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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

What The Da Vinci Code is.

This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

--American writer and critic Dorothy Parker, offering the greatest book review of all time.

I've been puzzling over the inexplicable success of fictologist Dan Brown's DVC for the past month or so, trying to figure out precisely why it is a runaway bestseller.

I think I may have an answer.

Consider the core of the book. Underneath the cardboard characters and romance novel plotting you have the audacious claim that it is based on "impeccably researched" fact, "transmitting several doctorates' worth of fascinating history and learned speculation," according to two of the more oxygen-deprived reviews.

To the contrary, actual research reveals DVC is nothing of the sort. Instead, it's a pastiche of historical errors, unlearned speculation and flat-out paranoid conspiracy-theorizing.

It is in the last point that the key to DVC's success can be found. Documented research from many different sources does exactly squat to deter DVC's true believers, who will not hear otherwise.

Remember the book claims that Christianity, especially its Catholic manifestation, is entirely a grotesque fraud, maintained by a fearsome bodyguard of lies and the occasional albino assassin. Jesus of Nazareth was the Alan Alda/John Stoltenberg of first century Palestine, a married feminist guy who said and did some nice things, preserving what Brown calls the Sacred Feminine ("SF"). The SF is a loosely defined concept, but essentially functions as the counterpart to what can presumably be described as the Sacred Masculine, thereby keeping the bisexual yin-yang of the cosmos on an even keel. When he died, he wanted Mrs. Barjoses--Mary Magdalen--to run the family counseling center. Instead, Peter the Penis Person instituted the world's first hostile takeover and renamed the center Catholicism, Inc., driving the pregnant Mary into hiding.

Bye-bye, SF. Hello, patriarchy [cue hissing]. Catholicism Inc. used Jesus as a goodwill figurehead for its nefarious aims, foremost of which is keeping the SF and, by extension wombyn, down. The official writings of CI were selected with this in mind, and the previously-mortal Jesus was elected God by a "close vote" at the Council of Nicaea. Apparently it was not "close" enough to demand a recount, or perhaps the fathers at Nicaea didn't use butterfly ballots. In any event, back to the wombyn.

Reacting to the takeover, Mary M. went to France and gave birth to Jesus' child. In doing so, she founded The Church As Jesus Really Intended It, the guardian of the SF. In time, this evolved into the Priory of Sion, and included such eminenti as Leonardo, who used the Grail Legend and encoded "symbology" to convey the SF, including such in the Mona Lisa.

Meanwhile, CI strove diligently to eradicate every vestige of femininity from religion, including such subtle, nigh-unto-unnoticeable methods as albino assassins.

Understand, not of word of this is based on so much as a scrap of actual historical fact. Tired yet?

Let's briefly recap: Fictional work masquerading as demonstrably-bogus "fact" about a monster conspiracy theory involving secretive, despised group accused of holding the truth and the bulk of humanity in chains through nefarious global methods for millenia.

Does The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion ring any bells?

DVC is Protocols for the Marin/Prince George's County set--the key to everything, as this "interesting" letter writer demonstrates. Change one word--"women" [sic]--to "white," "Christian," "Muslim" or whatever and it could have been written by a Protocols fanboy.

For them, DVC is "proof" that Christianity, the cornerstone of Western civilization, is an oppressive fraud keeping women (and men, in a different way) enslaved to a false idea, and that those calling the shots know it and are willing to do anything to keep it this way. Likewise Protocols fans and the Joooooooos.

If someone asks me whether Brown's fictology threatens my faith, my gut instinct is to laugh out loud and say "Nooooo." When it comes down to it, Brown is what my dad calls a "Fifty Percenter." As in, "50% of what he says is lies, and the other 50% is bulls--t." Like a reasonably well-grounded Jewish layman confronted with the Protocols, the claimed authenticity fails to persuade or otherwise shake my faith.

But in another way, it is threatening. The fact so many otherwise educated people are not just willing, but are actually eager to believe this nonsense about my faith in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary--all on the word of some previously-obscure novelist with an axe to grind--is the cause of profound disquiet. I don't know if it provides an opportunity so much as it mandates a duty to respond. However, based on the response of DVC fandom, I am not convinced that it will be an enterprise crowned with more than a few successes.

No, faithful Catholics are not threatened by such crappola in the same way the far tinier and more vulnerable population of Jews is threatened by the vicious persistence of the Protocols. Jews have had to, and still are forced to, put up with far greater horrors, slanders and calumnies.

But, in its own way, DVC is also marginalizing, pernicious and vile, another bucket of urine giddily tossed into the worsening cultural pool Catholics are forced to swim in. History demonstrates that the ideas in it will persist and become part of the cultural and spiritual fabric long after Brown becomes an obscure footnote.

Unless we evangelize first, which at a bare minimum requires reminding the culture that objective truth exists and means something.

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