The Da Vinci Code hits theaters tomorrow! Or does it?Sectors of the Catholic Church, particularly through various groups and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, call for the ban of the film on grounds that it may sully their people’s beliefs. They wouldn’t want our people to fall into confusion and despair over the fictional claim that Christ had a child with Mary Magdalene, the central controvery in Dan Brown’s bestselling and thinly plotted novel.
This reminds me of the time the theology department of the Ateneo Loyola Schools moved to ban the Vagina Monologues from the campus. It wasn’t pointless, but it was stupid.
In essence, I disagree with the calls to ban the film. I know the fiction argument has been used tirelessly so I won’t state that here. Instead, here are my thoughts.
Firstly, if the film or its ideas manage to stir people out of their devoutness and piety, that doesn’t say much about the strength of the film’s ideas than it does about the weaknesses of the Catholic Church. If the Church’s believers are easily dissuaded by a fictional film, I wouldn’t hold the film culpable but rather the Church itself as accountable.
If a film adaptation of a book by Dan Brown can easily strip the Church of its faithful, then we have to start looking at how Catholicism is being taught and inculcated. Then we can also assess how well it is truly understood by those who believe. Taking from education theory, an idea is replaced by another when it is found to be weak and or misunderstood. Somehow, I am under the impression that young Catholics are discouraged to ask questions about their faith, leaving the door open for other ideas to fill in the gaps or replace weak ones. This lack of answers leads to a crisis of faith, which is then vindicated by a controvery — Christ having a child with a prostitute — and ends ultimately in disbelief.
That is why the teenage years are crucial to an emerging Christian. This is where they have the most questions and if the Church fails to answer these — or worse to discourage these — then antithetical ideas such as Dan Brown’s may easily take over. The work may be fiction yes, but people can always buy into anything that inspires them. Case in point, the ideas of Ayn Rand (particularly in The Fountainhead) have formed the basis for a philosophy (objectivism) and a form of counter-religion. While I don’t expect to see a Church of Dan Brown anytime soon, this may not require much of a stretch of our imagination if the Catholic Church continues to leave their believer’s questions unanswered or worse, to stifle their curiosity and need to learn the truth.
I find the behavior of the Church ironic to be honest since fear and doubt are integral to a Christian. Even Christ had his own doubts and fears as we can see in His temptation in the desert. With the right catechism and Catholic education, these questions can be the foundations of a lasting Christian commitment.
Secondly, the involvement of the Church in this issue illustrates how desperate the Church has become. Over the past two to three years, the Church has been reminded of its mortality. Pope John Paul II has died. The priesthood is aging and mired in controversy. The youth have found alternative sources of meaning and faith. And if 9/11 has affected the Catholic Church, it served to intensify the separation of Church and State; they took great care to make sure the war on terrorism would not be misconstrued as a war between faiths.
In the case of the Philippines, the death of Jaime Cardinal Sin also marked a lowpoint in the Church’s history of being a voice of the oppressed and has weakened it as a vehicle for social change. Their markedly neutral positions in the political crises over the past year strongly indicate that the role of the Church has weakened. Therefore, they are desperate for a comeback.
A popular film with controversial material such as The Da Vinci Code is a perfect chance to launch themselves back into the limelight. However, nobody is taking them seriously anymore. Their attempts to ban the film have been met with either ridicule or indifference. And worse, their integrity is under fire. The Pope himself hasn’t banned the film. The producers have met no resistance from the archbishops of California and France while making the film. Therefore, on what grounds does the archdiocese of Manila demand for the banning of the film if the world wide Church hasn’t moved against it? Heck, even the Opus Dei await the film with bated breath. What is really the issue here?
The Church needs to be relevant once again, but why pick on a film? There are other issues of greater import where people require enlightenment and guidance. They can remain politically neutral yet continue to play a role in the education of our people. Enumerating my recommendations is beyond the scope of this essay for now, however what I have in mind is along the lines of opening up Church groups to the discussion of social issues, and using the Church to mobilize our people in coordinated, community outreach activities such as building homes, schools and taking care of those in extreme poverty. And with the flattening of the world, this can all be made easier now.
I only write about the issues that bother me and what unnerved me in this whole ordeal is an image of a Catholic Church that opts to dictate what their people should believe in, rather than to ground their people in the knowledge and wisdom that will help them find answers to their own questions and overcome whatever fears and doubts they may have. Our politics and economics are becoming increasingly totalitarian. We don’t need the Church added to that list. That’s why they call it faith.
The Da Vinci Code is just a movie and is thoroughly insufficient to undermine the most dominantly Catholic country in Southeast Asia. If it does, then that’s too bad for the Church but they shouldn’t look too far for someone to blame.
But to give the Church its due credit and perhaps even my thanks, I’d like to say that all my brightest childhood memories involve an experience with God. At that time, Don Bosco Makati was in its prime. Our masses were alive and always full. We had recollections and retreats that were real encounters with ourselves and the Lord. And our Catholic instruction was top notch. It wasn’t preachy but it didn’t leave room for misinterpretation either. At the end of my grade school years there, I was left with an image of Christ that was alive and real to me.
As I grew older and my knowledge of the world widened, I have experienced a lot of things that tried and tested my faith. The Da Vinci Code wasn’t even one of them. Nonetheless, each experience brought me to a new level of understanding and agreement with God, giving me the strength to answer my own questions and the power to make my own decisions.
So speaking for myself, the Church has nothing to worry about from The Da Vinci Code. While not all may testify to the same religious experience I have, it is only for the precise reason that we all have our own. A work of fiction won’t easily topple a religion that has been there for almost five hundred years. If anything can undo the Church, it would only be itself.