I saw The Da Vinci Code last night was pretty underwhelmed by the flick. That said, it had a number of commendable qualities, notably the ever-amazing Ian McKellan as rather oddly named Sir Leigh Teabing. I also enjoyed the historical flashbacks, even if I didn’t always agree with the interpretation of history — and was delighted they did show the goddess Athena at the same time I’m finishing up a proposal to do my dissertation on that gray-eyed Olympian. I did cringe, however, when Roman Christians pulled her statue down.
And while I believe the movie got the Grail wrong and while Christians are upset that its misrepresented the history of their faith, I don’t think those misinterpretations accounted for the success of the book. I think its success had to do with the fact that it’s a good thriller which uses symbols from history, ancient faiths and classic art. And Dan Brown (the author) dared to say what too much modern scholarship has attempted to obscure — that these symbols have meaning.
I believe, particularly in this increasingly rational society, people hunger for such meaningful symbols in their lives.
I doubt that all the fans (perhaps not even a majority) of the book (and now movie) believe Teabing’s theories on Christianity, that is, that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and was herself the Grail. They just liked the fast-paced story and shared Landon’s (Tom Hanks) fascination with ancient (and still meaningful) symbols. And perhaps, the same thing drew readers to this book that drew fifteenth century readers to Sir Thomas Malory‘s Le Morte D’Arthur, the first best seller in the English language, the archetypal fascination of the Grail quest.
Sir Leigh’s insistence on exposing how he believes the Catholic Church misrepresented its own history seems a bit nonsensical to me. He seems to want to expose the church for the atrocities it committed. To be sure, many of his accusations are historically accurate. But, they’re just that — history. The faithful did torture and execute many who did not accept the doctrines they espoused. But, this atrocities began to fade once Christianity began to reincorporate Græco-Roman elements during the Renaissance.
Today, we rarely (if ever) hear of Christians committing such atrocities. Findng the Christian myth to be a fraud wouldn’t undo those crimes — nor would it do much to prevent them in the present day.
Even if Jesus did have a wife, that wouldn’t change the fact that the faith has spread rapidly — and continues to attract followers — with the idea of a celibate Jesus as the son of God at its heart. And while Buddhism’s founder, the Buddha himself, was not divine in the sense that Jesus was, he too renounced family life to live, as Jesus did, preaching his “gospel” while remaining celibate.
Thus, the religions with the greatest appeal in the East as well as the West have a celibate man at their heart of their myth.*
I’m not a Christian, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the Da Vinci Code‘s potrayal of Christian history. The fact remains that, as currently understood, Christianity has provided the backbone of Western civilization and has moved beyond the narrow faith of the Middle Ages. Would the faith have had the appeal it did if it had had a married man as its Savior? The experience of Buddhism suggests that it would not.
I believe that the greatness of Western Civilization has been its ability, since the Renaissance, to balance the strengths of the Judeo-Christian and Græco-Roman traditions. And to understand that greatness, we need to look at the traditions as they are — and not as they might have been.
The image of a celibate Jesus is essential to that tradition. Acknowledging that, let’s accept Dan Brown’s theory as just that, a theory which, even if true, would not undermine the positive influence Christianity has had on our culture or the impact it has had on hundreds of millions of people — in our era and throughout history.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
*Before his enlightenment, however, the Buddha married the compassionate Yasodhara and had a child with her. After his epiphany under the Bodhi Tree, however, he did not again engage in conjugal relations with that wise woman.