Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Putting ‘DaVinci’ Outrage in Context

Martin Scorsese, director of The Last Temptation of Christ

By Lisa Haddock
NJ Faith Forum Editor

The DaVinci Code is not the first movie to offend Christians.

Whenever a religious group is depicted in the arts, there’s a controversy. Ron Howard’s The DaVinci Code is only the latest contender.

Remember The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988? Director Martin Scorsese took a beating for his controversial film, based on a 1951 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.

Last Temptation is a literary work, heavy on the philosophy and artistry. Only eggheads would see it as a page-turner. The novel explores big issues: What if Jesus didn’t start out as the Messiah? What if he overcame an intense internal struggle to become the Messiah?

The novel was considered blasphemous. The Orthodox Church excommunicated Kazantzakis; back in the Fifties, Temptation wound up on the Vatican’s list of banned books. And controversy (which is usually good for business) didn’t help Scorsese. His film grossed a puny $8.37 million in the U.S.

On the other hand, Dan Brown’s book is a mega-hit thriller -- big on the plot twists, word puzzles, and suspense. It’s also a manifesto intent on debunking Christianity. And the movie seems to have that same goal.

The alleged coverup outlined by Brown goes like this: Jesus was just a rabbi; he was married to Mary Magdalene; together, they had a child. To advance his own political ends, the Emperor Constantine made Jesus divine at the Council of Nicea. The Vatican has spent 2,000 years trying to hide these lies.

Just think of the trailers. Highly talented actor Ian McKellen (as gasbag Leigh Teabing) thunders: Witness the biggest coverup in human history.

Many experts in theology, art history, and the Gnostic Gospels say Brown’s conclusions are dead wrong. But little matter. Unless it is a cinematic trainwreck, Howard’s film version will be a smash.

In the meantime, Christian leaders are avoiding the pattern of the post-Muhammad cartoon riots. So far, they are fighting the The DaVinci Code's claims with words.

We'll have to wait to see what happens next.

Official DaVinci Code film site
Author Dan Brown's Web site
Wikipedia article on Nikos Kazantzakis

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