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A few years back I read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and thoroughly loved it. I also zoomed right through several of his other books, Deception Point and Angels & Demons. Dan Brown, like another favorite author of mine, Vince Flynn, knows how to keep me attached to a book. I am always eager to begin one of their books, but am always cautious as to when I read one because I become so absorbed for two or three days. Sometimes, my friend, Kay Hetzer, will be reading a Dan Brown book and we will debate it until we are finished.

In three weeks the movie, The Da Vinci Code, will be released and it is already causing a stir with The Church. Back in the 1980’s I can remember when the church was outraged over The Last Temptation of Christ. I was in college and can remember laughing at the petition from my home church. I attended the movie with the Lutheran pastor (and his wife) where I was music director. The three of us loved it and thought the uproar was ludicrous.

Several years back it was The Passion of the Christ which garnered a good deal of press. I attended the opening day, more so out of curiosity. I walked through a little barrage of protestors who stood out on the sidewalk singing “Amazing Grace” with their hands waving over their heads. Some other movie attendees stopped to share with them but continued on.

Inside, I was surprised to find the movie theatre practically full and it seemed most of the audience was filled with Pentecostal church groups. There seemed to be large blocks of people. I was even more eager to gauge the audience reaction. I was prepared for people getting up and walking out, or booing the screen – and I was sorely disappointed. People stayed. No one booed or hissed. In fact, this audience was caught up in the movie and reacted as though they were actually standing along the “Via Dolorosa” or at the foot of Golgatha. They were wailing and sniffling as loud as the actors on the screen during emotional moments. For a movie that attracted such criticism, I was observing something completely different than what I anticipated.

After the movie, I excused myself around women holding one another and crying bitterly as though CNN just broke the news of Jesus’ death. In the lobby there were even more crowds for the next viewing. Outside, the protestors had disbanded and the local news cameras were there to interview the audience.

For both movies, I found them to be nothing more than a product of the performing arts. They did not move me nearly as much as The Ten Commandments does every Spring when it dominates five hours of channel 22, but I still appreciated their value.

I am finding this uproar over The Da Vinci Code to be almost comical. I have read a ton of articles which are incredibly anti Dan Brown, and most of the authors have not even read his work. They are basing their rebuttals against something they have not even read. Last night, I stayed up until 2:00AM reading The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent. I am not saying I buy into all he says, but I do appreciate his research and his thorough study of the topic.

I have always felt that if a piece of work, whether it be literary or dramatic, shakes one’s faith so greatly, perhaps their faith was not as strong as it could have been. Artists, musicians, dramatists and novelists have been creating works about The Bible, Christ and the other many individuals throughout Biblical history for centuries.

No one protests paintings of Christ with golden hair or fair skin… most nativity scenes are placed in an angular Bavarian structure rather than a cave… most nativity scenes have both shepherds and wise men present when the texts indicate other wise…

The Da Vinci Code presents a not so new approach to the continuity of Christ’s bloodline, marrying him to Mary Magdalene. Many Christians are slamming Dan Brown for creating such a story, yet this concept has been around for centuries. Dan Brown simply used this piece of history to tell a story much like I did the life of the Wright brothers to tell a story. I, too, used some artistic license, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that my characters are thoroughly documented in both print, oral and photography. Neither Dan Brown, nor The Church, can claim access to as much thorough, factual documentation as I can. Dan Brown’s work does not challenge “faith.” What it does do is bring together documented historical items, placing them in a mystery/suspense novel that makes for excellent reading.

Dan Brown has done nothing wrong. This verbal crucifixion of Dan Brown reminds me of the early days of the Christian church when bishops were executed (by the church and not the Romans) for adding their own interpretation. I have listened to many ministers throughout my life and I have never heard two who are exactly alike. No one throws stones at these particular authorities who will often slant things a little differently to get a point across.

The funny thing is that Dan Brown is still under fire when it is the movie being released. Why aren’t people taking Ron Howard or Tom Hanks to task? Now, it is their interpretation based on Dan Brown’s work. It does seem to me, however, that The Church is in a panic over the release of this movie. What is there to defend? Why is it so anxious? If all the Biblical facts are cemented in truth and thorough documentation, why not allow the movie to premiere in theatres and let it blow over like others have done? The funny thing to me is that The Church, when it protests such things, is a great marketing tool for the movies! The Church draws so much attention to the upcoming premiere that it makes people more curious and interested! Again I am reading articles by theologians and clergy with a “shoot to kill” attitude. It amazes me how the political police of the Catholic Church can fight someone like Dan Brown, tooth and nail, over historical items recorded over hundreds of years, yet, for many years, hid under the carpet the allegations from parishioners of the numerous priests sexually molesting alter boys or other members.

I would like to research the making of the motion picture, The Ten Commandments that evolved from a highly embellished script. I want to know if Cecil B. DeMille was criticized as much as Dan Brown.

I found this section of Dan Brown’s webpage to be of particular interest. You can find it at the following link, but I am also including the “Common Questions” and his response. http://www.danbrown.com/novels/davinci_code/faqs.html

HOW MUCH OF THIS NOVEL IS TRUE?
The Da Vinci Code
is a novel and therefore a work of fiction. While the book’s characters and their actions are obviously not real, the artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals depicted in this novel all exist (for example, Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings, the Gnostic Gospels, Hieros Gamos, etc.). These real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters. While it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters’ viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations. My hope in writing this novel was that the story would serve as a catalyst and a springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history.

BUT DOESN’T THE NOVEL’S “FACT” PAGE CLAIM THAT EVERY SINGLE WORD IN THIS NOVEL IS HISTORICAL FACT?
If you read the “FACT” page, you will see it clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist. The “FACT” page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader.

IS THIS BOOK ANTI-CHRISTIAN?
No. This book is not anti-anything. It’s a novel. I wrote this story in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me. The vast majority of devout Christians understand this fact and consider The Da Vinci Code an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate. Even so, a small but vocal group of individuals has proclaimed the story dangerous, heretical, and anti-Christian. While I regret having offended those individuals, I should mention that priests, nuns, and clergy contact me all the time to thank me for writing the novel. Many church officials are celebrating The Da Vinci Code because it has sparked renewed interest in important topics of faith and Christian history. It is important to remember that a reader does not have to agree with every word in the novel to use the book as a positive catalyst for introspection and exploration of our faith.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF CLERICAL SCHOLARS ATTEMPTING TO “DISPROVE” THE DA VINCI CODE?
The dialogue is wonderful. These authors and I obviously disagree, but the debate that is being generated is a positive powerful force. The more vigorously we debate these topics, the better our understanding of our own spirituality. Controversy and dialogue are healthy for religion as a whole. Religion has only one true enemy–apathy–and passionate debate is a superb antidote.

PARTS OF THE DA VINCI CODE DESCRIBE THE ACTIVITIES OF THE RELIGIOUS GROUP OPUS DEI. HOW DOES OPUS DEI FEEL ABOUT YOUR NOVEL?
I worked very hard to create a fair and balanced depiction of Opus Dei. Even so, there may be those who are offended by the portrayal. While Opus Dei is a very positive force in the lives of many people, for others, affiliation with Opus Dei has been a profoundly negative experience. Their portrayal in the novel is based on numerous books written about Opus Dei as well as on my own personal interviews with current and former members.

SOME OF THE HISTORY IN THIS NOVEL CONTRADICTS WHAT I LEARNED IN SCHOOL. WHAT SHOULD I BELIEVE?
Since the beginning of recorded time, history has been written by the “winners” (those societies and belief systems that conquered and survived). Despite an obvious bias in this accounting method, we still measure the “historical accuracy” of a given concept by examining how well it concurs with our existing historical record. Many historians now believe (as do I) that in gauging the historical accuracy of a given concept, we should first ask ourselves a far deeper question: How historically accurate is history itself?

ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?
Yes. Interestingly, if you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers. Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as absolute historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. By attempting to rigidly classify ethereal concepts like faith, we end up debating semantics to the point where we entirely miss the obvious–that is, that we are all trying to decipher life’s big mysteries, and we’re each following our own paths of enlightenment. I consider myself a student of many religions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. For me, the spiritual quest will be a life-long work in progress.

THE TOPIC OF THIS NOVEL MIGHT BE CONSIDERED CONTROVERSIAL. DO YOU FEAR REPERCUSSIONS?
I can’t imagine why. The ideas in this novel have been around for centuries; they are not my own. Admittedly, this may be the first time these ideas have been written about within the context of a popular thriller, but the information is anything but new. My hope for The Da Vinci Code was, in addition to entertaining people, that it might serve as an open door for readers to begin their own explorations and rekindle their interest in topics of faith.

HOW DO ALBINOS FEEL ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER SILAS?
Some readers with albinism have been troubled by this character. I am very sensitive to their concerns. It is important to remember that Silas’s skin color has nothing to do with his violent nature–he is driven to violence by others’ cruelty… not by anything inherent in his physiology. The vast majority of critics and readers (even some with albinism) find Silas to be the novel’s most sympathetic character. I truly believe the novel’s portrayal of Silas is a compassionate exploration of how difficult albinism can be–especially for young people–and how cruelly societies can ostracize those of us who look different.

HAS ANYONE IN ORGANIZED RELIGION COME OUT IN SUPPORT OF YOUR NOVEL?
Yes, many people in organized religion have come out in support of this novel, and, of course, many have come out in opposition as well. The opposition generally comes from the strictest Christian thinkers who feel the idea of a “married Jesus” serves to undermine His divinity. While I don’t agree with this interpretation, this is immaterial because the dialogue itself is a deeply empowering and positive force for everyone involved. Suddenly, enormous numbers of people are passionately debating important philosophical topics, and regardless of the personal conclusions that each of us draws, the debate can only help to strengthen our understanding of our own faith. Much of the positive response I get from within organized religion comes from nuns (who write to thank me for pointing out that they have sacrificed their entire lives to the Church and are still considered “unfit” to serve behind the altar). I have also heard from hundreds of enthusiastic priests. While many of them disagree with some of the ideas in the novel, they are thrilled that their parishioners are eager to discuss religion. Father John Sewell of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Memphis stated it particularly eloquently in the press recently, saying: “This [novel] is not a threat. This is an opportunity. We are called to creatively engage the culture and this is what I want to do. I think Dan Brown has done me a favor. He’s letting me talk about things that matter.”

ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THE BOOK’S SUCCESS?
Stunned. I worked very hard on this novel, and I certainly expected people would enjoy it, but I never imagined so many people would be enjoying it this much. I wrote this book essentially as a group of fictional characters exploring ideas that I found personally intriguing. These same themes obviously resonate with a great many people.

THIS NOVEL IS VERY EMPOWERING TO WOMEN. CAN YOU COMMENT?
Two thousand years ago, we lived in a world of Gods and Goddesses. Today, we live in a world solely of Gods. Women in most cultures have been stripped of their spiritual power. The novel touches on questions of how and why this shift occurred and on what lessons we might learn from it regarding our future.

THE COVER OF YOUR BOOK MENTIONS “THE GREATEST CONSPIRACY OF THE PAST 2000 YEARS.” WHAT IS THIS CONSPIRACY?
Revealing that secret would rob readers of all the fun, but I will say that it relates to one of the most famous histories of all time a legend familiar to all of us. Rumors of this conspiracy have been whispered for centuries in countless languages, including the languages of art, music, and literature. Some of the most dramatic evidence can be found in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, which seem to overflow with mystifying symbolism, anomalies, and codes. Art historians agree that Da Vinci’s paintings contain hidden levels of meaning that go well beneath the surface of the paint. Many scholars believe his work intentionally provides clues to a powerful secret a secret that remains protected to this day by a clandestine brotherhood of which Da Vinci was a member.

WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR THE DA VINCI CODE?
This particular story kept knocking on my door until I answered. I first learned of the mysteries hidden in Da Vinci’s paintings while I was studying art history at the University of Seville in Spain. Years later, while researching Angels & Demons and the Vatican Secret Archives, I encountered the Da Vinci enigma yet again. I arranged a trip to the Louvre Museum where I was fortunate enough to view the originals of some of Da Vinci’s most famous works as well as discuss them with an art historian who helped me better understand the mystery behind their surprising anomalies. From then on, I was captivated. I spent a year doing research before writing The Da Vinci Code.

HOW DID YOU GET ALL THE INSIDE INFORMATION FOR THIS BOOK?
Most of the information is not as “inside” as it seems. The secret described in the novel has been chronicled for centuries, so there are thousands of sources to draw from. In addition, I was surprised how eager historians were to share their expertise with me. One academic told me her enthusiasm for The Da Vinci Code was based in part on her hope that “this ancient mystery would be unveiled to a wider audience.”

YOU SEEM TO HAVE A FASCINATION WITH SECRET SOCIETIES? CAN YOU COMMENT?
My interest in secret societies is the product of many experiences, some I can discuss, others I cannot. Certainly my research of organizations like NSA, the Vatican, NRO, and Opus Dei continues to fuel my intrigue. At a more fundamental level, though, my interest sparks from growing up in New England, surrounded by the clandestine clubs of Ivy League universities, the Masonic lodges of our Founding Fathers, and the hidden hallways of early government power. New England has a long tradition of elite private clubs, fraternities, and secrecy. On that theme, the next Robert Langdon novel (already in progress) is set deep within the oldest fraternity in history the enigmatic brotherhood of the Masons.

WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A CONSPIRACY THEORIST?
Hardly. In fact, I’m quite the opposite–more of a skeptic. I see no truth whatsoever in stories of extraterrestrial visitors, crop circles, the Bermuda Triangle, or many of the other “mysteries” that permeate pop culture. However, the secret behind The Da Vinci Code was too well documented and significant for me to dismiss.

CAN YOU SYNOPSIZE THE PLOT FOR US?
Sure. A renowned Harvard symbologist is summoned to the Louvre Museum to examine a series of cryptic symbols relating to Da Vinci’s artwork. In decrypting the code, he uncovers the key to one of the greatest mysteries of all time and he becomes a hunted man.

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