Sunday, May 21, 2006

James Martin, SJ, on “The Da Vinci Code”

Via Commonweal, a CNN interview with Jesuit James Martin, discussing the movie “The Da Vinci Code.”
Martin: As a moviegoer I found it really tedious and really long, and as a priest, I found it really anti-Catholic, so not a good combination in my book.

CNN: All right, but did you feel that it was blasphemous, or did you feel that it was just a murder mystery based on a fiction novel?

Martin: Well, it’s based on a novel, obviously, but it crams all the anti-Catholic stereotypes it can into the movie. You have the evil Opus Dei monk, you have the conniving bishop, you have people murdering, the Vatican covering things up, perpetrating this lie. The only way it could have been any more anti-Catholic is if they had slapped a subtitle saying “the Catholic Church is evil” through the whole movie —

CNN: Oh, Father! Don’t you think that because it’s so over the top, it will dispel all the worries that this is going to change people’s vision of Christianity?

Martin: The problem is that Dan Brown and his admirers have been presenting him and his book as if it is fact. He says that it’s based on historical research, and a lot of people I talk to, like the woman you just quoted [in the intro to the segment], say it’s objective. They’re trying to have it both ways. They’re saying it’s based on research but that it’s all just fiction. So I think it will end up confusing some people, unfortunately.

CNN: Well, director Ron Howard basically says, look, if you don’t like the story, don’t go see it, and author Dan Brown is starting to come out and speak about it. Take a look at what he had to say [plays video clip of Brown saying]: “A very wise British priest noted recently in the press, ‘Christian theology has survived the writings of Galileo and the writings of Darwin, surely it will survive the writings of some novelist from New Hampshire.’” There you go. It kinda makes sense. What’s your response?

Martin: That’s a pretty thin response to bigotry. It’s like saying, hey, I’m going to open up a restaurant that doesn’t serve blacks or Jews and if you don’t like it don’t come. . . . People should have the guts to stand up and say either I don’t believe in the Catholic Church or I do, but to hide behind this veil of fiction is really bologna.

CNN: But, Father, at the same time, you just said it was over the top, and honestly, I’ve seen the movie, and it didn’t change my view of Christianity. I thought it was just a movie. So don’t you think that by seeing this movie people are going to realize, yeah, it’s just a movie. It’s not reality.

Martin: It’s like the Oliver Stone movie JFK. It’s so artfully presented that a lot of people are going to leave the movie theater and say, that’s the way it was. . . . If you’re dealing with people who know a lot about church history, great, but a lot of people don’t, and in this vacuum comes what I call the theological equivalent of junk food.

CNN: The fortunate thing is that at least it’s getting people to research Christianity and its roots?

Martin: You would hope so, but if you look at the New York Times bestseller list, you see a lot of books like the Jesus Papers and Holy Blood, Holy Grail. They’re going from one bit of junk food to another. They’re not going to go out and buy a book of church history; they’re going to buy another Dan Brown novel.

CNN: Very quickly, you’ve had a little fun with this. Yesterday, you were leaving awfully quickly, you stumbled across a reporter, and what did you say?

Martin: I said that I had to rush home because, like all priests and monks, I have to go assassinate somebody.

CNN: Oh, goodness, Father! You can’t talk like that. I’m praying for you, okay?

Martin: Thank you, I’m praying for you, too.

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