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Day with DaVinci

posted by xscot mcknight

I’ve been asked to be interviewed by Lee Strobel for a Zondervan response to the upcoming movie, The DaVinci Code (I really don’t know the name of the movie). Many of you know I’m not a fan of novels and fiction writers, and so I didn’t want to read that book but I was asked to speak about it so I read it some time ago. What an easy read, and Dan Brown (the author) managed to set me up every chapter to want to read the next chapter.
When I speak about it, what I want to probe the most is not what most people want to probe. Most Christians want to know if the book is “true,” which it is not — nor is it even that good of history. All kinds of scholars wrote books that said that.
What I want to know is this: Why did so many people want to believe this story? Why did so many wonder if maybe the Church has duped the entire Church for 2000 years? Why did so many wonder if maybe the Church buried other versions of Jesus? Why did so many wonder if the Church suppressed the truth all along? Why did so many want to believe that the Church was an ideological power that was threatened by alternative stories?
This is really only one question — why did so many seem to think this version of the Christian faith was believable? — and it is for me the central and only genuinely abiding question that this book provokes.
Got any thoughts about that question?



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Duane Young

posted November 28, 2005 at 9:02 am


One thought:
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Ro. 1:28)
And of course there is some great gloss around this verse.



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Christian Cryder

posted November 28, 2005 at 9:20 am


That is a great question, and I think you’re spot on in asking it. It also seems to illustrate (for me anyway) one of the differences between traditional evangelicals and those w/ a more post modern bent – I don’t hear many in the former group asking those questions, and yet, what a great opportunity to dialogue w/ unbelievers. And that for me is what I really like about the EM: it presents all kinds of opportunities for dialogue with people who think they have nothing in common with us Christians.
All that to say, I’m not sure what answers you’ll get, but I think that is precisely the type of question we need to be asking – but it’s going to require us to get out and actually rub shoulders w/ unbelievers in order to ask it. Who would have thought that “mission” could be so much fun…



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 28, 2005 at 9:37 am


I have yet to read the book or all that much about it.
But from what I gather, it does seem to indicate a big credibility gap in people’s minds as to what we profess as Christians and what is actually true.
I think it has something to do with authenticity- us really living out (or largely failing to do so) what we say we believe. The Church for centuries, it seems to me, has been known to be weak in this area. And as pollsters indicate, it seems no different today.
Why shouldn’t people question beliefs of the Church when most Christians they know really seem to be living in the same tailspin that they are in? Of course there are exceptions, like Mother Teresa, and a few they know that can make people stop dead in their tracks and reconsider.
Jesus thought/knew that it is how we live as his people that gives credibility to the message- that all will know the Father had sent him (Jn 17). And this works out in other ways as we don’t let the salt we are become unsalty or hide our light, but instead let it shine, so people will praise the Father.



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John Frye

posted November 28, 2005 at 9:40 am


Scot,
I agree with Christian that you’ve posed the appropriate dialogical question rather than the hackneyed theological ones. Here’s two thoughts: this version gives women a very powerful place in the story (contrary to many relgious hierarchical views that want to keep women subservient to men); and the story gives a place for nature in spiritual reality whereas in evangelicalism, we’ve bought the burn and slash view of nature as long as the burning and slashing and trashing contributes to “progress.” Just thinking in print with you.



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 28, 2005 at 9:49 am


I must say that you, Scot, and John (Frye) are making me want to read that book. We’ll see if my “want” is strong enough to follow through. Probably I will since it may have some impact on people’s minds through mass media.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 28, 2005 at 9:50 am


Ted,
If you start, you’ll finish. It does engross one.



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Kat

posted November 28, 2005 at 10:28 am


It seems to me that many of my (non-Christian) friends liked the book for the same reason they liked The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. The feminist narrative is so very appealing in contrast to the misogyny (real and falsely imputed) of the historical practices and scriptural interpretations of the church, and yet, because it’s a religious/”Christian” setting–not just sci-fi–the belief system maintains the wonder, beauty, and mystery of a spiritual dimension. I haven’t read any of Dan Brown’s other books, but I’ve wondered, similarly–how do I engage with a friend who is devoutly a-religious, but wants to gain some sort of spiritual insight from Angels and Demons? But in the case of Da Vinci, I think much of it is about replacing misogyny with empowerment.



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Duane Young

posted November 28, 2005 at 10:49 am


Another thought. You ask first why people want to believe this story, and then ask why people think this story is believable. Might they not want to believe the story and therefore find it believable? Must we not make this distinction? I submit it might well be a matter of the will and submission of the will.



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John Frye

posted November 28, 2005 at 11:14 am


Kat,
I read ANGELS AND DEMONS, Brown’s prequel to Da Vinci Code. It, too, is a great and fast read (and not anywhere as controversial as Da Vinci Code).



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sonja

posted November 28, 2005 at 11:29 am


I read the book shortly after it came out. I also shallowly followed the firestorm of criticism from both the Catholic and fundamental/evangelical Protestant churches. At the time I thought that their criticism just fueled sales of the book and caused readers to think that perhaps the Church did have something to hide if it “doth protest so much.” I still think that might be the case. None of it is true of course. I’m still wondering why the Church felt so threatened by what was and is “just” a book. It’s fiction, folks. Engaging. Interesting. Fun to think about. But still fiction.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted November 28, 2005 at 11:33 am


Scot,
Excellent question! Like Kat, I see a huge draw to the feminist narrative in the book. While the content and supports it presents are easily proven fictious, the concept of the divine feminine is a natural (and healthy, if misguided) response to the very real misogyny in Church history. How long can people swallow a seriously watered down version of God who we’ve recreated in our own image (as men)?
Second, the book also feeds the very postmodern mistrust of hierarchies, for which the Roman Catholic Church remains one of the most prominent examples in the world today. People are already naturally suspicious of the RC Church, its power and its honesty, so why not add fuel to the fire?
Another possibility is the ue of art as the tool of Truth in the story. While postmoderns are less convinced by empirical evidence, we still want some kind of authoritative proofs. Art is the perfect medium, because art is embraces subtley, ambiguity, mystery, beauty, etc.
Finally, if the theory of the book were to be true, it would mean that there is a physical manifestation of the divine on earth (the Grail descendants of Christ). Sadly, I believe that the failure for the Church to be that manifest incarnation of Jesus has left people looking for something more authentic. Additionally, the Augustinian over-emphasis on “Original Sin” has done great violence to the foundational Truth about humanity- we are created in God’s image, Eikons. This book offers one way of restoring what was lost in those failure.s
Just some thoughts.
Peace,
Jamie



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R. Mansfield

posted November 28, 2005 at 11:59 am


I think it’s characteristic of the age in which we live. For the non-Christians, it’s an “I knew it!” moment. And in that sense, I think it’s a great opportunity for evangelism and presenting the real Jesus.
But I’m amazed at how many people at church have come up to me, asking me if I’ve read it, and wanting to know my opinion because they are worried there might be some kind of validity to it. Perhaps there is just a growing skepticism about the church–even from within the church–from events in recent decades.
I’m planning to have a one-night seminar on the movie and the actual Jesus of the Bible and history, about one week after it’s released to theaters. I figure it will be a good opportunity to strengthen the faith of the church and reach out to interested non-believers.



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Danny Zacharias

posted November 28, 2005 at 12:02 pm


Sonya above mentioned that it was fiction, which of course it is, but the reason everyone got so up in arms is because Dan Brown said in his preface and in interviews that it was all based on historical fact. I think the church has a responsiblity at that point to clarify his ‘facts’.
As to your question Scot, I wonder the same thing, and I have two ideas: 1) Certain people who have been hurt by the church or are just anti-church in general found something popular and sensational that they could grab on to. I remember a friend of mine (a pastor) telling an acquaintence of his that the book is not true, to which she replied: ‘I would expect someone in your position to say that’. She had it in her head that the church existed to hold power over people through knowledge (opium of the masses mindset). I suspect that these type of people have only been reinforced in their view because of the dozen or more ‘rebuttal’ books that have come out.
2) The second person I think is a genuine spiritual seeker, and the idea of a human Jesus, one with a wife and children, is more appealing than the ‘more-God-than-man’ Jesus the church often preaches. We’ve never quite been able to rid ourselves of a docetic mindset. Just my 2 cents, but I should also say that an excellent ‘rebuttal’ video of the ‘facts’ of the DaVinci Code was made by Channel 4. (see http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/W/weirdworlds/da_vinci_code/). Its worth your viewing.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 28, 2005 at 12:09 pm


What would you say if I were to say: What fuels the readership of DaVinci Code fuels the Emerging movement.



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 28, 2005 at 12:29 pm


I wonder if there is a critique of this book (I’ve seen some of the critique) that presents an alternative to it that really does grapple with the questions you pose, Scot, as to why this alternative to the faith seems so powerful to and resonate with people.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 28, 2005 at 12:33 pm


I tried to get a publisher to take on the idea but they said “no, there are too many responses to the book.” That’s alright — there are enough books about it.



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Fr'nklin

posted November 28, 2005 at 12:41 pm


If it appears you haven’t been truthful and honest with me in some areas…how do I know you are being truthful and honest with me in other (more important) areas? When you will not take seriously my questions because they appear threatening to your religion/institution, then I begin to wonder about the validity of your religion, and I wonder who else’s voice you’ve squelched. Perhaps these are some of the thoughts of those who found the book believable. I don’t read fiction and I really liked the book…couldn’t put it down.



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Fr'nklin

posted November 28, 2005 at 1:07 pm


CLARIFICATION: I was imagining someone asking the church these questions…the “you” did NOT refer to Scot!!!!! I’m often typing a “comment” in between phone calls or appointments so my intentions are not always communicated as clearly as I’d like…



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s

posted November 28, 2005 at 1:39 pm


Amy Welborn, a Catholic author who also blogs has written one of the debunking books and often speaks about Da Vinci Code. She has plenty of insights as to why, although I like her approach of using it as a ‘teaching moment’.
Me personally, I have a healthy disrespect for conspiracy theories but at the same time, I don’t have a quibble with ‘authority’ given that all authority stems from the Author, God himself.
My own guess is that it fundamentally has something to do with the same age old question I often get asked: prove to me that God exists. To which I always reply, if I were able to ‘prove’ to you, in a manner that is entirely satisfactory to you, that God exists, what difference would it make to your life? In all the years I have responded in that way, I have been met with silence with one exception: a young man who after a bit of thought responded: then I would worship him.
Of course it is not just a matter of God existing (because even the demons believe God exists, and shudder) – that’s a convenient red herring. It is a question of which God and what He is like. (Think about it…what difference would it make if there were many gods, and none over all others, what if this god(s) were evil…waht if they were unknowable…etc etc)
The trouble is when you have God is not just transcendant but immanent, when you have God who has made Himself known, most fully and completely in walking, talking Jesus Christ, when you have God who is person come in the flesh to establish His kingdom…when you have God the Son declared Lord and Messiah by that pesky resurrection….you start getting confronted. You can’t ignore such a God. He’s in your face, He demands a response.
And of course faced with God, God in Christ, we see our nakedness and want to run away and hide. I am a sinful man. Or shake our fist in his face and call him mad, a fraud. He is out of His mind. But if we get confronted by grace and find ourselves legless and falling towards Him. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.
Think Jesus and the response He got to His Kingdom teaching. Same-o same-o.



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Barb

posted November 28, 2005 at 1:44 pm


Scot,
I truly don’t know a soul who thought the book was anything but fiction, and a great read at that. I know others put it on a different pedestal than I did. I finally got so annoyed with all the hullabaloo that I began ignoring it. Same with the Harry Potter haters. Your questions are good ones, though, but I can’t offer you any ideas.
Barb



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john alan turner

posted November 28, 2005 at 4:44 pm


Dude, that’s my whole book that I just delivered to Broadman & Holman. You guys are doing one for Zondervan? You’re going to kill us!



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Scot McKnight

posted November 28, 2005 at 4:50 pm


John,
The book is a Bible study guide with Garry Poole and Lee Strobel, with a DVD that has a few others being interviewed. I’m in the “few others.”



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john alan turner

posted November 28, 2005 at 5:06 pm


You’re going to be great, and I’d be happy to show you the manuscript we turned in. We tried to stay away from the whole “here’s where he gets it wrong” slant and go more for the “why would someone write something like this” approach.
Oh, and we have a whole chapter titled “Shooting Ourselves in the Foot”. It’s about how Christians make themselves easy targets when we forward internet hoaxes about Proctor and Gamble’s ties to the Church of Satan.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 28, 2005 at 5:12 pm


John,
Did you deal with the deep suspicion of the Roman Catholic Church? Brown is onto that big time.



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Duane Young

posted November 28, 2005 at 5:45 pm


Is his suspicion only of the Roman branch of the church?



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john alan turner

posted November 28, 2005 at 5:54 pm


I talk about how he’s tapped into a deep streak of American anti-Roman Catholic sentiment. I think it’s interesting that for many of us raised in Evangelical churches (especially for those of us raised in Fundamentalist churches), we were raised with a common mythology: The Church grew corrupt, but there have always been pockets of resistance — holy remnants who were forced underground by the big and powerful Roman Catholic Church. We are their descendants.
He’s produced the same mythology — kept the same bad guy but changed the good guy.
I call the RCC the New York Yankees of the religious world. Everyone loves to root against them b/c they have all the money and tradition on their side.



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Shawn

posted November 28, 2005 at 6:08 pm


There have been times in my life when I have felt strongly attracted to the RC Church. There is a richness to Catholic spirituality that seems lacking within Protestantism.
As to the popularity of the Davinci Code I think there are multiple reasons. One which has not been mentioned being the cultural/social breakdown of the West since the 1960’s. The result of such a breakdown is the growth of non-Christian cults, the domination of most Western nations by virulently anti-Christian liberal-left elites, and the popularity of conspiracy theories.



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aly hawkins

posted November 28, 2005 at 7:22 pm


Scot, re: “What would you say if I were to say: What fuels the readership of DaVinci Code fuels the Emerging movement…” I’d say, “Yep!” Discontentment with traditional hierachical authority, longing for spiritual experience, desire to honor all people and all Creation…sounds Emerging to me. Is that going to be one of your main points in the Strobel thing?



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sonja

posted November 28, 2005 at 7:50 pm


I should clarify … I was intrigued by Dan Brown’s “Introduction” claiming that everything in the book was factual. I re-read it and realized that it was actually part of the fiction. But to make sure, I tracked down some of his “sources.” His source books do exist and I read one or two of them, mostly because I was intrigued by this theory and wanted to know for myself if there was any truth to it. And yes, the problems with misogyny in the church were partially at the root of my search. I went into this search with a healthy dose of scepticism. What I found was a splinter group that is writing books that sound like fact. (Altho “group” may be somewhat of a misnomer, they are not organized as such.) They are much like the people who claim that the Holocaust never happened and the same kinds of people believe them. For myself, I was not bothered by the idea that Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, could possibly have been married. Even if it were true (and it’s not), it didn’t make him any less God and neither did possibly leaving descendents.
What bothered me and still does is how threatened the Church has been by this. I understand that the Church needs to set out the facts correctly. This is true. It’s the manner in which it’s been done that has made most non-religious people very suspicious. The arguments and pronouncements were very shrill and defensive, when they could have been matter of fact. You don’t see anyone getting defensive about the Holocaust; everyone knows that the people who claim that didn’t happen are a little (shall we say) off. The issues this book raises could have been defused if the Church (both Catholic and Protestant) had handled it in a more matter-of-fact manner. As I said in my earlier comment, it sounded very much like there really was something to hide. Unfortunately, we (in the Church) don’t have a very good track record for truth telling or openness in the last couple of decades.



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Georges Boujakly

posted November 28, 2005 at 10:02 pm


Scot,
Has the author ever said why he wrote the book? Can someone inform me? Has he declated capitalizing on the down turn in Catholic popularity? If he has not, I am thinking, many are doing much conjecturing.
As to your why questions, my answer is: human beings have a penchant for distrust, period. THe couple in the garden started off on that road well traveled. Can anyone be as good as Jesus is? For those of us who have seen and tasted, it’s a resounding yes. For those who have not how can it be but no or maybe?
Your well directed why questions, Scot, remain valid with or without Da Vinci… No?



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted November 29, 2005 at 12:41 pm


It is interesting that this “new” theory that the book puts forth is making such a stir now. The ideas have been around for some time (in this formation, since the 60’s at least). However, it is rather quickly debunked of any validity, especially as the hidden code in art is concerned.
As to the “Grail” mystery, even the most skeptical and anti-Church scholars and historians are quick to dismiss it. Many of the proof or source texts that Brown used stated things as fact that were outright speculation, at best, blatant misrepresentation most often.
I think Brown gives little attention to the non-RC Church because he would hold (in the context of the fiction, not personal conviction) that Protestantism (for example) would be an offshoot of the grand lie of the dominant Church. Therefore, he woul give it little attention.
It is interesting to follow the discussions with people on the topic, as I am not sure it caused quite as much stir in the Canadian church. I could be wrong, so I will poll some Canadian pastors/Christians to be sure.
Peace,
Jamie



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Danny Zacharias

posted November 29, 2005 at 2:18 pm


Okay Scot, I’ll take a crack at what you said- that what drives the emergent movement is the same as what drives the readership of the Code. Since I learned much from your posts on the emergent church, I take my answers from what I learned from you. The emergent church is about protest: “too much tom-fakery…..it sees cock-sure certainty as a cancer…….rejects the hierarchy and pyramid structure of many churches”. I think these fuels for protest in the emergent community fueled the readers of the DaVinci Code. Dan Brown questioned the certainty of the church’s reconstruction of history, critiqued the hierarchy of the church which has ‘hidden the truth’, etc. Am I right in saying that these ‘fuels’ have been previously spurned on by a post-modern mindset?



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A. B. Caneday

posted November 29, 2005 at 11:18 pm


I have quickly perused the comments. I may have missed some. Someone may have said what I will say. If so, please forgive.
After reading Brown’s book, I wonder if the factor that incites so many to want to believe that his story is true is the proclivity these days toward all kinds of conspiracy theories. It seems that nothing can be as obvious as the evidence appears. People, including news media and politicians, suspect that there is a conspiracy behind everything. Brown, it seems, has tapped the “spirit of the age,” particularly in the wake of all the reported sexual abuse within the walls of the Catholic Church.
Once upon a time conservatives owned the right to conspiracy theories. That has changed drastically within the last fifteen years. This may be why Brown, I think, has struck a chord with many.
Those are my thoughts for what they’re worth.



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Bill Smith

posted November 30, 2005 at 12:25 am


Scot,
Some good musings on the forces behind the popularity. I have spent a good bit of time considering your question. I do see some common threads between the cultural zeitgeist and the emergent movement. Dan Brown applies his suspicion all the way back to the original community of Jesus (Peter and the boys). Some in the emergent movement have the protesting attitude but only apply the suspicion to later tradition.
As for the frequent reminder that it is just fiction I think that this comment may ultimately miss the point. My suspicion is that Dan Brown may be more concerned with the influential power of the myth than with trying to defend the historicity of his theory point by point. That being said Dan Brown does state in two seperate interviews taht he believes the theory he wrote about in the book to be historically true. I have personally ran into individuals who say that they gave up their faith after reading the book.
I would say that the book is gripping story to many of us and contains some intriguing cospiracy theories. I would add that the cultural connecting points are: anti-authoritarianism, radical egalitarianism, individualistic spirituality (this works itself out in a refusal to acknowledge any external authority in our day so that spirituality is dehistorisized), and salvation through ritualized sexual experimentation to name a few. The conflict in story revolves around whether Jesus can be saved from the political/religious authorities who have turned him into a narrow minded, transcendent (heavenly minded), moralistic, women hating, icon.
I think that each one of these claims raises questions and concerns that orthodox christianity must speak to but without being shamed into compromise regarding the radical claims of Jesus and the New Testament. The fact that so many people resonate with the book should cause us to reflect.
Lastly, I think that the popularity of the half truths of the Da Vinci Code have something to do with George W. Bush. If you add up the letters of Bush’s name using the Hebrew alphabet and multiply that number by 666 you get the same total number as do if you use Constantine’s name.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 30, 2005 at 12:53 am


Bill,
I’m convinced, but only because of the last point.



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Brad Boydston

posted December 1, 2005 at 1:31 am


The DaVinci Code is popular because:
1. People enjoy it as a good read.
2. It resonates with the values and emphases of the current culture. That is, we’re trying to reinvent the church and history in our own image — into something more palatable. In spite of the recent scandals people are still drawn to Jesus and the church and deep inside they are hoping to “redeem” them — to reconstruct them into something more in line with their sensibilities. The conspiracy stuff and the intrigue is simply a vehicle to convey the core myth which affirms what we’ve become.
3. It has been marketed well.



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Andrea Meyer

posted December 2, 2005 at 3:40 pm


The hope I take from the DaVinci Code hoopla, amidst the despair over the critical-analysis skills of too many among us, is that a) People do want to believe in something more, which I think is justified in light of our failure to fully live into our calling as the body of Christ, and b) They want it within what they perceive (although we might disagree) as Christianity.



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Lesa Bellevie

posted December 3, 2005 at 5:14 am


Scot, I’m so relieved to see that someone will be addressing these questions rather than focusing on refuting the history. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about DVC in the form of mailing lists, discussion groups, and random unsolicited opinions, and have gathered this: there is a nebulous “ring of truth” in the book that resonates with people whether or not the reader is prone to believing conspiracy theories.
From what I’ve observed, it seems that the “god-shaped hole” that has been spoken of so frequently in Christianity is actually more “goddess-shaped” for many. A perceived spiritual void exists and Brown has filled it by offering up Mary Magdalene as a venerable holy woman more sacred than a saint. Of course, this wasn’t his idea; Margaret Starbird is almost solely responsible for the concept of Mary Magdalene as the “lost feminine” so frequently lamented in Western psychology and mythology.
The concept of the “lost feminine” has been written about a great deal already; we could view the current DVC craze as yet another installment in a well-documented progression of mythology. However, Starbird and Brown have turned it upside down; instead of the Mary Magdalene/Jesus/Holy Grail story being another installment of a not-uncommon myth, they have chosen to explain all preceding “lost feminine” myth as a kind of residual absence of Mary Magdalene. It’s quite fascinating, really, to see all of this happening from a detatched vantage point.
(BTW, I know you don’t know me; for the record, I don’t subscribe to the belief that Jesus and MM were married. I just spend a great deal of time analyzing the different perspectives of MM currently in circulation. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve contributed to this thread.)



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Scot McKnight

posted December 3, 2005 at 8:37 am


Lesa,
Your points are good ones, and I agree about Starbird — her books are at the heart of the craze.



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