Maureen Dowd greets the most holy of Christian holidays by reducing the conflict between the Catholic Church and Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code, to a whiny complaint about the all-male priesthood. Typically, she talks about a subject on which she knows little and focuses on the most superficial aspect of it to make a facile point about the supposed misogyny of the Church.
And a Happy Easter to you, too, Maureen:
Some may mock the Vatican for waiting until everyone on earth has read “The Da Vinci Code” to denounce “The Da Vinci Code.”
I am not one of them. It’s Easter, and I don’t want to blot my catechism.
Of course she’s not one of them. Oh, wait, yes she is:
Mr. Brown’s zippy version has Jesus and Mary Magdalene marrying and having children. This “perverts the story of the Holy Grail, which most certainly does not refer to the descendants of Mary Magdalene,” Cardinal Bertone said. “It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies.”
The novelist is not the first one to conjure romantic sparks between the woman usually painted as what one writer calls “the Jessica Rabbit of the Gospels” and the eligible young Jewish carpenter and part-time miracle worker.
For years, female historians and novelists have been making the case that Mr. Brown makes, that Mary Magdalene was framed and defamed, that the men who run Christianity obliterated her role as an influential apostle and reduced her to a metaphor for sexual guilt.
The church refuses to allow women to be ordained as priests because there were no female apostles. So if Mary Magdalene was a madonna rather than a whore, the church loses its fig leaf of justification for male domination and exclusion.
Oh, please. The book bases itself on an ancient heresy called Gnosticism, as anyone familiar with early Christian history knows just from reading the summary. (Disclosure: I have not read anything else but that, which I will address in a moment.) Gnostics believed that the Gospels and Jesus’ teachings hid deep secrets that the Apostles never directly revealed about God and the world. Instead of accepting the Word as revealed in the Gospel as the full truth and voice of God, they insisted that Jesus left secret instructions about salvation that God wished to remain hidden except to the select few in on the secret.
This heresy had two destructive elements to it. One, it dismissed the Gospels as subordinate to this supposedly secret series of teachings. Two, it turned what was meant to be the salvation of the entire world into Christendom’s first tinfoil-hat brigade, where conspiracy theories about the nature of Christianity abounded. It didn’t help that Christianity spent much of its first three centuries underground, its adherents persecuted by the Romans. Gnosticism failed, largely as a result of its own exclusionary nature, but the peculiar desire in humanity to see patterns and conspiracies where none exists always made us vulnerable to Gnostic-like fables.
As the primary apologetics resource for Catholics shows, the Catholic Church has several points besides the fantasy about Jesus and Mary Magdalene on which it objects to Brown’s novel:
The problem is that many of the ideas that the book promotes are anything but fact, and they go directly to the heart of the Catholic faith. For example, the book promotes these ideas:
* Jesus is not God; he was only a man.
* Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.
* She is to be worshiped as a goddess.
* Jesus got her pregnant, and the two had a daughter.
* That daughter gave rise to a prominent family line that is still present in Europe today.
* The Bible was put together by a pagan Roman emperor.
* Jesus was viewed as a man and not as God until the fourth century, when he was deified by the emperor Constantine.
* The Gospels have been edited to support the claims of later Christians.
* In the original Gospels, Mary Magdalene rather than Peter was directed to establish the Church.
* There is a secret society known as the Priory of Sion that still worships Mary Magdalene as a goddess and is trying to keep the truth alive.
* The Catholic Church is aware of all this and has been fighting for centuries to keep it suppressed. It often has committed murder to do so.
* The Catholic Church is willing to and often has assassinated the descendents of Christ to keep his bloodline from growing.
Catholics should be concerned about the book because it not only misrepresents their Church as a murderous institution but also implies that the Christian faith itself is utterly false.
It appears that the Church has quite a few more problems with Brown than just the depiction of Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus or even that she had the authority of an Apostle, an idea that only has credence if one consults the Apocrypha, those early Christian writings that have always been specifically excluded from the Gospel. However, in MoDo’s narrow and shallow little world, the biggest complaint that she sees is the one which appears to animate all of her writing — the victimization of women. She ignores all of the assertions made by Brown’s novel that strike at the very heart of the faith, such as stripping Jesus of His divinity and the notion that the Church condones murder to cover up the supposed fraud on which Christianity is based, to deduce that the Vatican’s biggest problem is that The Da Vinci Code might endorse the ordination of women as priests.
I have not yet read Brown’s book, but not because the Vatican tells me not to do so. I don’t have much time for outside reading, thanks to my blogging schedule, although I’m working on a non-fiction book about Ronald Reagan which I hope to review for you soon. My study of Christian history would probably keep me from enjoying this fantastical and essentially ludicrous plot anyway, plus the pompous nature of Brown’s claim to have researched the issues involved (see the Catholic Answers link for their specific rebuttals) would make it off-putting to me. Also, my friend North Star Steve has read the book — and told me he hated it, mostly finding it utterly predictable and poorly written.
Should the Vatican have given the book any further credence by warning Catholics about reading it? Given the plot of the novel, remaining silent in the face of such insult would be asking a lot of any organization, even the Church. Unfortunately, Brown’s research claims might convince less-prepared Catholics to swallow some of his fiction as fact, a complaint I often have with Hollywood historical movies as well. For the truly shallow, such as Dowd, it probably can’t possibly do any more damage to their intellect than they have already experienced.