Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dan Brown Comes Out of His Rabbit Hole

Dan Brown has finally surfaced in front of a live audience. Granted it was an audience in Portsmouth New Hampshire near where he lives, and granted it was for the New Hampshire branch of NPR which I had to have a friend from Hong Kong help me find the link for to hear this program, but he has surfaced. Here is the link-- What he offers here is a lecture on the relationship of science and religion-- both of which he sees as evolving, and he sees this as a good thing.

Little tidbits from the lecture of note: 1) His father was a mathematician who taught at Philips Exeter Academy, one of the elite prep schools in America, his mother a church organist; 2) he tried a career in music, and was in Hollywood for a while. He didn't like it and it didn't work. He skedaddled back to New Hampshire; 3) he has not read any of the response books to his novel. He says the debate is great, and may it carry on; 4) he is still talking about the divine feminine, and the evolution of spirituality, and he still seems to think that the God Mithra was said to be born on Christmas and died and rose from the dead. In other words he subscribes to the theory that we are dealing with archetypal myths found in various religions; 5) his Dad inculcated a love of codes and mystery in him; 6) he used to love to read the Hardy Boys; 6) yes, he would like to be Robert Langdon; 7) when he can't figure out a plot twist, he puts on his gravity boots and hangs upside down for a while until something comes to mind. This must explain some of his upside down thinking about early Christianity.

What we see in Dan Brown is syncretism--- the amalgamation of various religious ideas, histories, claims into some kind of pan-spirituality. And in our pluralistic culture that likes smorgesbords this plays very well. Of course the amalgamation is done at the expense of accurately representing any of the discrete elements he has blended together. This however does not much bother him-- he thinks that it is the big ideas that count. At one juncture he reads an outtake from the Da Vinci Code novel-- where Langdon playfully suggests he belongs to a cult where they eat the body of a god on the day one worships the pagan sun god, and he urges his students to join him. Then he reveals he is inviting them to the Harvard Chapel and to the Lord's Supper celebration. This is a very revealing moment. Dan Brown sees the rituals as universal and polyvalent. They reflect the human search for God, not God's attempt to reveal himself to us. They are many and varied. At another juncture he serves up the mantra that "history is written by the winners" which is far from an accurate statement that one could apply widely to the writing of history. He adds that all his history writing is interpretive, which is of course true.

There is much here to confuse the ordinary listener or even the erudite one, but what is clear is that while Dan Brown still says he is a Christian, what he means by that is something very different than would be ordinarily understood by the term. And he seems to see himself as part of a movement to reinvent Christianity in a different image.

You should find this troubling..... and oh by the way-- He says he is thrilled with the movie, and that it in no way waters down the controversial claims of the novel.

I ask once more--- Are you ready to rumble?


Janice said...

"At one juncture he reads an outtake from the Da Vinci Code novel-- where Langdon playfully suggests he belongs to a cult where they eat the body of a god on the day one worships the pagan sun god, and he urges his students to join him."
--Actually Dan Brown did speak about this, but it is a blurb that was in his original manuscript, but was cut and never made it into the book.


Ben Witherington said...

Hi Janice: Isn't that exactly what I just said?


Jeff Raker said...

Thanks for the link. What a great opportunity this is to help Christians understand some of the foundational truths of their faith!

Janice said...

Ben, ugh you did... sorry, I have to learn to read :D

I enjoyed reading your article by the way.


john alan turner said...

I am ready, and I am busy helping any church who will have me! Is your book still doing well?

Ben Witherington said...

The Gospel Code still remains in the top 3,000-5,000 sellers on Amazon, which is good for a religious work that is serious and not fluff. So yes, there is still interest,



Tenax said...

First, belated congrats to your son for graduating in English. I did not know you also had an English background, Ben, though it shows in the blog. It's a great degree, especially at the undergrad level. Best of luck to your son as he moves ahead.

I also did not know Dan Brown considered himself a Christian. That is actually chilling. Frankly, I was there once myself; Christian like the C in YMCA. Hope beyond hope, and praying this minute, that DB reads some of the books about his book, that this leads him to the Gospels, and that God moves in his life.

You do great work here, Ben. Critiquing the misapplication of reason. At the same time applying rigorous thought to support the hope within us all.



Marc Axelrod said...

Dan Brown is not only a syncretist, but he sounds like a close minded syncretist. I am disappointed that he has not read any of the critiques of the Davinco Code claims.

We will be doing a 90 minute Bible study about the Davinci Code claims next Thursday at our church.

I just read L. Michael White's Jesus and the beginning of Christianity. He just lumps the NT canon in with all the other early Christian writings, making no attempt to discuss why early Christians rejected some of the writings of the Gnostic communities and some of the other pseudipigraphal writings. But it was an interesting read.

Layman said...


I have been reading your response, having already read many others, and am again impressed by your writing. You do a good job of putting on your theologian/pastor hat and explaining not just the errors of Brown's descriptions of Christianity and gnosticism, but the inadequacies of gnosticism and today's quasi-gnostic spirituality.

As for rumbling, I will be doing three presentations at two churches. I have dozens of the Josh McDowell books I will be distributing, as well as pocket guides and movie guides. My church ordered 500 pocket guides to give to the congregation after our Sunday morning presentation on The Da Vinci Code. This should be enough to give the adults multiple copies to pass on to friends and family. Here is the link for those interested in acquiring such materials from Josh McDowell's group.

For those who cannot afford TDC materials, there are free tracts and handouts available across the internet. This is a good one, although I have more faith in the existence of Q than it does.

And there are many good responses online, many of which the CADRE has gathered together here.

A. C. Mattern said...

I have a co-worker that holds to a similar belief system as Brown. Unfortunately this tends to throw our conversations into a bizarre tail-spin of Mithra, Kabbalah, numerology and and a watered down symbolic Christianity.

Could you (or anyone) suggest any resources that suitibly cover the commonalities as well as the discrete elements of other myths/religions? Something along the lines of an expansion of C.S. Lewis' Myth Became Fact? Or is that track a waste of time compared to discussing the historicity of the Gospels?

Troy Stemen said...

Prof. Witherington, long time reader, first time commentator. First, thank you for lecturing on Saint Paul last semester at Vanderbilt in Prof. A.J. Levine's "Jewish and Christian Self-Definition" course. Your lecture created a controversy in our class that was as much of a farce as this Da Vinci Code non-sense.

Two questions. First, how much of this Da Vinci Code controversy stems from a confusion over literary genres? Are people confusing fiction with non-fiction in the case of the Da Vinci Code and the Bible? Second, have you read any of Umberto Eco's novels? I am currently reading "Foucault's Pendulum" and it seems that Brown's novels are remixes of Eco's work, Holy Blood Holy Grail, and pop biblical history (particularly Vanderbilt alum Margaret Starbird's "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar."

Gordon Hackman said...

Sounds to me like Brown's definition of Christianity is from the same school as that of Bishop Spong. Maybe they can get together and write a book. It could be titled "Rescuing the Bible From the Church Fathers," or some such thing, and Spong could pontificate on how only "fundamentalists" think that history should be taken literally.

Benson said...

Hi Troy, I asked a similar question as you did recently:

"First, how much of this Da Vinci Code controversy stems from a confusion over literary genres? Are people confusing fiction with non-fiction in the case of the Da Vinci Code and the Bible?"

This was BWIII's response to me:

"The Da Vinci Code presents itself as historical fiction, though it is closer to hysterical fiction. When you present your work that way, it is natural for people to take the context at least as well grounded in facts, though the central characters are fictious. But furthermore, truth can certainly be conveyed in and by fiction--- look at the parables for example. Thus it is no surprise some people take the Da Vinci Code seriously.



Cheers! ADB

Ed Brenegar said...

One thought that occurs to me, Ben, as I have read your comments here, is that Brown takes a therapeutic view of human nature. In essence, whatever makes us feel good about ourselves is good, and whatever doesn't is to be ignored. As a result, we can borrow from all sorts of traditions, regardless of what they believe or their historical context, as long as it satisfies my inner longing for peace. It is a very narcissistic view of religion, faith and really denies that any religion has an inner coherence that holds it together. This is truly religion as an opiate to quell the masses. This reminds me of an article on spiritually in Self magazine (Dec.1997). Here's the first paragraph.
"Spirituality being the individual subject it is, I think you should know where this reporter is coming from. There is a Buddha in my backyard, a Mexican santo on my mantel and a yoga mat in my bedroom. But my heritage is definitely Protestant: My father’s father was a Congregational minister, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side a Presbyterian minister, and regular church attendance was a given in our household. I myself joined the church at 13 but became a skeptic in college and renounced organized religion as hypocritical. Yet I returned to the fold a few years later when I thought that I — my two children — could use spiritual support. The community of my big-city church, the opportunity to interact with people from many walks of life and different races, nourished me immensely. Now I am churchless again. I grew tired of being preached to. Instead, I follow my own path — relying on messages from many traditions instead of the doctrine of any one religion. I practice yoga and look to its ethics for guidance, but I do not consider myself given over entirely to any one way. I believe I can grow in understanding — as long as my mind and heart are open."
Thanks for your championing of this issue.

Ben Witherington said...

First A.C. There is a marvelous discussion of Christianity amongst the world religions by G.K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy. He is especially good at distinguishing Christianity from the far eastern religions.

Hi Troy, nice to hear from you. You are right in thinking that this sort of material has influenced Brown and there is a literary genre confusion. Brown asked for the grief he received because of his statement on page one that suggested he was writing historical rather than hysterical fiction.

And Ed, thanks for this post. I am reminded of what the great Chesterton said when someone suggested that "all religions are one in essence" but varied in rituals. To the contrary said Chesterton, they are more similar in their praxis (including e.g. prayer) and differ in their fundamental beliefs.



Ross said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ross said...

I don’t know how much friends in the US have followed the recent case in London in which Dan Brown’s publishers were sued for copyright infringement by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The judgement went against them, but in the course of the trial Dan Brown gave evidence and the judge in his judgement sums up his evidence and describes the writing process. He also makes comments on the themes of the book along the way. While the conclusion of the judgement has been reported most people will have missed some of the comments that the judge makes. I would recommend anyone interested in responding to the Da Vinci code to read the judgement. It is available at this link:

I would particularly draw attention to paragraphs 345 and 346. The judge writes concerning Dan Brown’s eveidence:

'His failure to address these points in my view shows once again that the reality of his research is that it is superficial. This in my view is the explanation for his evidence. He has presented himself as being a deep and thorough researcher for all of the books he produced. The evidence in this case demonstrates that as regards DVC that is simply not correct with respect to historical lectures.'

Please keep up the good work.

Elizabeth Krecker said...


Like many of your readers, I wondered about the genre confusion, too. Until I actually read the book.

Now, I like a good adventure tale as much as anyone. Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Clive Cussler...bring 'em on.

Much like the books of these adventure authors, The DaVinci code is plot-driven, and Brown paces his plot brilliantly, peppering it at well-chosen moments with convincing "historical" background.

Plot twist after plot twist kept me hanging by my fingernails, forcing me to suffer through reams "historical" background before I could find out what happens at the next plot twist. But unlike most adventure novels, it wasn't the plot twists that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

I believe that the debate about the DaVinci Code should not just be a debate about theology, but also a debate about the truths (or lack thereof) presented in modern literature.

Historical fiction sets a fictional story inside well-researched history. The DaVinci Code, rampant in historical inaccuracy, hardly lives up to this genre. And yet, book review after book review refers to The DaVinci Code as "historical fiction," which not only belittles the hard-working authors who so carefully pen their tales amid real historical fact, but actually increases the The DaVinci Code's credibility by its mere association with this genre.

While we could easily write The DaVinci Code off as pure fiction, Brown cleverly ekes out just enough fact to make his "historical" background believable and, more cleverly, writes it in a form that convinces many of his readers that he is, indeed, protraying well-researched and accurate historical fact. In other words, The DaVinci Code is written as though it were a card-carrying member of the genre of historical fiction making those reams of historical background believable to the unsuspecting reader.

And if you think for a second that it's not believable, then please join me at my next teen group discussion. The generation of kids in our high schools right now are reading The DaVinci Code as an example of historical fiction in their English classes, and they believe it as history, not fiction.

That's what raises the hair on the back of my neck.

Am I ready to rumble? You betcha.

Elizabeth Krecker said...

One point I should clarify: When I say "And if you think for a second that it's not believable...." I am not referring to you personally, Mr. Witherington, but to any of your readers who think we should pass off The DaVinci Code as mere fiction.

Clearly you recognize the immense power this novel holds over many people's beliefs, or you would not have posted so much enlightening commentary and links to great resources such as the Ehrman/Hays debate.

Great stuff. And we'll need it for the rumble ahead.

Matt said...

This is for a.c. mattern, who was asking about responding to the whole Mithra nonsense and related topics. There is a series of essays on the subject of various "sources for the Jesus myths" on the Tektonics apologetics site. Hope this is useful.



A. C. Mattern said...

Dr. Witherington: Thanks for the heads up about Orthodoxy, this is the third time this month that it has come up. I've been meaning to get into Chesterton for some time now, so this is moving up to the top of the reading list.

Matt: Your link is greatly appreciated, I'm looking forward to digging into that site as time permits.

I'm looking forward to the weeks ahead. I have this inkling that the Da Vinci Code will spark conversations, arguments, and study that will have effects reaching farther then this movies' summer run.

Rumble in love.