Monday, January 25, 2010

Dan Brown Theology

Reading any Dan Brown novel is a holistic experience: an engaging mix of art history, historical theology, secret societies, cutting edge scientific advances, deranged villains, chase scenes, elaborate conspiracies, complex riddles, New Age mysticism, and biblical references. Sure, you can dismiss is at escapist fiction, but I think reflecting on the theological implications of his various books can be so interesting.

The Da Vinci Code remains one of the best books I have ever read, and I believe it has been the most effective anti-Christian propaganda tool of my generation. I really think one of the most effective ways to combat anything is to write a popular novel, then fill it up with pseudo-history, half truths, and deception masquerading as the historical framework of your story. Imagine the uproar of a similar popular novel trashing the character of Muhammad and distorting the origins of Islam. Of course, as the writer of your novel, you hide behind your genre and claim that its all fiction, so who cares. But people don’t read that way. Obviously there is no real Robert Langdon running around Europe trying to find the descendants of Christ, but what was the vote on the divinity of Jesus at the Council of Nicea? What if that was the first time anyone had imagined Jesus as God? Who is sitting next to Jesus in the painting of the Last Supper? Was everything in Christianity a cheap rip-off from the Roman mystery religions? Even if people are somewhat skeptical about all the details, the general picture sinks in, and I can guarantee you that the perception of Christian has been influenced.

Anyway, this is actually about The Lost Symbol, which I read during my rather infrequent downtimes during this past Christmas break. I did enjoy reading it, but at the end I found it so empty and ridiculous. It’s a less interesting version of National Treasure. By the way, if you haven’t read The Lost Symbol yet, and would like to, this will probably ruin it for you, so you may as well stop now (and I also give away the ending of National Treasure).

One of the biggest theological points made in The Lost Symbol is that we have divine potential within all of us. Ps 82:6 is quoted multiple times: I said, “You are gods.” Even as Jesus said: The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). The following section is fairly long, but I think its worth including:

“Peter, the Bible and the Ancient Mysteries are total opposites. The mysteries are all about the god within you . . . man as god. The Bible is all about the God above you . . . and man as a powerless sinner.”

“Yes! Exactly! You’ve put your finger on the precise problem! The moment mankind separated himself from God, the true meaning of the Word was lost. The voices of the ancient masters have now been drowned out, lost in the chaotic din of self-proclaimed practitioners shouting that they alone understand the Word . . . that the Word is written in their language and none other.”

Peter continued down the stairs.

“Robert, you and I both know that the ancients would be horrified if they saw how their teachings have been perverted . . . how religion has established itself as a tollbooth to heaven . . . how warriors march into battle believing God favors their cause. We’ve lost the Word, and yet its true meaning is still within reach, right before our eyes. It exists in all the enduring texts, from the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita to the Koran and beyond. All of these texts are revered upon the altars of Freemasonry because Masons understand what the world seems to have forgotten . . . that each of these texts, in its own way, is quietly whispering the exact same message.” Peter’s voice welled with emotion. “ ‘Know ye not that ye are gods?’” (on my pdf version its page 327)

You know what’s interesting is that my professor in systematic theology class just made almost the same point. He said that salvation is not about having our sins forgiven and going to heaven. We were looking at the heresy of Arianism, and to combat this view, Athanasius argued that God became man so that man might become God. If, as Arius said, Jesus was just a great creature, then this process is not possible. Now, what Dan Brown is saying is different. Brown is basically peddling an updated, retooled Gnosticism. We have the divine spark within us, which must be harnessed and eventually freed from this depraved realm of flesh. The goal of Christianity is to become like Christ, not to become our own god with our own little universe.

At the same time, in the section above Peter makes some good points. I agree that it’s terrible when religion becomes a tollbooth to heaven. I despise the chaotic din of those declaring the Bible is written to them and claiming the promises of wealth and prosperity. That’s what’s so subversive about any of these novels, is that so much truth is mixed in with the error. There was a council, and there was a vote, over how the divinity of Jesus was to be understood in the church. Yes, if mankind is completely separated from God, then the message of the Word is lost. That’s why you have to balance transcendence and imminence. Both are true, and neither can be denied without losing Christianity.

I’ve probably missed the point somewhere, but the biggest thing I found so dumb was the fact that after solving all of those puzzles, running all over the place, having this whatever director of the CIA involved, all these people killed, like thirty occurrences of different people being like “this is the biggest deal ever,” we end up with Langdon basically having a heart attack when he looks out from the Washington Monument. I quote:

The wave of shock and disorientation that tore through Langdon’s body reached down inside and spun his internal compass upside down. He nearly fell backward as his mind strained to accept the utterly unanticipated sight that was before him. In his wildest dreams, Robert Langdon would never have guessed what lay on the other side of this glass.

The vision was a glorious sight.

I’ve seen DC from the Washington Monument before. It’s not THAT amazing. I also really appreciated the sunset view over campus from my T7 dorm room freshman year. My friend George has a more impressive view of Chicago from his apartment. The book ends with them looking out over a sunrise from the top of the capital building. That’s cool. There’s also a fair amount talking about the benefits of wisdom, books, etc. I like those things too. But the build-up throughout Lost Symbol is so completely out of proportion to anything they find.

Ok, I guess I’m simply too materialist to appreciate whatever pluralistic drivel Dan Brown is trying to teach me about finding the grains of wisdom in all religious writings and the commonalities in Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, so on and so forth. I just like how in the end of National Treasure they actually found…treasure.

1 comment:

m.peter.chang said...

Of course, you ALWAYS need to find treasure at the end. That's what makes things worth reading. Just kidding. Anyways, I can't tell if this was one of your main points, but actually Christians becoming gods is actually a tenant of Orthodox theology...if I remember correctly, it's called deification. Of course, it's contextualized in a specific way, but it's there.