By the Rev. Larry Hollon
In a few weeks, the Da Vinci Code tempest will have passed, and we will move on to the next riveting pop culture event.
I admit that I’ve been frustrated and agitated at the historical inaccuracies — the role of
For those of us in the faith community, this isn’t just a movie, and these claims aren’t just fictional constructions. Our faith tradition is deeply important to us, and to see it treated with what seems at best to be casual disregard and at worst outright exploitation is offensive.
However, the faith will endure despite the novel and movie. And as concerned as I am about the historical and theological distortions of the Da Vinci Code, I’m also interested in how these media are affecting us and how the faith community is addressing this influence.
No doubt, the controversy pleases the production company and the author. They hope it means the cash register will be ringing. The call to boycott the movie probably encourages more people to attend than stay away.
My concern extends beyond the specific distortions of the book. Thomas de Zengotita in Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, writes that in a “mediated” society, there is always something else coming down the pike and, therefore, we don’t spend a great deal of time getting to the heart of any matter because we know the subject will change soon enough anyway.
The media present us with options so relentlessly and frequently that we know we’ll be moving on even as we enter into the experience at hand. Even the news moves quickly from the serious to the absurd, giving each equal attention.
De Zengotita says this distorts our view of reality. I would add that it trivializes virtually everything. “It doesn’t matter. The story will be changing soon anyway.”
What forms our spiritual and intellectual landscape today are snippets of this flood of changing storylines, which are so numerous their influence individually is muted and their overall influence is what de Zengotita identifies as “The Blob.” “The Blob” is the media environment that processes the stories. It’s the media swarm that occurs in every important story - and some not so important - and absorbs, digests and then moves on. He says it’s elastic and can absorb anything in its path.
So what concerns me about the influence of the Da Vinci Code is the trivialization and indifference it will finally generate. After the controversy has run its course, will we be any further along in creating a more humane and compassionate society? Will we have a stronger understanding of justice and equity, the real ingredients of a code of life that are rooted in Jesus’ teachings?
Or will this story move us, as all others, into trivialized indifference? This, in my view, is the real challenge this tempest presents to us. How, as responsible, committed people of faith, do we continue to move forward with the authentic code of morality that is at the heart of commitment to Jesus?
This code calls us to feed the hungry, work for justice and peace, and tend to the environment with care. This is a call to a life commitment, not a passing engagement with a movie or a book. It’s a call that stands counter to indifference and bemused tolerance of anything and everything.
It stands for something, and that something is that this is a good creation we’ve inherited and we must care for it well; the gift of life is an opportunity to seek a life of quality, meaning and purpose, and we won’t find that in this half-baked treatment of Jesus in a conspiracy novel and movie sequel.
Those who are using the movie for a teaching moment are doing the right thing, and I applaud them. I agree that we must be involved in the popular culture.
But I also know that after author Dan Brown has been to the bank to check on his latest balance, the poor will still be with us, people will still be suffering in Darfur, innocent Iraqis will still be dying in the streets, the folks down the street from our building will still be sleeping under the bridge, and 40 million Americans will be without health care.
This is real and it begs for our attention, and that’s where Jesus is in this culture of distraction. He is where it matters. Where people live and die, suffer and celebrate, and are searching for a life that is authentic and of substance.
The life of faith is about engagement, not diversion and indifference.
It’s about knowing what matters.
Hollon is general secretary of United Methodist Communications.