13 June 2004

The Da Vinci Cash Cow

It's been a while since I've been in a real, books-and-mortar bookstore, as opposed to lurking around Amazon.com. But last night Tina and I stopped by our local Barnes and Noble while we had time to kill between dinner and a movie. I wandered, as is my custom, into the Religion section. Holy crap! I was rather shocked and a little dismayed to see what The Da Vinci Code had done to my favorite corner of the bookstore.

Bullshit to the right of me! "Ah," thought I. "A book from the religious right on how The Da Vinci Code is wrong and evil and full of hate and lies. I thought I'd heard that someone had written one of those." (I always thought "lies" was more or less a synonym for "fiction", and everybody knew that, but that's just me.) "Oh look--another one. And another one." There must have been 6 or 8 of them, just counting the ones that were turned cover-out because the book vendors thought they'd be top sellers. The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code! Cracking Da Vinci's Code! Breaking the Da Vinci Code! De-Coding Da Vinci! Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? (not to be confused with Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code.) The Da Vinci Hoax! (No, all the titles don't have exclamation points, but they might as well.) Boy, it sure is a good thing for these guys and their publishers that Dan Brown wrote that evil, evil book.

Bullshit to the left of me! Then I started to notice the other books of "scholarship" that were newly in abundance. Most of them didn't make direct reference to the Code in their titles, but they picked up on themes in the book and took them out into left field, up over the fence, out through the atmosphere, and for a nice giddy jaunt around the moon. Now, just to be clear, I finished reading the Code a week ago, and I quite enjoyed it as an exciting thriller, though I thought the so-called experts in symbology and cryptology were pretty slow on the uptake in figuring out some fairly obvious puzzles. But they were operating on very little sleep. Also, I had read a bunch about the book on the internet before reading it, and I had probably heard about the use of such things as anagrams and reverse writing beforehand. In any event, there was much in the book (religious history, art history, etc.) that, even given my limited knowledge, I could tell was pulled out of Mr. Brown's left ear, or some such orifice. That's his prerogative as a writer of fiction, and he used that time-honored craft to great effect--it really is a fun read. But now I'm seeing "scholarly" treatises on how Jesus and Mary of Magdala did indeed marry, have kids, and joyfully worship the Goddess together along with the "real" early Christians after the faked crucifixion. It's proved! We've got facts!

Right. Actually, I'm more amused than disturbed by all of this. Good clean fun, for the most part, though I don't have much patience for people (left or right) who take what they know to be bullshit and present it as fact. And I have only slightly more tolerance for people who take stuff based on the thinnest of evidence and present that as the Gospel truth and make a bundle off it from people for whom their message has psychological or emotional appeal. There's fiction--it doesn't claim to be true or meaningful; it's just fun and maybe somewhat thought-provoking. Like The Da Vinci Code. There's myth--doesn't claim to be true (in the historical or scientific sense), but does claim to be meaningful, and many find meaning in it. Like much of religious literature. There's fact--stuff that overwhelming evidence indicates is probably true in the historical or scientific sense. Like, well, most of modern history and science writing. And then there's bullshit--stuff that claims to be fact while being based on scant evidence or on no evidence at all, or stuff that claims the status of myth but hasn't stood the test of time. A lot of the derivative Code books seem to fall into the last category--they present as truth claims that are based on myth or on "history" written before the modern concept of history was formed. (Both the Bible and the Gnostic scriptures fall largely into the categories of myth and premodern "history".) Sometimes these modern "truth" claims are based simply on fiction--whether it was made up in the first, 13th, 19th, or 21st centuries--stuff that people just invented and that doesn't really deserve the status of myth.

It's all fine, but I wish they'd have the good sense that Dan Brown did and call their nonsense a novel. Then all that crap would be in the fiction section instead of cluttering up my beloved religion shelves. ;-)

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