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Reflections on The Da Vinci Code

The conspiracy theories and the adventure in search of the Grail are great fun in both the book and the film. Their fictional character is widely accepted. However quite apart from this core aspect there are some fascinating and important questions raised in Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code.

Does life contain the inexpressible (as Daniel Barenboim recently argued in the Reith lectures about both life and music)? The novel speaks of the ‘unprocessible’ (p. 451).

Many religions speak of God or Ultimate Reality as beyond description and beyond knowing (that’s if God exists – isn’t this life’s central uncertainty?). God is ineffable, impossible for a human mind to grasp and comprehend. All we can do is construct our images, our symbols and our metaphors to convey what we guess God might be like. Over the centuries many ideas have been generated – some are good, others are repulsive. God’s existence or non-existence cannot be proved nor can we prove that some ideas reflect God’s character better than others. God remains mysterious. What The Da Vinci Code calls ‘unprocessible’.

Key quotation: ‘Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to process the unprocessible. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors.’ (p. 451)

Is it fair to disturb people’s understanding of their faith?

The twentieth century saw an explosion in all branches of human inquiry, and theology has been no exception, though as with other subjects there are conflicting opinions in response to new discoveries. Most members of the world’s religions do not have a sophisticated understanding and tend to take their scriptures and other beliefs literally. Is it fair to disturb them? On the one hand if we are not challenged we will not grow. On the other hand suppose someone derives great comfort from a belief or practice (e.g. devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary) and they come to see that such devotion is misplaced and are deeply upset is this right?

Many human rights abuses flow from literal understandings of scriptures. I think it is important to try to share as much new thinking as possible so that many of these abuses may be avoided. I find it is liberating to have an understanding of the scriptures of the major world faith traditions which allows me to say: “that is what people claimed thousands of years ago to be right or to be the will of their god, but what they believed then does not constrain how I think today “. To my mind, it is part of the dignity and responsibility of being human that we have to work out our moral conclusions and (if we wish to do so) our theological convictions, however provisional, for ourselves. One of the implications of accepting the hiddenness of God (if God exists) is that no moral or theological guidance is revealed from heaven (as was once believed). We are on our own, the responsibility lies with us for making decisions.

Key quotation: “The Bible represents a fundamental guidepost for millions of people on the planet, in much the same way the Koran, Torah and Pali Canon offer guidance to people of other religions. If you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted the holy stories of Islamic belief, Judaic belief, Buddhist belief, pagan belief, should we do that? Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that we have proof the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical. Sophie looked sceptical. ‘My friends who are devout Christians definitely believe that Christ literally walked on water, literally turned water into wine and was born of a literal virgin birth.’ ‘My point exactly,’ Langdon said. ‘Religious allegory has become a part of the fabric of reality. And living in that reality helps millions of people cope and be better people.’ ‘But it appears their reality is false.’ ” (p. 452)

Is life out of balance and will progress towards gender equality resolve this imbalance?

The UN Human Development report for 1995 stated “One of the defining movements of the 20th century has been the relentless struggle for gender equality, led mostly by women, but supported by growing numbers of men. When this struggle finally succeeds – as it must – it will mark a great milestone in human progress. And along the way it will change most of today’s premises for social, economic and political life.”(UNHD report 1995, p. 1)

Key quotation: “The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man’s world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll. The male ego had spent two millennium running unchecked by its female counterpart. The Priory of Sion believed that it was this obliteration of the sacred feminine in modern life that had caused what the Hopi Native Americans called koyanisquatsi – ‘life out of balance’ – an unstable situation marked by testosterone-fuelled wars, a plethora of misogynistic societies and a growing disrespect for Mother Earth.” (p. 174)

What if the world’s most famous man is also its most misunderstood man? What are the consequences of agreeing that this is so?

Traditional beliefs about Jesus as divine and human are challenged in The Da Vinci Code. Are we moving to an age where human beings will no longer think of themselves as Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhist, Hindus etc.? Perhaps people (whether they have a religious or a non-religious interpretation of life) will simply think of themselves as human beings and citizens of one global village who search for meaning and in doing so draw from a global resource of wisdom and spirituality to which religious and humanist traditions have contributed.

Key quotation: ” ‘In terms of prophecy,’ Teabing said, ‘we are currently in an epoch of enormous change. The millennium has recently passed, and with it has ended the two-thousand-year-long astrological Age of Pisces – the fish, which is also the sign of Jesus. As any astrological symbologist will tell you, the Piscean ideal believes that man must be told what to do by higher powers because man is incapable of thinking for himself. Hence it has been a time of fervent religion.”

Is Christianity redeemable? It came out of a patriarchal culture and has a male deity and a male saviour. Can the feminine (which the novel calls the ‘sacred feminine’) be introduced to make it a more inclusive religion?

I think that Christianity could be reappraised and reformed so that it moves beyond both fundamentalism and beyond its patriarchal framework to be a religion that is inclusive of both the feminine and the masculine, although this would mean giving up traditional beliefs that Jesus was literally human and divine and literally a male saviour figure. The days of a male father god and a male saviour (in a literal sense) need to be left behind. However perhaps the future will be more like that described above – an age where people will have moved beyond the old religions which have come out of a pre-scientific world.

Key quotation: “The pendulum is swinging. We are starting to sense the dangers of our history … and of our destructive paths. We are beginning to sense the need to restore the sacred feminine” (p.581).

Websites and DVDs have been created to correct the misunderstandings that churches and organisations consider Dan Brown has created. Do those websites and DVDs just contain what is held to be the official teaching or do they also include the dissident voices that challenge what is currently official teaching? The novel stresses the importance of thinking for oneself. How can members of churches make informed choices if the differing voices are not included in these presentations?

I respect the right of anyone to seek to clarify misunderstandings. While some groups see The Da Vinci Code as an opportunity to discuss and debate issues of faith, there is still a tendency to be defensive and to present the official line and not include the dissident voices – yet every religion has many voices.

Key quotation: “we are entering the Age of Aquarius – the water bearer – whose ideals claim that man will learn the truth and be able to think for himself. The ideological shift is enormous, and it is occurring right now.’ ” (p. 357)

Resource Types: Articles.

Review & Commentary