Straining at a gnat
Christian Foes of 'Da Vinci Code' Mull Tactics - New York Times
In "The Da Vinci Code," two sleuths uncover a conspiracy by the Catholic Church to conceal that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that the myth of his divinity was written into the Bible at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. by the Roman emperor Constantine. "The Da Vinci Code" was marketed as fiction, but Mr. Brown said in a preface page that his descriptions of artwork, documents and rituals "are accurate." To be sure, there are many Christians who do not regard the book or the movie as a threat. But the outrage is widespread
There are innumerable reasons to doubt the truth of Christian, and more generally, theistic claims--and the hypothesis flown in The Da Vinci Code is among the least of them.
To me, as a recovering logical positivist, the Verificationist Challenge is the most personally compelling. As far as I can see, the world is exactly as it would be if there were no God. There is no compelling evidence for the occurrence of miracles or the power of petitionary prayer. Science is chugging along quite nicely, explaining more and more of what goes on, and it seems highly likely that everything that goes on and will go on is explicable in purely naturalistic terms. We don't need the God hypothesis--it has no implications for experience and is, therefore, neither verifiable nor falsifiable in experience.
Even if we stop short of concluding that theological claims are therefore meaningless, this effectively blocks theistic arguments that purport to be inferences to the best explanation. And that is devastating: short of arcane a priori arguments spinning off of the Ontological Argument, there is no reason to believe that God, or any supernatural entities, forces or states of affairs, exist.
Speculation about Jesus' sex life, the Church's concoction of Christological doctrines and the alleged cover-up are of negligible importance. Fantasies about Jesus dating from as early as the second century in gospels that didn't make it into the canon have always been flying around. Every undergraduate who takes a course in New Testament for general education credit--and passes--has learnt about them. Why are people surprised by the Da Vinci code? Every educated person knows, or should know, that doctrine developed over centuries: there is no high Christology in the Bible. Even in the Fourth Gospel it is simply not clear what kind of claims, if any, are being made about Christ's divinity. Anyone who reads the New Testament with reasonable care can make this out. And conspiracy theories about the Church's power politics and role in suppressing dissent are as old as the Church.
So why the surprise--and where's the beef? This is just more of the same, recycled for popular consumption. Jesus was an obscure figure of no interest to most of his contemporaries, so from the historical point of view we know very little about him. But the idea that he got to France and became the progenitor of the Mergovingian dynasty is almost as bizarre as the theory that he went to Tibet to found an esoteric tradition of Ascended Masters. You would think that fundamentalists would be more worried about the plausible story than by these implausible ones, viz. that Jesus was an obscure Palestinian Jew who became the hook for a Hellenistic mystery cult which, for a variety of mostly arbitrary reasons, beat out the competition.
What disturbs me most about this bruhaha is the extent to which any interesting story, however implausible, even if it is explicitly claimed to be a fiction, will fly. People apparently believe things just because they're there. When stories compete, they believe whichever one they find more interesting: beyond dull facts about middle-sized pieces of dry goods, truth is not at issue and it's all a crap-shoot--you buy what you like. Of course this is how religious seekers in the Hellenistic world made their doxastic decisions too: Jesus, Isis or the Elusinian Mysteries--what's more interesting? Why not try them all? Lots of people did. Constantine certainly did--with Christ and Sol Invictus as the leading contenders, until he became convinced that, for political purposes, it would be desirable to promote exclusive allegiance to the Jesus cult--suitably modified to encompass most of the attractive features of others that were operating at the time.
In once respect, the fundamentalists have done themselves in. By ignoring the theological controversies and the whole body of serious Biblical criticism, and by putting it out that the standard Jesus story is uncontroversial and so obvious that anyone who doubts is perverse, they've set themselves up for a situation where any competing hypothesis, however implausible or bizarre, knocks the socks off of people. You can certainly be orthodox without being in the least worried about the Da Vinci Code. It's the public's sheer ignorance about the Bible and church history that makes this silly fantasy a threat.