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William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
The Da Vinci Code is a call to conversion
Published: June 08, 2006 10:43 AM
The Da Vinci Code is a call to conversion

I´ve noticed a few people reading the Japanese translation of Dan Brown´s novel The Da Vinci Code on trains here in Tokyo, and there are some exhibits in town at museums and elsewhere about Leonardo da Vinci.

I assume the exhibits are meant to be extra advertising for the film version of the novel, which has opened in Japan. Whether or not the book and film are a financial success in Japan remains to be seen, though the film distributor is planning a three-month run in theaters around the country and obviously expects a big audience.

I have read the book and found it only moderately interesting, poorly written and, of course, wildly inaccurate. But then, it´s fiction, and in a genre -- murder mysteries -- that I do not usually read. Perhaps it is a good example of a murder mystery, and I just do not have enough experience in reading them to recognize a good one.

I do not plan to see the movie, partly because of taste and partly because reviewers have panned it, but mostly because I do not want to further enrich people who are making money off of a parody of things that are important to me, the main one being truth.

Though bishops and other Church leaders in some other countries have called for boycotts or have petitioned, sometimes successfully, to have the film banned in their countries, the Japanese bishops have not made any public declarations about the book or the movie.

I do not know whether this is due to a lack of interest, a realization that they would be ignored, a desire to not be used as one more element in the publicity campaign or some other reason.

In any case, I am happy that they have resisted the temptation to speak out. A Christian version of the uproar over cartoons that offended Muslims would only be further publicity for the book and film.

In fact, though, the uproar has reached the point where, in fairness, Brown´s publisher and the film distributor should turn over part of their advertising budgets to the Church people whose conniptions have provided free publicity and made people wonder if all the squawking might indicate that Brown is on to something.

They wonder why Church leaders are so upset if it is pure fiction that the Catholic Church has kept the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene secret for two thousand years. (As if the Catholic Church can keep anything secret for long. After all, we know that Pope Benedict was elected in the conclave with 84 votes -- a secret that could not be kept for even a few months.) 

One thing the squawkers and, I suppose, all us Church functionaries could do while waiting for the advertising budget check to arrive would be to ask ourselves why folks are willing to believe a cockamamie conspiracy theory in mediocre prose rather than us, even when we have facts and common sense to back us up.

It is not likely that Brown´s book would have attracted the attention that it has attracted if it had been about Sophocles, Caesar, Genghis Khan or Karl Marx. People remain fascinated by Jesus, even when they do not know much about him. They assume that there must be some mysterious fact that accounts for his continuing impact on the lives of men and women.

Obviously, for a lot of people the Church has not done a good job of conveying that mystery.

The easy way out is to blame people for not listening. That´s a common clerical cop-out that fails to recognize that most failures in communication are the fault of the communicator, not the audience.

If we cannot or will not present the case for the Church´s understanding of Jesus in a way that engages people, even if it does not convince them, the fault is ours.

There is curiosity out there that indicates a longing for something deeper than the day-to-day. We claim to have found it. Are we at least as convincing in word and deed as the latest fiction?

The fact that the novel and movie could attract such a huge audience even in those parts of the world with the longest history of Christian evangelization is a sad commentary on the life of the Catholic Church today.

Do we have the intellectual, artistic, emotional and, ultimately, spiritual integrity that can challenge, encourage and attract modern people?

If we have them where are they? Have we put all our lights under bushel baskets? Is it the world´s fault, the devil´s fault or our fault that people´s interest in Jesus is being answered by Dan Brown instead of us? 

The Da Vinci Code is mediocre fiction, but perhaps it is also a call to conversion for mediocre Christians.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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