Q: How do these inaccuracies challenge the Church, her teachings and the person of Jesus Christ?I think I can agree rather readily with the characterization of our culture as overly credulous and historically illiterate. We live in debauched times. The characterization of Brown's intent, however, also seems, well, somewhat credulous, though in a different way.
Shea: Brown is attempting to establish a neo-pagan feminist creation myth. The basic myth is: Jesus was actually a feminist, agog for neo-paganism. The Church supposedly covered up all this with lies about his divinity. Brown's point here is: Let's get back to goddess worship as Jesus intended.
This laughably baseless claim is, of course, utterly contrary to the facts about Jesus. But many in our overly credulous and historically illiterate culture believe it. So Catholics must undertake to catechize not just themselves but their families, friends and neighbors, or they can expect this dangerous myth to continue spreading.
First, I'm not at all certain that Dan Brown is really up to what he is credited with here. He may be an OK writer--The Da Vinci Code, for all its blasphemous error, is not a terrible story--but he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, and it's hard to see how somebody with his limited capacity for research and scholarly inference (let alone literary talent) could pull off the great call to paganism that Mark imagines. Second--and this is, in some ways, the more important worry--it's particularly hard to see why one is supposed to read this book as a deliberate attempt "to establish a neo-pagan feminist creation myth." That is certainly not an aim that is overtly stated anywhere by the author, so foisting it upon him is somewhat risky.
Tolkien, famously, disavowed having ever had any intentions of creating any sort of allegory, let alone a specifically Christian one, in his writings, but that never stopped anyone from finding all sorts of allegorical parallels on every page of LOTR anyway. After all, it was argued, the man was a Catholic, and you can't keep that sort of thing out of your mental apparatus even if you try to. Brown, I suppose the argument is supposed to go, appears to believe much of the stuff he writes, and even if he didn't, why would you write stuff like this when you know perfectly well that it's going to upset orthodox Christians everywhere? In other words, cui bono, unless you hope to accomplish something by it. And what else could you hope to accomplish other than "to establish a neo-pagan feminist creation myth", since that is what the text of the book seems to be about?
Textual interpretation is a notoriously vexed business, of course, and probably the most vexed aspect of all is that hobgoblin of the postmodernist crowd, authorial intent. One of the most important results to come out of disciplines such as the philosophy of science is the phenomenon of underdetermination. In science it's a very useful notion: it basically means that no scientific hypothesis can be regarded as immune from criticism, since there are always alternative hyptheses that are equally compatible with all the data. In the case of literary interpretation things are obviously even more underdetermined than in the sciences. The observable data--in this case, the text of a particular book--are obviously insufficient to fully determine the only correct interpretation of those data. In science what one looks for is the best hypothesis, not the only correct one, since we can never know with certainty that we do, in fact, possess the only correct explanation of any set of observable phenomena. In the case of literary interpretation it seems somewhat silly to hope that there could even be such a thing as a "best" hypothesis, since some authors may be deliberately ambiguous, intending multiple interpretations to apply.
Authorial intent is arguably not always among the data present in a particular text to begin with, so it becomes even more bogus to claim to have discovered it there. This is not to say that it cannot be discovered there by indirect methods, or that it is never explicitly in there, this is just to say that it is not present in every text in the same way that, well, the text itself, is. Given the implausibility of trying "to establish a neo-pagan feminist creation myth" in the first place, in light of both the nebulous nature of such an enterprise and the dubious abilities of the alleged perp, I think this particular shibboleth is going to have to be a non-starter.
This benign interpretation of the book is not shared by Mark Shea, however:
Q: Why is there a concern about Catholics -- and everyone else, for that matter -- viewing "The Da Vinci Code" movie without a discerning eye and solid background information?This alleged "express intention" (I wonder whether he means the "expressed intention"?) may or may not be the author's actual intention. It seems to me that there are two possibilities here. On the one hand, Brown may have come right out and said, verbatim, "I intend to destroy faith in Jesus and replace it with neo-pagan goddess worship" (I don't think that he did say that, by the way, in which case it can hardly be said to have been his "expressed intention"), in which case it might be his intention, or it might just be a joke, or a ruse to attract attention. On the other hand, Brown may have said nothing of the sort but have written a book that is not inconsistent with the hypothesis that what he intends to do is destroy faith in Jesus and replace it with neo-pagan goddess worship (I take this to be much closer to the actual facts), in which case his intentions have not been expressed and we don't really have any grounds for expressing them for him, even though we might be right in our suspicions.
Shea: Because it's written with the express intention of destroying faith in Jesus Christ and replacing it with neo-pagan goddess worship.
The problem is the average reader does not know "The Da Vinci Code" actually makes you more stupid about art, history, theology and comparative religion.
"The Da Vinci Deception" and Da Vinci Outreach are there to educate readers on the quite deliberate falsehoods -- as well as ignorant blunders -- that fill the story. We are also including a resource aimed at educating high school students and helping them to tune their "bunk detectors" to Brown's wavelength.
Let us assume the latter--that he did not declare his intentions but the book is not inconsistent with what we suspect his intentions to have been. What, exactly, is the danger here supposed to be? Well, in the excerpt above we were told:
The problem is the average reader does not know "The Da Vinci Code" actually makes you more stupid about art, history, theology and comparative religion.This, it seems to me, raises more questions than it answer. I'm not sure, for example, just what to make of the claim that reading the book might actually make an average reader "more stupid". There certainly seems to be a suggestion here that the average reader is already at some level of stupidity that reading the book only serves to exacerbate, but it's not exactly clear how reading a book can accomplish such a thing. Is the claim supposed to be that the average reader is actually going to believe the erroneous claims in the book? Is the claim supposed to be that stupidity is simply a matter of having false beliefs? Many of the claims made in the book are not merely erroneous, they are downright fraudulent. Is the claim here supposed to be that someone who has been tricked by fraud has been made "more stupid" by having been tricked? None of these putative claims is going to hold any water, and yet I can't see any other way to read the statement. I think what he must have meant was really something along the lines of "The trouble with a book like this is that some folks are going to believe the things it says, even though some of those things are demonstrably false."
Or take this bit from the earlier excerpt I quoted:
But many in our overly credulous and historically illiterate culture believe it. So Catholics must undertake to catechize not just themselves but their families, friends and neighbors, or they can expect this dangerous myth to continue spreading.If we're talking about people who are overly credulous, then what kind of sense does it make to say that "Catholics must undertake to catechize...themselves"? Catechesis is supposed to come from an expert and be imparted to the neophyte. It doesn't make any sense to say that an expert should impart knowledge to himself, or that a neophyte should turn himself into an expert without the aid of some other expert. The task at hand begins to seem somewhat misconceived.
In spite of my worries about some of what Mark has said in this interview, I don't doubt that his book will be useful. He is a fine apologist, and the work that he does is extremely valuable. Whether or not Brown's "express purpose" is as sinister as some in our credulous culture may be tempted to believe, he certainly seems arrogant enough and hubristic enough to warrant a little attention from those who would debunk him, demythologize him, and parody him. I'm sure it couldn't happen to a more deserving fellow, even though I seriously doubt that he is really all that dangerous. He's just not clever enough. Or, to put it another way: if merely reading his book can make you "more stupid", imagine what it would mean to have written the thing in the first place.