View from the Pew
Some Oahu churches are holding talks to look at "The DaVinci Code"
Two Honolulu Christian ministers will be quoting chapter and verse from the Book in coming appearances, not teaching from it, but poking holes in historical errors, dramatic speculation and just plain spin.
It's not the Bible they will scrutinize. It's that 2003 thriller by Dan Brown that's been on the best-selling book list for years now, "The DaVinci Code," back on the front shelves of bookstores because the movie is about to be released.
The story is about modern adventurers caught up in violence as they unravel a huge conspiracy that has kept a secret for nearly 2,000 years. With millions of copies sold, it won't be giving away the punch line to tell that the secret it claims is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and their descendants can be traced to modern times. Brown wove numerous real people and organizations into his convoluted plot, apparently giving it a luster of truth for some readers.
The success of his story has generated dozens of other books by authors who debunk it or embroider on aspects of the plot.
"I don't think it's a threat to people who are biblically grounded," said the Rev. Bill Stonebraker, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Honolulu, but "the naive may be susceptible. They will fall into the trap of believing something that is Brown's imagination."
Stonebraker will talk about "The DaVinci Code: Fact or Fraud?" tomorrow at the 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. services at the church at 98-1016 Komo Mai Drive, Aiea. The series will continue at April 30 services at the same times.
Stonebraker, who "read" the book in a talking-book context, wants to give basic background to his congregation members. "A lot of folks in church are asking about it; friends are asking friends. People will not do research; they will tend to believe what they hear without checking facts. I think the movie will definitely have a great impact on what people believe. It will leave images that stick with people.
"What it does is put a spin," said Stonebraker. "For those who are looking for a reason why not to believe ... they will fall into the trap of believing something imaginary."
"I am excited by the controversy it has stirred," the pastor said. "It will get people talking about Christianity and Christians sharing their faith."
COURTESY SONY PICTURES
Actors Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks star in "The DaVinci Code." The film, based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown, opens May 19.
Calvary Chapel will sell $2 copies of "A Quest for Answers in the DaVinci Code," by Josh McDowell, author of "The Late Great Planet Earth." It's a simple primer answering claims made about the Catholic Church, the Knights Templar, Gnostic writings, Roman Emperor Constantine and Renaissance artist Leonardo DaVinci, whose painting of the Last Supper supposedly reveals the secret.
The work of the great artist and the possibility that his paintings hold clues to historical secrets will be one of the themes of talks by the Rev. Jim Miller, an associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. He will tackle the subject in a public lecture at 2 p.m. May 14 at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
"People are afraid it will confuse or turn people away from the faith," said Miller, who will also address "The DaVinci Code" in May programs at the church, 1822 Keeaumoku St. The lectures at 7 p.m. May 11 and 18 are free and open to the public. "I don't feel any threat from the book at all. I would be surprised if it did much damage," said the pastor, who recently published a book of Christian devotions entitled "God Scent."
"It does not take a deep study of history to figure out what is fabrication. With the Internet, I think people will look things up. I'd like to say that after a level-headed investigation of the book, if any people still believe Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, I have a picture of a UFO I'd like to sell them," said Miller.
Miller said two out of every three people he talks to have read the book. "I like to use it as a conversation point with people. Let's take advantage of the topic and use it as a teaching point for the faith."
The pastor, who leads the high school ministry and teaches adult education classes, said he would not advise anyone to skip the book or avoid the movie. But, he said, "I think the Christian Church ought to learn that the best way to fund its detractors is to protest them. Everywhere they picketed, they sold more tickets," he recalled of the 1988 movie "The Last Temptation of Christ."
COURTESY SONY PICTURES
Actors Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks star in the suspense thriller "The DaVinci Code." The story is about modern adventurers caught up in violence as they unravel a huge conspiracy that has kept a secret for nearly 2,000 years.
Catholic Church authorities and Christians of different varieties attacked that movie and banned the 1951 book by Nikos Kazantzakis. Its scenes of Jesus tempted with lustful fantasizing about Mary Magdalene aroused the hue and cry.
This time around, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops through their Catholic Communications Campaign has taken to the Internet in an academic, not attack mode. At a Web page opened last month, www.jesusdecoded.com, articles by scholars dissect Dan Brown's version of history, and there is a question-and-answer opportunity for browsers.
There's no plan in the local Catholic diocese to dispense an antidote to the anti-Catholic content of "The DaVinci Code."
"It's not a burning issue," said the Rev. Marc Alexander, diocesan vicar general and theologian. "We don't have a tendency to make a big deal about these things. In this day and age, there is a lot more information out there, and people are more critical in their thinking.
"It's not a new phenomenon," said the priest. "The Catholic Church is often portrayed in a light that is inaccurate. We live in a diverse culture. Sometimes there are groups that love to spread misinformation, and that is unfortunate.
"We don't want people being confused," he said. "The Web site is clear about what we teach."
Chaminade University lecturer Regina Pfeiffer said questions come up from students, and they have talked about aspects of the book in her religious-studies classes. "What troubles me is that Brown claims he has done research. People think, 'Oh, then it has to be accurate.'"
A class discussion on the Dead Sea Scrolls shed light on one error. Jewish and Christian scholars date the scrolls back to 100 years before Christ's birth. Brown's version has the ancient texts describing Jesus.
"In class, I am trying to get students to be critical thinkers when they read, to ask questions and not take what they read as the truth of the matter. We don't do it, but it's not a bad idea to have classes respond to pop culture like this," said Pfeiffer.
The Catholic university considered having a panel to critique "The DaVinci Code." The idea didn't fly. "People said it is just a novel and shouldn't be taken seriously."