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 www.robertprice.mindvendor.com/dvhoax.htm.

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: http://www.ur.umn.edu/FMPro?-db=releases&-lay=web&-format=umnnewsreleases/releasesdetail.html&ID=2816&-Find)

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.

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