Excerpted from De-Coding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code with permission of Our Sunday Visitor.

If we had to find any good that's come out of The Da Vinci Code phenomenon, it's that it has stimulated a great deal of interest in important matters: who Jesus is, what early Christianity was all about, the power of art, and issues of gender and spirituality.

What's unfortunate is that the reading public has embraced the historical assertions made in The Da Vinci Code with such enthusiasm. This enthusiasm betrays a failure of sorts--a failure of churches of all kinds to communicate these very basic facts of history and Christian theology to its members. The credulity with which readers have embraced Brown's assertions that early Christians did not see Jesus as divine, and the general implication that the form and content of Christianity are the consequences of nothing more than base power struggles, should be a wake-up call to all involved in ministry.

What are we teaching people about Jesus? Anything?

Part of the problem is that churches have mostly avoided discussions about the complexity of the historical origins of Christian faith. The Da Vinci Code plays on the human aspect of Christian origins: the determination of the canon of Scripture, the doctrinal decisions of church councils--and shoves it all into a political paradigm.

Oh, the book fairly screams, you thought the Bible was given to you from On High? Well it wasn't--human beings rejected and accepted books. How can that not be politics as usual?

Of course, this is not news. Catholic theology embraces this interaction of human and divine and deals with it. But in recent decades, the points are rarely made from pulpits or in schools because, well, we'd all rather talk about being our best selves and finding financial peace.

Which then leaves a big fat opening for breathless theorizing. The history is there, it makes sense, and the orthodox Christian account is actually reasonable. But few in churches talk about it, so hardly anyone knows, and people report to me about life-long Catholics waving The Da Vinci Code in their faces and asking, "Did you know?!"

At the center of these issues stands, not just an issue, but a person: Jesus of Nazareth. I'm convinced that the reason so many of us have embraced the claims of The Da Vinci Code is because we've never seriously tried to get to know Jesus. Whether we are church-goers or not, we've stood at a distance from him, letting others tell us what to think about him, never bothering to read even a single gospel from beginning to end ourselves--and, in the end, absorbing the notion, so common in our culture, that it's all just a matter of opinion anyway, with no sure truth at the heart of it.

Well, as the witness of the earliest apostles makes brilliantly clear, this is not about opinions or myths or metaphors. Peter, Paul, and yes, Mary Magdalene, did not give their lives to a metaphor. They experienced Jesus as a human being--and, mysteriously and gloriously, as something more. They gave their lives--literally--to him and the grace-filled, abundant life with which they were filled.

Any negative effect of The Da Vinci Code lies in the fact that in all the talk about Jesus and his wife and the sacred feminine, and in all the speculation about the "real story," the Real Story is lost.

Jesus, crucified, died and risen, the One whose very real death and resurrection frees you from the power of your own very real sin and death, through whom creation and God are reconciled.

But then again, this story isn't really lost. It's not secret, either, and there's not a thing stopping any of us from discovering it.

Curious about Jesus? The truth is as close as a book on your shelf. And no, it's not The Da Vinci Code. Don't let a novelist with an agenda instruct you in the ways of faith. Go back to the beginning, and go to the source, pick up that Bible. You might be surprised at what you find.

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