its claims.
Those claims include that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and their bloodline still survives; that the idea of Jesus' divinity did not exist until Emperor Constantine formed the Council of Nicea to establish it; and that the Roman Catholic Church has conspired to hide this throughout history, even to the point of murder.
The novel is first and foremost a fantastical murder mystery, an intriguing page turner that grabs even those wholly opposed to its thesis. It catches people's imaginations, many say, because it involves a conspiracy.
"Americans love a conspiracy theory," says Lynn Garrett, religion editor at Publishers Weekly. "It also tapped into people's disillusionment with the Catholic Church following the sexual abuse scandals."
Some say Mr. Brown's controversial approach to history plays on people's limited knowledge.
"One reason it works so well on readers is that he tends to begin with a kernel of something historical and then quickly spins off into fiction - or you could say falsehood, since he represents it as something researched," says Timothy Beal, professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Professor Beal used Brown's novel last fall in a course on the New Testament and early Christianity, illustrating pop culture interest in the topic. "Half of the students had already read the book and many believed it," he says.