Voices From The Underground
Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003), $24.95, 454 pp.
Reviewed by Anne Barbeau Gardiner
For those of us who remember the Doubleday Image books, which were a series of solidly Catholic works, it's sad to reflect on what has happened to this publisher. We have in The Da Vinci Code, God help us, a best-seller which is not only deeply anti-Catholic – indeed one could reasonably call it "hate speech" – but also profoundly corrupt, worse than pornography. Why? Because it is propaganda for what was rightly called in the Old Testament an abomination – ritual orgiastic sex with a "priestess" in front of a chanting crowd. The great Hebrew prophets thundered against this use of sex as a religious rite, and with good reason. Those who got addicted to it were virtually beyond reclaiming. They were not likely to repent when they deluded themselves into thinking that this sin exalted rather than defiled them. Sad that a book advocating such a monstrous perversion should come out of Doubleday.
But why should this novel have made it to the best-seller list? The answer is that Dan Brown has produced here an ingenious thriller. But that is only the packaging of the story. What he has placed on the inside, under the wrappers, is an indoctrination into Gnosticism. The reader is intended to swallow the Gnostic poison while enjoying the murder mystery. The reader is also meant to imbibe many lies about Christian history which appear as factual declarations in the mouths of two well-educated characters who reinforce each other. Outrageous lies are given as indubitable facts – for example, that the medieval Church killed five million women in 300 years, that Christians were constantly making war on Pagans before 325 A.D. (in fact they endured ten great persecutions without ever lifting a sword against the Pagan Romans), and that the Crusades were launched to destroy information about Mary Magdalene's having been the wife of Jesus (125, 232, 254). We are told in dogmatic tones that Original Sin was an idea devised to counter the "sacred feminine" and that Christians regarded Jesus Christ as a mere mortal until "the great deception" of His divinity was imposed by Constantine on the Nicene Council (238, 295). All this would be laughable, were it not meant to entrap young and uneducated readers.
The author pretends to be on the side of the true Jesus and presents him as "the original feminist" who "intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene," but Peter foiled his plan. (248). Everything from Genesis to the modern Church is presented in this book as a struggle against the only religion that really counts for Brown – goddess-worship, which turns out in the end to be Magdalene worship.
In this book there is a secret society whose members share a fascination with "goddess iconology, paganism, feminine deities, and contempt for the Church" (113). Only gradually is it made clear that this society practices the abomination of ritual sex. The three monotheistic religions are all dismissed as women-hating because they dared to "recast as a shameful act" the ritual sex by which "holy men" used to become one with their "female counterparts" (125). Note the use of holy for men engaged in this perversion. The book is chock full of references to pentacles, roses, pyramids, blades and chalices, all of which are obsessively connected with sex and goddess worship. A great many images found in literature, art and architecture are twisted here into symbols of sexual union – including the square cross and the star of David. Such obsessiveness of association is deviant and could well be a symptom of mental disorder. One can only hope it's not contagious for the millions of readers expecting to enjoy a thriller.
Brown's Mary Magdalene is not the Catholic saint we know. She stands here for the goddess of sex once called Isis, Astarte or Venus. The secret society in Brown's story "worships Mary Magdalene as the Goddess, the Holy Grail, the Rose, and the Divine Mother" (255). It sees Our Lord as the equivalent of the horned gods of Paganism, such as Baal. We have witnessed many sacrileges in recent years, such as a Crucifix dipped in urine and a Madonna adorned with elephant dung. But this book may be worse. It is the equivalent of Belshazzar's feast, where the sacred cup belonging to the Holy of Holies was monstrously profaned. Brown takes the Holy Grail, the cup in which Christ is thought to have consecrated the Blessed Sacrament at the Last Supper, and tramples it by reducing it to something carnal. He tries to persuade the reader that the Holy Grail had nothing to do with the Eucharist, but was only about Mary Magdalene's procreative organs. Christians were deluded, and the "blood of Christ" resided all along only in this particular woman and her physical descendants, nowhere else. The descendants of Magdalene have been guarded down the ages by the secret society because their existence is supposed to prove that the Church foisted a deception on the world. Thus, once the murder-mystery wrapper is removed, Browns book turns out to be hate-speech, blasphemy and sacrilege all rolled into one.
On the last page, the Harvard professor finds Magdalene's grave but decides against publicizing what's in it, the documentary proof that the Church is a fraud. Why? Because it wouldn't do for the hoi polloi to know the "Truth." Here Brown preaches Gnostic doctrine: that the stupid many, unlike the superior few, cannot live without lies. He shows the Bible as a web of lies, too, for he quotes Da Vinci saying, "Many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude," and adds that this is in reference to the Bible (231).
The Da Vinci Code is full of anagrams, puzzles, riddles and codes. This highlights what is most seductive about Gnosticism, its appeal to superficial cleverness. For the Gnostic, truth is an esoteric code that only the very clever can decipher. Brown treats his readers as if they belonged to this exclusive club of code-breakers. Trouble is, when all the puzzles are solved – and he solves them by his mouthpiece the Harvard professor so the reader doesn't have to take any trouble – what is left is banal and sordid. In contrast to the infinite depth and holiness of the Christian mysteries, the Gnostic mysteries turn out to be dull and dirty, like an expanse of foul-smelling mud. Or like coming to the last of several nesting boxes and finding that instead of a rare gift, you have only a pornographic image.
It's no accident that the professor who speaks for Brown ends up sounding like an atheist. He tells the naive girl that "every faith in the world is based on fabrication," and every religion uses "metaphors," but foolish ordinary people believe these stories "literally," while those "who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical" (341-2). In other words, clever people are atheists because they regard every religion as made up. Well where does that leave Brown's goddess worship by ritual sex? This too must be a fabrication. How insubstantial this is, like a weird incoherent dream. Yet such a view of reality has tragic and eternal consequences, and one rightly fears for the young, unwary reader.
Brown's constant use of flattery to inveigle women reminds one of a comic routine that Elaine May and Mike Nichols used to perform. In a brief seduction scene, May would protest, "I want you to respect me," and Nichols would exclaim enthusiastically as he pawed her, "I respect you, I respect you!" In the same way, Brown uses women as if they consisted only of sexual organs and at the same time exclaims with enthusiasm, "you're sacred, you're sacred!"
In chapter 74, Brown finally gives a lengthy description of ritual sex. By this point he imagines that the reader has fallen under his Gnostic spell, so it is safe for the professor tell the ingenue about a ceremony that only looks "like a sex ritual," but is actually "a spiritual act" meant to "achieve gnosis." When the girl wonders how "orgasm" can be called "prayer," the professor assures her that ritual sex "is not a perversion" but a "deeply sacrosanct ceremony." (And Brooklyn Bridge is for sale, too.) He declares that ancient Jews and "priestesses" engaged in these rituals in Solomon's Temple and worshiped a Goddess called Shekinah. He even dares to decipher the sacred Tetragrammaton, the name of the biblical God, as meaning the same as Yin/Yang. Using a "soft voice," he tells the girl how "mankind's use of sex to commune directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base," and this is why the Church had to "demonize sex" (309). These are all lies. One may ask if he is not the one demonizing sex by reducing it, as he does, to a single monstrous perversion.
In the last lines of the Da Vinci Code (454), after Mary Magdalene's grave has been found, the professor kneels in reverence and seems to hear a voice speaking to him from the abyss below: "For a moment, he thought he heard a woman's voice ... the wisdom of the ages ... whispering up from the chasms of the earth." One cannot help here but be reminded of Dante, the greatest Catholic poet, in whose Inferno the deep chasms of the earth are teeming with wicked demons and damned souls. By Brown's own admission here, the pretended "wisdom" that has inspired his book is lodged in the underworld. This is the voice, then, not of Mary Magdalene, but of a demon. Indeed this whole book, while superficially clever, comes straight out of hell. It is especially wicked to use the name of Mary Magdalene to cover the gross abominations of Gnosticism, which include goddess worship and ritual sex.
This review was published in the February, 2004 issue of Culture Wars.
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