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May 18, 2006

Da Vinci Ballyhoo: Why Rev'd Peter Mullen will be going to see The Da Vinci Code

Posted by Peter Mullen

Rev'd Peter Mullen - Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange - explains why he will be going to see The Da Vinci Code.

I shall go to see the film of The Da Vinci Code because I like sci fi and hokum. From the trailers it looks as if it's going to be rather like Star Wars. Perhaps it should be called Close Encounters of the Megahype Kind. I can understand that anyone who enjoys agreeable nonsense might derive considerable pleasure from this movie as indeed it was possible to enjoy the original book itself, if you can ignore a lot of excruciating prose. What I cannot understand is that anyone for a minute could believe any of this old tosh.

The Roman Catholic Church and some American Protestant sects have made themselves look ridiculous by calling on their congregations to boycott the movie. Why? The author himself doesn't even want us to believe it. He has published it as a novel, a work of fiction. Is the historic Catholic Church afraid of a drop of fiction? Besides there is nothing new in the book nothing that hasn't been aired a score of times in pulp historical theology such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Any Catholic or Protestant who has his faith disturbed by such balderdash can't have had much faith to begin with. You might as well claim that the Christian faith is slandered by Ben Hur or Spartacus. In fact genuine religion is worse damaged by the tomfoolery of modern church services than anything Dan Brown and his like could ever produce. Ten minutes of that jogging for Jesus to the twang of the liturgical guitar is enough to put anyone off church forever.

Of far greater interest is the question of why so many have found The Da Vinci Code so fascinating.

The Da Vinci Code is about religion, after a fashion, and for half a century we have been told by the secular dogmatists that religion is on the way out. Church congregations have declined catastrophically and you'll be hard-pressed to find a child who knows the Lord's Prayer by heart. Fewer people than ever are being baptised and church marriages are scorned in favour of the tedious utility of the register office or, increasingly, sensationally naff locations such as Blackpool tower or a hot air balloon.

So, if we're all supposed to be secularised and "come of age" with no need for the old gods, why are we clamouring by the tens of millions to read ersatz historical theology? Many leading churchmen have claimed that the popularity of The Da Vinci Code shows that "deep down" people are still residually religious. I don't believe that. If people are religious deep down or otherwise they will go to Mass or the Methodists; they might even convert to be transcendental meditators or Hampstead Buddhists.

It's not the residual tincture of faith that makes people read Dan Brown's book. It's not even scandal. The unchurched guy in the pub or ladette in the wine bar doesn't give a damn if Christianity is traduced. Christianity has been traduced and lied about for centuries and there have been many worse misrepresentations of the faith than anything in The Da Vinci Code. Both The Last Temptation of Christ and The Life of Brian were blasphemous. I've heard scholars and bishops in the Church of England knock Christianity harder than Dan Brown. The retired Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, used to fly a new sceptical kite in our faces every Easter and Christmas.

One reason why The Da Vinci Code is a bestseller is simply that it has been hyped brilliantly. It has become the fashionable book to be seen reading. And the defining characteristic of our age is the almost universal worship of fashion: millions "must have" what's "in". For tomorrow it will be old hat.

Another reason for the book's astonishing popularity is that it's bad enough to be liked. In our dumbed down culture it doesn't do to be associated with anything of genuine quality, for that would be to commit the sin of elitism. Even the "serious" TV stations and radio wavelengths patronise us these days. Radio Three presenters do their best to tell us there's nothing that requires any intelligence or attention span in listening to classical music. Every documentary is delivered in baby talk and accompanied by what they like to call "a pulsating rock score".

Maybe the reason millions are in thrall to The Da Vinci Code has something to do with religion after all? I mean, it's fashionable, dumbed down, badly written, lurid, plodding, simplistic and daft. That's a pretty good definition of any religious or spiritual motivation still left hanging around where English Christianity used to be.

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.


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Dear Dr. Mullen,
Shortly after we departed the Episcopal for the Catholic Church, we were informed on two different occassions (at dinner parties), we had "named our daughter after Jesus' wife". Both times it was former fellow Episcopalians who said this. This probably would have occurred more often but I had such little tolerance for such nonsense that I was extremely rude to both people (one was the hostess no less and brought the naming of our child up for discussion at table) I replied something along the lines of I'm-sorry-I had always-believed-you-were-college-educated... That did end the conversation rather quickly but not before both both claimed retired and never defrocked Bishop Spong of New Jersey and The Da Vinci Code for their scholarship on Jesus' wife.

I agree. C of E churchman like the never defrocked Bishop Spong have done far more damage to Christianity than Dan Brown. He's just adding on to Spong's legacy. At least the Protestants and Catholics still maintain enough beliefin Christianity that this movie gives them great pause as to whether it is beneficial for their flocks to see.

Posted by: Mrs. Peperium at May 18, 2006 10:35 PM
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Yes, one is tempted to try to liquidate this idiocy with satire, explaining how 'the Jesuses, Ethel and Bob' came to the barbeque last summer, adding sniffily, 'They are the Peterborough Jesuses, I believe.'

Sadly, many modern morons would simply believe it, perhaps asking if they are related to the Inverness McJesuses headed, since Glencoe, by the McJesus of That Ilk. Would that that clever chap who wrote The Way of the World column was still alive, he would have Jesuses popping up in every postcode.

Sigh. Enough blasphemy even in a good cause. In 1928, the artist, thinker and novelist Wyndham Lewis wrote that in an age lacking roots and norms, satire is actually impossible. If he was not right then, he sure is now.

Posted by: s masty at May 22, 2006 07:33 PM
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