Friday, May 19, 2006

The Da Vinci Code: a royal pain

Okay, this excellent comic has reminded me that once again this may be a time for me to make a topical post.

I know what thousands of people have been thinking in the midst of all the controversy. Yep. "What does Brucker think about this whole 'Da Vinci Code' thing?" Well, wonder no more, my fellow netizens! I am about to expound far beyond the limit of any reasonableness, that limit actually having passed probably two sentences ago. So long as I'm being pretty stupid already, let's have some fun and let me mock-interview myself as the leading authority on complete crap.

Running from Elevators: Well, let's get down to business. What did you think of the movie?

Brucker: I haven't seen it. I might eventually, but I'll probably wait for it to come out on video.

RfE: Well did you read the book, then?

B: Oh, I considered it, but I haven't had time for much reading lately. I've been spending what little time I have for reading books that freak out conservative Christians, like the Harry Potter books. Man, those are good. I've got some interesting thoughts on the ending of "[Harry Potter and the] Half-Blood Prince" that I'd love to share.

RFE: I don't think that's necessary. Surely, though, you have formed some sort of opinion on the book and movie just from hearsay, right?

B: Oh, yeah. Like probably 60% of the target audience, I know what the book is about; I even know the twist ending that probably not nearly so many people are aware of.

RFE: Yes, let's not spoil that, but let's talk about the main theme of the book. Do you think it's a dangerous one?

B: Well, yes and no. First of all, whatever danger there may be to Christianity, um, well, some of it may be overplayed. Like the joke in yesterday's PvP comic that you linked to above, there are some people in Christianity who don't want to believe Jesus was really much like a human at all. The concept that He definitely went to the bathroom, probably cried as an infant, may have had acne as a teenager, and so forth, is oddly offensive to some people.

RFE: Despite the fact that the Bible emphasizes His humanity.

B: Right. I mean, most people probably don't like to think of Jesus ever looking other than a tall, light-skinned, shiny-clean man in bright-white robes. But of course, He wasn't tall, probably had much darker skin than people of European ancestry, and the Bible even says that He took baths, so He must have gotten dirty. Probably, he got very dirty, seeing as He spent so much of His time wandering around from place to place on foot in an age where they didn't have concrete and asphalt pavement.

I would like to note as an aside that I've heard people complain about Jesus being portrayed by tall actors in films, and I don't think that's something that should be an issue. While Jesus almost certainly wasn't tall by modern standards, He may well have been tall for His own time and culture. If you're going to insist Jesus be played by someone short, you'd have to have a whole cast full of short people to match him.

RFE: So is the important issue of the "Code" the fact of Jesus' humanity?

B: Yes, but not entirely in the way one might think. I have heard that the premise is that Jesus was human, and the Church has been trying to cover up that fact by suppressing "Gnostic Gospels". The fact is, as far as I know, the Gnostics were far more inclined to deny the human aspect of Jesus' person than the mainstream church. Gnostics believed in mysticism and spirituality on a level where they didn't like the idea of Jesus being a flesh-and-blood individual. The Gnostics were also rather anti-feminist, which is also the reverse of how I understand they are portrayed in the story.

RFE: Which leads to the big point.

B: Yes, not the twist at the end, but the big secret that just about everyone knows--

RFE: Spoiler alert!

B: Right, heh. The big secret is that rather than the Apostle John being the most important figure in the early church movement, it was actually Mary Magdalene, who was Jesus' wife. Supposedly, while the Bible never says that Jesus married, the reason is not that He actually wasn't but rather that those details have been edited out and repeatedly suppressed by the Catholic Church, natch.

RFE: So the real meat of the story is there. What do you think about this idea?

B: Well, I have mixed feelings. As a "Bible-believing Christian" I would support the official stance of the mainstream churches that Jesus did not marry. On the other hand, as [PvP creator] Scott Kurtz says in his blog, "Good fiction makes you think. And thinking is never bad. There's nothing to be afraid of, even if you're a religious person. And what good is your faith if it can't stand up to being challenged from time to time? It's safe for Christians to read the book. It's just a story."

"The Da Vinci Code" is hardly the first or the only entity to speculate on the subject of Jesus being married. Some have pointed out that even in the Bible as we know it, edited or not, Jesus spends an awful lot of time with Mary for the both of them being single. It's something that's not really even socially acceptable in many modern societies. Also, the fact that they were both single at such an age in a culture where singleness was uncommon suggests to some that married or not, Mary was probably intended to be married to Jesus via an arranged marriage.

RFE: Is there any positive evidence in the Canonical Scriptures for such a marriage?

B: Eh, slight. Some have suggested the wedding feast at Cana was actually Jesus' wedding feast. Why was Jesus, as a mere guest, put in charge of the refreshments? Why do we never find out whose wedding it was? Why are Jesus' disciples there? If indeed this is Jesus' wedding, then the answer to all of these is fairly obvious.

RFE: But you still think Jesus was unmarried?

B: Yeah. And for a reason that may bother some conservative Christians almost as much as suggesting the possibility in the first place. Well, except Catholics. Church tradition. We sometimes tend to treat the idea of "tradition" as a bad word among evangelicals, as it conjures up images of men in robes and funny pointed hats chanting in Latin before a crowd of people genuflecting in unison. I don't think we really appreciate how much of our faith is built on tradition, though. Sure, the Bible is our foundation, but tradition is the framework of the house that was built on it.

RFE: But as an evangelical, you do reject much of that sort of tradition that you talk of amongst Catholics, right?

B: "Reject" is a strong word. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, but some people can get distracted by all the liturgy and miss the faith that should fill the inside of all that ritual. I reject it for myself, but wouldn't question the faith of someone who was in a more liturgical church just because they're that way. Most of those things come down to personal preference of worship style rather than a deep doctrinal issue.

RFE: So is Jesus' marital status a doctrinal issue?

B: Whew, that's a tough question. In some sense, everything about Jesus as a person is a doctrinal issue. When you deal with other people in the Bible, and their own personal lives, it's different. For instance, was Peter married? The Bible mentions him having a mother-in-law, but never talks about his wife. If Peter was the first Pope, and Popes are not to be married, this may be important on some level, but the marital status of the Pope is more like Church "policy" than doctrine. It may surprise some people to know that there are Catholic priests that are married. It has something to do with certain sub-sects of the Catholic Church which I don't fully understand.

But getting back to Jesus, the fine details of His life are far more prone to scrutiny. As I was essentially saying before, some people would hang precariously on the issue of whether Jesus ever picked His nose, but getting married is certainly something a bit more vital. I just don't know. It's potentially important, yes, but I don't personally see any reason it would bother me to suggest that Jesus was married, other than the fact that it's just not mentioned.

RFE: But what about the issue of children, and a royal bloodline?

B: See now, there is that, and one might wonder about the implications of a flesh and blood descendant of Jesus. The fact is, descendants of a person may not have much in common with that ancestor. If Jesus hypothetically did have a child or two, I don't see any reason they would be particularly special. In fact, if "The Da Vinci Code" is trying to simultaneously argue that Jesus was nobody special and yet that His descendant(s) are very special, well, I don't get it. Maybe I'll get it when I eventually get around to reading the book or watching the movie. There is no monarchy in Israel today, nor do I expect there ever will be one again, short of divine intervention, so being of the royal bloodline is, well, nothing. England is a country that still has a monarchy and they seem to just barely matter.

RFE: So you just don't see why we should care?

B: Exactly. The fact that there might be a living descendent of Jesus is about as interesting as knowing there might be a living descendant of George Washington. A bit of a curiosity, celebrity by association, but that's about all. My grandfather was very much into genealogy later in his life, and he discovered on tracing back his family tree that our family comes from French and English Royalty back in the 13th century. Interesting, but essentially meaningless in respects to who I am as a person.

RFE: So would you recommend going to see the movie?

B: I'd wait to hear what the reviews say and act accordingly. So far, I've heard a lot of bad press, and not much good. The general consensus on imdb.com so far is that it's pretty mediocre, and sometimes I go by that rather than reviews, but either way, it's not looking too promising.

Of course, there's the fact that somebody came up with a drive to have every Christian go and see "Over the Hedge" as a protest against "Da Vinci", which is an interesting idea. I'm wondering if it might work, especially with the movie being panned by critics. Oh, and it looks better-reviewed on imdb.

See whatever movie you want to see, I don't really care too much. Let me know what you think if you see either of those movies, I'm giving them both consideration.

RFE: We'll be sure to do that.

B: "We"? Can "we" stop typing yet?

10 comments:

luis said...

hey if you could get your mock-interview to below 1000 characters, you could submit this review to FilmCrowd.com: http://www.filmcrowd.com/content/world/all/5092/Da_Vinci_Code_The/8/0

:)

Brucker said...

I don't think it would work so well for me to edit down this massive rambling into 1000 characters. Nice site, though.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Hey there. Technical point on "certain sub-sects ... which I don't fully understand." Here's a quick 'n' dirty tutorial, if you're interested.

There are multiple "rites" or "churches" within Catholicism, stemming from the days when the Church was scattered around the Mediterranean, and everybody did things a little differently. Due to western expansionism, the Islamic takeover of historically Christian lands in the east, and East-West split of 1056 (which meant a lot of eastern Christians were Orthodox), the western Roman Catholic rite got to be the biggest Catholic church by far.

But there are plenty of other rites (Syro-Malabar Catholics in India, Maronite Catholics in Lebanon, Byzantine Catholics in the Ukraine, etc.) in other parts of the world. This is one reason Catholics don't usually call themselves "Roman Catholics": not all Catholics are Roman rite, and believe me the Armenians and Maronites around here, of whom there are plenty, get very annoyed at the use of "Roman Catholic" to mean generic Catholics. Though all of them have bishops who are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, they aren't "Roman" in the western sense, and their liturgies and disciplines are locally determined.

From the 17th through 19th centuries, many of the "eastern Catholic" churches (to lump them all together in a way they hate) restored communion with Rome, so at this point there are a considerable number of non-Roman Catholics in the world, and an exploding number in the U.S. and Latin America as they are driven out of the Middle East.

Anyway there are different liturgical rules for each rite, different disciplines, and even different codes of canon law. Only the Roman rite has ever had the rule that priests must be unmarried, and it was a later discipline. Thus St. Peter's being married isn't an issue; we're very aware that plenty of early clerics were married. Further, modern deacons are clergy, and are usually married, so there are married clergy in the Roman rite as well. Further further, as presbyteral celibacy is a discipline that may be waived in certain cases, some married Anglican priests who convert to Roman Catholicism are permitted to continue to function as priests. So really we have married Catholic clergy running around all over the place.

Hope this helped....

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

To clarify the paragraph beginning "From the 17th...": the churches that restored communion in the last millennium were Catholic after, not before, they restored communion; they were Orthodox churches before. Which was probably obvious, but I didn't want to be confusing.

Brucker said...

Thanks, Sharon. Although I don't know a great deal about the Catholic Church, most of what I learned, I learned from you.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

That's fair. Everything I know about guys with funny names, I learned from you.

So how's the family? The Delightful Creatures are what, three years now?

Brucker said...

"That's fair. Everything I know about guys with funny names, I learned from you."

I think I should take that as a compliment...

"So how's the family? The Delightful Creatures are what, three years now?"

Just about a month shy. It's odd that while of course you want your children to mature, it's sad that some days they act less like walking babies than tiny little adults with squeaky voices.

And your family is well? Did Eudo finally get tenure?

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Yes, he's all tenured and can now cruise on the taxpayer's dollar for life.

Three is a great age: the storms of two are (mostly) over, and all of a sudden they have an immense confidence that they can do anything. You don't get it quite as good again until around ten, when they get another big surge of competence and independence. Live it up.

Glad to see you blogging. Drift on over to mine sometime; you're not quite in the reader demographic, but there's still plenty of time to convert you to homeschooling.

Brucker said...

We've considered it, certainly. As it stands now, though, my kids will be starting up at a very good private school next year that goes through the sixth grade, so we may ride that out for the next nine years if we can afford it and it continues to be as good as it seems to be.

(It must be of the highest quality; they hired my wife to be the pre-K teacher.)

Brucker said...

I just realized that I never left a comment on the fact that I have finally read the book. It was a funny experience, because I read it, and then read several critiques.

On reading the book, my impression was that somewhere around 50% of the historical/cultural backdrop of the story was factual, but upon reading the critiques, it turns out that something more like 95% of it is completely made-up crap. Really, even minor details that have nothing to do with Christianity were complete fabrications.

That aside, and despite various people calling it schlocky writing, I thought it was an enjoyable thriller. I just read it as a completely fictional murder mystery (which in the end, is what it really is in essence) and enjoyed the ride.

I still haven't seen the movie, but Over the Hedge was pretty good. : )