Friday, May 26, 2006

Da Vinci Code Presuppositions

Janet at Quoth the Maven (a great blog name) has some interesting comments on The Da Vinci Code here and here.

The latter discusses a presupposition about The Da Vinci Code of which she cautions Christians to be wary:

When we buy into the presupposition "It's only fiction" (shorthand for "--and therefore not worth being taken seriously"), we buy into one of the biggest fallacies afoot in our pseudo-scientific age.

The power of story is almost unparalleled in getting people to change their beliefs, their actions, their behaviors, their opinions. When we deny its power, we (a) make ourselves more open to being manipulated by it and (b) abrogate the power available to us as storytellers.

This mirrors something that Elizabeth said at Plein Air Sketches:
And if you think for a second that The Da Vinci Code is not believable, then please join me at our next teen group discussion at St. Patrick's here in Scottsdale, Arizona. You will meet a generation of kids from our public high schools who are reading The Da Vinci Code as an example of historical fiction, and they believe it to be an accurate rendition of historical fact, not fiction.

That's what raises the hair on the back of my neck.

I agree that saying "it's just a book" is inappropriately dissmissive, and that there is danger in letting falsehoods spread unchallenged. But I believe that Qouth the Maven's arguments suffer by making some false comparisons that prevent us from perceiving actual influence The Da Vinci Code might have.

To make her point she lists several books and movies which had a profound influence on history despite their being "only fiction", "only a movie", or "only a book". The gist of her argument is that The Da Vinci Code may prove as influential as these other works.

One of the books is Mein Kampf. That book, or rather the content of that book, cannot be credited with influencing the events in Germany in the 1920's and 30's. It is a compilation of neurotic ravings the import of which is not the ravings themselves, but the fact they were compiled in a book. The book's intent was to lend credibility to the Nazi party, and while it served that purpose, we primarily remember because it is an artifact of that age, and not because it's content itself was influential. The Nazis came to prominence and power due to a combination of Hitler's oratory and the party's violent machinations. I don't think the book itself is what mattered, as it was only a small piece of a centrally controlled political attack.

The one movie she mentions is Birth of a Nation. It is unfortunate that this movie has the reputation it does, because its meaning to D.W. Griffith is misrepresented. It was not intended to support the Klan, or foster their rebirth, but to sentimentalize the story of the losing side in the civil war. This was Griffith's goal, and while we ought to decry his callousness and his indifference to racism, we ought not assume that the intent of his movie can be proven by the movie's effect. Also, unlike the Da Vinci Code, the movie was inherently political in that its subject was politics. Whatever people took from it could only be applied in the political realm, as that was the subject of the story. The Da Vinci Code is about what we know about Christ in the past, and unlike politics, scholarly theology and history is not a realm in which many people live. I doubt their will be rallies supporting legislation to defend the mystic feminine.

Two more of the books, Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Jungle, were intended as political works. They were intended to provoke a particular political reaction. That they were successful in doing so is a testament to the talent and passion of the authors. The Da Vinci Code, however, cannot be said to be pointing to a specific result. Perhaps to a vague distrust of Catholics, but not to a specific result around which people can rally.

Additionally, both books were fictionalizations of journalistic investigations; they were believable because people could see with their own eyes the things that the authors spoke of. The Da Vinci code is only believable because people don't know any better. Unlike The Jungle and Uncle Tom's Cabin, anyone who investigates the claims of The Da Vinci Code further will find only that its claims are utterly preposterous.

The last book she mentions is The Lord of the Rings. As with The Jungle and Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Da Vinci Code compares poorly to the The Lord of the Rings, and for a similar reason. The Lord of the Rings is powerful because it is true on an extraordinarily deep level, and this truth will be apparent to those who seek to understand their own heart. One who begins to examine their souls having read The Lord of the Rings will find that the book is wise in ways the reader had not even imagined. One who examines their faith as a result of reading The Da Vinci Code will only discover the extent of its falsehoods.

I am perhaps too optimistic, but I would point out that each of the books she mentioned have had very different degrees of influence over the years. Mein Kampf can be disregarded because the book per se was not influential; that it was written by the most notorious and evil dictator of the 2oth century makes it appear to have been influential when in truth it probably was not. Griffith is today vilified because of Birth of a Nation, despite his intentions with that movie and the virtue of all his other work. But The Jungle and Uncle Tom's Cabin still influence us, and reading them is central to understanding or political circumstances. The power of The Lord of the Rings to edify and convert is as strong now as it ever was.

In considering why this is I am reminded of the different results one gets from planting in one kind of soil versus another. A seed planted in fertile soil will grow on it's own almost without assitance, but one planted in infertile soil will with wither away. The three works that still influence us today not only intended to be influential, but are rooted in solid fact or profound wisdom. This soil allows them to grow and influence us even today. Not only is The Da Vinci Code not intended to be influential in any particular way, but it is rooted in soil so sterile that it aspires to someday be sand.

It is not wrong to worry about the influence of The Da Vinci Code, but I also think it wise to recognize where it stands as a book; as it is best to know one's enemy, we ought to consider what actual influence the book will have. Quoth the Maven is correct to remind us that the phrase "it's just a book" is too dismissive to let stand, but I think we ought to consider what makes a book influential, and whether The Da Vinci Code has any of those qualities. It takes more than pages stuffed between a cover to make a book influential in a profound way.

My own prediction is that The Da Vinci Code will soon be remembered solely as a good read, and the influence it has will be to instill in people's minds many incorrect facts about Christ. But it will not, it cannot, introduce any lies that Christians have not already heard. There is nothing new under the sun.

Technorati tags:

No comments: