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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pagan Flesh, Protestant Bones

As with the recent frothing at the mouth over Christmas, the Christian concern about the Da Vinci Code is rich in irony. As I recently noted, the assault on Christmas was begun not by secular humanists, but by Christians. Non-Catholic Christians opposed the Catholic Church and its liturgical holy days, its celebration of the Mass. They worked hard to take the “Mass” out of Christ’s Mass – Christmas. They succeeded.

But, when secularists wanted to take Christmas out of the year entirely, the same Christians grew perversely angry. How dare anyone strip away the skeleton whose Flesh we stripped away! We must keep the white-washed tomb!

Similarly, many Christians have blamed the success of the Da Vinci Code on Gnosticism not because the Da Vinci Code is Gnostic - it isn’t - but because the Gnostics are safely dead. As a moment’s study shows, the Da Vinci Code is simply the Protestant Christian take on history, warmed over. Consider the congruence.

The Great Apostasy
1) “The Roman Emperor Constantine invented the Catholic Church in order to crush True Believers!” This is the standard Protestant line, most popular among fundamentalist Christians like the Baptists and the Assemblies of God, but not unknown even among evangelicals and mainline Protestants. In this mish-mash of historical fact and pure invention, Christians were an essentially unmolested minority until the dastardly Emperor Constantine invented the Catholic Church in order to crush the True Believers.

The True Believers are invariably whoever happens to be telling the story: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Seed Baptists, Jack Chick, etc. This is how all of those groups explain the fact that all the early Christian documents show early Christians engaged in Catholic worship. The Whore of Babylon (i.e., the Catholics) burned all the True Believer’s and their documents!

Winner Takes All
2) "The failure to find True Believers in ancient history is due to the fact that the winners write history." As is obvious from the previous point, this is a purely Protestant theme.

Dan Brown kept his mother’s Protestant story line; he just swapped out the identity of the True Believer. Pre-DVC the True Believers were Jack Chick aficionados. Post-DVC the True Believers are the Wiccans. In every other respect, the story is the same. Every apostasized fundamentalist immediately recognizes the playbook, despite Brown’s change of players.

Change the Bible
3) Few people realize that the Old Testament existed in two versions at the time of Christ: a Hebrew original and a Greek translation, the Greek version being called the Septuagint. Due to some odd events in history, the Greek version of the Old Testament not only has books that the Hebrew version does not, many of the passages in the two are not the same: Isaiah and Jeremiah, for instance, are notably different in several places. Which version did Jesus and the apostles use? Well, 80% of the Old Testament verses that are quoted in the New Testament are demonstrably from the Greek version. Jesus clearly preferred the Greek translation.

Not so Martin Luther. Although Luther was a rabid anti-Semite, he was more than willing to accept the Jewish opinion on one point: what constitutes the Old Testament. Why? Well, if Luther accepted the version that Jesus used, he would be forced to accept that his faith-alone theology was not Scriptural. The Greek Septuagint clearly accepted the existence of Purgatory, for instance, a place that has no place in "faith-alone" theology. So, Luther threw away seven books in the Old Testament and parts of two others. Not content with that, he was preparing to discard several New Testament books as well - Hebrews, James, Revelation - and was only barely talked out of it by Melanchthon.

So, Luther essentially argued that the decision about which Old Testament books prophesied Christ's coming (i.e., which books were really inspired Scripture) was best decided by the subset of Jews who refused to accept Christ as Saviour. The argument is ludicrous, but it was the only way to save Protestant theology.

Protestants change the Bible to suit their theology. So does Dan Brown. The only difference? Instead of taking away books to make the theology fit, Danny wants to add some books. But the principle by which he argues for the change to Scripture is thoroughly valid in Protestant thought, as Martin Luther demonstrated nearly 500 years ago.

Get Rid of Peter
4) "Peter isn't the true head of the Church!" Catholics yawn at this one. Non-Catholic Christians have always either steadfastly denied the supremacy of Peter among the apostles or they steadfastly denied the possibility that Peter’s office could be passed on to any successor. Even the Eastern Orthodox sympathize with this position.

Again, Dan Brown took that line straight out of the Christian playbook. All he did was swap Mary Magdelene in for St. Paul as the real lead apostle.

Get Rid of Celibacy
5) “Jesus was not celibate.” Martin Luther insisted celibacy was non-Scriptural. He left the Augustinian priesthood in order to marry a nun and have children. Thus, it is no stretch for non-Catholic Christians to say that Jesus was not celibate. Indeed, many DVC debunkers don’t fight this assertion. They find his marital status irrelevant to his salvational work.

Putting the celibate Jesus into a marriage with children, simply makes Jesus a prototype for Martin Luther. Dan Brown’s major break with the Protestant version of history is not in the marriage, rather, it is in his handling of marriage. Luther insisted marriage was in no way holy, rather, it was just a legal fiction, a means by which God allows us to slake our lust without sinning. Brown was smart enough to throw THAT demotion away.

He returned instead to the Catholic understanding of marriage and sex: marriage is holy, a sacramental encounter with the divine. Sex is sacred. These Catholic alterations to an otherwise Protestant take on sexuality is central to what sells his book. After all, most modern conservative Christians reject Luther’s assertion that marriage is just a legal fiction.

Why? Well, they have finally realized that Luther's position leads directly to homosexual marriage and polygamy (something Luther understood and accepted). Thus, Martin Luther’s original theology of marriage – identical to the modern secular humanist understanding of marriage – is rejected by most non-Catholic Christians. Ironically, non-Catholic Christians are again embracing the Catholic understanding that marriage is a sacrament. Dan Brown simply builds on that Catholic embrace.

Market Share
Now, of the two dozen or so books that debunk the Da Vinci Code, not one of the non-Catholic Christian books point out any of these similarities between DVC's paganism and historical Protestantism. Of the four Catholic books on the market, three do not point out any of these similarities.

Why not? Well, it would hurt market share. Both non-Catholic and Catholic Christians find it much safer to follow Protestant professors and blame Dan Brown’s theology on Gnosticism. It doesn’t matter if the rebuttal is thereby rendered theologically incoherent – we are on the side of the angels, don’cha know.

In fact, the failure to recognize these points of coherence means we are not rebutting essential points of Dan Brown's work. Instead, we are just doing his advertising for him. By insisting his work has Gnostic roots, we freely give to his work the same ancient veneer that Protestant Christianity has always sought, an ancient veneer neither Protestantism nor Dan-Brownism has ever actually possessed.

Dan Brown played Christians like a violin. And we played along. You may hate his book, but you’ve got to admire his marketing. It is simply brilliant.


percy said...

Well, accepting that the Da Vinci Code is not Gnostic, it is feminist, so one could write a book accusing Brown of something other than Protestantism or Gnistocism--one could accuse him of feminism. Unless Protestantism and feminism are the same.

Big Orange said...

wow, that's yummy!! Good content, well throught out and documented! I need to spend more time here widcha.

Oh, the one thing that we keep forgetting in our discussion of Da Vinci Code is how 2 DIMENSIONAL the characters are. Yes, it's full of tightly woven plot twists, but essentially the characters have no depth whatsoever. Silas saying "pain is good" to himself? Please. ::yaaawwn::

St. Jimbob of the Apokalypse said...

I've been mulling a comparison of the DVC and Pornography. Both provide a pleasurable fantasy that endangers full appreciation of the truth.

Your protestant comparison is well done, and deserves a wider reading.

P.P.Z. said...

your article "pagan flesh,protestant bones lacks the heart of flesh itself. thus reducing your blog to bones also.

Justine said...

Can you "accuse" someone of being feminist? It's like "accusing" someone of believing in human rights. Very strange. "Accusation" suggests that the impugned act or opinion is either morally wrong or a crime.

Is feminism either?