Somewhere on my "to-do" list for the year -- No. 116, No. 117 or something like that, right after "rearrange sock drawer" -- is when I picked up Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" to ascertain, if possible, why a whacked-out account of Christian origins has earnest people debating the whacked-out implications.
The inevitable movie version, produced by Sony, comes out in May. We're agog to know what people will think of seeing -- not just reading about, but seeing -- Jesus depicted marrying Mary Magdalene and having children with her, and a Catholic lay organization depicted murdering folks so as to keep the secret.
Hoping to head off a Christian backlash, Sony has created two websites: www.thedavincichallenge.com and www.thedavincidialogue.com. The material features short commissioned essays by Christian writers opining on the novel's plot. There's additional information on the Bible and some material noting differences in the gospels' accounts -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Dan. The Gospel of Dan is now the hot property -- 40 million copies sold -- and not a patch on the four evangelists, but of course, they had a 2000-year head start.
Meanwhile, a civil trial in London goes forward, its purpose being to ascertain Brown's liability, if any, for using in his novel the structure of another book that posits the Jesus-Magdalene connection. All this on top of "The Passion of the Christ"! The idea spreads fast through our society that this Jesus of Nazareth was some guy.
Nor have Christians ever pretended he was anything but colossal. The Nicene Creed, from the fourth century A.D., gives this classic account: "only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light..." Not to mention, "incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary." Not to mention either, following that episode on the cross, "he rose again," according to the scriptures, and "shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead..."
Pretty stout stuff. How "The Da Vinci Code" threatens to mess up the Second Coming is not automatically apparent. I think the nervousness in Christian circles about "The Code" and its implications stems as much as anything from nervousness about Christianity's centrality in a world where faith and foolishness rub elbows daily.