Monday, May 22, 2006

The “Da Vinci” Boon: Whatever Doesn’t Kill the Church Will Only Make it Stronger

For someone who fits the mold of the exact person to get irate about “The Da Vinci Code,” I find myself remarkably bored by the whole thing. As a person who loves order, who respects traditional Christian authorities, and who tends to lean on the truth as revealed throughout the ages, I am the perfect person to call for boycotts to this film. Yet, not only do I find myself unworried about it, I find the whole enterprise to be quite harmless.

That being said, I won’t support the movie, and I have encouraged others not to see it. I am a capitalist after all, and I try to put my money where my mouth is. I did read the book, so I am familiar with the arguments of the story, silly as they may be. But even if everyone I told not to see the film did, I wouldn’t feel betrayed, or even worried for several reasons. For one, from what I can tell from reviews, the book does not adapt well to the screen. The huge lumps in logic are great for reading on a rainy day; the suspension of disbelief is just easier in our imagination compared to a realization of it on film. It seems that all of a sudden, many critics realized how silly the storyline was after all once seeing it in "real life". Hence the reports of heckling. Given audience critiques are not much better, it seems many viewers agree.

Second, no amount of speculation, revision, or derision will kill the Church. I admit that “Da Vinci” and its fruits can have a harmful affect on the believer by producing seeds of doubt and mistrust in the Church. (The Church often does a good enough job of this on its own!) I recognize that when something is this culturally popular, it is easy to get swept away in its nonsense instead of wrapped up in historic wisdom. It can be a lot more comfortable for a short while, too. But “Da Vinci” is just another in a long line of heresies that traditionally have invigorated the Church and forced it to define itself over and against the culture time and time again. I might go so far as to say Dan Brown has done a certain amount of good for the Church, because this debate will help the Church define what it is.

Underlying all this is this point: the number of people who worship on Sunday morning, or even the number of people who would identify themselves as Christian is irrelevant when talking about the Church. The true Church is made up of those who believe, be it 100 people or 100 million people. (There always has been and always will be disputes about what exactly to believe, and here I’ll rely on the Apostles or Nicene Creeds.) The history of Christianity is full of moments when the wheat is separated from the chaff, and “Da Vinci” is just another moment in a long line of them that allows the Church to define itself even more loudly, and believers to stand out from the derision found in secular culture. If “Da Vinci” has a negative impact on the numbers of the faithful, it will be unfortunate, but the Church will go on.

This book and film are just another example of secular forces pushing historic Christianity to the margins, considering it antiquated and a harmful venture in mass deceit. Maybe it’s the Lutheran in me, but I see this as a net positive. Like recessions are good for economies from time to time, the Church needs to be reminded that we are not always welcome. The great mistake of the medieval Church was that it felt society should revolve around it, and made no distinctions between itself and the world. Thus, it became corrupt and has only itself to blame for Luther and all of his unintended consequences. The Church being pushed to the margins is nothing to fear from the Church’s viewpoint, because the Church will survive. It’s the world that will bear the costs.

Finally, Dan Brown is not the kryptonite, and the Church is not Superman. Rather, a better analogy might be Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man: the Church is perfectly symmetrical, bearing the promise of life in a dead world; it has a clear center in Christ; and the Church is the intersection of the material world with the spiritual, as Da Vinci’s square and circle represent.

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