Saturday, April 29, 2006

Rev. Golden on Da Vinci

Here are some recent comments by my friend and classmate Rev. Kevin Golden, of Grace Lutheran Church, Holts Summit, Missouri. I will add these to my collection of Lutheran Da Vinci Code resources.

Rev. Golden writes:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (I Corinthians 15:3,4)

Dear Friends and Members of Grace,

Like the Gospel of Judas, The Da Vinci Code has been thriving upon sensational claims. Author Dan Brown has captivated reader’s imaginations with an edge-of-your-seat suspense novel. Brown’s writing is far from the masterly level of the great American novelists (Steinbeck, Hemingway, Melville, etc.), but it is certainly an entertaining read. But as The Da Vinci Code prepares to move from the pages of a book to the silverscreen (and thus hit a much wider audience), it is wise to reconsider the fictional nature of Brown’s work. As many critics of Brown’s book have noted, he has bent the rules for fiction writing. There are two basic sections of a novel, there is a foreground filled with the fictional characters and events which the author is free to manipulate according to his/her desires. For sake of example, the foreground of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind includes the fictional characters of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler as well as Scarlett’s beloved home of Tara. A novel also has a background which is the historic frame in which the foreground is located. For Gone with the Wind the background is the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction. Typically, the background is to be historically accurate unless it is patently obvious that it is a fictional background (like in a science fiction novel taking place on Planet X) or if the author makes it known that the background is concocted. In this latter case, you can imagine a novelist writing in the fictional background of the post-Civil War South where the South had won (which we all know did not take place). One of the chief problems with The Da Vinci Code is that it operates with a concocted, false background, which many people are taking as true.

For example, those who have read the novel will recall that Brown notes at the beginning three basic “facts” upon which the novel is written. One of them is that the Priory of Sion is a secret society that has existed for centuries, including Leonardo Da Vinci as one of its historic members. As you read Brown’s make-believe world, you discover that the Priory of Sion claims to hold the lost secret of the royal lineage that has descended from Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene, which has been hidden by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries because this “truth” would undo Christianity as we know it. The big problem is that while Brown describes the Priory of Sion’s centuries-old existence as a “fact”, that couldn’t be any farther from the truth. In fact, scholars (Christian and otherwise) have long ago demonstrated that the Priory of Sion was invented in 1956 by Pierre Plantard in France. He built it completely from his own imagination, with no basis in historical fact. To substantiate his invention, in the 1960s Plantard forged the “Secret Dossiers” (which offered fake evidence of the society’s long existence) and planted them in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris so that when researchers went to investigate his claims, they would stumble upon these fake documents and believe them to be faithful evidence. The evidence of Plantard’s deception has been so overwhelming that he has even admitted that the Priory of Sion is his own invention! If Dan Brown truly did his research, he would know that the Priory of Sion is not a fact, but a colossal fake!

Now, you may wonder: why would Plantard invent this secret society? Out of delusions of grandeur. His false legend of the Priory of Sion included the mystical Merovingians within the royal line of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Merovingians were supposedly the original royalty in the nascent days of France. So Plantard invented the Priory of Sion as a means to create evidence of his own descent from the Merovingians in an attempt to claim that he was of French royal blood and thus should be ruling in France. In an interesting twist, those of you into sci-fi will recognize the Merovingian name from the Matrix trilogy. Key in that trilogy is a belief that the life around us is a concocted falsehood meant to deceive us and keep us in line. In reality, it was Plantard who invented a false reality to deceive others and Dan Brown has been complicit in perpetuating that false reality.

Of course, Dan Brown also throws in other outlandish claims with no historical veracity. For example, he has a character state that the Roman Emperor Constantine made Jesus to be God and that prior to Constantine’s proclamation Jesus’ divinity was a matter of debate in the early Church. That incredible claim is unchallenged by any other character in The Da Vinci Code. Volumes could be written debunking that falsehood. But suffice it to say that Constantine’s hay-day was in the 4th century AD. Even the most liberal and critical Biblical scholars hold that the Biblical texts that claim Christ’s divinity are dated to a full two centuries prior to Constantine (I would, of course, argue that the evidence demonstrates the writing of such Biblical texts even earlier than that). And then there is the presence of early Christian teaching resources such as the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas (both dated to the late 1st century AD) that speak of Christ’s divinity. And then there are non-Christian historians of the 1st and 2nd century AD who speak of the Christians as believing that Jesus of Nazareth was God and had risen from the dead.

With so much evidence running counter to the background of Dan Brown’s novel and in direct contradiction to what he claims is “fact”, you may wonder if he truly did much research. I am convinced that the relative disregard for the truth in post-modern western civilization led Brown to not care if he wrote of “facts” that were false. Brown appeared on NBC’s Today show to discuss his novel some time ago. He commented that he found it amazing that the ideas in his novel could be true – not that they were true, but that they could be true. That is of the same intellectual pedigree of the sci-fi buff who says that it is amazing to believe that Jesus was an alien who came to earth to try to set humanity on a new course. It’s an outlandish claim with no evidence and with a foundation built upon a pure personal flight of fancy. But then so is Dan Brown’s vision of Christ.

This is but a brief look into the imaginary alternate universe of The Da Vinci Code. If you read the novel or watch the movie, prepare yourself for a fast-paced, exciting ride. But also prepare yourself for that ride going through an imaginary land of equivalent veracity as a movie set in a world where Hitler and the Nazis defeated the Allies. For those of you interested in learning more about this topic, I would direct you to my alma mater. On May 16, two professors at Concordia Seminary will address these matters at a convocation. The audio of that convocation will available at the seminary’s website beginning on May 17.

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Pastor Golden

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