Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Marquette Theologian on “The Da Vinci Code”

When the Journal-Sentinel wanted somebody to discuss The Da Vinci Code they turned to Marquette’s Professor Robert Masson.

In a bit of rash rhetorical excess, they compared him to “Robert Langdon,” the fictional hero of the book.

But Masson is a scholar, and while he approaches the novel (now a movie) with equanimity, he isn’t at all taken with the whole enterprise.
Masson takes a good-natured but critical view of Brown’s work, which he sees as not only factually flawed, but also philosophically flawed.

“Somebody referred to ‘The Da Vinci Code’ as a ‘factish novel,’” he said. “There isn’t much historical fact behind it. It’s fiction like Harry Potter and Dr. No and James Bond and ‘Star Trek.’ He’s writing a novel, and if you take it as a novel, it’s not so damaging. The problem is that a lot of people don’t get the difference.”
Masson has no trouble with the idea that a painting such as “The Last Supper” may contain symbolism, but sees that as beside the point, and doesn’t think the symbols point to some hidden truth.
“In [author] Brown’s narrative world, religious truths are encoded as secrets and puzzles, and indeed, much of the narrative plot, as well as the engagement of readers who get caught up in it, is driven by the allure of solving the puzzle and getting to the bottom of the secret. That’s the kind of game Brown’s hero is playing. He’s running around trying to solve puzzles and treating religion as though it’s a puzzle and then he adds to it the whole conspiracy theme.”

But religious thought isn’t a detective novel, Masson said. “We’re not talking about clues or puzzles.”
Treating religion the way hobbyists treat (say) the Kennedy assassination, as a puzzle to be solved, is simply wrong-headed.

It’s especially wrong-headed when, as in the case of the JFK assassination, people refuse to accept the solution because playing the game is more fun than believing the truth.


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