Why Da Vinci?

Stanley Kurtz has a conniption this morning on how the "left" still controls the culture in this country. By "left", he means the "Da Vinci Code." His analysis strikes me as ideological panic and intellectual blindness. There’s a more obvious reason for the popularity of the "The Da Vinci Code" than the Davinciindranilmukherjeeafpgetty alleged non-conspiracy of the left. It’s hack suspense fiction; it’s Agatha Christie fused with dark suspicions of the Catholic church. That kind of dreck sells – and always has done. But there are two other issues. The first is the Catholic church’s sexual abuse crisis. We now know that the Church hierarchy is completely prepared to engage in criminal activity, cover-ups and smears of the victims of abuse. The case of Father Maciel shows how this rotten, immoral policy of self-protection was practised by Pope John Paul II himself – who protected a serial child abuser for internal political reasons. Cynicism about the Vatican hierarchy is therefore no longer cynicism. It’s just realism. We have proof of their iniquity. And so it’s much easier to persuade people that they’re capable of perfidy and lies.

Secondly, the last two decades have seen the unearthing of ancient evidence of real Christian debate and division in the early church. The discovery of the so-called Gnostic Gospels and the more recent discovery of the Gospel of Judas, has helped ordinary Christians see that the doctrinally correct history of the church as an unbroken arc of orthodoxy from St Peter to Benedict is historically false. This doesn’t mean you junk the four Gospels. They remain by far the most authoritative account of Jesus’ life. But once you realize that even those who knew Jesus offered radically different interpretations of what he meant and said, your faith shifts a little. The certainty diminishes. Curiosity grows. And this is a good curiosity. It’s focused on what Jesus meant and might have meant. Suddenly the literal interpretations of an inerrant Scripture – the Christianist version of Christianity – seem a little ridiculous. This curiosity is being fed by serious scholars, theologians and ordinary believers. But hack fiction will undoubtedly feed off it as well. This has nothing to do with "the left," in other words. And it has everything to do with a reawakening of interest in what real Christianity – the teachings of Jesus – might mean. And that’s a positive development.

(Photo: Indra Nilmukharjee/AFP/Getty.)