Da Vinci Code and Catholic Communicators

The panelists who presented to the Catholic
communicators enlarged upon these inaccuracies and also discussed how the book
misrepresents Opus Dei, a movement that identifies itself as leading people to
see God in daily life through acts of faith.

The Da Vinci Code defames the Roman Catholic Church in the view of some Catholics, and according to others it creates a great opportunity to listen to lay persons whose curiosity has been stimulated.

These were some of the viewpoints expressed by an ecumenical panel at a workshop on the “Da Vinci Code: Fact, Fiction, Film & Faith,” held in Nashville during the Catholic Media Convocation, an assembly of Catholic communicators from around the country. I participated on the panel.

While some Protestants have criticized it for historical inaccuracies, Roman Catholics are offended that the book postulates a conspiracy by church leaders to deceive communicants by keeping part of Jesus’ life secret. Even as fiction, this makes it more offensive in the minds of some.

The panelists enlarged upon these inaccuracies and also discussed how the book misrepresents Opus Dei, a movement that identifies itself as leading people to see God in daily life through acts of faith.

Cliff Vaughan of the Baptist website EthicsDaily.com said the book appealed to a deep interest in conspiracy in the society. Ray Waddle, a writer who has been published by The Tennessean, the Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church and United Methodist Communications, agreed, and said the book gained momentum from recent exploration of the gnostic writings of the first two centuries of Christian history. He said it appeared in a “perfect storm” of cultural change, media emphasis and interest in conspiracy theories that gained popularity after publication of the Warren Commission Report of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in the seventies. He also noted that the book provides a more “poetic” presentation of church history, something the church could learn from. The Da Vinci Code reveals a hunger for compelling, poetic presentation of faith, he said.

Fr. Jim McDermott, SJ, popular culture contributor to AMERICA magazine, published in New York, told the workshop that the book also taps into a suspicion of leadership that has developed in the recent past. But he said his experience of three years teaching about the Code has led him to create settings for conversation rather than to lecture about the accuracy of its content. He told the group people want to talk about faith and they use the book to explore deeper concepts than the book’s content.

Some of the most vocal refutation of the book comes from Opus Dei, a religious membership organization of both laity and clergy unlike any group in Protestantism. Opus Dei has long been considered enigmatic by some and controversial by others, as TIME magazine notes. It is presented as a secret, manipulative organization in the book.

Brian Finnerty, director of U.S. Media Relations for Opus Dei, told the group about several learnings. He said they learned they could use the interest generated by the book to clarify misunderstandings about the organization and refute myths. They recognized that the Code controversy could be approached through humor as well as through serious critique. The book brought record numbers to the Opus Dei website and despite controversy this became an unusual opportunity for recruitment.

In addition, the conversation ranged from the marketing tactics used by Sony Pictures to generate buzz to a discussion about anti-institutional attitudes and mistrust of authority. It was revealing how popular culture intersects with the teachings of faith and it made for an energizing and enjoyable afternoon.

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