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'Brown exposes hypocrisy'

02 November 2006


What do you think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code reveals about pop-culture attitudes toward Christianity and the Church?

I think a lot of people have read the book not just as a popular page-turner, but also as an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organised Christian religion.

We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in the book by Dan Brown is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Is it possible that, even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the Church's conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?

So you think The Da Vinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?

For all the flaws of Brown's book, I think what he's doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that's true.

It's my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith, [certainly] in America, has to realise that the religious Right has polluted the air. The name "Jesus" and the word "Christianity" are associated with something judgemental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that's distorted and false.

I also think that the issue of male domination is huge, and that Brown's suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has been is very attractive.

Brown's book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organised religion, and it is exposing organised religion's grasping for power. Again, there's something in that that people resonate with in the age of paedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus, I resonate with their concerns as well.

Do you think the book contains any significantly detrimental distortions of the Christian faith?

The book is fiction, and it's filled with a lot of material that people have already debunked. I don't think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels. The Left Behind novels twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, and I think Brown is twisting scripture to other political ends. But, at the end of the day, the difference is, I don't think Brown really cares that much about theology. He just wanted to write a page-turner, and he was very successful at that.
Many Christians are also reading this book, and it's rocking their notions - or lack of perceived notions - about Christ's life and the early years of the Church. Should this be a clarion call to have a body of believers more literate in church history?

Yes! One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an over-simplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history; it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn about church history. I think the disturbing would do them good.

Education is [often] disturbing. If The Da Vinci Code causes people to ask questions, and Christians have to dig deeper, that's a great thing, a great opportunity for growth. And it does show a weakness in the Church, giving either no understanding of church history or a one-sided, sugar-coated version.

How do you hope churches will engage with the movie of The Da Vinci Code?

I would like to see churches teach their people how to have intelligent dialogue that doesn't degenerate into argument. We have to teach people that the Holy Spirit works in the middle of conversation. We see it time and time again: Jesus enters into dialogue with people; Paul and Peter and the apostles enter into dialogue with people. We tend to think that the Holy Spirit can only work in the middle of a monologue where we are doing the speaking.

The more we can keep conversations open, the more chances we give the Holy Spirit to work. Too often, people want to get into an argument right away. And, you know, Jesus has handled 2000 years of questions, scepticism, and attacks, and he's gonna come through just fine. So we don't have to be worried.

Ultimately, The Da Vinci Code is telling us important things about the image of Jesus that is being portrayed by the dominant Christian voices. Readers don't find that satisfactory, genuine, or authentic; so they're looking for something that seems more real and authentic.

Brian McLaren is the author of The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the truth that could change everything (W Publishing). This is an edited version of an interview by Lisa Ann Cockrel which first appeared in Today's Christian Woman.

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