It turns out, however, that many Christian leaders are choosing a completely different approach to the movie. They certainly aren’t embracing “The Da Vinci Code” and its conspiracy theories about the supposed marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the phony divinity of Christ and so on. Yet many view the film as providing an unconventional occasion–a “teachable moment,” as they say–to spread their faith. “It’s a marvelous opportunity to be positive,” said Josh McDowell of Campus Crusade for Christ in the Orlando Sentinel. “If you look carefully, truth will always stand.” ~John Miller, OpinionJournal.com

What is there to say about The DaVinci Code, except that the current excessive promotion of it by Borders has made me lose any desire whatever to patronise their stores for a very, very long time? It is very simply a sad and stupid lie, not even as intellectually interesting as Arianism but just as false (actually, it is even more in error, since Arius may have been an arrogant heresiarch but even he would never engage in the mockery of Christ and the Apostles that this book does). I feel sorry for people who have wasted time actually reading the book. Those who want to use this as a “teaching opportunity” to bring people to the Gospel are all very well-intentioned, but they are coming at all of this under the mistaken impression that when people have become inured to falsehoods they will excitedly welcome the truth when it is offered to them.

The best thing for Christians to do has to be simply to ignore it as much as possible. Most should certainly not try to “engage” with it except for the specific purposes of correcting its false claims, and even then this is not something that is desirable for everyone to do. Finally, they should encourage everyone they know to ignore the phenomenon. Ordinary Christian parishioners are not all heresiologists, and not everyone is suited to handling spiritually toxic substances. St. John of Damascus justifies inquiries into the beliefs of heretics as the necessary work of a doctor who must make use of poison to create the antidote to it, but many Christians will find in these things only sources of doubt, confusion and scandal. Good pastors would tell them to steer clear of this garbage.

Dan Brown ought to have been paying the readers for the time his nonsense took away from their lives (but if we established that precedent, entire sections of the book publishing industry would go broke). The one good thing that might come out of this is that there might be a real hunger for genuine histories of the Church and proper histories of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, among other things, and that this sort of pablum will be shown up for what it is. But who am I kidding? Even if there were a big burst of anti-DVC church and Byzantine history interest and a new batch of books on all of the Christian history distorted in this book, the people whose minds are being poisoned with this junk are not the ones who will be reading the correctives. Mr. Miller suggests elsewhere in his article that Opus Dei may have benefited from the attention the book and movie have generated, but this raises a different and ultimately much more important question: how much more would ordinary readers have benefited in their spiritual lives if they had been reading something edifying and true rather than a passel of lies?

It would be wasteful, but ultimately fine, if the people who read it already had a solid grounding in church, late Roman and medieval history, so they would be able to discern rapidly and without any difficulty where Brown was making things up or distorting things until they were unrecognisable, but the real problem with it is that ordinary readers with no frame of reference accept Dan Brown’s story with the credulity of administration officials listening to Iraqi defectors. It is not just that they believe the tripe they are being fed, but many of them want to believe at least some of it, because it already fits their preconceived notions about an institutional church, Constantine, the middle ages, the papacy and all the rest. It doesn’t hurt that it taps into the American longing for conspiratorial explanations for complex problems or difficult ideas. Both secular and Protestant relatives of mine alike have read this stuff and have taken it more or less seriously; that some of the Protestants do not see the incongruity of Brown’s claims with their own fundamental beliefs is perhaps the most depressing part of it all. There are times like these when the Index seems like a positively brilliant idea.