Friday, May 26, 2006

Decoding the Da Vinci Code brouhaha

I am not sure if I really want to write about all the hoopla going on about the Da Vinci Code. I figure there are far too many historians, theologians and scholars out there who are far better qualified to explain the gaping holes in the novel than I could ever hope or dream of doing so. Certain things are best left to experts because they'd know how to express their points articulately, coherently, sensibly and logically.

However, upon reading this news item, and this, and this, and this, and this, and of course, this news item from the Gulf Daily News ... I realised I cannot remain a mute spectator in the wings and not say a word about the matter. I have to say something not because I am an expert but because I'm a Christian - the believing kind - and most of the protests are, supposedly, made on my behalf, to protect my faith, as it were.

All believing Christians are upset, the chant goes, at this blasphemous portrayal and only a ban on the film will satisfy hurt feelings. This has been one of the main points behind all these protests and the support for a ban is getting increasingly shrill. But frankly speaking, I have my doubts about the ban, and I have bigger doubts about the protests. I don't doubt their sincerity though, it's just that I'm not sure if such frantic demands for a ban on the movie will be effective enough. My cynical side imagines that these protests are just the thing that the studio executives' PR machinery would want. Controversy usually generates curiosity, and curiosity usually prompts more people to purchase the 'forbidden fruit' and boost its sales. Hence, the very objective of staging a protest becomes a futile exercise, or so it would seem.

But that, as I said, is a cynical view, formed after years of working in the advertising and public relations industry. However, let me point out - even if I sound contradictory saying so - that I'm not against protests per se. Sometimes we just need to state our point of view, and allow our voices to be heard. Silence is not always golden... many times, it is just that: silent and voiceless. In such a scenario, it is vital that our point of view gets across because remaining silent will not improve our cause because the 'other side' will use this opportunity to monopolise the airwaves. Democracy does not work that way or, rather, it should not work in this manner. Every shade of opinion, every miniscule point of view, and every slant must get an equal chance to speak up and state its case. Or suffer the ignominy of irrelevance.

Having said that, I oppose the very idea of banning the film or the book, for that matter. I oppose it because I'm against the very idea of banning anything. It is a very totalitarian concept and reminds me of a very weak and feeble attempt at 'mind control.' I passionately believe that every view-point - however gruesome and unpalatable to our senses - must receive a suitable platform for communicating its message to its intended audience. In this respect, I agree with Voltaire when he said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This right, also, gives us the means to express our disapproval whenever a book or a film or a song contains opinions that offend us. Yes. It works both ways, and provides an opportunity that we cannot miss. Banning anything will simply make us miss the bus altogether.

But all these views may sound interesting on a theoretical level but what do we do when a particular opinion rises up and tries to challenge that which is holy and sacred to us? Do we sit still, quote Voltaire and act as nonchalantly as possible? As I said earlier, we must avoid any talk of a 'ban' because it will not serve our purpose and, instead, make us come across as weak, frightened and insecure. If our faith is rooted in an almighty God, then, it can and should be able to overcome any slander and humiliation. We cannot defend God because He is perfectly able to do it Himself. All we can do is either pray or express our side of the story without getting hysterical about it.

Of course, it is not easy for us to sit still when that which is central to our lives is being assaulted, and especially so, when a novel and film like the Da Vinci Code enters the popular space and proclaims that the very foundations of our faith are based on a scam. Our first reaction is to be outraged. This would be a perfectly natural response. Next step would be to stay calm and examine all that has being said and prepare a measured response. I don't suggest that we act coy, pretend nothing has happened and accept it just for the sake of accepting it. We simply respond with the assurances of our faith but without getting emotional about it.

Da Vinci Code, for instance, states that all historical data in the novel are based on 'facts', and we need to examine these 'facts' and check whether or not they stand the test of historical scrutiny. Well, they don't. It would require a separate post to point out all the gaping holes and so I shall not get into that here, but I like how this article explains the weaknesses in the Da Vinci Code and equates it with post-modern fantasies. Another article points out some of the main points of the novel and provides compelling arguments to disprove the novel's claims.

The Priory of Sion figures prominently in the novel and though Dan Brown states that the Priory was founded in 1099 and played a prominent role in protecting the secret of the 'holy grail', actual evidence points out that the Priory of Sion was founded in 1956 by a con-man called Pierre Plantard. He had his own reasons for starting this Priory and for mythologising it and creating this hoax, but one can't imagine how Dan Brown missed this important detail. This Wikipedia article and essay from the Alpheus website gives you more details about the Priory of Sion.

However, most people are not, particularly, rattled by these inaccuracies but are upset by the suggestion that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, one of his many disciples, and that they had children and that the organised church hid this secret because it opposed the 'sacred feminine'. It is a cute assumption to imagine Jesus as a family man, but as assumptions go it remains merely that. An assumption and nothing more. Anyone who has read the gospels and studied Christ's teachings will understand that turning him into a domesticated preacher is, basically, another case of missing the point altogether. His message was radical, perhaps, too radical for that age and even ours. It defied the religious conventions of that time (and even ours, come to think of it) and he faced severe opposition from the religious establishment. His message that humans can have a personal relationship with God upset the religious hierarchies of that time (and even down the ages) because in such a setup it was, obvious, they would have no central role. It was clear that his message was not appreciated because it demanded the dismantling of external piety and, instead, believers were asked to focus on cleansing and regenerating the inner being.

From the beginning of his ministry, he was aware of his impending crucifixion and resurrection. It is inconceivable that he would purposely leave behind a widow, and then, after His resurrection abandon her here on Earth and go to heaven. It doesn't tie in well with the Jesus of the radical gospel because the crucifixion account explains that he asked John, one of his disciples, to take care of Mary, his earthly mother. He did not abandon his earthly mother but made sure she was taken care of, and if he could do that to a parent-figure he would have surely done that to a spouse. Since the four gospels do not have any such reference of a spouse, we cannot impose any assumptions into the narrative and state them as facts.

Of course, all these ideas are based on the premise that Jesus was who he said he was: the Messiah who was to come and the promised Christ of the Old Testament. I have to state that my faith is based on Jesus of the gospels and of the One wh

The other view of a domesticated Christ makes perfect sense only if one chooses to defang the gospel and create Jesus in man's image. In fact, the essential problem with the Da Vinci Code is just that. It is another attempt to put God in a box and tame Him to our convenience. This is a problem not only with the novel but, also, with humanity these days. We want everything customised, built to our specification, and meeting our requirements. This has worked well with technology, but we want to drag it to include even our philosophies, our relationships, our education and our modes of entertainment. Anything that makes any sort of demand we like to push it to a corner and label it 'intolerant', or twist it around to make it palatable.

The Da Vinci Code is not the main problem, but a symptom of a larger phenomenon at work. There is an answer, there is a cure, there is a solution. But is there an effort to look for one?

5 comments:

Angelo Embuldeniya (Strav) said...

define christian please ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi, seems you did your research on the topic, but did you consider the source of you information. Please refer to this page http://www.theawfultruthbahrain.blogspot.com/ and read articles Da Vinci Code Decoded (1 & 2) and also “why Christians are such wimps?”.

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful and sensitive piece, Ashish. As you imply, this is part of a grander scheme of things by which religion, but Christianity in particular, is being down-graded.

Jon Aristides *Had some problem signing in.

Rhonda Fulks said...

Very well said Ashish! I agree with you 100%.....

Latha said...

'historical' 'facts' are marketing words. It was great marketing from beginning to end. They sold a movie. In my opinion -> more hype = less content.