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Monday, May 29, 2006

"What Makes The Da Vinci Code Anti-Catholic" by Deal W. Hudson

A reader of the Window wrote asking me to explain why I found The Da Vinci Code anti-Catholic. That's a fair question, since as she pointed out, I didn't supply any examples.

Anyone doubting my word can consult the film's co-producer, John Calley. He told The New York Times (9/7/2005) that the movie was "conservatively anti-Catholic" but not "destructively so."

I wonder if Mr. Calley sought any expert opinions on what would be destructive to the Church, or if he considered himself qualified to make that call. Why did he reject the request for a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, if he was concerned about its possibly being destructive? It's widely known that many of Dan Brown's readers believe his claim that the book is based upon "historical evidence."

Since Calley is a former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, it's safe to assume that other Sony executives are fully aware of the film's assault on the reputation of the Catholic Church. Peter Boyer has written a fascinating account in The New Yorker (5/22/06) of how Sony's marketing department tried to head off conservative Christian criticism of the film. "(Hollywood Heresy: Marketing 'The Da Vinci Code' to Christians").

Boyer chronicles Sony's attempt to inoculate itself against a Christian backlash by creating a web site for Christians to debate whether Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene; whether they begat children; and whether the Church has hidden this secret ever since.

It's a sad day when Christian scholars get sucked into a scam like this just to be associated with Hollywood.

Sony has not been deterred by the worldwide protest against the film. Why should it? Since The Da Vinci Code is already a financial, though not critical success, Sony has announced its intention of filming more of Dan Brown's novels. Angels and Demons, his 2000 anti-Catholic rant on the subject of science, is already under development.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Human Rights, told me, "What would have happened if Calley had said his movie was 'conservatively' anti-Semitic or African-American? Do you think the film would have ever seen the light of day?"

Donohue has been the most visible Catholic leader making the case against The Da Vinci Code. I asked him to describe the difference between a film that is critical of the Church and one that is anti-Catholic.

"Disagreement with the Church is fine, but when it becomes disdain or disparagement, you have crossed the line."

Donohue used the example of the 1994 movie Priest. "In that film all five priests are dysfunctional, and their dysfunction is directly connected to their ministry, meaning the Church has created their dysfunction. You never meet a normal priest!"

He also said, "There is nothing anti-Catholic about good humor that is not designed to insult but to make people laugh. Mel Brooks, for example, puts forth good old American humor, no one is singled out, and there is no meanness. We all need to laugh at ourselves."

The key to recognizing how anti-Catholicism works in this country is seeing the "sweeping generalizations that would never be used with any other group."

The Da Vinci Code fulfills all of Donohue's main criteria: It represents the institution of the Church as corrupt from the top down. From Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina) to the self-flagellating Opus Dei "monk" Silas (Paul Bettany), there are no admirable representatives of the Church. (There are no "monks" in Opus Dei as Peter Boyer points out.)

The effort to bring the film industry to some recognition of anti-Catholicism is not about censorship, but awareness. Many of those producers and artists making films are either blind to the bias that pervades their community or don't feel obliged to constrain themselves.

As Terry Teachout, drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, informed me, "It's been my experience that any mention of Catholicism in a contemporary work of art, given the current climate of elite opinion, is more than likely to be anti-Catholic."

There was a time when the Church condemned films and tried to keep them from public viewing. The Catholic Legion of Decency, established by the U.S. bishops in 1933, was established for "the purification of the cinema." Its list of condemned films includes one of the most powerful evocations of the Christian faith made in Hollywood, Strange Cargo (1940) starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford and directed by Frank Borzage, a Catholic. (For a list see the Wikipedia entry).

The pendulum has swung the other way with a vengeance. The film community effectively seeks to censor the Church with a steady barrage of distortion and falsity. Perhaps they will learn that their caricatures of the Church, such as Priest and The Da Vinci Code, simply create bad art, and that will give them pause.

The Window is published by the Morley Institute for Church & Culture.

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