I took some of my own advice and decided to read one of the many, many books debunking The Da Vinci Code (TDVC). I chose The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code by Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel as it was recommended by Catholic sources and seemed to get good reviews.
As I have mentioned before, I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code nor seen the movie, nor do I care to. But like anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave lately, I have heard plenty about it and about the ridiculous “facts” that Dan Brown based his book on. What has concerned me enough to take the trouble to read a book on the subject is the influence that TDVC seems to be having on people. Not only has it been read (and now seen) by tens (hundreds?) of millions worldwide, but readers are accepting Brown’s outlandish statements as fact. All around me I see intelligent, educated people protest that the book is “just fiction” and with the same breath repeat some element of the book as if it were true.
It is not entirely the reader’s fault if he or she falls for some of Brown’s theories (which in fact are not his, but we all know how that lawsuit turned out). Brown goes out of his way to give the impression that his book is based on extensive scholarly research. In reality, most of Brown’s theories (and even some exact phrases) are copied from just three books: Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Goddess in the Gospels, and The Templar Revelation. The authors of these books are obsessed with conspiracy theories, the occult, neopaganism, and attacking the Catholic Church, and they have long ago been discredited by bona fide scholars. As the authors of The Da Vinci Hoax put it, these books (and TDVC itself) fail the “desk encyclopedia test.” In other words, they contain factual errors that even a simple encyclopedia can refute. Sadly, readers of TDVC are not reaching for the encyclopedia, and the errors are left to stand. The notorious “fact page” has apparently succeeded in switching off the B.S.-detectors in millions of his readers. There is a swindle going on here, but it is most certainly not being perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church.
Unlike The Da Vinci Code and the books it is based on, the authors of the The Da Vinci Hoax refer to a wide variety of authoritative sources, giving the proper citations. In the face of real, verifiable information and sound logic, the theories about Mary Magdalene, Constantine, the Templar Knights, the Priory of Sion, and Leonardo da Vinci fall apart. The authors don’t just expose the factual errors, but also the faults in logic that are so common among conspiracy theorists (e.g., a lack of evidence somehow becomes iron-clad evidence of a cover up). They also expose the vain, rebellious, “gnostic” mentality that seems to underlie TDVC and its sources.
I definitely recommend that readers (or viewers) of The Da Vinci Code innoculate themselves against Dan Brown’s “factifiction” by reading one of these debunking books. Although The Da Vinci Hoax certainly does a good job of refuting Brown’s claims, the writing in some chapters sometimes disjointed. I get the impression that parts of it were put together in a hurry and they didn’t have time to pull all the pieces together into a coherent statement. There are also a few instances of anti-feminist reaction that Catholics would likely be immune to but which might be quite off-putting for those not familiar with the issues and code words involved. (The book is otherwise quite strong in showing that Christianity is not inherently misogynistic.)
I do wish the book had gone more into why the public has latched on to this book the way it has. They certainly touched on it, particularly in their chapter on gnosticism, but there is much to say on the subject. For me, the problem with TDVC is not that it is wall-to-wall B.S., but that so many people are entranced by it. They seem to want to believe it. Why? What are the consequences, both for them and for Catholics? Why do so few object to lies and accusations that would not be tolerated if they were directed at Jews, Muslims, or any other group? Why is the Catholic Church fair game?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not having a pity party here. There would be something wrong if the Church were not being persecuted*. Dan Brown has done nothing new, but he has done it with wild success, and I am fascinated by its workings.
*”If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)