I didn't read "The Da Vinci Code," and I haven't seen the movie, but I'm not going to let those two facts keep me from committing punditry on this season's silly salvo at the Church.
Why not? Because of this little thing I like to call "journalism."
Here's how it usually works: You have a busy life, filled with jobs and kids and chores and charity work, so you don't have time to attend, say, most sessions of the Legislature in Harrisburg. (If you're lucky, you haven't attended any at all.)
Instead, you drop 50 cents into a little box and pull out a newspaper with regular, detailed reports on what our fine state reps are up to. The newspaper also carries first-hand accounts of things such as war, natural disasters, crime and government -- or crime in government.
The newspaper's managers pool together all those quarters you drop at the newsstand (it costs less if you subscribe!) to pay reporters to do the observing and fact-gathering on your behalf.
It's a good system, don't you think? It also happens to be the reason that I believe Jesus was divine, performed countless miracles, preached radical truths and didn't father children with Mary Magdalene.
The eyewitnesses who heard his sermons, witnessed his miracles and touched his living body after they'd watched him die wrote about these events in both detail and great accord. Though they give Mary Magdalene credit for arriving first at Jesus' empty tomb, they don't mention a romantic relationship or children. They understood that the gospel concerns his blood, not his bloodline.
There are far more early copies of their reporting and a far shorter gap between the originals and the surviving copies than for any other document from ancient times. And the authors of these journalistic accounts chose to die rather than renounce what they'd written.
While most modern-day scribes aren't asked to stake quite as much on the truth of their reporting (their paychecks -- yes, their lives -- no), I feel pretty confident in the accuracy of the "Da Vinci" book and movie reviews I've read in newspapers and magazines.
Just as you might decide whom to vote for by weighing our reporting with your experience and ideology, I can compare author Dan Brown's fiction to the facts of scholarship and the power of my own experience and decide to spend my entertainment dollar elsewhere.
Although life's too short for me to waste any of it on a movie that would be blasphemous if it weren't so silly, I have had, like any other news consumer, a front-row seat at the mini-furor greeting the movie's release. It's heartening to see that it doesn't raise anywhere near the passion that "The Passion of the Christ" provoked two years ago.
Though some Christians were concerned by the graphic quality of Mel Gibson's movie, much more of the outrage came from non-believers -- not because the story was false, perhaps, but because it might be true.
This time around, only Christians are protesting "The Da Vinci Code." Though they have an obligation to speak and defend the truth, they really needn't be too worried. Some fear the movie might distract seekers from the historical gospel, but I don't see how its plot could satisfy any truly curious mind. (As if any organization made up of human beings could suppress a story that mind-blowing for that long!)
Instead, the movie is provoking the genuinely curious to learn more about biblical scholarship and church history than they would have otherwise. Churches are offering "Da Vinci Code" classes, and the Internet is chock-full of sites refuting Mr. Brown's claims. (A good starting point is the "Top 10 Errors" list on the "Human Events" Web site; its footnotes will lead you to more thorough treatments of each historical or theological point.)
You could almost be grateful to Dan Brown, but grateful enough to buy the book or a theater ticket? Here's how I look at it: Like Holocaust deniers and the guys at Enron, he's gotten enough attention and money from a fabulous web of lies. And I say that without having observed the Holocaust or audited Enron's books myself.
I'm going to rely on journalism here to say that since Brown's clearly gone over the edge, I'll go see "Over the Hedge."
Ruth Ann Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1733.