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Interview With Apologist Mark Shea

SEATTLE, Washington, FEB. 24, 2006 (Zenit) - Millions have read "The Da Vinci Code" and many are expected to see the movie version when it is released May 19.

That is why Mark Shea and Ted Sri -- an apologist and theology professor, respectively -- have co-authored "The Da Vinci Deception", a guide that reveals the fact and fiction behind "The Da Vinci Code."

Shea shared with us the main inaccuracies in the "Code" book, and why they threaten the faith of Christians.

Q: What compelled the writing of this book?

Shea: The short answer is that tens of millions of people have read "The Da Vinci Code" and many have had their faith in Christ and the Catholic Church shaken. This blasphemous book has become a major cultural phenomenon, largely by attacking the very person and mission of Jesus Christ. It must be addressed.

The longer answer is that "The Da Vinci Code" has become the source for what I call "pseudo-knowledge" about the Christian faith.

Pseudo-knowledge is that stuff "everybody knows," such as the "fact" that Humphrey Bogart said "Play it again, Sam" -- except he didn't. Pseudo-knowledge doesn't matter much when the issue is the script of "Casablanca."

It matters greatly when it adversely affects the most sacred beliefs of a billion people, and when it levels the charge that the Catholic Church is essentially a vast "Murder Incorporated" network founded on maintaining the lie of Jesus' divinity and resurrection.

When that happens, very nasty genies get let out of bottles, as when the lies recorded by 19th-century czarist secret police forgers in the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" became the basis for what "everybody knew" about the Jews in the terrible anti-Semitic persecutions of the 20th century.

"The Da Vinci Code" has sold close to 30 million copies. In May, it will appear as a major film and will acquire even more unquestioned authority among millions of historically and theologically illiterate viewers -- unless Christians state the facts and help viewers recognize just how badly they've been had.

The Da Vinci Outreach initiative, led by Catholic Exchange and Ascension Press, will equip Catholics and all people of good will with resources to help them respond to this movie.

Those who say, "It's just a story," simply do not understand that this deception is part of the book's power. People often receive through fiction what they would be on guard against in reasoned debate.

And this is particularly true as Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code," has actually stated he would not change any of his basic assertions if he were writing nonfiction. Brown means for us to understand that his claims about the origins are Christianity are true.

Q: What are the main inaccuracies found in the "The Da Vinci Code"?

Shea: Let me count the ways. Blunders include factual errors and outright lies, large and small, about practically every subject Brown addresses in art, history and theology. He purports that bogus documents that even his questionable sources repudiate are factual.

He claims Leonardo Da Vinci doesn't give Jesus a chalice in his painting "The Last Supper" in order to hint that Mary Magdalene is the true chalice who held the "blood of Jesus" -- i.e., his child -- despite the fact there are 13 cups in the painting.

He chatters about the meaning of an Aramaic word in the Gnostic gospel of Philip, oblivious to the fact it's written in Coptic.

He calls Mary Magdalene the victim of a Catholic smear campaign without pausing to wonder why she's a Catholic saint.

He blames "the Vatican" for various plots and conspiracies that are alleged to have taken place centuries before there was any Vatican to plot them.

And, of course, in the biggest lie of them all, he declares that nobody before the year A.D. 325 thought of Jesus as anything other than a "mortal prophet" until Constantine muscled the Council of Nicaea into declaring him God "by a relatively close vote."

Of course, he does not stop to ask why, if Jesus was just a "mortal prophet," he bothered founding a Church at all -- nor what the Church was about for the first 300 years if nobody was worshipping Jesus as God.

Q: How do these inaccuracies challenge the Church, her teachings and the person of Jesus Christ?

Shea: Brown is attempting to establish a neo-pagan feminist creation myth. The basic myth is: Jesus was actually a feminist, agog for neo-paganism. The Church supposedly covered up all this with lies about his divinity. Brown's point here is: Let's get back to goddess worship as Jesus intended.

This laughably baseless claim is, of course, utterly contrary to the facts about Jesus. But many in our overly credulous and historically illiterate culture believe it. So Catholics must undertake to catechize not just themselves but their families, friends and neighbors, or they can expect this dangerous myth to continue spreading.

Q: Why is there a concern about Catholics -- and everyone else, for that matter -- viewing "The Da Vinci Code" movie without a discerning eye and solid background information?

Shea: Because it's written with the express intention of destroying faith in Jesus Christ and replacing it with neo-pagan goddess worship.

The problem is the average reader does not know "The Da Vinci Code" actually makes you more stupid about art, history, theology and comparative religion.

"The Da Vinci Deception" and Da Vinci Outreach are there to educate readers on the quite deliberate falsehoods -- as well as ignorant blunders -- that fill the story. We are also including a resource aimed at educating high school students and helping them to tune their "bunk detectors" to Brown's wavelength.

Q: The recent backlash by Muslims against cartoons on Mohammed seems to signal rising tensions between religion and society. What do you think of the timing of this movie?

Shea: Undoubtedly, the promoters of the movie will attempt to characterize Catholic complaints about "The Da Vinci Code's" assassination of the facts as identical to radical Islamist threats to free speech.

The problem with this claim, of course, is that the Church does not condone burning down buildings or threatening people with death, even when they lie about Christ. We simply and politely request that the creators of "The Da Vinci Code" to not palm off scurrilous lies as fact.

Western manufacturers of culture are always braver about smearing the Church than in confronting radical Islam because, as they know perfectly well, the Vatican does not issue "fatwas" or death threats.

Q: How do you hope this book informs those who plan on going to the film "The Da Vinci Code"?

Shea: "The Da Vinci Deception" breaks down in simple terms the basic pattern of lies Brown deploys in "The Da Vinci Code" so that the reader can clearly see the clockwork going on behind this novel.

The book is broken into 100 questions -- as was our previous book, "A Guide to the Passion" -- that walk the reader through the skillful weave of Brown's very artful falsehoods and show you why it's such a scam. Once you understand Brown's game, you start to realize that it is Brown -- not the Catholic faith -- that is taking people for a ride.

We are confident enough in our book that we would, in fact, urge people to go to the film after having read it -- the better to help deluded family members, friends and neighbors see through the scam.

Q: Why are people taking Dan Brown's novels so seriously? In Rome there are even guided tours retracing the places covered in his book "Angels and Demons."

Shea: "The Da Vinci Code" is yet another manifestation of what I call "the latest Real Jesus"; every generation tends to discover the latest Real Jesus.

A hundred years ago, Albert Schweitzer discovered that the Real Jesus was a Social Gospel Protestant. In the booming 1920s, people found that Jesus was actually a poster boy for salesmanship. In the 1930s, the Nazis discovered a Real Jesus who was Aryan, not Jewish, while the Communists discovered a Jesus who was actually the first Marxist.

In the 1960s, the Real Jesus was found to be a flower child in "Godspell" and a devotee of hallucinogenic mushrooms -- which explains all the visions and miracles nicely. In the 1970s, the Real Jesus was found to be a "superstar" as per the diktats of rock culture.

In the 1980s, he appeared on the scene to promise health and wealth and to heal your inner child -- that's when he wasn't suffering existential crises, grappling with his libido and riddled by self-doubt, rather like a self-absorbed baby boomer, in "The Last Temptation of Christ."

In the 1990s, he was suddenly discovered to be an enthusiastic homosexual in the blasphemous play "Corpus Christi."

Today, we live in a culture obsessed with the sex lives of the rich and famous, credulous about vast conspiracy theories, brimming with half-baked notions about paganism and feminism, and hostile to traditional notions of both reason and authority.

By some unfathomable coincidence, Dan Brown has discovered a Real Jesus who perfectly reflects this broad cultural mood. And when people believe things based on such a mood, particularly evil things, this is dangerous to their faith.

"The Da Vinci Deception" is designed precisely to help people stop taking "The Da Vinci Code" so seriously. Happily, Dan Brown and company have made things easy for us in that department.

His book is so laughably bad, its claims so easily and demonstrably false, the whole thing so silly, that debunking takes on a rather gleeful quality -- which is, I think, only fitting. The best cure for "The Da Vinci Code" is, in the end, hearty gales of well-informed laughter.

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