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Never doubt - burn the DaVinci Code!

The New York Times > Books > Defenders of Christianity Rebut 'The Da Vinci Code'

Fearing that the best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" may be sowing doubt about basic Christian beliefs, a host of Christian churches, clergy members and Bible scholars are rushing to rebut it.

The first paragraph of this fascinating, front page report in the NYT, is the most revealing. The evangelicals - and some Catholics - fear doubt.

That, I guess, is aother part of what I have come to think of as "The Great Divide" - that huge canyon between the right and left wing of Christianity. Liberals don't fear doubt - they welcome it as an enriching force. You have no prayer of finding truth if you don't doubt - and continue to doubt.

Stop doubting and growth stops. You become an immature Christian, frozen in time, thinking you have all the answers and thus denying all the richness and depth that can be mined in the thoughts and words that have grown up around Christianity.

This is true, not only of Christianity, of course, but of any world view. I recommend it highly to those whp take a scientific world view, for example. And doubt seems to be a mainstay of the Zen world view.

Actually, my Dad put me on this track when I was a teenager and he cautioned me with these words: "If you ever meet a man who says he has all the answers, he's either in an insane asylum, or should be."

Doubt - it's wonderful. To the extent that it awakens doubts and challenges us to think and explore, I celebrate "The DaVinci Code." To the extent that it is just plain wrong - as it is in a few instances pointed out in this story - it and it's author should be taken to task. But much of what it says simply is not provable one way or the other. And the questions raised by it are rich with spiritual growth hormones.

Posted by Greg Stone at April 27, 2004 04:07 AM | TrackBack - free web hosting. Free hosting with no banners.

It always saddens me when conservative Christians (Protestant or Catholic) express certainty about their religion. If one have no doubt, no need exists for one of God's greatests gifts, which is faith. If one has no doubt, it follows that one has no faith! Do they understand what they are really saying when they say they have no doubt? I also think that people who say they have no doubt are very frightened and controlling people. Somehow, they can't stand uncertainty, can't stand not knowing.
Back in the late 70s or early 80s, Langdon Gilkey wrote a wonderful book on the topic called "The Lust for Certitude," which, if I recall it correctly, explores among other things the damage such certainty does to one's spiritual and psychological health.
I scanned the book "Cracking the DaVinci Code" with some amusement that a Catholic priest felt he had to try to debunk what obviously was a piece of fiction, albeit a really good one. I found the rebuttal to be petty and extremely defensive. Why so defensive, I ask? Perhaps because there are more than a few seeds of truth in it? "The lady doth protest too much" comes to mind, and I'm left thinking maybe there's more truth to the Code than I thought!
Anyway, doubt versus faith: you can't have one without the other. One is left with the conclusion that the right wing of Christianity is, simply, faithless. Somehow that's both scary and encouraging!

Posted by: Peter McDonald at April 27, 2004 11:42 AM

There is no science without doubt. Everything is up for grabs. Evidence is the only thing that counts for dispelling doubt.

Flaws in the system are that peer review takes time and all people don't have the resources to verify the entire body of scientific knowledge. But the peer-review strructure is meant to overcome problems of scale and personal frailty... over time.

But I hope that when people see scientists speaking with authority, they realize it is not because they have no doubt, but that they feel they have a system for making doubt work for us. But instead of reminding people every time we open our mouths that doubt exists, we go forward with a level of confidence. Are all the ducks not in a row? Perhaps. But if you were worried your hammer was going to shatter every time you swung it, you'd never be able to swing it hard enough to bury a nail.

Posted by: James at April 27, 2004 12:33 PM

I was going to post "science is founded on doubt," but my husband beat me to it! Historical knowledge is much the same. I used to think otherwise. It's most frustrating to know that I can't "read something" to learn what the Merovingian heresy *is*, for example. As a child you're taught that what you read in an encyclopedia is the "answer." As a child you're taught that there are answers.

But, back to the book... I think it's interesting that the Christians in the article are so upset that people might not believe Christ is divine. It was only very recently that I discovered what an important component of Christianity this is! I thought following the *teachings* of Christ was the point of Christianity!! That's the atheist in me thinking, I guess. I still can't believe people believe in the hocus-pocus.

Perhaps eventually the divine quality of Christ will evaporate and he'll become known and revered as an historical figure and philosopher. Obviously I think that would be an improvement, but maybe people can't really get along that way. Or maybe some other security blanket would suffice. Or maybe just security.

Posted by: Maggie at April 27, 2004 07:46 PM

What kind of "security" Maggie? Military? And why do we seek security? Of what are we afraid?

I come back to the issue of faith. One does not have to believe in the "hocus pocus" to have faith in the divinity of Christ. (I assume by that you mean the virgin birth, physical resurrection, water to wine stuff, etc.). What does the divinity of Christ mean, anyway? To me it means that God impinged on our reality, broke through and incarnated in one of us. The Good News is that God does that with each and everyone of us, if we allow that to happen. That's where I get my "security." And even if anything in the DaVinci Code is true (please remember it is a NOVEL!), and Jesus had a wife and children, does that mean he wasn't -- isn't -- divine? No it does not. It means he was fully human, as well as fully divine.

As far as following the teachings of Jesus are concerned, that certainly is the whole point of Christianity, but you don't have to be Christian to do that (I'm thinking of Ghandi, who is an example of a non-Christian who certainly followed Jesus' teaching better than almost all Christians I have ever known or read about). Believing in God, believing in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ makes it a hell of a lot easier to follow those teachings.

I also think the mess we're in in Iraq and elsewhere, including the mess at home vis-a-vis the enviroment, economy, educational system, etc. is the expected result of our current leaders' lack of doubt -- their certainty that they are right, that God is one their side, that their shoot-from-the-hip-without-thinking style will win out. Maybe it will, but not in a country I'd want to live in. Our leaders and their flock run their lives on fear. Fear of difference, fear of the unknown (but they don't bother to learn about what they don't know), fear of losing their stuff (i. e. money and power), fear of failure, fear of dying, fear of whatever...

As Paul Tillich once said, the antidote to fear is faith. These people who have no doubt, as I said earlier, also have no faith. And that is why they are afraid, and it's why they are, as I write, slaughtering civilians in Fallujah tonight. These so-called "Christians" who have no doubt are doing that. Is that following the teachings of Christ?

It makes me sick to my stomach.

Posted by: Peter McDonald at April 29, 2004 12:44 AM

I forgot to include fear that they might be wrong in my list above. That's fear of doubt, and that, I believe, is where we started this conversation...

Posted by: Peter McDonald at April 29, 2004 12:53 AM

Dear Peter,

By security I meant the basics: food, shelter, freedom from tyranny. I have had those things all of my life, so when I imagine someone creating religion or turning to a religion, I imagine that they are scared or lacking in information, and that is why they believe in something for which there is no physical evidence. There are more reasons than that, I guess, because I think some people are scared of dying (and you can have no security from that), and other people have been immersed in their religion as a way of life, and wouldn't think to turn away from it any more than I would think to turn to it. I was just speculating on a situation in which people could think about other people, rather than thinking about whether their baby is going to starve to death tonight.

"Hocus pocus" was a poor choice of words -- I meant the supernatural. But magic is of course something that we all agree looks supernatural but is not, whereas we do not all agree about the supernatural trappings of religion.

I agree that you don't have to be a Christian to follow the teachings of Christ. But I'm not sure why believing in God, or believing in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ (started some wars, as you point out above) makes it easier to follow those teachings. I don't agree with you there, and I think that's the sort of thinking that engenders fear of atheists. It is entirely possible to have a code of ethics independent of belief in the occult, and that ethics is at least grounded in something real -- a respect for mankind. Belief in the divine can lead to all sorts of very frightening prospects, like a president believing he has a direct ear to God.


Posted by: Maggie at April 29, 2004 12:51 PM

I wonder which makes more goodness on Earth possible... believing in God or believing in man?

Posted by: James at April 30, 2004 12:01 AM

I love this discussion! Also love James' last question.

My question is, is that rhetorical? That is, do you think you know the answer? Or is it a genuine question?

With me, it's a genuine question. It is obvious to me that an awful lot of evil is done in the name of religion - everything from priests using their office to lure youngsters into sex, to George Bush attacking Iraq and Osama bin Laden attacking on September 11. The crusaders, the Taliban, the suicide bombers, the Inquisition, the theocrats in Boston who hanged Quakers . . . so many examples of evil done in the name of - and sometimes, in the reality of, believing in God.

Seems clear that it is better to believe in man, than God. But then, can't that also lead to evil? Wasn't Hitler a matter of believing in man - the super race, only, of course - but believing in man. And Stalin - whose evil seems to be forgotten these days, but was absolutely incredible - didn't he reject God and create a religion of the state - of man? And there are many, many more such examples.

So i can find horrible things being done from either belief system. And I can find good things done under either as well.

Certainly secular humanism has driven an awful lot of altruism.

And so has religion.

My father was an Episcopal minister. His humanistic values and altruistic credentials emerged from his belief in God. I saw this in action every day of my life. I saw how hard he worked - I saw that his job was really 24-7 - and I saw him do it with a kindly smile and certainly making the world a better place. Quakers have for 300-plus years opposed slavery, war, harsh punishments, and unequal treatment of women and they have done so in the name of their beliefs in God. My great grandfather was a Quaker and during the Civil War he refused to fight, but as near as I can learn he did use his medical skills to help the wounded on either side.

In fact, I would argue that the bottom line is there is a lot more good in the world - and much of it stems from spiritual beliefs - than evil. We miss it because evil always has better PR. Evil makes news simply because it IS news - it is the unusual activity. So the newspapers do not report the usual days filled with kind acts large and small that we all can and do witness. The news media focus on the acts of violence - the unusual acts that stand out. And these are sometimes done in the name of God - of religion, and sometimes in the name of no God. And most of the time evil is done without reference to a belief system one way or the other.

Finally - we have the example of a president who claims to be acting in the name of God and in my opinion is doing great harm. But our most notable past president - the only past president in the last half century who has done anything notable after leaving office - is Jimmy Carter, and he is a deeply religious man.

Of course, all my answers to the question are anecdotal. I have not done a survey - I have no statistical evidence. But I am well aware of what happens when religions go wrong and are used to promote horrible ideas and acts - but I am also well aware that they frequently go right and that all these wonderful actions when they go right are just about never reported and even when they are reported, don't stand out in our consciousness. (This is another topic - but if we judge the world by what is reported in the media, we are getting an extremely distorted picture of reality.)

So i don;t have an answer to the question - but, to use the current vernacular, I don't think it's slam dunk either way and more importantly, I simply don't think it's an either or - people who claim to believe in God can do good, and people who claim to believe in man can do good. And both can do bad. A perceived world view may or may not influence their actions and may or may not influence them positively.

Hey - talk about religion - I even know some Republican who are nice people and do good things! ;-)

Posted by: Greg Stone at April 30, 2004 04:42 AM

I was thinking about this last night. I think that a person's psychological make-up has far more to do with their "good" or "evil" acts (Christian terms, unfortunately) than their belief system. Look at George Bush. Finding God hasn't changed him, it's just given him a different way of talking about his rotten egocentric world view, and unfortunately, it's given him credibility among a large group of Americans. A godless silver-spoon sucking chickenhawk may not have been elected.

Somebody like Jimmy Carter or the Reverend Stone -- Christianity is how they were raised and it is/was a way to express and realize something that internally would have been expressed even if they weren't raised as Christians IMHO.

Posted by: Maggie at April 30, 2004 07:26 AM

Ummm...I'm not sure what you mean by "psychological make-up?" Do you mean some sort of genetic predisposition? Or do you think their environment might have some influence on their "psychological make-up?" And if the environment has some influence, why couldn't their religion - or the religion of their parents - be counted as part of that influential environment?

And why do you think "good" and "evil" are "Christian terms?' I would call them ethical terms dealing with moral values and not the property of any particular belief system, Both George Bush and Osama bin Laden happen to use "evil" in a way I object to strongly in that they characterize people as "evil." I characterize some of the actions of people as evil - but I don't believe people are "evil" and I certainly don't believe whole countries are - as in "axis of evil."

Heaven forbid that I should be caught defending George Bush, but I haven't a clue what Christianity may - or may not - have done for him. My main problem with him is where this conversation all started - he thinks he has all the answers - he has no doubts. And I'm suspicious of anyone who claims to have all the answers. In weaker moments I envy them - because life seems easier their way - but in the final analysis I think all it indicates is that such people have put their brains in park.

Posted by: Greg Stone at April 30, 2004 09:37 AM

Psychological make-up is the part of a person that governs his or her behavior. It is grown from genetic material and environmental influences. Environmental influences, particularly didactic ones, I think have a pretty small impact on behavior. A child might go into a Church and be nauseated by the incense, or impressed with the costumes and ceremony, or hungry, or bored, or itchy, but I don't think that child's taking away a lot of the sermon internally. I don't think it's having a huge impact on his basic make-up. I think other influences, the things that he feels about emotionally and the things that he discovers on his own are much more likely to influence his behavior. Preaching is not a great way to convey information.

Turning to the family, the kid's still going to be what he's going to be. I think with a strong, cohesive family he has the best chance of becoming the best thing he can be out of his genetic possibilities, and with a weaker family, or abuse, a different set of possibilities will find expression. Of course there's an influence, but I don't think it's going to lead him on a path he wasn't already predisposed to take.

These are just opinions, and twin studies are the ways to find out how much influence environment has on the way a person behaves versus genetics. I don't know of one that takes religion into account. I'm always surprised at the things that are genetically predisposed when I read a twin study. Having children myself, I've also come to realize how little is possible through environmental influence, and how much personality is genetically predisposed. I've revised my theory of parenting to see myself in a coaching role.

As far as good and evil, they are Western concepts that I believe originated with Christianity, but I could of course be wrong. I'm no scholar of ethics or religion or history.

How do you categorize an action as "evil"? What does that mean? An action is just an action. Calling it "good" or "evil" implies that there is some higher judge, some higher justice. Who says what good and evil are?

This is probably my hugest argument with the effects that I see of the Catholic church, and by that I mean what I hear the Catholics around me saying. They have definitely put their brains in park, as you put it so well, because the Church has told them what good and evil are. Now they just have to confine their actions to the "good" side, beg forgiveness when they stray,and they're all set. Life is not that black and white.

Posted by: Maggie at April 30, 2004 01:40 PM

I posted my reply to my weblog at:

Posted by: James at April 30, 2004 04:24 PM

How do you categorize an action as "evil"? What does that mean? An action is just an action. Calling it "good" or "evil" implies that there is some higher judge, some higher justice. Who says what good and evil are?

You don't need a higher judge to define good and evil.

If I slap you, that's a good action. If you slap me, that's an evil action. ;-) (That's a joke, ok?)

Seriously, don't you think there are ethical systems outside of Christianity? In fact outside of all religion?

Christianity says:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this is the law and the prophets.

Judaism says:

What is hurtful to yourself, do not unto your fellow man.

Islam says:

Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for other what you would reject for yourself.

Buddhism says:

Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.

And Confuscianism ( not a religion and certainly not Western) says:

(in response to a question of whether there was single principle on which to build your life, the Master replied:

"Is not Reciprosity such a principle? - what you do not yourself desire, do not put before others."

And Hinduism says:

"This is the sum of all true righteousness - Treat others , as thou wouldst thyself be treated."

Bottom line - I submit that the idea of good and evil runs through all cultures and all times and is defined in the much the same way by all. Well, the foundational definitions are the same - as men start to build the house on these foundations they come up with all sorts of weird structures that in many case serves the purpose of one person, or one group to commit evil actions against another person, or another group.

Perhaps it's the word "evil" that bothers you? It's a perfectly good word that takes on some bad nuances because of the way people like Hussein, bin Laden, Falwell, and Bush use it.

The actions of people can be good - the actions of people can be bad. When people kill other people, I would say those actions are evil in all instances except self-defense. (And you can't define self-defense as Bush does - I thought he might some day hurt me if he got the chance, so I hit him first) When people act kindly towards others - treating them as they would wish to be treated, then those actions are good.

But I don't think the people themselves - in their entirety - are either good or evil. And as I said, that's where I part company with bin Laden and Bush.

I think, btw, that the science you quote supports this. I arrived at this belief first through spiritual paths - but more and more I see science as showing us that we have relatively little control over who we are and I'm not at all sure how much control we have over how we act - but I think it is a lot less than what we want to believe.

Your ancestors held slaves. If you were born on your ancestral farm in Maryland in 1840, how would you feel about this? It's a rhetorical question. Perhaps something in your genes would make you reject it. But your genes would have a tough battle with your environment, your family, your friends, your teachers - everyone around you. Thomas Jefferson obviously had some fairly deep ideas about democracy and human dignity, but he still held slaves. Was that his genes at work? Or his environment?
I don't know. But I also don't condemn him because in the final analysis I simply don't know how I would be if placed in the exact same circumstances - not whisked back in time with all my 21st century culture - but born in 1740 on a plantation in Virginia.

Bottom line - I think genetics has a tremendous influence. I think environment has a significant influence, but less than genetics. I'm not sure what influence any of us really have, but I totally agree with your choice of "coaching" as the correct approach.

Posted by: Greg Stone at April 30, 2004 06:39 PM

On relativism...

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."
-- Mel Brooks

Posted by: James at May 1, 2004 09:54 AM

I know my personal problems are irrelevant, but I had a reply half-finished and then I let a friend use my browser and she quit it when she was done, and I lost my reply!

Briefly on good and evil -- I really don't know. I don't think that the words good and evil, and a code of ethics, are the same thing. And I think these are words that are tricky to translate because they're so cultural. I do think that in our Western culture, because of Christianity, there is a connotation of divine judgement when you use them. I think they have personal meanings. They're very loaded words. I think it's safer and more communicative to be specific about consequences, rather than to say that something is an evil action, be specific about how its consequences will negatively affect something that you are hoping everyone holds dear in their value systems.

Now I recall the very clever thing I was going to say about slavery. ;-) It's an interesting point, I think -- how would our genetic material hold up under a society with slavery? Imagine some utopian Star-Trek-like future. Would they look back on us, the middle class of one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and see us in the same way that we see slave holders of pre-Civil War America? Why aren't we living in two-room huts and dispersing our funds to as many people living below the poverty level as possible, to bring them up to our level? Why aren't my kids riding their bikes to school, why do they get to be in classrooms with 15-20 kids per teacher? Why do they get paper instead of little chalkboards? How come we get to suck up all of the world's natural resources?

I think each of us has an infinite number of possible selves, given our genetic material. It's just that I really don't believe we have the *same* infinite number of possible selves as everyone else. The issue of every man being created equal is a tricky one for me. It's clear to me we're not equal in terms of the gifts that we're given or our situations. But even though I don't believe in anything supernatural within any of us, I would like to see us all treated, well, maybe not equally. I'd like to see us all get what we need. Clearly that's not equality, now that I babble on. If your child needs round-the-clock nursing care, your child is going to use up a lot more resources than mine, who needs no such accomodations. Hmmm.

Posted by: Maggie at May 2, 2004 03:51 PM

Actually, I've never been very enthusiastic about living in a 2-room hut. But we somehow need to make some progress in that direction., I just read an interesting stat. It went approximately like this:

If all the money in the world were distributed evenly, everyone would have $6,000 a year. Right now, the top 20% have more than $9,000 a year and the bottom 20 percent have less than $365 a year. Sixty percent are somewhere in between.

So. . . we have along wya to go.

What bothers me is so much of the world's population is in China, India, and Africa. We are a small part - about 5%. China, alone, has about 40%. So what happens, 30 years from now, when China is strong?

Right now we are on top of the world - in terms of military strength - we need to use that strength to create a legitimate world government. Because some day my grandchildren are going to live in a world where we are not the strongest nation. And when that day comes, I want there to be well-established laws that protect them.

Just having bombs and bombers doesn't do the trick. Sept. 11 should have taught us that. But Sept. 11 is a mere preview -a very brief preview and mild one - of what we face if we can't create a world based in law where the playing field it is at least somewhat level.

Right now we're living a fantasy. It's a nice fantasy for those few lucky ones like us. But it can't last.

So we're in agreement on that - and in agreement on how people should treat one another. I continue to disagree on the special meaning of good and evil - I don;t think it's something special to Christianity - but I do agree that the world "evil" is abused and it would be better to talk in terms of specifics.

However, there is a bright side - most of the world does have a common value system. The "golden rule" is pretty much universal. So why not use it? It's a place where we have common ground. People just need to be reminded of it - and they need to be reminded that it is not something that is special to their culture, or their religion.

Posted by: Greg Stone at May 2, 2004 04:34 PM

Believe the man who is searching for the truth; doubt the man who has found it.

I forget who said that, but I like its Zen-like simplicity.

As far as the rest of it goes--for me it all boils down to Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Any correlary or re-purposing of that basic tenet only opens the door for unintended consequence.

Great thread.

Posted by: Mike Mahoney at May 7, 2004 01:09 PM
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