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The Truth Behind 'The Da Vinci Code'

3/15/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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Carl Olson Analyzes the Controversial, Confusing Best Seller

EUGENE, Oregon, MARCH 15, 2004 (Zenit) - It's a work of fiction, but many readers think that they are finding "truth" in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code."

Christians are getting duped, too -- many thinking that is a harmless book that enriches their faith. That's why Carl Olson is writing a book with Sandra Miesel called "The Da Vinci Hoax" (Ignatius), due out this summer.

Olson, who is editor of Envoy magazine, shared how his book exposes and critiques the numerous errors in "The Da Vinci Code," and analyzes what the novel's success indicates about America's cultural and religious landscape.

Q: Why do you feel compelled to decipher "The Da Vinci Code"?

Olson: Last August a friend called and told me, in a rather agitated tone, "You have to read this novel." He had been given "The Da Vinci Code" as a birthday gift; as he read it, he recognized it was full of error and had a strong bias against the Catholic Church.

Because of my work in apologetics, he thought I should be aware of the novel, since it was receiving critical acclaim and selling so well -- now more than 6 million copies.

When I looked at the sales figures and began reading reviews, I saw his point. The novel was -- and still is -- generating a lot of controversy and confusion. Although a work of fiction, it is being touted by many as a historically accurate, factual portrayal of early Christianity and the Catholic Church. So I bought a copy, got out a red pen and went to work.

At this same time, medieval historian and journalist Sandra Miesel sent me a copy of her excellent review of "The Da Vinci Code" for Crisis Magazine.

I also began receiving e-mails from Envoy readers about the novel: Should they read it? How could they respond to it? Is it accurate?

So I asked Sandra if she would work with me on some online articles and on a book, which became "The Da Vinci Hoax."

The goal is twofold: to expose and critique the numerous errors in "The Da Vinci Code," and to present the truth about the early Church, Catholicism, medieval history, and a host of other topics. We also analyze the success of the novel and discuss what it indicates about the cultural and religious landscape.

Q: What are the primary theological problems with "The Da Vinci Code"?

Olson: The novel is based on a variety of esoteric, neo-Gnostic and feminist beliefs that are in direct opposition to Christianity. Much has been made of the novel's claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Beneath the surface are belief systems teaching that Christianity is a violent and bloody lie, that the Catholic Church is a sinister and misogynist institution, and that truth is ultimately the creation and product of each person.

Dan Brown, the author of the novel, has readily admitted in interviews that most of the ideas in "The Da Vinci Code" are not original to him. The intellectual, ideological and spiritual heritage of "The Da Vinci Code" can be traced back many decades, even centuries.

The novel is hardly as innovative or cutting edge as some readers think it is. As our articles and book demonstrate, Brown has taken the majority of his ideas from a handful of recent, popular books that are filled with conspiracy theories, skewed depictions of Catholic theology and often outlandish and unsubstantiated claims about historical events and persons.

In the end, what Brown has accomplished is the creation of a popular myth that distills and presents statements of belief in a way that is not demanding, but entertaining and attractive.

This myth works on more than one level, being a mystery novel, a romance, a thriller, a conspiracy theory and a spiritual manifesto, all at once.

One attraction is that it promises a sort of gnosis -- or secret knowledge -- about a number of topics and suggests that subjective individualism, not traditional religion, holds the real answers to life's big questions.

The sad irony is that some Catholics think the novel is a wonderful work of literature that can somehow help them explore and understand their faith better. But the novel is based on the belief that Jesus was a mere man, that Christianity is a despicable sham and that all claims to objective religious truth are to be avoided.

Q: The novel features an opening page titled "Fact," which states: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." You have found many things in this book that are not accurate by any means. What are the foundations of these errors? What are their dangers?

Olson: The widespread acceptance of most of Brown's claims ...

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