The Da Vinci Code and De-Constructing Christianity
A bestselling thriller, exposing secrets of the world's most popular and powerful religion?
Many arguments along the lines of "this is true, that isn't true" surround the Dan Brown page-turner Tom Hanks/Ron Howard movie The Da Vinci Code.
But instead of focusing on the various stories and histories that so many others seem to enjoy debating, we - your trusty, hearty, funk-loving LiveReal Agents - wanted to focus instead on a slightly different aspect of the story - those parts that really touch on core, fundamental issues of religion and spirituality.
The following excerpt from The Da Vinci Code
is a conversation that takes place between three characters:
Teabing, an elderly knight who is speaking to
Sophie, a French police agent, and
Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist.
excerpt from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
" . . . everything you need to know about the Bible can be summed up by the great canon doctor Martyn Percy."
Teabing cleared his throat and declared, "The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven."
"I beg your pardon?"
"The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book."
"Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen. As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions, and founded new philosophies. As a descendant of the lines of King Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews. Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land." Teabing paused to sip his tea and then placed the cup back on the mantel. "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them."
"Who chose which gospels to include?" Sophie asked.
"Aha!" Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. "The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great."
"I thought Constantine was a Christian," Sophie said.
"Hardly," Teabing scoffed. "He was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest. In Constantine's day, Rome's official religion was sun worship - the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invincible Sun - and Constantine was its head priest. Unfortunately for him, a growing religious turmoil was gripping Rome. Three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Christ's followers had multiplied exponentially. Christians and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to rend Rome in two. Constantine decided something had to be done. In 325 A.D., he decided to unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity."
Sophie was surprised. "Why would a pagan emperor choose Christianity as the official religion?"
Teabing chuckled. "Constantine was very good businessman. He could see that Christianity was on the rise, and he simply backed the winning horse. Historians still marvel at the brilliance with which Constantine converted the sun-worshipping pagans to Christianity. By fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition, he created a kind of hybrid religion that was acceptable to both parties."
"Transmogrification," Langdon said. "The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable. Egyptian sun disks became the halos of Catholic saints. Pictograms of Isis nursing her miraculously conceived son Horus became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus. And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual - the miter, the altar, the doxology, and communion, the act of "God-eating" - were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions."
Teabing groaned. "Don't get a symbologist started on Christian icons. Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras - called the Son of God and the Light of the World - was born on December 25, died was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. By the way, December 25 is also the birthday or Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even Christianity's weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans."
"What do you mean?"
"Originally," Langdon said, "Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan's veneration day of the sun." He paused, grinning. "To this day, most churchgoers attend services on Sunday morning with no idea that they are there on account of the pagan sun god's weekly tribute - Sunday."
Sophie's head was spinning. "And all of this related to the Grail?"
"Indeed," Teabing said. Stay with me. During this fusion of religions, Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea."
Sophie had heard of it only insofar as its being the birthplace of the Nicene Creed.
At this gathering," Teabing said, "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon - the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus."
"I don't follow. His divinity?"
"My dear," Teabing declared, "until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal."
"Not the Son of God?"
"Right," Teabing said. "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea."
To some folks, all of this above is obvious. To others, it's pretty controversial. Still, if the above is accepted as truth, some of the core beliefs of Christianity - the authority of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the origins of many Christian rituals and practices - can be completely transformed.
The same, in fact, could be said about the Koran . . . the words of Buddha . . . Lao Tzu . . . all of these stories, it could be argued, are actually "man-made," passed on from person to person, and subject to all of the politics, interpretations, and historical contexts that completely contradict the notion that they came straight and directly from the mouth of God.
It might seem that this claim could upset a few people - namely, certain Christians. But Brown, being the smart guy that he is, addresses this directly to soften things a bit:
" . . . And I assume devout Christians send you hate mail on a daily basis?"
"Why would they?" Teabing countered. "The vast majority of educated Christians know the history of their faith. Jesus was indeed a great and powerful man. Constantine's underhanded political maneuvers don't diminish the majesty of Christ's life. Nobody is saying Christ was a fraud, or denying that He walked the earth and inspired millions to better lives. All we are saying is that Constantine took advantage of Christ's substantial influence and importance. And in doing so, he shaped the face of Christianity as we know it today."
So if this is true . . .
"All creeds, doctrines and dogmas will reflect the worldview of those who framed them. No creed drops out of heaven, fully written, complete with paragraphing and punctuation. All creeds are shaped in debate and represent the winning formula, some times having been forced to consensus by something as human as political compromise . . ."
This is what really gets interesting.
- in one aspect is the question: if so much of religion and spirituality is the product of a certain culture, political situation, historical period, gender bias, etc and so on...then what aspect of spirituality is not affected by any of those "man-made" forces?
In other words, if one can take a spiritual system or tradition . . . and then strip away the political influences, strip away the historical period, the cultural influence, and so on...
What would be left?
In other words, is there such a thing as a "perennial philosophy"?
- and another aspect is the issue of "morality." Religion, or one's spiritual outlook (which seems to be changing a great deal nowadays) is the foundation for a great deal of the way individuals behave on a day-to-day basis.
Yet if the foundation of religion or spirituality is being shaken - by being seen as merely a product of one's politics, culture, historical period, gender, etc - how does that affect one's "morality"?
- and yet another juicy topic - relating to both subjects mentioned above - is sexuality...