May 22, 2006


Media should stop and say, 'It's only a movie' (Tim Rutten, May 20, 2006, LA Times)

The problem with the "Da Vinci Code" story as controversy is that the outraged side just refuses to play ball. The primary victims of the foolishness committed in the book and continued on screen are the Catholic Church and Opus Dei, a deeply conservative and rather unwholesomely secretive organization of mainly lay believers given to education, hard work and a couple of creepy spiritual practices. Brown and his cinematic confreres have produced a cartoon that depicts the church as deceitful, corrupt and conspiratorial and Opus as murderous, corrupt and conspiratorial. These are moral, though thankfully not legal, slanders — at least not yet, though you never know what this desperate Congress will do.

The media, always mindful of the pathos to be wrung from a good auto-da-fé, have zealously circled the globe searching for outraged Catholics. So far, what they've got are a Nigerian cardinal in the Vatican curia, who grumbled that somebody, somewhere ought to take legal action, the urging of a boycott in China, a ban in Manila and a couple of Indian Catholics who threatened to set themselves on fire outside a theater when the film opens there. (They didn't; apparently, somebody reminded them that the church they're defending inconveniently forbids suicide.)

For its part, Opus Dei convened a team of "crisis managers" under the direction of its "global communications director," Juan Manuel Mora, and charged them — according to the Wall Street Journal — with converting the film's release into "a marketing opportunity." They overhauled the organization's website,, which last year received 3 million hits, as opposed to 674,000 the year before Brown's book came out.

The collective Catholic response to the book and film probably were best summed up by a Jesuit theologian who responded to an earnest radio interviewer's long and suggestive question this way: "I don't mean to sound obtuse, but are you asking me whether a novel is true?"

Meanwhile, media attempts to deputize the usual evangelical Protestant firebrands into one of those reliably copy-worthy anti-blasphemy posses also have been generally fruitless. You almost can hear frustrated assignment editors and producers muttering to themselves: What's the matter with these guys? Don't they care that this cockamamie movie says Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene? Can't they see this is another battle in the war against Christmas? Didn't they learn anything from those Muslims?

That Christians are blase about the Da Vinci hoax is just the flipside of unbelievers being apoplectic about Mel Gibson's Passion presenting the genuine story.

The shocking secret of 'The Da Vinci Code': It stinks (DOMINIC P. PAPATOLA, 5/21/06, St. Paul Pioneer Press)

With 105 chapters — each about the length of a potty break — and sentence structures not too far removed from "See Dick run," the book seems to be written at about a sixth-grade readability level. The plot advances in a series of enough improbable "a-ha!" moments to burn through a couple of grosses of light bulbs. And the galloping, thinly strung conspiracy theory makes your typical Kennedy assassination theorist look scholarly by comparison.

To call the thing a piffle is to insult piffles.

The film breathlessly packs the book's 450 pages into about 2½ hours. Tom Hanks is a much more skeptical protagonist than you'll find in the book, and the cinematic version soft-pedals the whole church-as-thug idea, assigning most of the malevolent deeds to a rogue, beanie-bedecked "shadow council" of clerics instead of Mother Church herself. Still, the movie is, if anything, more laughably strung together than the book.

Does it offend? The book irked plenty of people — just take a peek on the Internet. And protests broke out around the world before the first frame of the film was shown to the public.

But as a practicing Catholic, I find the idea of corrupt churchmen and Holy Grails far less troubling than the insinuation that any person with any cartilage whatsoever in their spiritual spine would find "The Da Vinci Code" the least bit threatening to their faith.

Faith is the acceptance of things we can't see, after all, and the idea that someone would suddenly believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married just because "Da Vinci" actor Ian McKellen said so suggests a faith that probably wasn't all that strong to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2006 8:44 AM

The movie has about as much chance of hurting Catholicism as all those fun thrillers about treason high up in the U.S. government has of undermining American patriotism.

"I don't mean to sound obtuse, but are you asking me whether a novel is true?"

A classic. This guy rehabilitated Jesuit casuistry with one sentence.

Posted by: Peter B at May 22, 2006 9:12 AM

Got dragged to see it on Sunday because of a friend's wife. Her husband and I were thinking about sneaking over to see "Over the Hedge" after the first hour, but stayed for the whole thing. Just as a movie, it's not awful, but there are some crushingly dull moments, and since the evil Opus Dey mastermind bears a passing resemblence to Monty Python's Terry Jones, I couldn't help think at the end of the movie, when Tom Hanks has finally located his Holy Grail, that while genuflecting in front of the Lourve he would suddenly hear a lound noise and see a cow being flung over the main building and into the courtyard from a giant cataplut (cue John Cleese's voice en Francais as the end credits begin to roll...)

Posted by: John at May 22, 2006 9:21 AM

Re: Jesuit theologian's brilliant reply to an interviewer's stupid question. Sounds like he may have heard Tony Snow's first press briefing in which he used a similar locution in reply to a reporter's stupid question.

Posted by: erp at May 22, 2006 10:18 AM

The other relevant observation is the sharp contrast with how Catholics and Christians deal with what can only be called a piece of vicious hate propaganda (disguised as a novel) and how Muslims deal with something similar (examples abound, but the Salman Rushdie "contract," the Theo van Gogh hit, and the Danish cartoons episode suffice; the penalty for insulting or blaspheming Islam is death. Conversely, there is no price to pay for doing the same to the Church or Christianity, certainly not in this world or at our hands. This is not to say that blasphemous movies should be made, but when a religio-culture can not tolerate even legitimate criticism without murdering in response, then there is no possibility of dialog or coexistence.

Posted by: je at May 22, 2006 11:14 AM


The difference is that Christianity is regnant in the US in particular but globally as well. That's why the secular catterwauling over the Passion sounds like the hysteria over the cartoons.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2006 11:19 AM

What's the point of provoking a reaction when the provokers are the reactionaries?

"though you never know what this desperate Congress will do."

The Left are the ones who are desperate, desperate for any sign of any possible oppression. They look in the closet each night in the faint hope tha they find Karl Rove or even Trent Lott with his ear pressed to the door, because they know that to be ignored is to know that your beliefs (and the believers) are irrelevant.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 22, 2006 12:25 PM

Most amusing is that the film has been banned in several Muslim countries for being heretical.

Posted by: Mike Earl at May 22, 2006 1:08 PM

Mike, perhaps the film is banned because the mullahs don't want their faithful to know that we don't suppress films because of religious or political content no matter how odious or vulgar that content may be.

Posted by: erp at May 22, 2006 1:15 PM

Londinistan by Melanie Phillips, reviewed by Spengler in today's Asia Times Online:

Let's hope she lives to collect a royalty, that is if Prince Charles hasn't already dropped a dime on her to the Jihadis.

Posted by: je at May 22, 2006 1:45 PM

Mr. Rutten's description of "a Nigerian cardinal in the Vatican curia" shows that he obviously is not familiar with Cardinal Arinze, which demonstrates that he is so ignorant about the Catholic Church that he really shouldn't even think about writing on the topic, lest he embarrass himself. But since when has that stopped the contemporary MSM?

Posted by: b at May 22, 2006 1:49 PM


Yes, we do.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2006 3:10 PM

I haven't yet read the book, although I intend to, but just skimming the pages I spotted a number of pretty obvious historical errors. Brown could've at least gotten a grad student to read the thing before sending it to the printers, although that would presuppose the doubtful proposition that he cares about being mildly accurate.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 22, 2006 3:44 PM

oj. We, as in We, the People, surpress films because of content?

Posted by: erp at May 22, 2006 5:52 PM


He never has.

Posted by: John at May 22, 2006 6:02 PM

Matt. It's fiction, albiet very poorly written and boring fiction, so there is no need to fact check.

Posted by: erp at May 22, 2006 6:35 PM


The intro to the book says the basic facts he recounts are accurate. As near as I can tell, from there on out he makes stuff up.

Some people will take him at his word.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 22, 2006 7:10 PM

Yes, and always have.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2006 7:25 PM

It seems fairly clear that Mr. Brown never dreamt that his work would become so successful. He could have eked out a nice little living selling novels in the "New Age Spirituality" section where no one would have cared that he's peddling nonsense as history. But somehow his drek (of which I have no first-hand knowledge, but it's hard to find anyone defending his artistic talents) caught on, which is interesting not for anything to do with him personally, but rather as a sad commentary on the immense cultural & historical ignorance of our times.

Posted by: b at May 22, 2006 7:30 PM

What b. said.

Posted by: erp at May 22, 2006 11:03 PM


So he's not responsible for what he says if only a small number of people are paying attention? Wouldn't that make lying to your spouse okay?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 25, 2006 9:55 PM