One danger of thinking you are clever is that you might not be. Maureen Dowd excells in misjudging her catty, caustic cleverness, although it's apparently the lone talent her career rests upon. Take, for example, her most recent column, "The Vatican Code," which is filled with all sorts of clever nastiness directed at Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and his criticisms of The Da Vinci Code. Dowd writes:
But when you think of the history of the Catholic Church, the Vatican is acting with lightning speed. It took the church more than 350 years to reverse its condemnation of Galileo. The Vatican only began an inquisition of the 16th-century Inquisition in 1998. It wasn't until the reign of Pope John Paul II that the Vatican apologized for the crimes of the Crusaders and offered contrition for the silence of Catholics in the Holocaust. The church has still not apologized for shameful dissembling by its hierarchy on the sex abuse scandal. And America's Catholic bishops only last week announced they were finally going to get serious about opposing the death penalty.
Obviously facts don't mean much to Dowd: Pope John Paul II never "offered contrition for the silence of Catholics in the Holocaust," mostly because Pope Pius XII, according to The New York Times (back in 1942-3), was the "lone voice" in Europe crying out against the murderous Nazi rampage against the Jews (Pius would save some 850,000 Jews from death). As for the death penalty, let's just say that her ignorance of the lengthy and ongoing debate among Catholics about the matter is only equalled by her ignorance of, well, quite a few topics.
As for the Coded Craziness, she writes:
After whipping you into a feminist frenzy over the hidden agenda of the church's unjustly perpetuating itself as an all-male, all "celibate" institution - precepts that have clearly led to some unnatural perversions and attracted a disproportionate number of priests fleeing sexual confusion - Mr. Brown abruptly deflates you at the end, going along with the notion that women should stay silent and submissive, letting the men who run the church continue to run the church with men.
The woman who is the descendant of Mary Magdalene and Jesus tells Robert Langdon, Mr. Brown's Harvard symbologist hero, that the secret saga of how the church smeared her ancestor as a slut and swindled all women out of serious roles in the church does not need to be aired. It can continue to remain a secret.
"Her story is being told in art, music and books," the woman says, adding that things are gradually changing for women: "We are beginning to sense the need to restore the sacred feminine."
No whistle is blown. No alarm is sounded. Talk about an anticlimax for a fantastic ride. As it turns out, Mr. Brown is not the tormentor of the Vatican, but an ally.
Really? No. This is just thin cleverness which crumbles quickly under the weight of reality (perhaps the Times should consider piping some reality into its offices). How is it that restoring the "sacred feminine," which is based in the belief that the Church is a male-dominated, woman-hating, superstitious cult, aligns so nicely and peacefully with Catholicism? Just because the novel sounds some soft notes towards its laughable conclusion (Robert Langdon has an ecstatic encounter with the spirit of the gnostic Mary Magdalene and experiences "a sudden upwelling of reverence" and falls to his knees--to worship?), hardly makes its author an ally of the Vatican. On the contrary, part of the appeal of the novel's conclusion is that this supposedly warm and fuzzy form of spirituality is so much more appealing than the rigid, nasty, narrowminded silliness the Catholic Church teaches. So, on page 407, readers are told that "the Church has two thousand years of experience pressuring those who threaten to unveil its lies. ... The Church may no longer employ crusaders to slaughter non-believers, but their influence is no less persuasive. No less insidious." Yep, sounds likes a real love-fest.
Dowd's flippancy, I think, is partially the result of the fact that she is naturally flippant about everything she doesn't like or understand--and the list of those things is very, very long. And it's certainly because she misjudges (or simply doesn't care about) the impact and influence of Dan Brown's novel (remember, it's "just a novel!"). No surprise there, in the end, since no amount of cleverness can make up for lack of comprehension.