Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Random Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code

Those of you who know me well know that I read "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" years ago and that it's sort of my pet conspiracy theory. I do not believe it's true -- I simply think it's a fascinating alternative view of history, and it's interesting seeing how people react to it, in the same way that finding out people's views on the JFK assasination is interesting; only more obscure. (In fact, the whole bloodline thing in HBHG is probably an elaborate 20th c. hoax.) So of course I read TDVC when it came out, and enjoyed it on the "brain candy" level (like Anne Rice's early novels -- an absorbing read, not terribly nutritious, but enjoyable in the moment).

There are grains of both truth and falsehood in the whole story. It's true that the Catholic Church has a long record of spreading misogynist doctrines and repressing positive views of human sexuality; and has completely swept positive roles for women in positions of power under the rug. However, as many commentators have noted, the Gnostic traditions were actually not very sex-positive, by and large; in fact, their dualistic views probably made them even more inclined toward the "spirit=good/flesh=bad" view that gradually infected the early church and prompted the ouster of women from leadership positions, since women are usually identified with the "flesh" side of that equation.

I used to recommend HBHG to friends who I knew wouldn't take it too seriously as a sort of mental exercise in alternative reality. I'm not sure I still would do that, given the current atmosphere. But it is interesting to contemplate "what if the accepted version of history isn't the real one?", and I think that's what TDVC has done for the kind of people who wouldn't have read anything as heavy as HBHG. It's a radical question, and one that threatens whoever is in power advocating the current accepted view. It's not surprising that there are boycotts.

But people who don't understand the deep dissatisfaction that underlies the popularity of the book and the movie are really missing the point. People are reading the book because they want to believe there's something more -- that there's a more positive tradition within Christianity that affirms life, sexuality, and love. The fundamentalist traditions within both the Catholic and Protestant traditions have repressed this, and they're out of sync with what these people are looking for. On the other hand, the more liberal Christian traditions seem to dissolve into a mushy "kumbaya" land, where love etc. are preached, but it doesn't really mean anything.

It'll be interesting to see where this goes.


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