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Christian Response to Da Vinci Code
There are some indisputable facts in life.
Everyone will die. Republicans and Democrats will never get along. Poverty will always plague humanity. And Americans love movies.
In 2005, adults watched an average of 45 movies. The mean was identical for born again Christians and nominal Christians. And that figure doesn't even include the movie clips that they were shown while the faithful were in church! Currently, two-thirds of all Protestant churches have big-screen projection capabilities. In congregations that use movie clips for teaching purposes, 77% of congregants contend that those visual media are helpful in their spiritual development. Movies have become the benign educator of choice in our media-happy society.
Coming soon to a theater near everyone will be the big screen interpretation of the mega-selling novel, The DaVinci Code. This spellbinding work of fiction has captivated the minds of more than 30 million readers. The forthcoming film, featuring a huge budget and some of the best talent Hollywood has to offer, promises to intrigue audiences while challenging people's perceptions about the Christian faith.
The book makes many claims that are at odds with Christian teachings. Author Dan Brown's engaging conspiracy fantasy has Jesus Christ married to Mary Magdalene and the father of children; the Bible being doctored by church leaders in 325 A.D. in order to control the Roman Empire and oppress women; claims that the idea of Jesus' divinity was fabricated for political reasons; and asserts the Roman Catholic church has conspired for centuries to keep the documentation of such religious scandals a secret.
Many followers of Christ fear that the movie, which will be even more accessible to the public at-large than the book, will distort people's theological perceptions. This fear is well-founded. Americans already possess an unorthodox profile of religious beliefs, indiscriminately blending biblical and cultural views. Among adults who are aligned with a Christian church, 59% do not believe that Satan exists, 42% contend that Jesus Christ committed sins during His earthly tenure, and just 11% believe that the Bible is the source of absolute moral truth. In fact, millions of Americans are confused about the Bible. On the one hand, six out of ten (61%) believe that "every word in the Bible is true and can be trusted." On the other hand, only half as many affirm that the Bible is "totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches." Americans admit that they are more likely to seek theological clarity from friends, family, experiences and even media input than from diving into biblical texts.
So it is in the midst of this environment of confusion that this blockbuster movie will offer attractive heretical propositions. Entering theaters essentially as biblical illiterates, millions of adults are vulnerable to the seductive religious arguments it will propose.
Many Christians recognize that the book is a fictional tale and that its religious principles are not to be taken seriously. Conveying that point to the 80 million adults who consider themselves Christian but who do not crack the Bible may be more difficult than usual. After all, 53% of a national sample of adults who have read The DaVinci Code from cover to cover stated that the book had been helpful in their "personal spiritual growth and understanding."
How might Christians who accept the Bible's account of the life of Christ react to the release of this movie?
Should We Fight It?
One reaction would be to become distressed and to attack the movie. Heresy rightfully gets Christians upset and responding is necessary. Based on recent history, it is easy to imagine such resistance in the form of a boycott. Research and experience have shown, however, that boycotting movies may do more harm than good to the cause of the boycotters. Such action serves to raise public awareness of and interest in the movie being attacked. Those who are not familiar with the content underlying the controversy tend to choose a side based on emotion rather than factual exploration, siding with whichever faction seems more rational. Those not keenly familiar with the issues at hand are also prone to wonder what the boycotters are seeking to hide or suppress. And most people will develop their perceptions of the boycott on the basis of how the media present the boycotters - and, when it comes to matters of religion, they are rarely portrayed as rational people with a legitimate beef.
Should We Ignore the Film?
Many Christians will ignore the controversy altogether and dismiss it as a marketing ploy common in our entertainment culture; after all, Marketing 101 teaches that controversy sells. Sadly, this response ignores a vital reality: Movies are among the most powerful instruments of change and impact in our society. Nearly one-third of adults (29%) contend that movies have had a substantial impact on the development of their personal morals, values and religious beliefs. Educators, activists and church leaders have learned that movies can be a helpful discussion starter and teaching tool, if used appropriately. The DaVinci Code has the potential to be one of the great tools for motivating people to confront the theological apathy and confusion that is so widespread in our nation. Indeed, a central principle of Christianity is that truth changes lives. The release of this movie will give Christians the privilege of exploring truth claims with the masses, and watching truth transform people's lives.
Should We Accept the Film As Fact?
Another response to this film would be to accept its information about the Christian faith as if it were accurate and reliable. To do so, however, would require us to overlook two critical facts. First, The DaVinci Code is a novel. Novelists often take great liberties with reality in order to spin their yarn. Mr. Brown has written an intriguing story, but it was published and marketed as a work of fiction. Second, embracing the information in the novel as factually accurate requires a frontal dismissal of the facts contained in the Bible and in historical documentation and scholarship. In addition, one would have to believe that the Roman Catholic church has knowingly conspired to manipulate human history for political advantage and that even the people who were close associates or followers of Jesus Christ were duped by the authorities of their day. Mr. Brown's story, in other words, essentially asks us to rewrite human history and experience in order to support a conspiracy theory that revolves around a two millennia pursuit of a chalice. Now that's bold!
Should We Use It As A Springboard?
Perhaps a more thoughtful and strategic reaction by Christian people would be to use the movie as a springboard for conversation and exploration regarding the roots and foundations of the Christian faith. Igniting such conversations would not be difficult; already, 66% of adults say that in a typical week they dialogue with friends and work associates about the content of movies and TV shows they have recently seen. Americans are abundantly ignorant of the history and reliability of the Bible, the mind of God regarding divinity and worship, the connection between family and faith, the distinction between heresy and biblical teaching, and key events of Church history and their significance for us today. It is within such a vacuum of knowledge and understanding that new concepts such as those proposed in novels like The DaVinci Code gain a foothold in the minds and hearts of readers. And it is that gap in our knowledge that the book invites us to address. But the reach and slant of this movie will raise countless opportunities for open discussion of such matters. Christians who recognize and engage those moments of opportunity can do much to advance the cause of truth.
Movies Have Influence
Our studies show that movies are one of the most powerful influence agents in the world today. The alluring combination of ideas, action, relationships, music and visual stimulation causes us to temporarily inhabit another time and place - and, sometimes, to import the philosophies and behaviors proposed on screen into our daily existence. Some of the language, beliefs and behaviors evident in your life today can be traced back to movies that initially proposed those elements to our culture.
Clearly, a media event like The DaVinci Code will facilitate conversations about what is real and how we know it to be real. Are Christians prepared to rationally discuss the genesis of their faith and the development Church history? Millions of people who do not know what to believe about Jesus Christ, the Bible and the organized church will have questions after watching the movie. Followers of Jesus Christ have a tremendous chance to engage those inquirers in thoughtful dialogue and discovery regarding the actual history, content and reliability of the Bible, the outcomes of the Council of Nicea (which Mr. Brown uses as the fulcrum of his conspiracy tale), the life and divinity of Jesus Christ, and the relationship of the early Church and the political powers of the era.
Once the movie hits theater screens, Christians will be surrounded by people who are curious about spiritual matters that are generally not topics of polite conversation in our society. Believers must earnestly pray for open minds among the curious, and for their own ability to intelligently and compassionately interact on issues that are often contentious and emotionally charged. We must also pray for wise, non-hysterical leadership to emerge from within the community of believers in response to this challenge to Christian orthodoxy.
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