Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

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Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Each person is the unique product of the intersection of various forces. Put another way, each of us is the product of a culture. Culture is that which a society produces which gives expression to its core beliefs and what it values. Notably, culture is generally associated with creativity and artistic expression. For instance, if we go to the museum and tour a selection of Impressionist paintings, we have made contact with our common European culture, a culture that, at the time Impressionism was en vogue, wrestled with the nature of knowledge and the mutability of our perceptions. This movement however goes in both directions. As we encounter various expressions of our culture, those encounters touch us. If this isn’t clear, a brief historical aside will demonstrate this point.

On the surface, it would seem that a book would not possess the power to change the landscape of a country or its particular history. Well, that depends. Harriet Beecher Stowe may not have realized it but when she wrote of the plight of African slaves in the antebellum South, she lit the fuse on a conflict that had simmered since the foundation of the United States. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a work of fiction, impelled readers to re-consider matter they had put to bed. Abraham Lincoln met her at the White House in 1862. His purported remark was “So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”

Take for instance another piece of fiction burning up the bestseller list: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. What starts out as a basic thriller/murder mystery rapidly turns into a series of perplexing claims concerning history, theology, art, and the Catholic Church. Soon, the reader questions many things that they had considered settled. Was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene? Was Jesus a merely mortal prophet later re-cast as God for political purposes? Has the Catholic Church been hiding the truth for all these centuries?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “Come on, Father. It’s just a work of fiction. What’s to get upset about?” I will grant that: you won’t find this book hanging out with scholarly non-fiction at your local Barnes and Noble. However, while the cover says “fiction,” the author claims “fact.” A cover page purports that all art, architecture, rituals, and documents depicted within its pages are accurate. Here’s the source of our problem.

Historical fiction tells a story against the backdrop of a particular historical moment. Gone with the Wind certainly is not a textbook on the American Civil War. It’s the story of love in the time of war. In historical fiction, the author makes a deal with the reader. The author agrees to portray the time period correctly, so that the reader can focus on the action of the story. In The Da Vinci Code, this process is reversed. By keeping the action and details concerning the characters and the plot light, Dan Brown directs readers to pay attention to his assertions. In short, it is a clever way to counter-evangelize the culture. Mr. Brown wants to have his cake and eat it too: he can claim that the book is fiction while asserting that everything you know about Christianity is false.

When this book came to my attention, I knew it was right up my alley and conformed perfectly to the purpose of this column. To make the case for faith in Christ and in his Holy Church is to make a case based in fact, not feeling. Brown has his fictional symbologist claim that every faith is a fabrication and that every informed believer knows that. Believing in something known to be false is not faith; it’s foolishness. Faith is an act of the reason, grounded in real information from which the person draws a conclusion. If I going to make tomato sauce, I go to the store and buy canned tomatoes. How do I know there are tomatoes in this can? I can’t see them. What if someone changed the labels? I could be buying anything. You can see where this kind of thinking leads. I would be standing to this very moment in the grocery store rather writing this article. We can’t live our lives without relying on acts of faith, even in the most insignificant aspects of our lives.

Faith in Jesus Christ is the doorway to salvation, and this faith is and must be grounded in the facts of history. As Saint Paul is swift to remind us, these things did not happen in a corner; they happened in full view of the world (Acts 26:26). So, instead of simply being disgusted at the blasphemous claims found in The Da Vinci Code, I am going to use this as an opportunity. Mr. Brown’s book gives you and I the chance to review the basic facts of our Christian faith, perhaps leading us to greater acts of love and devotion. Also, it will equip us to answer the questions our friends, family, and colleagues will bring to us. With a major studio film version of the book coming out in May, I don’t expect this to disappear from the cultural radar any time soon.

Over the next several issues, I will address the most basic and most obvious errors found in Mr. Brown’s book. To paraphrase St. Thomas More, to study for errors in The Da Vinci Code is akin to studying the sea for water. Also, I want to propose materials for further reading as any in-depth, systematic analysis is beyond the scope of this column. Lastly, I will suggest some practical ways that you can respond effectively and positively to this latest attack on our Catholic Faith.

2 Comments:

Blogger Ogilvie said...

Good. Look forward to it. A young woman tells me the book is in her Catholic high school library. Makes you wonder.

5:14 PM  
Blogger KnightsOfClassicLore said...

Fr,

I'm wondering if you have another analogy? The Uncle Tom's Cabin vs DaVinci Code analogy has one slight flaw in logic I think and that is Uncle Tom's Cabin was fiction based on fact, vs fiction based on fiction (although details claimed to be fact, but nonetheless fiction)

1:23 PM  

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