The Da Vinci Code & Christianity

leonardo.jpgHaving already shared my thoughts on the book as a novel, now I’ll talk about the religion, the conspiracy, and the hubbub. It’s not hard to see why some people got upset. Accusing the Roman Catholic church of a grand conspiracy to suppress Jesus’ real identity. Claiming that ritual sex acts were performed in the very heart of Solomon’s Temple. Wow! Brown should just be happy he didn’t insult Zizou.

At the same time, I can see why people are fascinated with the story Brown tells. People love to be in on secrets. Couple that with a present predisposition to assume institutions – religious, political, business, etc. – are covering something up, and viola! Instant best-seller. Do I buy Brown’s claims? Let’s see…

Code Claim: Jesus was married and had kids… whose descendants live today!
Bald Truth: So what? I can’t think of how this would materially change anything. I’d always assumed Jesus was single, but what if he was married? What if he had kids? Doesn’t make him less man or less God. Doesn’t call into doubt his sinless nature. Regardless where the historical evidence leads I don’t see where this is a big deal. Am I missing something?

Code Claim: The Catholic Church engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up and destroy the truth about Jesus.
Bald Truth: First off, I’m on the more skeptical side when it comes to institutions. Second, no one can deny that the Christian church in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, have been on the wrong side of the argument from time to time over the last two thousand years. That said, I’m not buying what Brown is selling. I think something went wrong when the church allowed itself to be adopted by the state under Constantine, but the fundamental doctrines were already in place. Furthermore – and I’ll admit this will sound flimsy to some – I think God has had a hand in preserving the faith through all the make up we’ve tried to slap on her… and not thru some secret society. Jesus was God’s ultimate revelation, and that revelation has not been secreted away.

Code Claim: The ultra-secret Priory of Sion has preserved an alternate “history” throughout the millennia.
Bald Truth: Could be. People love a secret. What I dispute is the claim that this alternate “history” bears resemblance to reality.

Now, I’m no expert. There are enough other sites that weigh in on the historical evidence and claims. I’ll highlight one: mark Roberts has an extensive series of posts under the heading, The Da Vinci Opportunity. I haven’t read everything – there’s lots! – but I’m willing to bet he and I would be pretty much on the same page.

Book: Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code [SPOILER]

A NovelI finish the greatest and mostest controversial novel since the Bible!!! Or something like that. Because your dying to know what I think, I’ll start with the fiction.

It was okay. I don’t read much fiction, but I kept turning the pages. It helped to have the Special Illustrated Edition. I got annoyed with Brown a couple times. First, he spent to much time preaching to me. He’d launch into these long inner monologues where Teabing or Langdon would expound on the Grail Conspiracy. Basically, it felt like an excuse for Brown to preach at me. At least wrap it up in dialogue, so i pretend you’re not talking to me! Oh, wait… he does that a bunch, too. Oh well.

[SPOILER]
Finally, the ending was weak and cliché. The book assaults you with the lost divine feminine and a great patriarchal conspiracy; yet at the end we have a young, attractive Sophie Neveu expressing her attraction for the much older and bookishly handsome Robert Langdon, complete with the promise of sex the next time they meet. So much for female empowerment. I fully expected to find a remark about Langdon’s throbing manhood in there.

Finally, Teabing, the world’s foremost expert on the Grail legend, and Langdon, an internationally known symbologist, seem awfully dim at times. Whatever. Let’s just chalk it up to a lack of sleep, since the novel begins late one night and races thru one or two frantic days.

Bald Truth: A fair, fluffy summer read.

I’ll put my comments on the religious stuff in another post.

On the Bedside Table: I’ve got a ton of books from the library, so it’s a good thing I’m not watching much TV. I’ve started Supernanny: How to Get the Best from Your Children, which I’m reviewing for another of my blogs.

I’ve also started on The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. I saw the author, Tom Friedman, on Charlie Rose a couple weeks back, and it reminded me I wanted to have a look. Have you seen this book? Am I the only one thinks it’s ironic that a book called The World Is Flat is really damn thick?

Book: William Sloane Coffin: Credo

I finished a book earlier this week, and strangely enough that’s an accomplishment. I absolutely love to read, but am not particularly fast. many books wind up being returned to the library half completed. This one, however, was not going back unfinished. Credo is a collection of quotes by the late William Sloane Coffin. Bob introduced me to Coffin a couple months back with his memorial tribute. After reading that I had to see if my local library had anything by him, and sure enough it did. Go Dayton Public Library!

The book is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong: Coffin’s politics are transparent. For example, he’s anti-war and pro-homosexual rights, and that will put some folks off him… to their loss, in my opinion. There is much wisdom contained in those pages. Coffin’s convictions are born of a deep commitment to both a gospel of radical and universal justice and a gospel rooted in nonviolent resistance. Our world could do with more of both. I’m thinking about posting a few quotes for discussion over the coming weeks, but I’m not sure I can narrow it down. (Reposting the entire book would probably be frowned upon.) I still have the book, so I may yet. Needless to say, even though my local library owns the book, this is one I wouldn’t mind having as well as a reference.

Next up: The Da Vinci Code. I’m curious about all the fuss. Besides our wonderful library has a nice illustrated version that shows off a lot of the art and architecture mentioned in the book. I like pictures.

Economics and Birthdays

This was in Monday’s Writer’s Almanac:

We don’t know when Adam Smith was born, but it was on this day in 1723 that Smith, the economist who popularized the idea of free trade, was baptized in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. His first important book was The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), in which he argued that all people are selfish, but that the combined selfishness of many people benefits everyone. He wrote, “[We are] led by an invisible hand … without knowing it, without intending it, [to] advance the interest of the society.” He developed this idea in the book for which he is best remembered, Wealth of Nations (1776). That book established many of the most important principles for economists for the next two hundred years.

Adam Smith wrote, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Today is also the birthday of the economist John Maynard Keynes, (books by this author), born in Cambridge, England (1883). He’s best known for his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published during the Great Depression in 1935. He argued that governments can correct severe depressions by spending lots of money, even if it means running a deficit, to put people back to work. Keynes greatly influenced Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, and his ideas have been used to justify budget deficits ever since.

Interesting that these two men share a birthday, or something like it. Also interesting that the birthday is so close to my own. (At least it’s interesting to me.) A couple thoughts to share… mostly on Smith.

Invisible Hand

Invisible Hand? Not So Much

The Invisible Hand is broken… if indeed it ever existed. Within the constraints of perfect competition, the Invisible Hand the collective selfishness might (See my next thought.) work out to the benefit of most… or at least many. Not in today’s economy, which is a far cry from anything resembling perfect competition. Atomicity? Nope; try oligarchy. Homogeneity? Perhaps, but billions of marketing dollars are working hard to obfuscate that fact. Perfect Information? Equal Access? Free Entry? Not if the oligarchies have anything to say about it… and they do!

No, the Invisible Hand of the market has been bound and gagged. Motivated self-interest serves only the self, and those who possess power are best able to serve themselves.

Selfishness Is NOT an Agent of Good

It is noteworthy that Smith doesn’t say, “People will overcome and progress beyond selfishness, attaining to a more noble fundamental value.” No, he says in effect: “We’re all selfish bastards, and that ain’t gonna change. Fortunately, there is Something beyond our selfish little souls to protect us from each other.”

As a Christian I have to respond, “Close, but not far enough.” True Something is kind enough to protect us from ourselves to an extent, but it doesn’t end there. There is the possibility of real transformation of the soul. Self-interest need not be our driving motivation. Instead, our souls can be moved by genuine love.

Check Please!

The economic difference between Republicans and Democrats has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting Keynesian theory. Maybe it did at one time, but not anymore. Both parties embrace a bigger government role, because it protects their power and position. They only quibble over where government should expand next.

I was ready to shut the door on politics in 2004. Today, the door still remains cracked… but just a little. I’ve got some thinking to do here, still.

Quote: Soren Kierkegaard

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

It also happens to be Soren Kierkegaard’s birthday. Here’s a quote from The Writer’s Almanac.

"What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music."

May your ears be filled with the anguished sounds of music.

What Is Sin?

We say the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime most nights, and Samantha is savvy enough to ask questions about what the words mean. "Temptation" is one of the first things she latched onto, and that, of course, leads to an explanation of sin.

When explaning sin, I generally go with, "Sin is a failure to love." I think it gets to the heart of the matter real quickly. That said, I think I might start trying to work in Biddle’s notion of "mistrust" as well, an idea he explores in his book, Missing the Mark. From Scot @ Jesus Creed:

Biddle proposes in the company of many that the essential sin of Adam and Eve was to mistrust God, and I think he’d nod his head of approval to anyone who said that the three are related, that the others flow from mistrust, and all that. But, he’s got a point: the serpent’s temptation (and Biddle sees the story as primal myth, what I have sometimes called “hyper-reality”) was to get Eve and Adam to disbelieve what God had said and to act on that failure to trust. Now I happen to think he’s got this right, though the other categories (pride, failure to do God’s will) are also adequate.

The advantage of seeing sin as mistrust is that it personalizes and relationalizes sin. This is good.