Published May 11, 2006
WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — One of the questions I get asked regularly as I speak on The Da Vinci Code is, “Why do you think the book is so wildly successful?”
At first, it seems counter-intuitive that a novel with as flawed a logic as The Da Vinci Code would resonate with the reading public. After all, this is a book about a non-existent code to provide clues to uncover suppressed evidence about a marriage that never took place. But why cover up evidence that does not exist? In fact, how does one cover up non-existing evidence?
The answer lies, at least in part, with the American penchant for conspiracy theories. In a perceptive recent essay subtitled “Postmodern Conspiracy Culture and Feminist Myths of Christian Origins,” David Liefeld makes a compelling case that American culture is virtually obsessed with conspiracy theories, no matter how implausible. This, in turn, is part of the new, subjective, postmodern view of history, according to which history is nothing but one person’s version of reality.
Truth, for postmodernism, is provisional and constantly evolving, subject to revision as new facts surface that need to be incorporated.
Tom Wright, British New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop of Durham, presents the other major reason why The Da Vinci Code has been such a success. He contends that the thesis underlying it is part of the mainstream liberal American “myth of Christian origins” that is found at elite educational institutions, moderate churches, and leading scholarly societies. According to this “myth of Christian origins”:
• Besides the four canonical Gospels there are hundreds of other documents about Jesus that present him as a human being and that tell us the “real truth” about Jesus.
• The four canonical Gospels are later products of the church that seek to elevate Jesus to the status of deity and that claim power and prestige for the church.
• In fact, however, Jesus was not at all who is portrayed to be in the four canonical Gospels. Rather, He is much more like the person depicted in those alternative documents: He was a mere human, a teacher of wonderful, lofty ethical and moral teaching.
• Christianity as we know it is based on a gigantic mistake. Mainstream Christianity, including Roman Catholicism as well as all other mainline denominations and other forms of institutionalized Christianity, is sexist, anti-women, and anti-sex.
In this understanding of Jesus, you give up – as historically unwarranted, theologically unjustified, and spiritually and socially damaging – the traditional understanding of Christ and Christian origins and instead get in touch with a different form of spirituality based on religious feeling. Discover whatever faith you find that you can believe in. Rather than destroy Christianity, liberal theologians actually believe this will revive the truth for which Jesus lived and for which He died. This spiritual quest, according to liberalism, will also involve reconnecting with the “sacred feminine” that the church suppressed in its early goings.
The Da Vinci Code will come and go, but this liberal “myth of Christian origins” will persist. It will persist because it is part of this esoteric blend of New Age spirituality, neo-Gnosticism, feminist scholarship, an anti-supernaturalist, critical, post-Enlightenment stance toward Christianity, and a postmodern, subjectivist approach to history and truth.
Yet we will have failed if all we do is decry the inaccuracies of the book and present evidence that much of its reasoning is fallacious. The call of the hour is to present a positive and constructive case for the truth of Christianity so that people will turn from skepticism and unbelief to faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Savior and Lord.
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