Cute headline, isn't it? It's from The Times (England), which reports that "the Vatican has appointed a top cardinal to rebut what it says are the lies, distortions and errors in Dan Brown’s bestselling thriller The Da Vinci Code." The Cardinal in question is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa. The piece is rather humorous, especially in making little digs at the Church for going after a book that is, don't you know, just fiction. For example:
• "The appointment of Cardinal Bertone, 70, is a clear sign that the Vatican has been rattled by the continuing worldwide success of Brown’s thriller..." Really? Couldn't it be a sign that the Vatican is concerned for the salvation of silly people who read the novel and actually believe its historical and theological claims are true?
• "[Cardinal Bertone] will seek to debunk the conspiracy theories at the heart of the plot..." Yeah, that will be tough [eyes rolling]. I hear the novel is an incredible work of scholarship, full of $5 words and backed up by lots of lousy writing. However, rumor has it that someone in the U.S. has already written "the definitive debunking" of the novel...
• "A perceived blurring of fact and fiction has caused the Vatican to act." Hmmm. "Perceived," as in: "I perceived that it's colder at the North Pole than in the Sahara Desert" and "Some folks have perceived that there is a blurring between fact and opinion in the mainstream media"?
• "[The Da Vinci Code] has spawned numerous spin-off books, including The Da Vinci Hoax and The Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code." The Da Vinci Hoax was not spawned by The Da Vinci Code. Pah-leeze! That's like saying a five-star restaurant was spawned by White Castle or that Kenny G. spawned James Carter's saxophone playing. Cringe.
Meanwhile, IgnatiusInsight.com reader Steve sent this humorous and sad anecdote:
So you think you've had it tough? Last year I took off on my first major overseas tour, backpacking by train through Southern Europe for six weeks. The last part I was joined by my second daughter who was reading—yep, you guessed it. In London I stayed with my eldest son and guess what he recommended as a good read? Yep, you guessed it. I arrive back home and my eldest daughter breathlessly informs me of something I would enjoy reading. At least the last two still at home are too busy to read such poorly written crap.
Now, now, Steve. Keep in mind that it's just fiction. In the meantime, if your children mysteriously disappear, you can safely assume that Opus Dei has kidnapped them and is deprogramming them in the bowels of the dark and dreaded Vatican...
Update #1: BBC News is reporting that a spokesman has "denied reports that the clergyman [Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone] was asked by the Vatican to hit back at the book. Carlo Arcolao told the BBC's News website that it had been the cardinal's own decision to make a public statement about the book." So, it's not "The Vatican vs. The Code," but "The Cardinal and The Code." Oh, wait, that's already been used.
Update #2: United Press International has a cobbled, confused piece, "Vatican draws bead on 'The Da Vinci Code'", which states: "The Vatican is joining a host of Protestant groups who have mobilized to rebut Dan Brown's runaway best-selling thriller The Da Vinci Code." And those groups would be? It also states, erroneously, that the novel "is heavily indebted to the gnostic and non-canonical Gospel of Thomas." The novel quotes from two gnostic texts: "The Gospel of Philip" (p. 246) and "The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene)" (p. 247). It never quotes from "The Gospel of Thomas," perhaps because it concludes with Jesus telling Peter that women, upon dying, will be turned into men in order to gain access to heaven. The novel never bothers to quote from the Old or New Testament—perhaps because Dan Brown has never read the Bible? The most offensive error, however, is the UPI's statement, "Protestant writers and groups has been [sic] attack the Brown book with such titles as The Da Vinci Hoax and The Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code." Although Professor Bart D. Ehrman (author of the latter book) may be Protestant, I haven't been Protestant since Easter Vigil of 1997 and Sandra Miesel was never a Protestant.
Update #3: The Telegraph has a piece about a Da Vinci Code tour in Paris. Tessa Boase, the reporter, writes: "So successful is this novel that a whole industry has sprung up in the two years since its publication. On the Eurostar to Paris last month I spotted passengers deep into Decoding Da Vinci, The Da Vinci Hoax, and What Christians Believe." Good to know that not everyone in Europe has lost their marbles because of the Coded Craziness...
Update #4: Catholic World News provides more info about what Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is saying about The Code. In a March 15th Vatican Radio address "the Italian prelate questioned whether society would tolerate the publication of a book that spread similar mistruths about Buddha, Mohammed, or another religious leader. He also asked about the likely public reaction to 'a novel that manipulated the entire history of the Holocaust and the Shoah.' The DaVinci Code has gained public acceptance only because of 'a great anti-Catholic prejudice.'" Sounds very similar to what Sandra and I wrote on page 294 of The Da Vinci Hoax: "Imagine a novel based on the premise that the Holocaust had never happened, but was the invention of a powerful group of Jewish leaders who have used that 'myth' to garner themselves power and fortune. ... Yet The Da Vinci Code, a novel claiming that Christianity is fraudulent, the Catholic Church is a violent, misogynist institution run by murderers and liars, and androgyny is the answer to life’s problems is not met with condemnation, but incredible success and even significant critical acclaim." Go, Cardinal Bertone, go!
Update #5: This story has now exploded; Google shows well over 200 news pieces on the story and I'm sure that number will grow quickly. I've had several requests for interviews in the last 24 hours, including from radio stations in Canada and Hong Kong. CTV.ca reports that Doubleday has released a response to Cardinal Bertone's remarks. I couldn't locate it on Doubleday's site, but CTV.ca states: "Following Bertone's comments, book publisher Doubleday released a response saying that the ideas in The Da Vinci Code have been circulating for centuries. 'This novel explores them in an accessible work of fiction... Doubleday certainly respects Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican and their desire to clarify any factual errors they feel may have been made in The Da Vinci Code.'" Very nice: "feel." It's not about feelings, boys and girls; it's about the truth. When The Code was first published, Doubleday was eager to point out how well-researched and historically accurate it supposedly was. But once critics began to tear it to shreds, the publisher began to emphasize that it's "just fiction" and meant to explore interesting ideas, make people think, etc., etc. Highly irresponsible, I'd say. Sadly, it has also been highly lucrative.
Update #6: This March 17th International Herald Tribune piece highlights one of the problems with The Code: having your fictional cake and believing it to. It reports: "[Dan] Brown and his publisher, Doubleday, have repeatedly emphasized that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, with fictional characters, that explores longstanding alternative theories about the birth of Christianity." Get it? It's just a fictional work that, by the way, "explores longstanding alternative theories about the birth of Christianity." But it doesn't just "explore," them; it presents them as viable, accurate, and academically-acceptable. Which is why the piece can also report this: "In Paris, the Church of St. Sulpice - scene of a particularly grisly murder committed by a devout monk in the novel - has been deluged with 'Da Vinci Code' tourists. Church officials have had to put up signs explaining that the events in the book are fictional and that the book's reinterpretation of symbols found in the church is not accurate." That is the power and influence of The Code. If people are willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to go on such tours, don't you think they have already allowed the ideas and claims of the novel to deeply influence them? And if that is so (and it is so), then what is wrong with the Church telling her side of the story?
It should also be noted that just because something is a "longstanding alternative theory" doesn't mean it isn't anti-Catholic or bigoted or nonsensical. There are "longstanding alternative theories" about Jews, blacks, and other groups of people—does the fact that've been around for many centuries mean they now aren't racist? It's not as though there is a statute of limitations on bad, false, or bigoted ideas.