Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Seek the Truth!

Rather like Pilate who asked "What is Truth?" some people today seem quite eager to play fast and loose with truth. The Da Vinci Code received its premiere in Cannes this week and came onto general release in the UK yesterday. The tagline on the posters for this movie was: "Seek the Truth".

Indeed! For if one were to actively seek the Truth, one finally comes to Jesus Christ, who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life"; Truth is (as The Da Vinci Code supposes) indeed a Person and that Person is far more exciting and dynamic than the confused, contrived con that is the movie I saw yesterday. Coming to seek and to love the Truth is to love the Person of Jesus Christ; as Yves Congar OP once said, "I love truth as I love a person."

The very fact that Dan Brown and those who chose to make the movie based on his book 'The Da Vinci Code' can posit insinuations and lies as true shows how undervalued truth is in our world. People simply don't love truth; is it any wonder they don't love Christ and His holy Church? I have considered for two years the position of Mr Brown on this matter. He asserts that his book is a work of fiction and yet in television interviews wants to assert (as indeed he does on the very first page of his book) that his work is based on fact. By implication, he seems to be saying that he has woven his yarn around truths about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Church. Whatever his real position, such prevarication should come as no surprise to us. Anyone who has such a poor respect for truth cannot be expected to be a man of his word. This laissez-faire attitude to truth is perhaps rather sadly typical of our age. As fr Timothy Radcliffe OP wrote:

"We live in a society that does not have a high regard for the truth... For most of the history of the West, telling the truth has been thought of as valuable in itself, as belonging to our human dignity, and required by honour. Aristotle wrote that 'falsehood is itself mean and culpable, and truth noble and full of praise'. This tradition was still alive in Kant, who wrote, 'By a lie a person throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a person.'"
(What is the Point of Being a Christian?, p111.)

On another level, one may wonder what it is that drives one to have such disregard for truth. Where do lies originate and why? When it comes to a work like 'The Da Vinci Code', the core argument seems to be that the Church has been deceiving people for two millennia, that if the 'truth' were allowed to be made known, all oppression, violence, poverty etc would end, and she would kill to hide this 'truth'. This is preposterous and illogical, as any sociologist and historian might tell us; it is untrue, a lie. In fact, I would consider it libelous! Who would want to perpetrate lies against Christ and His holy Church?

"Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here... Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth you do not believe me... If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God'."
(John 8:42-47)

How has the "father of lies" acted this time? How does the Deceiver resuscitate old heresies and make them attractive for a 21st-century audience? One can almost hear Screwtape instructing Wormwood to use an exciting novel and a star-studded movie (even if it's been panned by critics, or maybe even because it's been slated!) as tools to spread lies and plant the seeds of unhealthy doubt about Christ and His holy Church!

The so-called 'facts' on which Dan Brown bases his book and which the movie amplifies are quite well-known. Summaries of Dan Brown's book and a synopsis of the untruths and insinuations his characters hold are readily available. We are exhorted to 'Seek the Truth', so let's do it: There are many excellent rebuttals to these lies and inaccuracies: I would recommend Bart Ehrman's Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code. If you can't get hold of it, read this interview with Professor Ehrman or visit the excellent USCCB website.

Some people may wonder why I read the book since I could get hold of synopses so easily and why watch the movie and enrich those who perpetrate the lies?

Because I desired to know how 'The Da Vinci Code' works as a book and as a movie, how it impacts upon the reader and viewer. The Lord Himself has said that "the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light" (Lk 16:8) and thus we, the 'children of light', need to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Mt 10:16). This we can do by examining for ourselves, the tactics of the Prince of Lies, in order to know one's enemy. As Sun Tzu, the Chinese philosopher who wrote 'The Art of War' put it:

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

Hence, I wished to examine how these lies were woven into the story, how they might appeal to audiences, how people might be fooled and drawn into the web of untruths, and the only way to do this was to experience both the book and the movie first-hand. This obviously does not mean I endorse them nor do I recommend that others head to the cinema immediately. One has to make one's own prudential judgement on this. Honestly though, I thought the book was an exciting page-turner and the movie a poorly-directed and poorly-acted bore; the latter let down the former but I fear the movie is more powerful in the manner in which it insinuates and plants in one's mind - by word and image - the supposed 'truth' it wants to market. This review gives a good idea of what I mean...

In many ways, the central lies of 'The Da Vinci Code' are old; the Deceiver does not change his story but his tactics are pretty inventive and he does not fail to try to get his message across. And there is some evidence that he has been quite successful. Going by a recent U.K. poll commissioned by the Catholic-run Da Vinci Code Response Group, many people (at least in this country) have been fooled by The Da Vinci Code.

What this suggests to me is that there is much to be done by the Church in the U.K. (as indicated in this week's Tablet editorial), and I rather expect in other parts of the world too! And the work we do as Christians is not to be defensive but to carry out a work of love and compassion. One thing that the Da Vinci Code phenomenon tells me is that there is a genuine hunger for truth but this hunger is not satisfied and is being frustrated by the lies that people are being fed! As such, the Church can and must respond with the Truth of Jesus Christ, He who alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart and our common search for Truth. As St Dominic knew well, eradicating error and teaching the truth was an act of compassion and love for humanity.

Recently, fr Bruno Esposito OP said at a symposium addressing the Da Vinci Code phenomenon that we ought to engage with seekers for the Truth, fans of the book and movie "not in a spirit of defense or confrontation but as an examination of conscience by believers, who must be committed to a new evangelization." This means that every Christian, every lover of Truth, of the Person of Jesus Christ, must be moved to love those who hunger for Him and yet cannot find Him. Like the real St Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles, we have beheld Christ and His Truth and He summons us to run and tell the world that Truth which we ourselves are witnesses of!

The Da Vinci Code has also occasioned much comment and a lot of this is very useful. Some of the best comes from Amy Welborn's blog and The Times' religious correspondent, Ruth Gledhill's blog is also quite interesting and informative. There has also been a reported increase of interest in Opus Dei and membership is on the rise; some clergy report increased interest among students to study religion and Christianity and anecdotal evidence that the book and movie have been ways to talk about our faith with friends and colleagues. All this is very encouraging but not surprising... When the Church is persecuted, the Lord also grants her strength and increase!

And what is the final word?

"The Accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their witness..."
(Rev 12:10b-11)

And to that, let all the Church, all lovers of Truth cry out: Amen!


Anonymous Az said...

Br Lawrence
There's an excellent paper by your confrere Fr Gus Di Noia (now at the CDF) on this question of truth:

Indeed there is much to be done by the Church in the UK. David Schindler (Editor-in-chief of the North American edition of Communio) made some pertinent observations about Catholics and (secular) liberal culture in his recent interview with John Allen. Check it out!

12:33 am  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Thanks for the links and for reading!

10:35 pm  
Anonymous Daniel Mitsui said...

Hmm.. mentioning Pontius Pilate and the DaVinci Code together reminded me of my favorite anagram:



8:47 pm  

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