A telltale moment in "The Da Vinci Code" points like a cryptogram to the real secret meaning behind the novel.
The hero, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor about to publish a nonfiction book claiming Mary Magdalene is the "real" Holy Grail, and the heroine, Sophie Neveu, who is "really" a direct descendent of Jesus and his wife, Mary Magdalene, are fleeing Paris because bulldog police captain Bezu Fache mistakenly believes Langdon murdered Louvre curator Jacques Sauniere.
Sauniere, it turns out, headed a secret society that for centuries has preserved documents that prove Christ was solely a mortal man, that Christianity is a fraud, and that the true religion requires mankind to embrace environmentalism and worship the "divine feminine" through ritualistic fornication in damp, dark places.
Verily, this was a book written for the tastes of Hollywood. (Wait! That's not the secret meaning. It's just an obvious clue.)
So, as they are pursued by the menacing police captain -- who wears his Catholicism on his tie in the form of a jewel-studded crucifix -- Sophie frets about the notoriety she and Robert are about to get.
"Robert, has it occurred to you that every television in France is probably getting ready to broadcast our pictures?" asks Sophie.
Robert, however, thinking of his publisher, sees the bright side: "Every time Langdon made the news, his book sales jumped."
Yes, here is where illuminati of the publishing cult will say, "Ah ha!"
Smart publishers know a good way to sell books is to spark controversy -- although you don't need to murder a Louvre curator to do it. Better to have your author pick a fight with a powerful, well-known person.
No one has done this better than author Dan Brown and the publishers of "The Da Vinci Code." They picked a fight with the Son of God.
Purely from a marketing perspective, Brown's attack on Jesus was an act of genius. His novel has sold more than 40 million copies. Even if the movie version flops, it will spur book sales.
Don't get me wrong. It can be a public service to execute a marketing strategy aimed at selling a book through controversy. Picking fights with the famous and formidable can be a moral duty. The courage to speak truth to power is indispensable for anyone seeking to advance our culture through written words.
But the key word here is "truth."
Speaking lies to spark a controversy may sell books, but it also breaks a law written even before Mary Magdalene was born: "Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."