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
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
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.