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Behind the Da Vinci Code

Louis Hughes op

Readers of historical novels have an expectation that what is written about characters and institutions will respect historical facts or, at least, not be total fabrication. Likewise, good science fiction writers aim to anticipate future discoveries and technological applications. They do not invent machines that simply contradict scientific laws. However, a recently emerging form of story telling - which I term “theology fiction” - sometimes fails to achieve any corresponding level of objectivity.

Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (DVC) is the best known work of theology fiction. Sales have passed the 17 million mark and a film, starring Tom Hanks, is in the pipeline. However, many of its readers, while coming for the entertainment, are taking its historical and theological assertions for real. Brown himself fostered these illusions by placing at the beginning of his text a page in enlarged print entitled "Fact". These “facts” include assertions that all the descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in the novel are accurate, and that the “Priory of Sion” is a real organization.

DVC is not an isolated publishing wonder, but rather the most successful in a series of books that have been appearing over the past 25 years, largely based on pseudo-history and pseudo-theology. Like many of its predecessors it has been taken apart by scholars. However, by the time the critique becomes widely known and accepted, writers like Dan Brown already have their money made.

Theology fiction can appear either in the form of a novel or as pseudo-academic work. Both involve revelations that are designed to startle rather than enlighten, such as the existence of cover-up by Church authorities of the real truth about Jesus, his mother Mary and the early development of the Christian community. Or one can be told of ominous messages concealed within the text of the Hebrew Bible.  Elements of science fiction are sometimes added. However, neither science fiction as such nor fantasy writings such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings are included here. With these we know that they do not pretend to represent factual reality. They are stories with a moral, but they do not purport to re-construct the theological basis of a world religion, as DVC seems to be doing.

This two-part article will look at and critique some examples of theology fiction and also attempt to show what the phenomenon is saying to us at this time.

Part 1 (Word document)
Part 2 (Word document)