This is my dissenting view on this article in the new issue of Solidarity - a damnation of The Da Vinci Code for promoting conspiracy theories.
The writer reckons the reason that so many people like The Da Vinci Code is because they believe (or want to believe) that it is true, and that this is a "mix of alienation from authority ... and bottomless ignorant incredulity". Leaving aside the point that "alienation from authority" is in many ways a good thing, this article is far too narrow in its explanation of the book's/film's popularity, and so shows a sort of pitying contempt, and a decidedly po-faced attitude to culture.
The Da Vinci Code may be "an awful, wretched film". I don't know because I haven't seen it yet, but it would be a shame if it were, because the book's quite likeable. It's exciting, readable, interesting .. a "real page-turner", I think they call it. I'm afraid that 1,000-word warnings of the dire consequences of conspiracy theories don't stop me - or millions of other people - enjoying a good yarn. Ask yourself: Why has The Da Vinci Code sold so much more prolifically than The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, an attempt to seriously propose these theories? Er, because it's fiction.
One of the reasons people enjoy The Da Vinci Code is a simple pleasure in puzzle-solving. So what is Comrade Carolan's next article going to be? "Beware Crosswords - down that road lies doom", or perhaps "Sudoku - the opium of the people"?
The fact that people enjoy it does not mean that they believe it. I don't believe in Death Stars, Jedi or Sith either.
But "Polls show that vast numbers of people think that this story is or may be the truth"? There are always some who believe even the most obviously fictional - just ask the soap stars who get abused in the street when their character is up to no good. But we don't then publish long tracts on the dangers of soap operas. This article reminds me of an annoying passage in Francis Wheen's otherwise-excellent book 'How Mumbo Jumbo Took Over The World' - its absurd attempt to blame 'The X Files' for the fact that so many Americans believe in alien abduction.
Of course, Dan Brown's proposition (if indeed it is a proposition, rather than simply a story) that the fruit of Jesus' loin have been kept secret by the Priory of Sion, sponsored by various notables, is ludicrous. The gaping hole in this idea is why on earth they would keep it a secret. Brown's explanation - to protect the kids - is totally unconvincing. But might it be true that Jesus fathered a child? Maybe. Or more to the point: what interest would socialists have in insisting on the absolute, unquestionable truth as told by the Church that he did not?
Other appealing points about the book are its exposés of both Opus Dei and the centuries of Church oppression of women. I suspect that another reason people find the story appealing is that they want to think that Jesus was an ordinary bloke rather than a god. It's an anti-religious sentiment. Maybe it's a bit too silly to actually welcome, but it's certainly not something to go into a panic over.
I've watched a couple of the TV programmes about these theories. One allowed Henry Lincoln to go on and on about imaginary pentacles and look a right prat. The other lined up all manner of people to rubbish Dan Brown's book. There was the hideous upper-class sexist Brian Sewell, the snotty David Aaronovitch, and a woman who was - if I remember rightly - the religious correspondent from the Times. The story's ridiculous, she said. If Jesus had bloodline descendants, why aren't they going round performing miracles? She thought she was disproving the theory. But the obvious answer is: because they are not deities, and neither was he.
And here lies the really important point. Most of those attacking The Da Vinci Code are doing so in the name of a much more pernicious myth, a much more damaging conspiracy theory, one which not just "lots of", but billions of people believe - the preposterous notion of a God, with the accompanying gibberish about virgin births, miracles, rising from the dead and so on.
The article starts by drawing attention to an attempt by the Catholic Church to censor the film of The Da Vinci Code. Workers' Liberty has robustly opposed religious censorship and defended its targets - even when we would not endorse the contents (eg. the Danish cartoons). We should do the same with The Da Vinci Code, although obviously, the attempts at censorship have been less successful and less violent. If it's the Catholic Church versus a novel which questions its word, then I'm with the novel.
It seems that the film has been banned in Pakistan and seven Indian states.
I am convinced we should not take the Da Vinci Code seriously, life is too short. However I cannot resist a comment on all the rubbish surrounding it. The trend, in the Holy Blood and the Grail as well as numerous other books (for eg ones on the cathars, the "gnostic gospels" etc) to present the gnostic tradition of the early centuries of the Common Era as a supressed progressive strain of Christianity is false and misleading. Its like looking for the secret room behind a picture rather than looking at the picture in context.
Interestingly orthodox Christianity would have some of the same criticisms of gnosticism that the AWL reviewer has of all the fascination withthe Da Vinci Code, its esoteric and 'mystical' approach and its ideological anti materialism.
There are even some who have traced gnostic influence to 20th century Nazism.
I do think it is interested to examine the apparently increased interest (including in progressive circles) in religious esotericism since the end of the 19th century but this should be done in a systematic way that considers its place in the history of ideas and looks for material causes for it. I think it would be profitable for someone to consider the impetus to 'mystical' explanations in the context of the reappraisal of the 19th century model of science with the development of 20th century science. Or maybe from another viewpoint to consider what sociological value a 'mystical' rather than an orthodox religious or 'rational' explanation can provide for certain groups of people in certain circumstances - perhaps the US would be a good place to start!
There are interesting parallels of the fascination with secret conspiracy theories within the development of the 20th/21st century religious tradition itself, such as a significant renewed interest in spirituality, both within and detached from orthodox religious tradition. This is so mainstream now that I recently received a flyer for a seminar on spirituality for business! Other trends that seek to recover spiritual traditions, Goddess worship, creation centred spirituality, even the concept of gaia, could be best classified as containing revisionist readings of religious traditions that in general undermine church authority and give more room for progressive ideas.