Saturday, September 03, 2005


People sometimes ask me why I don't write about headliners like the Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003), the Bible Code and so on. Heaven knows why, but they do. I obviously don't strike them as having anything better to do! But seriously... In post-Christian and radically plural societies, the amount of pulp from (or about) religion seems never-ending, and it strikes me as a time-consuming miscalculation to think that people eager for this stuff are likely to be swayed by earnest attempts to trump the ridiculous with the sublime.

Regarding Michael Drosnin, the best retort is surely satire: see, for instance, Pete Aitken's 'playing with the Bible or playing with ourselves'. As far as Dan Brown is concerned, a friend recently told me he found one of the multi-millionaire's books idly abandoned in an airport arrivals lounge, and after only ten minutes could scarcely credit how badly written and tedious it was. "Thank goodness", he sighed. "It could have been far worse. I could have paid for it."

Meanwhile, Robert M. Price has a volume coming out soon called The Da Vinci Fraud, which I imagine will be a good a hachet job. He says: "There exists a surprisingly large public for books that claim to 'blow the lid off Christianity' by means of new discoveries, real or imagined. Many such readers are what one might call sophomoric skeptics. They have learned proper suspicion toward their inherited Christian faith, but they seem to be completely uncritical about the assertions of those who would substitute some other hypothesis, often equally wild ... The Da Vinci Code [...] is a fictional narrative, but its author claims it is based on fact. That, too, alas, is part of the fiction."

Price himself started out as a Bible-belt fundamentalist, and has gradually morphed into a born-again nonbeliever who dismisses Christianity (with comparable nineteenth century rationalist fervour) as a "wild" Hellenistic mystery cult, though he still appreciates its rituals. So while he's an entertaining writer, and given the right target can score a high number of palpable hits, his approach is overdetermined by an exaggerated counter-image of what he opposes.

From an equally passionate contending viewpoint, this time Catholic, journalist Sandra Miesel (who co-authored The Da Vinci Hoax with Carl E. Olson) offers a deconstruction of the bestseller in that odd mix which is Crisis magazine ("politics, culture and church"). As she says: "In the end, Dan Brown has penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess."

True. And that, frankly, ought to suffice to encourage us to focus on something else. For example the question about what distinguishes proper skepticism and trust (we surely need both to sustain a healthy life?) and improper versions of these (otherwise known as cynicism and credulity) which turn out to be seriously disabling.

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