Monday, March 27, 2006

The Ethics of the DaVinci Code

The “DaVinci Code” by author Dan Brown is a best selling novel about a “fictional” conspiracy perpetrated by the Catholic Church.

Here is the problem: Even though the story is billed as “fictional,” the author claims in the book that it is based on fact.

According to many biblical experts, including non-Christian critics, this is not true.

Robert Price, of the Jesus Seminar, the Council for Secular Humanism, and a contributor to Free Inquiry magazine, reviewed the book in the magazine and examined some of its “facts.”

He found them wanting.

In his review he finds many of the claims to be unwarranted and based on forged or fraudulent documents or outright unsubstantiated speculation.  For the whole review you can go to

So what if a fictional book is not entirely accurate in depicting past events?  It’s fictional, right?

The problem is that very real institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church and Opus Dei are depicted as committing heinous acts during the course of the story.

Now it is one thing to critique an institution, and everyone knows that the Roman Catholic Church and Opus Dei are deserving targets; butit is quite another thing to insinuate that they are capable, even fictionally, of atrocious acts they have not really committed.

The novel has an Opus Dei member committing murder and has the cult ruthlessly plotting to maintain its position within the Church.

According to Wikipedia:

Bishop Manuel Aringarosa is the worldwide head of Opus Dei and the patron of the albino monk Silas.  Five months before the start of the narrative, he is summoned by the Vatican to a meeting at an astronomical observatory in the Italian Alps and told, to his great surprise, that in six months the Pope will withdraw his support of Opus Dei.  Since he believes that Opus Dei is the force keeping the Church from disintegrating into what he sees as the corruption of the modern era, he believes his faith demands that he take action to save Opus Dei.  Shortly after the meeting with the Vatican officials, he is contacted by a shadowy figure calling himself "The Teacher", who has learned somehow of the secret meeting.  The Teacher informs him that he can deliver an artifact to Aringarosa so valuable to the Church that it will give Opus Dei extreme leverage over the Vatican.”

This leads to the crimes of the monk, Silas:

Before the beginning of the events in the novel, Aringarosa puts him in contact with the Teacher and tells him that the mission he will be given is of utmost importance in saving the true Word of God.  Under the orders of the Teacher, he murders Jacques Saunière and the other three leaders of the Priory of Sion in order to extract the location of the Priory's clef de voûte or "keystone".  Discovering later that he has been duped with false information, he chases Langdon and Neveu in order to obtain the actual keystone. He does not know the true identity of the Teacher. He is reluctant to commit murder, knowing that it is a sin, and does so only because he is assured his actions will save the Catholic Church.

Besides implying that these institutions could commit these acts, the book also distorts and contradicts the theology of the Roman Catholic Church – which ordinarily is not a problem if done using evidence and reason.

Robert Price describes the problem: Many… readers are what one might call sophomoric skeptics.  They have learned proper suspicion toward their inherited Christian faith, but they seem to be completely uncritical about the assertions of those who would substitute some other hypothesis, often equally wild.  These people, despite their admirable intellectual curiosity, just do not know how to separate fact from fiction.”

It does no one any good to critique religious mythology just to replace it with an even more unlikely mythology.  There is no doubt that many persons believe the “facts” presented by Dan Brown in the book, and though the Roman Catholic theology is ripe for criticism, inventing an alternative myth or using invented myths uncritically is still unethical.

Imagine a book that blames fictional historical atrocities and crimes on humanists or the Center for Inquiry itself!  Actually it is not hard to imagine such a book; the supposedly non-fiction “Mind Siege” does something like that.  The fallout from such a book is undeniable: atheists are the most distrusted class of persons in America.  (Go to:

The popularity of the “DaVinci Code” may be a testament to the Freedoms of Speech and Religion in the US; it is also a testament to American gullibility.  Though the Roman Catholic Church would never reciprocate in defending atheists, humanists and the Center for Inquiry, it must be said that the “DaVinci Code” is an unethical fictionalization that unfairly maligns a real world institution and contributes nothing toward a reasoned discourse on religion.

Afghanistan Man Faced Death for Religious Conversion

  According to various news agencies, Abdul Rahman, 41, has been arrested in Afghanistan after his family accused him of becoming a Christian.  The Associated Press reported that Afghanistan’s Constitution is based on Sharia law which many Muslims interpret as requiring that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death.  Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada said “We are not against any particular religion in the world.  But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law.”


  One can only imagine what they would do if they were against other religions.   It must be that in Afghanistan, they’re very much for Islam.

  During a hearing it seems that the defendant confessed that he converted 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for a Christian relief group.  This is the crime for which he may die.

  No demonstrations by Muslims demanding freedom of choice were reported in response to this arrest in which a person could be killed.

  In fact, the sentiment may be the opposite: Senior Muslim clerics were demanding that the man be executed and warned that if the government caved in to “western” pressure, they will incite people to “pull him into pieces.”

  A possible alternative was discussed by a religious advisor, Moayuddin Baluch, to Afghanistan President Karzai.  It was suggested that the defendant might be mentally unfit and should not be punished.

  In other words, all Christians in Afghanistan are either crazy or should be killed.  Indeed, Mr. Rahman was set free on the pretense that there was insufficient evidence and that he may have been mentally unfit for trial.

  Yeah, right.

  The AP reported after his release that “hundreds of clerics, students and others chanting “Death to Christians!” marched through the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif to protest the court decision… to dismiss the case.  Several Muslim clerics threatened to incite Afghans to kill Rahman if he is freed, saying that he is clearly guilty of apostasy and deserves to die.

  “Abdul Rahman must be killed.  Islam demands it,” said senior Cleric Faiez Mohammed, from the nearby northern city of Kunduz.  “The Christian foreigners occupying Afghanistan are attacking our religion.”

  The international outrage over Rahman’s case put President Karzai in a difficult position because he also risked offending religious sensibilities in Afghanistan, where senior Muslim clerics have been united in calling for Rahman to be executed.”

  It is stories such as this that depress objective observers.  Afghanistan had the opportunity and support to embrace freedom.  They may have chosen otherwise.  It also makes a joke out of Muslim protests, particularly violent in Afghanistan, against the insulting Danish cartoons of Mohammed.   Isn’t this precisely the violent mindset the cartoons were attacking?  Exactly why would a non-Muslim have positive feelings towards the brand of Islam practiced by those Muslims who would kill Mr. Rahman for converting to Christianity?

  The question must be raised – is the brand of Islam practiced in Afghanistan, and other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, incompatible with personal freedom?  When will the Muslim community focus on the suffering caused by Islam as it is often practiced around the world?  Can the West be held responsible for this?

  One cannot help but notice the absence of protests around the world by angry Muslims who are upset that Muslims of Afghanistan and elsewhere have no freedom, under various versions sharia law, to choose their beliefs.  It allows the rest of the world to wonder if any particular Muslim is truly devout or simply intimidated, or if Islam only exists because of the threat of violence.

  Despite all this, the West STILL avoids the difficult questions about religion in general.

  If God is to be obeyed, and if the militant Afghanistani version of Islam and God is correct, then those seeking the death of the convert are right and liberal Muslims and the West are wrong.

  Yet no one argues that a religion is false – that what the Afghanistani clerics believe is untrue; the world still cannot handle that argument.

  Yet it’s the argument that MUST be made if the world is to be civilized.  One can bring the argument evenfurther:

  It doesn’t matter what a God wants and we are to do what is right and just no matter what.  In other words, we should not do what is wrong even if a God says we can do what is wrong.

  The world has been caught in a religious war in which the only defense is promoting a humanism that can civilize religious beliefs.  In a world where a small number of persons can create massively destructive weapons, it is unbelievable that no world leader yet has the nerve to say that “no god will save us, we must save ourselves.”


Friday, March 24, 2006

Religious America's Dirty Secret

A new report came out this week documenting American attitudes and their biases and prejudices.  Actually it was about American bigotry when you come down to it and most specifically, what form of bigotry is so common that NOT to be bigoted in this way is politically incorrect!

Yes, it can only be about America's hatred of atheists: America hates atheists.

The report, by Penny Edgell from the Univ. of Minnesota, can be found here:

There can be no mistaking what is going on here: Religion teaches believers to distrust non-believers because if they didn't, why would you be a believer?  A religion that does not require membership for its purported benefits (such as an afterlife or reward in this life) is sure to fade away.  Why join if it's not necessary?  Hence, religions make claims of great reward for joining and demonize those who do not.  This is how a religion grows.   Keep in mind that many religions are immune to disproof - the alleged benefits lie after one dies - how conveeeenient!

Anyway, this comes on the heels of my organization, the Center for Inquiry - Long Island Community, challenging the God Squad (the Rabbi Marc Gellman and Father Tom Hartman) to a debate on the subject "Is God Necessary for Morals?"  They have so far refused.  What a shock!

Why challenge the God Squad?  Answer: Because they are so mainstream and universally hailed as "tolerant" yet are so malicious and nasty when it comes to non-believers.  For the whole sad tale and mountains of evidence, go to our website,   and read about it in our recent newsletter  You'll see examples and our press release and challenge.

More to come!