Isn't "destroy" too grand a word for a Tom Hanks entertainment? Maybe, but this thriller is mounting the powerful argument that Christianity is rotten to the core, based on lies and political conspiracy. It is surely one of the most effective attacks on Christian faith in generations. One of the cardinals at the Vatican said, in effect, we've had this kind of assault before, but not addressed to such a large audience of religious illiterates and uncritical minds.
Sony and director Ron Howard repeatedly brushed off requests for a disclaimer at the beginning of the film. But disclaimers are common in stories that liberally mix fact and fiction, and there should have been one here. Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" had one, mostly in gibberish, and in that story Jesus is merely tempted to consort with Mary Magdalene. He doesn't marry her and raise a long line of European royals.
The handling of Opus Dei was crude as well. The organization has a controversial and somewhat spooky image even within Catholicism, yet it gave great access to the best reporter at the Vatican, John Allen, for his recent book "Opus Dei." Allen's book was ambivalent, but gave Opus Dei credit for much good work. Among its many activities, the Opus Dei operates 15 universities. The group's bent is authoritarian, but it is not the sinister and murderous cult depicted in "The Da Vinci Code." Using a fictional name would have been fairer.
So the calls for the movie to be banned, or at least boycotted, are understandable, but wrongheaded. But where is the muscular pro-censorship lobby that usually leaps into action whenever "hate speech" is detected? After all, eccentric historian David Irving is sitting in an Austrian prison for two speeches he gave denying the Holocaust. Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk narrowly escaped prosecution for "denigrating Turkishness," i.e., he thought the slaughter of Armenians by Turks during World War I was genocide. And a Swedish pastor was convicted (though cleared on appeal) of violating a hate crime law that specifically included sermons against homosexuality as hate speech.