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Facts, Fiction and Faith

The refutation by your reviewer Gerald O’Collins, S.J., (12/15) of the mass of misinformation in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is probably useful. But why do we need a distinguished scholar like Father O’Collins to refute a work of fiction? Fiction is just that, fiction. Why do we sense the need to refute Brown’s Code when we don’t take on the facts in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz or a thousand other imaginative pieces?

When Brown replies on his Web site to questions about how much of his novel is based on fact, he writes, The paintings, locations, historical documents, and organizations described in the novel all exist. Read his answer carefully. Places and articles are real. The book is a novel. Add only that a novel is fiction, which is literally not true.

Brown is an excellent writer despite his lack of basic character development. His Code is a page-turner thriller. For the development of his story, he dredges up every sort of half-truth, supposition and myth from the past 2,000 years.

What about those who may accept Brown’s fiction as truth? Many look for any and every justification for their prejudices or diminished faith. They jump at reports of the priest who fondles young boys, or of a cardinal who dies in the bed of his mistress or the reduction of the female to less than the male. Are any of these acts worse than God’s chosen Apostle who gave that kiss of affection as betrayal? These people may need a reminder that fiction is no more than fiction, no matter how it is written, how it is packaged, how it is hyped. Wishing fiction to be truth does not make it so.

What about the age-old allegations that Christ was in love with a woman or even married? We need to recall that Jesus was both human and divine. We believe that Christ was human like us in all matters except sin. Is it a sin for a man to love a woman, to be married? Surely our faith does not hinge on the celibacy of Christ.

Most of us in this day and age are blessed to have sufficient background and understanding to cope with the multitudinous challenges to our faith. Conspiracies, secret revelations, false doctrines, all pepper church history. But we do not allow them to degrade our gift of faith. Our theology is sacred and secure.

Brown’s novel is not to be missed, but to be enjoyed and accepted for what it is, fiction.

Rex Reynolds
Dubuque, Iowa

Gerald O’Collins, S.J., has joined a chorus of critics who find Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code factually and theologically flawed. The critics seem so fervent, if not vehement, as if they must protect Holy Mother Church from great danger in the form of this potboiler.

And probably for good reason. In light of the clerical sexual abuse scandal and clerical discrimination against women, it is pretty much open season on the Catholic bishopswho are desperate to maintain what credibility they have left.

Flawed this book may be, but Father O’Collins and his fellow critics are, I believe, missing the point. Why have millions of people purchased and enjoyed reading the book, despite its flaws?

First, because whatever the book’s historical facts, the overarching fact of the matter today is that many readers wouldn’t put it past the bishops/Vatican to suppress, if they could, anything that might threaten the organizational church.

Second, because whatever the book’s historical theology, the search for the sacred feminine in our historical moment is immensely important to millions of people. And the popularity of that search is growing steadily, despite the efforts of church leaders to impede it.

That is, in my opinion, the point of The Da Vinci Code. The book also may strongly hint at a code for the hierarchy’s status in its struggle with the sacred feminine. It is the one used in life-threatening situations in television hospital dramas: code blue.

Jason Petosa
Kansas City, Mo.

I very much enjoyed Gerald O’Collins’s review of The Da Vinci Code, which is an intermittently enjoyable farrago of nonsense, but it’s too bad Father O’Collins couldn’t at least have mentioned Jane Schaberg’s The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, of which Karen King, writing in The Women’s Review of Books, said: If readers are looking for one book to read on the historical Mary Magdalene, this is the book they should read. Or Schaberg’s book could have been reviewed in tandem with Elizabeth A. Johnson’s Truly Our Sister. Surely these are the best two books currently available on the two most important women in the New Testament. But then perhaps I’m prejudiced, having been involved in the publication of both!

Frank Oveis
Senior Editor, Continuum International
New York, N.Y.

I agree with and am grateful to Gerald O’Collins for pointing to the historical inaccuracies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. With precision he has warned us about the inauthenticity of many of the trees placed before us in Brown’s bestseller. But what about the forest? No book in recent years has provoked more conversation over drinks and dinner as has this work. So what is its attraction? Why does it appeal to me, who know full well that license was taken by the author in dealing with actual history? Does its power lie in the revelation of the nefarious dealings of such groups as Opus Dei or the devious operations of the Vatican? No, I don’t think so. It’s something deeperand more important.

The real power of this book lies in its questioning of how the church over the centuries has dealt with the sacred realities of women, human sexuality and marriage. The author raises before us the possibility that the church has been guilty of subverting some of the truth that was brought to us through the life and teaching of Jesus. Whether this was some kind of plotalways an optionor whether it happened because other matters were deemed more important, who can say? The fact is that for too long the church has not been on the side of women, in favor of God’s gift of sexuality or the importance of marriage.

Fortunately, this appears to be changing. Brown has creatively pulled back a curtain, and many have said that he is on to something very important. Not in the detail, but, as the economists say, in the bottom line. I hope that Brown has stimulated a conversation that will continue, but a conversation based on solid fact and Christ’s full teaching about the value of all people in their sacred, incarnate lives.

David Michael Thomas
Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Whose Ox?

Your editorial Vincible Ignorance (12/1) comments on the leak of a strategy memo written by a staffer for one of the Democratic members of the Committee on Intelligence. You completely ignored the main thrust of the memo, which was to use the hearings as a partisan tool to embarrass the president and aid the Democrats in the 2004 elections. If the Democrats’ real purpose here is political propaganda, can you fault Senator Pat Roberts for not wanting to give them a public forum?

Jim Collins
Farmington Hills, Mich.

Perspective on Iraq

In response to Thomas J. McCarthy’s criticism of the Bush administration’s rationale for the invasion of Iraq (Wishful Thinking, 12/1), I remind your readers that on the one hand, the United States confronted the sadistic, murderous brutality of the Saddam regime, whose interest in weaponry and domination no informed person ever doubted. On the other hand, you had the confidence of a U.S. government that failed to compress the vastly overdetermined reason for going to war into a simple sound bite. Which was the greater crime? In any discussion of the Iraq conflict, let’s maintain perspective and proportionality. What most deserves support now is anything that encourages the world to have the moral resolve to put an end to genocidal, mass-grave-filling regimes wherever they are found.

Claude Pavur, S.J.
Saint Louis, Mo.

Communication Gap

Frederick W. Gluck, in Crisis Management in the Church (12/1), puts his finger on the heart of the church’s present crisis when he points to the gap that has developed between bishops and the faithful. Although the Second Vatican Council called for lay participation in church decision-making, most church managers, psychologically and intellectually captives of medieval paternalism, feel that God is giving them unchallengeable answers to problems.

Sociologists and management experts have demonstrated that groups subject to authoritarian supervisors resent not being allowed to contribute their expertise and capabilities; and they lose interest and drift away.

F. T. Murray
Menomonee Falls, Wis.

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