By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 8/13/2020
Posted: 5/16/2006
Topics/Keywords: #Movies #OpusDei #ReligiousPolitics Page Views: 3851
Catholic cray-cray group Opus Dei wants to remind us that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction. Well, duh..
The Da Vinci Code

By now there can't be many people who are unaware that the book and movie, The Da Vinci Code, is a thriller that proposes that Jesus survived the Crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene and had children, and that the Catholic prelature Opus Dei will stop at nothing—not even murder—to suppress this fact.

Personally, I found the book didn't convince me of either premise, although I very much enjoyed reading it and am looking forward to the movie, if only to see all those landmarks at which scenes take place!

But what's interesting is Opus Dei's reaction to the premise.

Opus Dei, a real organization within the Catholic Church, demanded that the book be issued with a disclaimer stating that it was a "work of fiction." Considering that even biographies such as JFK and The Reagans are generally considered to be fictional, it would seem that the fact that a thriller involving a "symbologist," a beautiful girl, and lots of chase scenes near breathtaking landmarks was a "work of fiction" would be self-evident.

But Opus Dei seems to have no sense of humor, which is to be expected in a religious group some of whose members engage in self-flagellation. Founded in 1928, the at-first-small group of laypersons and priests soon grew to be the international conservative conscience of the Catholic Church. There are those who say that the Ecumenical Council of Pope John XXIII would never have happened twenty years later, because by then Opus Dei's right-wing agenda and growing power would have prevented it.

It's easy to distinguish between right-wing and left-wing, whether in politics or religion: Left-wingers laugh at themselves as well as others. Right-wingers can only laugh at others; never themselves.

Rumors began almost immediately, claiming that Opus Dei was secretive; that their recruiting methods were over-enthusiastic and their habit of physical mortification medieval. They protested that any new idea inspired fear and loathing in the uninformed; but the secrecy was never lifted and people who managed to escape the clutches of Opus Dei told horror stories.

Still, today's most of Opus Dei's members are housewives and bus drivers, hardly the kind of people you'd expect to cause mayhem on behalf of religious principles they hold dear.

Except that today's Muslim suicide bombers are also housewives and bus drivers. It may be that the ordinary person is the most likely to cause mayhem on behalf of dearly-held religious principles; note that no Pope ever got on horseback to lead a crusade; and not only has President Bush not fired a gun in Iraq—or in any other war—not a single member of his extended family has, either.

Did the CIA demand that The Bourne Identity be labeled "fiction"? They aren't portrayed favorably in that or a dozen other films, but as far as I know they never got their sackcloth panties in a knot over it.

In any case, it's hard to imagine that any special effort was needed to promote this film. I mean, it's a Ron (Oscar winner) Howard film starring Tom (multi-Oscar-winner) Hanks. If it had been an adaptation of Green Eggs And Ham it would have been box office gold. But this is an adaptation of a book that was a world-wide bestseller, so popular that—as a book—it spun off countless explanations, guides, and debunkings.

Nevertheless, after author Dan Brown sold the movie rights, things got interesting. First, it turned out there was another book—non-fiction—called Holy Blood, Holy Grail that offered the same premise about Jesus and Mary Magdalene as Brown. In fact, Brown admitted having been inspired by Holy Blood, Holy Grail and gave its authors a token recognition in his story, as well as acknowledging them specifically.

Regardless, two of the non-fiction book's authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, sued publisher Random House claiming that Brown's book "appropriated the architecture" of theirs—and lost.

Or did they? Sales of both Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code skyrocketed during the trial, resulting in enough additional royalties to more than pay off the 1.3m the claimants were ordered to reimburse Random House. Which, interestingly enough, also published Brown's book.

So Random House made out very well…far better than if no one had sued them. And so did the authors of both books.

Even a person who doesn't see conspiracies everywhere, would be hard-pressed not to wonder whether the whole lawsuit wasn't a clever ploy to generate free publicity and innumerable book sales—just in time to also plug the movie.

For a person who does see conspiracies everywhere, The Da Vinci Code is a goldmine of them. And I don't mean in the book or movie—I mean in the marketing of both.

Non-Catholic Christian churches don't care about Opus Dei, but they are concerned that people might believe the idea of Jesus' surviving the Crucifixion and having children. (These are the same people who say that when the Bible refers to Jesus' brother James, it doesn't really mean Jesus' brother, James.) Their reaction has been interesting, though—even enlightened. Instead of trying to prevent people from going to the movie, they are encouraging people to go—and then to talk about it! (Preferably at next Sunday's service.) Well, I think this is a good idea. And I bet Sony Pictures does, too; the banners I've seen at most of the churches near my home must have been produced by the studio. They have a beautifully printed snippet of the Mona Lisa (the movie's logo) and a place for the church's custom message. In my neighborhood, the banners are placed along the roadside; you can't miss 'em.

In other words, these churches, which might have persuaded parishioners to miss the film, are instead providing free advertising for the movie! Darned clever, these Hollywood folk.

By contrast, Archbishop Angelo Amato, the number two official in the Vatican doctrinal office which was headed by Pope Benedict until his election last year, called the book "stridently anti-Christian" and urged, "I hope that you all will boycott the film."

Wow. Sounds like strong words, until you remember that a similar directive regarding The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988 resulted in box office records.

In any case, in a bizarre response to a British poll that showed that 60% of the people who read The Da Vinci Code believed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene did have children together, compared to 30% who didn't; and 17% of readers believed Opus Dei had "ever" carried out a murder, compared to 4% non-readers, Austin Ivereigh, press secretary to Britain's top Catholic prelate Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and a member of Opus Dei, accused Dan Brown of "dishonest marketing based on peddling fiction as fact." Now, remember Brown had just won a lawsuit entirely on the basis of his book being fiction. But Ivereigh then said that Brown and film studio Sony Pictures "have encouraged people to take it seriously while hiding behind the claim that it is fiction."

Well, then, what is it? Fiction masquerading as fact, or fact masquerading as fiction? The whole Jesus story, whether canonical or not, is neither; it lies in that netherworld of maybes. What little proof there is that Jesus existed at all, is ambiguous; the evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married is also, at best, ambiguous.

It seems to me that only Opus Dei is confused about whether The Da Vinci Code is fact or fiction. And since the only provable element in the book is the nature of Opus Dei, it makes me wonder if the facts Opus Dei is so concerned about, are the ones they've tried so many years to convince others are lies.

On the other hand, if they really didn't want people to buy tickets to the movie, they'd do like the CIA and just keep their mouths shut. For my money, it just looks like they're in league with Sony, ready to share in a little of the gold in this lode. And since the controversy has resulted in record numbers of hits to Opus Dei's website, it looks like they, too, stand to benefit, in recruitments and donations, from the Da Vinci mine.

Well, it would be foolish of me to miss out on all this. Da Vinci Code's main character, symbologist Robert Langdon has brown hair. I have brown hair, and I once thought of becoming a symbologist. Obviously "Langdon" is patterned after me. Where's my lawyer? Thar's gold in them thar pages!