Faith vs. Nonsense

Faith vs. Nonsense

Status Ecclesiae May 2006

By John Mallon

Recently I was asked to write an article on the novel The Da Vinci Code. I hadn’t read it and had never really paid much attention to the controversy surrounding it, so I scanned the book as well as some Catholic books written in response to it. I interviewed the authors of The Da Vinci Hoax, Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel (Ignatius Press), asking them the questions I had about it. (I strongly recommend their book to anyone with questions about The Da Vinci Code phenomenon.)

The reason the editor asked me to write on The Da Vinci Code was that the film made from the book was about to be released and he wanted me to provide a warning to those who might be “weak in faith.”

And in fact, there are dangers for those weak in faith. Miesel and Olson contend, among other things, that one of the main dangers of the novel is that so many Catholics are not well instructed in the Catholic faith or history, and that many people get their knowledge of these things from entertainment, and will uncritically swallow whole some of the absurd claims of the novel.

This is tragic. As they note, there are people who will never crack open a Bible, let alone the Catechism, who will read and believe the claptrap in this book.

I found the book to be a real page-turner and entertaining —provided you keep in mind that it is total fiction and anything it says about Catholicism and history is utter nonsense. (Space does not permit an analysis of that here, for which I refer everyone to Miesel and Olson’s book.)

But what really got me thinking was the nice old-fashioned expression the editor used about “those weak in faith.” It got me thinking about the nature of faith. I could imagine readers of this book, including Catholics, falling into an infinite loop of doubt, asking, “But how do you know?” when someone tries to explain that the book is false regarding Catholicism. For example, the novel asserts that Jesus was not God, but fell in love and married Mary Magdalene and had a child with her, and from the very beginning the Church has sought to cover this up. Why? Critics of the Church would argue because it is a threat to the “male hierarchy’s” “power base” and that the Church has a “negative” view of women and sexuality.

Dissident Father Richard McBrien, interviewed for a secular TV documentary on The Da Vinci Code, actually asserted this old canard that the Church had a negative view of women and sexuality. Incredulously, I thought, “Hasn’t he ever heard of John Paul II? Theology of the body?” But this is beside the point. Those who wish to hold such views, be they dissident theologians or radical feminists, will not be moved by facts once their minds are made up. There is no shortage of people today who are living in ways inimical to the Gospel, especially in terms of sexuality, who are nevertheless spiritually starved. They are seeking some kind of “spirituality” that will not make moral demands on them, and they will relish anything, like The Da Vinci Code, that supports or gives credibility to this doomed quest.

Da Vinci Code author, Dan Brown, seems to hold the view that the “male hierarchy” has sought for centuries to suppress this notion of a Jesus married to Mary Magdalene in order to eliminate what he calls “the sacred feminine.”

There is one reason and one reason only the Church rejects the idea that Jesus was married and had a child, and it is not because the Church “doesn’t like women” or thinks “sex is dirty.” That reason is because it is not true. “But how do you know? How do you know?”

We know by faith. Faith is not a mere opinion among many, though it may appear so to those who lack it. Faith is something solid. You can stand on it, and when you do you can see farther. The Book of Hebrews states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1, emphasis added)

Faith is a substance, a thing, and, like love, a mode of knowing. Christians are people who know and love Jesus Christ personally and know that He can be trusted, especially when He promised the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13) and for Catholics this promise is uniquely fulfilled in the gift of the Magisterium. We believe Jesus when He says this, that the Magisterium (the Pope and the bishops in union with him), is protected by the Holy Spirit from all error in faith and morals.

Faith is also a gift. If we lack it we can—and should— ask for it. If we have it we can—and should—ask for more. Faith is how, as Catholics, we know.

In keeping with this, another item The Da Vinci Code brings to mind is the problem of conspiracy theories. C. S. Lewis described involvement in the occult as a kind of spiritual lust, creating an extremely unhealthy—indeed diabolical —addiction. I think the same can be said of conspiracy theories, wasting time with mildly entertaining speculation about goings-on “behind the scenes.” This, too, represents a kind of morose delectation like pornography or gossip which takes us nowhere good and leaves us worse off than when we started. I wish there were a way I could convince all Catholics to simply dismiss all conspiracy theories out of hand like so many impure or uncharitable thoughts as part of a spiritual discipline. We Catholics have better, more important things to do.

Conspiracy theories may be titillating but they are just too pat, too neat, and life is too haphazard and messy to support them in reality—thank God. We have enough real problems to deal with from which conspiracy theories distract us. The Da Vinci Code is bound to inspire many of them.

Faith has the power to deliver us from nonsense. Here again, we recall then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily of April 18, 2005 at the Mass for the Election of a Roman Pontiff where he cited the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians:“Let us, then, be children no longer, tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine that originates in human trickery and skill in proposing error. Rather, let us profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the head.” (Eph 14:14-15)

-- John Mallon is Contributing Editor to Inside the Vatican.