At the beginning of "The Da Vinci Code," which hit movie theaters Friday, the lead character talks about distinguishing between truth and distortion.That's ironic, given that the film and the novel it's based on by Dan Brown specialize in distortion.
The book and the film differ in that the novel was a real page-turner, and the movie is insufferably plodding. But they are the same in terms of historical inaccuracies and Christian heresies presented as factual background for the story.
"The Da Vinci Code" - book and movie - assaults Holy Scripture and the Christian faith, making completely baseless claims about, for example, the origins of the New Testament, Mary Magdalene and the divinity of Jesus.
Perhaps it's surprising to some that various local churches view the film as a teachable moment. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre recently highlighted various activities at Long Island parishes in response to "The Da Vinci Code." This week and next, Telecare, the diocese's cable television station, will air its own production, "Deciphering Da Vinci," as well as "Jesus Decoded," a documentary from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
When I asked about the diocese's concerns, the Rev. Emil Wcela, auxiliary bishop with the diocese and co-host of the Telecare show, noted that "with all the stuff the church has been through," there's an "openness in people's minds to kind of mistrust the church." He said, "The reason the diocese and Telecare got involved is that it really is a moment for possible education," for the church to say, "Here's what we know about it."
Meanwhile, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whitestone is hosting a talk tomorrow night at 7:30 by Paul Maier, historian, vice president in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and co-author of an informative little book titled "The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction?"
Immanuel's pastor, the Rev. David Demera, told me: "People are biblically illiterate. They are not aware of history overall, and church history in particular. So, it's easy for them to be manipulated, or easy for them to go with the flow, because they don't know what's fact or fiction." He sees an opportunity: "How many people normally talk about the Nicene Creed and the first 200 years of the church?"
Demera added: "I think it's important for myself as a pastor to help people work it through." He plans to do a follow-up Bible study.
Of course, some Christian leaders are calling for a boycott of the film. That's understandable. But it is important to engage a pop culture so often hostile to Christianity, and to counter tripe like "The Da Vinci Code" with the truth - historical and theological. That's why Maier's presentation tomorrow night should be so interesting, as he clearly knows the history and the theology.
In "The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction?" Maier made an interesting point: "Strange as it may seem, heresy has always been good for the church, since it forces a renewed attention to the central doctrines of Christianity in order to counteract error. Without heresy, we would not have the great creeds of Christendom."
Along similar but more personal lines, Wcela issued a challenge earlier this month in the Long Island Catholic newspaper that those seeing the movie spend the same amount of time reading the Gospels.
Good idea, but why not daily? I suggest a rich four-volume set from the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau called "For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and by the Church." Each day's devotional includes an opening prayer, three brief Holy Scripture readings, a reflection from a saint and a closing prayer. It is a true blessing.
Who knows? Maybe the heresy of "The Da Vinci Code" will lead people to the all-time page-turner - the Bible. After all, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Read the entire article on the Newsday website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission.