Why Discuss a Work of Fiction?

The upcoming launch of The Da Vinci Code movie based on Dan Brown’s best-selling book has gotten the Christian community buzzing. Web sites are popping up everywhere. New books are being written. Sermons are being prepared. Everywhere, Christians are getting ready to do intellectual battle against the claims made in the film about the origins of their faith.

All of this attention has caused some to ask if we’ve overreacted. One person put it this way:

What part of “Fiction” do you not understand? Fiction means not true. Has Dan Brown actually made a public statement that he believes the doctrines described in The Da Vinci Code to be true. He hasn’t. Why are you giving him so much free press? … It is amazing that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code is getting such a reaction, even from scholars like you.

Fiction is imaginary and that is what is supposed to be the book as well as the movie based on the book. True to its complete sense, fiction can always take charge of moving away from a person to the different level of thoughts. Similarly, the trading software reviews give us the feeling of reality in the trading scene and this area of business.

This is a legitimate question, although the writer is wrong in stating Dan Brow hasn’t given public statements that he believes these theories. He actually has. That being said, The Da Vinci Code is listed as a work of fiction – something that’s not true. Given that it’s a fictional account, why is everyone spending so much time and effort debunking its assertions?

Well, the short answer is being fictional doesn’t matter. It will still have influence on the way people think about issues. We have numerous examples of this, from the sales jump of Resees Pieces after E.T. came out to the effects of works such as The Green Mile and Cider House Rules on the death penalty and abortion. Because of this, advertisers pay large sums of money to have their products featured in a new release and used by the protagonists.

How Our Entertainment Colors Us

Conrad Ostwalt, Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, wrote a great article on how popular movies are a powerful influence on the students in his class. In the Dec 1998 issue of the Journal of Religion and Film, Ostwalt stated three reasons he used recent movies to elicit teaching opportunities in his class. He writes:

First, film is a powerful tool because it motivates students to participate in class. While students in my classes still read texts, they also watch films communally outside class. This shared act begins to break down barriers and build trust between class members before we ever attempt a discussion of the film. As a result, students are more willing to risk themselves before their peers. This increased participation in class spills over to other areas as well, including greater participation in discussions of lectures and assigned readings.
Second, film as a tool empowers students. For whatever reasons, students respond to films enthusiastically. They are stimulated by the auditory and visual experience of movie watching in ways that reading fails to achieve. Often, watching a film will actually inspire students to read criticism, novels, or texts that are related to the film. For all these reasons and more, students are comfortable with the film medium, they are not intimidated by it, and when students interact with material in this manner, they are empowered, confident, and bold. With film as part of their curriculum, students seem more willing to take imaginative risks and to think critically.
Third, popular films can be effective tools for learning because using popular films in a class results in students claiming ownership in course content. Students recognize the films, and they identify them as part of student culture. As a result, the course content has immediate relevance to students, and they feel they have a stake in its examination. This makes students partners in the course, and they feel a greater responsibility for the success of the class and their own learning. When students claim such responsibility and ownership, class interaction is exciting and dynamic, and students become self-directed learners, taking their critical skills beyond the classroom. 1

The Bigger the Issue, the More Important the Belief

Another point about why we should talk about The Da Vinci Code is simply because the topics it talks about are some of the most important in history. The simple rule is one I learned from J.P. Moreland – the more important the issue, the more important it is to have a correct belief about that issue. Your belief in whether a sports team is going to win the series isn’t nearly as important as a neurosurgeon’s belief about how to operate on the brain.

The beliefs focused on in The Da Vinci Code, are among the most important. The belief of who Jesus was and what he did in history is the basis of a worldview for a third of the people on this planet. It’s your worldview that forms the core of your moral framework, your compassion and how you understand the events you experience. Calling the basis of this into question has huge implications for all of society. Furthermore, if Christianity’s beliefs about Jesus are true, then these beliefs have eternal consequences as well.

The Big Deal

The big deal with a movie like The Da Vinci Code is that it puts crucial claims of Christianity in its crosshairs and tries to soot them down. Nowhere in the book or movie is there offered a competing analysis of the facts. Moreover, as our society moves to a postmodern culture, people tend to value the emotional experience more than truth claims. If they feel sympathetic to someone like Michael Caine’s character in Cider House Rules, it really doesn’t matter that his actions are against the law.

So, we should prepare ourselves. We need to inform ourselves of the facts, so that we may discuss them intelligently when the question arises. We should know how to answer critics and those who may be swayed by the movie’s storytelling power. Even before the movie was released, the Canadian newspaper, The National Post recently reported that 17% of Canadians and 13% of Americans believed the premises of the book.2 It shows all the more reason why Christians must be able to “make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”.

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