Beyond 'The Da Vinci Code'

No need to fret. Today’s entry is not a “Da Vinci” rebuttal. We’ve done that — and it looks like the critics at Cannes Film Festival have done it too.

Your response to my three-part series was huge. You forwarded the links, wrote letters to your local papers, and jumped up and down — not on Dan Brown, but rather on the jaw-dropping religious ignorance that has allowed him to peddle his fiction as fact.

Last Monday, it was just my hunch his ideas were having success. Now we know more. According to the survey by Opinion Research Business, 60 percent of “The Da Vinci Code” readers surveyed believe Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene verses 30 percent of non-readers. Seventeen percent of readers believe Opus Dei has resorted to murder to shroud the Church’s secrets verses four percent of non-readers.

Those numbers show people are questioning what and why they believe — a good thing. They also show they are getting it wrong — not so good. Wait...I hear thunder..."How dare you say they got it wrong, Father. Who are you to judge?"

Thunder thinking — a fear of thinking at all — has permeated our culture. It has warped the virtue of tolerance into a vicious ideology that denies the value of ideas themselves. The yardstick I use to say readers are getting it wrong is not faith, but history, and in the case of Opus Dei, a relatively short one I might add.

Take courage. Our positive approach has altered the tone of the "The Da Vinci Code" debate. Have you noticed? Listen now to the pundits as they speak on television, radio, and on the net. The abyss that just a few weeks ago separated the two extremes is narrowing. There are fewer cynics pooh-poohing Christians for wanting to set the record straight and fewer doomsayers who only moan and groan about liberals who contribute to the moribund state of religion in America.

Last week’s series had a secondary effect. It launched this blog all over the web. Newcomers write in to tell me there’s something special happening on this page. And I know it’s not me. We’re unearthing a new communication niche — a diamond in the rough. Jill put it like this:

"Dear Father Jonathan, I’ve begun many e-mails to you only to delete them and start again. What can I say? I’m new to your blog, and now I’m hooked. It’s kind of weird what’s going on inside of me. I’m not religious, and shamefully (and contrary to what I often claim) I’m not even very spiritual. And yet I find myself waiting for each one of your entries. Don’t take what I’m about to say wrong, but I could care less that it’s you who’s writing. Sorry! It’s about what you have to say! When I watch the news or read the papers, it’s easy to fall in the trap of thinking the world is two-dimensional — Republican or Democrat; right or left; conservative or liberal; religious or secular. After a while, those tribal groups mean very little regarding how to live my day. Please, keep speaking and writing, and helping us to make sense (with all dimensions in view) of what’s making the news."

Not all of you share Jill’s enthusiasm. A common complaint I get from readers would appear to be a matter of approach, of style. But below the surface, something else is brewing. Matt’s note represents it well:

"Dear Father Jonathan, I hate when you talk about truth. You are afraid to say what it is — who He is. The world is the way it is because people like you are afraid to quote the Scripture and to draw the line between those who are saved and those who aren’t. Your style stinks to high heaven." — Matt

How I wish I could sit down with Matt and hear him out! We would agree on so many things, I’m sure. We may disagree, however, on why the world is the way it is — and that’s more than a matter of style.

Here’s what’s brewing behind my approach: I think the world is the way it is because we are afraid to love. Jesus drew lines in the sand, not between sinners, but between us and sin itself. And he did so firmly and lovingly, something we all have a hard time doing.

Let’s not forget why this film will be a positive for Christianity. We have a chance to speak firmly and lovingly about what and why we believe. Some will get it right, others of us will not.

When we disagree it doesn’t mean we’re both right, or nobody is right. In fact, when two things contradict themselves on the same point, they can’t both be right.

I’ve already said thank you to Dan Brown. Today, in solidarity with Sony, I say, "Seek the truth." And I add, "Be careful, it is to be found."

God bless, Father Jonathan

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