... and stuck my mug on the front page of today's edition. The Register-Guard reporter, Jeff Wright, did a pretty good job; there are only a couple of minor errors and one weird sentence (I'll let you find it). Here's a link to the piece and here is the piece itself:
Crossing the 'Code'
Eugene author Carl Olson is on a crusade to debunk the mega-hit 'Da Vinci' novelPublished: Sunday, April 23, 2006
Like millions of other readers, Carl Olson of Eugene raced through "The Da Vinci Code" shortly after the Dan Brown fiction thriller came out in 2003. But by the last page, Olson was far from enthralled.
Instead, he was aghast - and determined to set the record straight. The result is "The Da Vinci Hoax," a 340-page, heavily footnoted book that seeks to debunk many of novelist Brown's assertions about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Catholic Church.
Now, with the blockbuster movie version of "The Da Vinci Code" set to hit the screen next month, Olson finds himself jetting around the country, giving talks to mostly Catholic audiences about the novel's historical errors. He and "Hoax" co-author Sandra Miesel, meanwhile, are planning to update their own book, which has sold close to 100,000 copies.
Olson, 37, knows what you're thinking: Why get so worked up about a novel that, by definition, is a work of fiction?
His response: Many people who insist "it's only fiction" are all too willing to accept many of its tenets as fact.
"I can't tell you how many people have come up to me, waving the novel in my face and saying, `I know the truth about your church and your faith. What do you say to this?' "
Among the book's central claims: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married; they had children and a blood line that continues to today; the Catholic Church has used force and terror to keep this secret; and the great artist Leonardo da Vinci left clues about this secret in his art.
Confusing matters, says Olson, are contradictory statements in Brown's book. A disclaimer says the book is strictly fiction. But the first page declares that the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei - respectively, a secret society and a devout Catholic sect that figure prominently in the story - are real, and that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."
Olson is by no means the only believer hoping to use the book and movie as a tool for education. At the University of Oregon, for example, Campus Crusade for Christ adviser Mike Alverts and students in the interdenominational group plan to distribute brochures challenging the assertions found in "The Da Vinci Code."
"I don't feel threatened by the book or the movie, but this is a good opportunity to talk about this kind of stuff because people have these questions," says Alverts.
In an era when fact and fiction are increasingly blurred, a novel can leave "an assumption of validity," Alverts says. He especially worries, he says, "about the person who is interested in but doesn't have any real education about Christianity. They could connect dots that are not really there."
Nationally, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has created a Web site, www.jesusdecoded.com, that takes aim at many of Brown's claims. The conference has also created a documentary, slated for broadcast and DVD release on May 20 - the weekend of the movie's release.
Bud Bunce, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Portland, said some local parishes have brought in speakers or held discussions on the topic, and bulletin inserts are being made available to parishes that want them. But the archdiocese's role has mainly been to direct people to the bishops' Web site - and to remind them that the novel and movie are fiction.
"That's the most important thing to emphasize - it's not true," he says.
Olson's book is one of several, and not the best-selling, seeking to debunk Brown's novel, which has sold more than 40 million hardcover copies worldwide. On his Web site, Brown hedges on the ancient theories discussed by his fictional characters, saying each reader "must explore these characters' viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations."
Brown also says on his Web site that he considers himself a Christian and that he wrote the novel "in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me." He points out that since the beginning of recorded time, history has been written by the "winners" - those societies and belief systems that conquered and survived - and should be viewed in that light.
Olson says many have urged him to simply ignore Brown's book and the upcoming movie, reckoning that his protests are merely fanning their popularity. But Olson - the editor of an online magazine affiliated with Ignatius Press, a Catholic publishing house - says it's almost as if he's had no choice.
"I think it can't be ignored from the obvious fact that people are asking these questions," he says. "I've given dozens of talks and not solicited one of them. People are contacting me."
The irony for Olson is that he grew up in western Montana in a fundamentalist Protestant faith that was, he says, anti-Catholic. "We were nice to our Catholic neighbors, but we knew they were all going to hell," he recalls.
After years of soul-searching and study, including a master's degree in theological studies from the University of Dallas, Olson converted to Catholicism. He and his wife - they met at Multnomah Bible College in Portland - are the first Catholics in their respective families. They and their two children attend Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield.
An aspiring academician, Olson previously wrote a book called "Will Catholics Be `Left Behind'?" - a reference to the popular series of novels anticipating the Rapture, when Christians will be removed from Earth before a time of tribulation and the Second Coming of Jesus. Olson's answer is no, because Catholics generally don't believe biblical interpretations that foretell a Rapture.
His "Hoax" book, meanwhile, has landed him on radio and TV talk shows around the country and beyond - including CNBC's "Capital Report" and BBC Radio in Ireland.
Olson sees several reasons for the enormous popularity of "The Da Vinci Code," including the timing of its release, which coincided with the emerging sexual abuse scandal of Catholic clergy. Also, many people have a deep dislike or distrust of religious authority, "and the Catholic Church and papacy are kind of the epitome of that."
But Olson contends that anti-Catholicism - what he calls "the last accepted prejudice" - is also at play.
"Does anyone really think if Dan Brown wrote a novel that basically attacked and rewrote the history of Islam or Judaism or Buddhism, that people would go for it?" he asks. "You don't have to be conspiratorial to say that a dislike of the Catholic Church can be found in certain parts of the media and entertainment industry."
Olson says "The Da Vinci Code" is hardly the first time a novel has had a profound impact on popular culture - pointing to such historic examples as Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."
But these days, he says, people who would never pick up a scholarly work on the origins of Christianity will eagerly read popular fiction, and embrace it as gospel truth. "Those lines are increasingly blurred in the age of reality shows," he says.
Olson says he and co-author Miesel - a journalist and medieval historian from the Midwest - are unabashedly Catholic in their perspective but took pains to write a well-researched, strongly documented book. Olson acknowledges that their motivation is driven partly by what he sees as an attack on historical faith:
"If Jesus didn't exist or was not who Christians think he was, then Christianity is a complete sham," he says. "It's really an all-or-nothing proposition.
The photo, btw, was taken at my parish, Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield, Oregon. After reading the article, a friend left a voice mail, saying, with tongue firmly in cheek, "Interesting to hear that your book 'seeks to debunk' The Da Vinci Code. Maybe you should write another book that actually does debunk it." Naw, I'd rather figure out how to get my hair to look like this man's wild mane...