Our family is currently playing a game of "Pass the Flu from Me to You", and I'm "it" today, which partially explains the lack of posts (the other part of the equation is my current pet project: transcribing every episode of "Oprah" and "Dr. Phil", and then cross-referencing them for an online database).
But I couldn't let this article pass by without comment, not with a headline like this:
Belief in 'Da Vinci Code' Conspiracy May Ease Fear of Death [LiveScience.com, Sept. 16, 2011]
What seems at first glance to perhaps be something a silly bit of pseudo-academic nonsense is actually quite the opposite. The article is about a study—"The functional nature of conspiracy beliefs: Examining the underpinnings of belief in the Da Vinci Code conspiracy"—conducted by Anna Newheiser, a doctoral student in social psychology at Yale University, that examines why people fall for the conspiracy theories presented by Dan Brown in his best-selling, worst-written novel. But why use Brown's novel?
"The Da Vinci Code" was a good starting point, Newheiser said, because unlike other conspiracy believers, Da Vinci conspiracy believers are not marginalized as tin-foil hat types.
The researchers gathered college students who had read the book and conducted two studies. In the first, they asked 144 students to rate their agreement with Da Vinci conspiracy beliefs, such as "The church has burned witches and other 'heretics' to keep the truth about Jesus hidden." The students also filled out questionnaires about their religiosity, biblical knowledge, enjoyment of "The Da Vinci Code" novel or movie, and their fear of death. They also answered questions about New Age beliefs, such as "The whole cosmos is an unbroken living whole that modern man has lost contact with."
The study (which can be purchased online) revealed some findings that are more than a little interesting:
The students most likely to believe the conspiracies in Brown's novel were those who enjoyed the book the most, expressed the most New Age beliefs, and felt the most anxiety about dying. People who were religious, knowledgeable about the Bible and desiring of social approval, on the other hand, tended not to buy into the Da Vinci conspiracy.
Next, the researchers called 50 of the original students back and presented them with historical evidence that the Da Vinci conspiracy is false. They found that among the most religious participants, this counterevidence lessened the belief in the conspiracy. Nonreligious participants, however, did not budge.
The study, published online Sept. 7 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, is preliminary, Newheiser said. But the finding that people with death anxiety are more likely to believe in the Da Vinci conspiracy jibes with the theory that conspiracies, as wacky as they can be, provide a sense of comfort to adherents.
Which indicates, among others things, that contra the "wisdom" of the day, religious adherents are more open to logic, arguments, and facts than are non-religious folks. But many of us religious zealots already knew that. So why are people attracted to conspiracy theories? The (partial) answer is rather commonsensical, but also revealing:
Conspiracy theories "can alleviate people's sense of loss of control by giving them a reason that things happen," Newheiser said. "In this case, it's particularly interesting because it might help people who are nonreligious or non-Christian to understand the events related to early Christian history."
Religious people have their own understanding of those events, Newheiser said, which may be why they were more easily persuaded that the Da Vinci conspiracy was false.
And much of "their own understanding of those events", as Sandra Miesel and I explained in detail in The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius, 2004)., is based, again, in historical fact and logic. Yes, many Catholic scholars disagree about the details and meaning and such of this or that event, but they at least use what is known rather than what they wish had been the case. I've often said that one of the beautiful things about conspiracy theories is that the lack of evidence is almost always used as evidence. "Well, of course there's no evidence that Jesus was married!", exclaims Captain Conspiracy to his faithful band of merry-challenged followers, "Why? Because the Catholic Church got rid of the evidence!" Or, as Newheiser says, "There is past research showing that conspiracy beliefs don't really respond to counterevidence very well, because they're not based on logical arguments to begin with. Showing logical arguments against them doesn't change people's minds."
If nothing else, the attention being paid to Newheiser's study answers at least one question that Sandra and I put forth in the conclusion of our book, where we wrote that
The Da Vinci Code is a perfect post-modern myth, pulp fiction style. Occasionally clever and hip, it is never wise or insightful. Often cheesy, it is never artful. Seriously contrived, it is never believable or engaging. As Amy Welborn, another Da Vinci Code debunker, acidly notes, the characters are one-dimensional and the novel "is neither learned nor challenging – except to the reader’s patience. Moreover, it’s not really suspenseful, and the writing is shockingly banal, even for genre fiction. It’s a pretentious, bigoted, tendentious mess."
So what is The Da Vinci Code. Is it just a fad? A one hit wonder? A novelty novel? Will people remember it in ten years? Will it matter? Is it worth writing an entire book in response to it? We think it is necessary, especially considering the impact and influence the novel has had and continues to have. Our hope is that readers will not only consider the truth about specific topics and issues, but will agree that Truth does exist and needs to be respected. "Truth, once it is rightly apprehended", wrote Ronald Knox, "has a compelling power over men’s hearts; they must needs assert and defend what they know to be the truth, or they would lose their birthright as men."
So, yes, people will most likely remember it in ten years, for better or worse. Also see: