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March 27, 2008
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My Lunch with an Old Friend of Dan Brown Proves Revealing About The DaVinci Code

Is Dan Brown a convinced heretic hell-bent on bringing down Christianity, or a hack writer who stumbled on a crackpot conspiracy theory on par with alien abductions, Holocaust denial, and lizard men?

Dan Brown arrives at the London High Court after legal proceedings were brought by two men who claim he stole their ideas. (PHOTO NEWS/SIPA)


I was sitting at lunch in New York City’s Olde Towne bar with a writing friend—someone who’s advising me on one of the future titles in my Bad Catholic’s series for Crossroad Publishing. We chewed clam strips and drank pints of Blue Point, leisurely batting back and forth ideas for yet more titles. At one point, I muttered something about Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code as a piece of hate literature, on par with those anti-Semitic conspiracy books sold by Black Muslims on Times Square. I little suspected that my lunch partner knew Dan Brown.
 
'In its day,' I started ranting, 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was taken seriously.'
“In its day,” I started ranting, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was taken seriously.” The Times of London in 1921 was concerned enough to assign a reporter to investigate whether or not the Jewish faith really was an elaborate conspiracy to dominate the world. Needless to say, The Times discovered that the book was a hateful forgery—but it’s telling that the paper felt the need to look into it. Thus the power of cleverly crafted fiction.

I expected my companion—let’s call him “Ted”—to agree with me. He’s a church-going Protestant, and he knows the basic plot of Brown’s potboiler: that the Christian faith is a centuries-old conspiracy to dupe believers, oppress women, and dominate the world—which Dan Brown, an intrepid spy novelist, has uncovered and revealed to airport readers around the world. It’s “fiction,” but based on “historical truth.” It has sent thousands of witless Americans in plaid shorts on guided tours to France in search of “clues” to the “Templar” mystery—and convinced millions of readers that the harmless, bourgeois devotional group Opus Dei is a sexy S&M cult.

But Ted didn’t rise to the bait. He just shook his head. “Dan Brown’s not anti-Christian. He’s not anti-anything. I doubt he’s pro-anything, either, except pro-Dan Brown. That book has as much of an agenda as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hockey. Dan Brown doesn’t have enough conviction to make a decent agnostic. He grew up a faculty brat in New England, and I don’t think he set foot off campus until he was in his 20s.”

I perked up, and ordered another beer. “You know Dan Brown?”

“I knew him for years. He started out as a joke-book author.” Ted said, dunking a clam-strip in tartar sauce. “Some of the jokes were funny. But he wanted to be a novelist. He kept pestering me about it, so finally I gave him this paperback, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman. It’s a paint-by-numbers guide on how to write a page-turner. One important part of the formula was: Find a villain your readers can safely hate. A few months later, Dan brought me this manuscript to read—and it followed the formula precisely … as if he’d poured Jello into a mold. In this case, the ‘safe villain’ was the National Security Agency, government spies. It sold pretty well, and he kept on pounding out books—each time with a different ‘safe villain.’ Eventually, he started running out—Communism was gone, the Nazis were all dead…. That pretty much leaves the U.S. government, drug cartels, and the Catholic Church.”

I was taken aback. “Do you mean to say that Dan Brown came up with this theory about the Church just to sell a few lousy books?”

'I gave him this paperback,' Ted explained, 'Writing the Blockbuster Novel...'
Ted chuckled, ruefully. “Thirty million lousy books. I remember when he was working on it. We went to lunch with an editor, with a name like Chaim Rothstein, or Izzy Stein—not exactly an Irishman. Dan started rattling off this conspiracy theory about the Church, then he got really nervous and turned to the editor, almost blushing. ‘Excuse me,’ Dan said to him. ‘You’re not Catholic, are you?’” Ted downed his beer. “That’s how much Dan Brown knows about religion.”

A thought-provoking lunch. It convinced me that admirable efforts such as Amy Welborn’s to refute the assertions woven throughout the turgidly typed pages of The DaVinci Code might just be beside the point. It’s probably not worth protesting this silly, mercenary book—or the boring movie made of it by hack director Richie Cunningham… I mean, Ron Howard. If you know someone gullible enough to take a pulp airport novel as “evidence” that Jesus Christ was not divine—but rather a horn-dog rabbi eager to “hook-up” with a former hooker, in order to father a race of bumbling French kings…do you really think the answer is to argue with him? Using, you know, reason? You might just as well pick up the book, smack him on the nose and say “No! Bad! No! Very bad!” That’s likely to be more effective, and a heck of a lot more fun.

Or here’s another idea, which is even more entertaining. It’s a strategy I once used with a friend who was intelligent but emotionally unstable. At a dark time in his life, he got himself sucked into poisonous theories which questioned the Holocaust. Rather than spend time reading the sludge churned out by nostalgic Nazis which he was taking as gospel, I decided to try what I called “ridicule therapy.” When he suggested that the Holocaust had been exaggerated or faked, I said, “You’re so naïve. Do you really think there was a so-called ‘Second World War?’ Another lie foisted on us by you-know-who….”

“But that’s ridiculous,” he insisted.

“Really?” I said, “Or is that just what THEY want you to think?”

As time went on, I had to go further. So I suggested darkly that the Freemasons had been “faking the weather” for the past 30 years. I started referring to the “so-called weatherman” and putting little air-quotes around the word “weather.”

At last, I bought my friend the books of David Ickes, a former British soccer star who “discovered” the fact that the world has been dominated, for the past 10,000 years, by a race of alien lizard men (think Opus Dei, with long darting tongues) who can take on human form. These books are in deadly earnest, and utterly hilarious, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. You can find them here.

It’s probably not worth protesting this silly, mercenary book—or the boring movie made of it...
According to Ickes, keeping up a human appearance is hard work, and if you stare at George Bush, or Queen Elizabeth, long enough, eventually you can get a glimpse of lizard. Or if you want a shortcut, Ickes suggests, there’s a surefire way of seeing the lizard-men: Just drop a little LSD. That’s right, this wonder drug can pierce the veil of reptilian illusion… which is precisely why it’s illegal! (I bet you were wondering about that.)

After a several-months barrage of reptiles, fake weather, Freemasons, and imaginary World Wars, my friend stopped reading Nazi trash. He’s a little embarrassed about the whole episode now, as well he should be. And no, he’s not a fan of The DaVinci Code.

So if you know anyone tempted to believe in Dan Brown’s fairy tales, I suggest you buy him several of David Ickes’s lizard books, and invite him to drop acid with you while watching C-SPAN. If he agrees, you really should warn him about the so-called “weather.”

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May 18, 2006

JOHN ZMIRAK is author of 'The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living' (Crossroad, NY, 2005) and a GodSpy contributing editor.

©2006, GODSPY. All rights reserved.

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READER COMMENTS
10.24.06   moshe says:
freinds,I won't argue whether < Dan Browne and the DaVinci Code > has a basis or has any element of truth.I argue the following:Jesse , Miriam were Jews born in ancient Israel. It is conceivable, though very unlikely, that Jesse, aJewish carpenter, could know the Greek language, since he used Hebrew everyday. Miriam and Magdalene of course could not logically have known any Greek , as Jewish women where not that educated then.So it is beyond belief that the Hebrew language was overlooked in Dan Browne's story. I am not aBiblical scholar nor have I studied the New Testament. I have a simple (honest) question:Is there any place in the New Testament that attributes specific knowledge of Greek to Jesse (Jesus)?moshe

07.04.06   Lorenz says:
The link to Pope Leo XIII's encyclical on freemasonry is at:http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_18840420_humanum-genus_en.html

07.04.06   Lorenz says:
A very good article.However, near the end concerning conspiracies, you moreless throught out the baby with the bathwater when you compared Catholics who are rightly suspicious of freemasonry with holocaust deniers and anti-semetic Jewish world conquest believers, aliens abductors, etc.In the 19th and early 20th century masonic papers were filled with plans to infiltrate and destroy the Catholic faith. This is available for all to see. Masonic governments have persecuted and driven away Catholic religious. This was done in France at the turn of the century.To paraphrase Pope Pius X: "I have always believed that fears about freemasonry were only held by conspiracy theorists and other kooks. However, by virtue of my office as pope I have now access to information that reveal them as a major adversary against the faith".Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical on freemasonry:ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIIION FREEMASONRY

05.28.06   Zmirak says:
Dan Brown does not simply assert that Jesus might have been married--a completely untestable historical hypothesis, for which ample negative evidence exists. (To wit: His followers considered him rightful King of the Jews... being slow to understand His mission. Would they have completely ignored His progeny, if any existed? Since being married and having children would have INCREASED His credibility among Jews, as you rightly assert, why cover it up? There was NO cult of celibacy in the Jewish world at the time, and little regard for it among Romans or Greeks either. Why FAKE something which only made people suspicious?)No, Dan Brown denies the divinity of Christ, and asserts that it is a doctrine invented by politicians as a tool of political and cultural repression. What is worse, he does so not out of any personal conviction, but purely for profit. That is contemptible, and deserving of scorn. To say so is not unChristian. To say any less would be pusillanimous. It would constitute appeasement. One is called to turn the other cheek in cases of personal insult--not of highly successful, cynical attacks on the person of Christ and His church.

05.24.06   Dugorim says:
Oh for goodness sake, Yes, Dan Brown IS an atheist, he infinitely wants to attack christianity. (because he believes it is a hoax)But NO, I can see from his piont of view why is it SO unacceptable that Christ took a wife? It was Jewish LAW to have a wife, it is quite possible that IF he had a wife she was not mentioned for the simple prospect that she had little importance to none at all. I don't really suspect the culprit could've been Mary, but it is quite probable that it was true.The Bible leaves out so many things, so how could it be true? BECAUSE (yes I'm getting to it) It is to be assumed, it is to be assumed that Jesus wore clothes of the time and not a jean jacket, it is to be assumed that The Pharoh of Exodus strung his Chariots to horses rather than polar bears, why? because they did'nt have Jean Jackets and Polar bears, they had Horses and cloth and a law plainly written (though not often inforced) that all Jewish males should take a wife and make children to fill their shoes, less their land be seized after their death, so can it truely not be assumed that Christ had a wife and possibly a child? Is that so outrageous? That so many would cry out in terror over a best selling book? And would it hurt Christianity so much? I agree, too many people take it as fact after they read it, but honestly, keep your head and it's not all that worth the protest effort. And, I'm sorry, I've never heard of the "Lizard Men" conspiracy. (This is not a crackpot conspiracy, it's a historically probable theory, and there is NO NEED to insult Brown peronally, is that the teaching of Christ?)

05.23.06   wp416 says:
No matter what you do, your response, or lack of one, will be considered "the wrong approach" by somebody.What is the correct response to a terrorist attack, such as 9/11? Nothing? Most people in the USA would not agree with that, Start a war? Some people in the USA would agree with that, depending on who it was, and some people wouldn't agree, no matter who it was. Some people would write "strongly worded letters" to the various Islamic Mullahcracies of the world, some people would say "we need more security checks at home", and ignore the issues of foreign policy. The same thing is true, no matter what you do, with this book. The facts are, it's a page turner, it sells well, and it tells paranoid lies about an institution that many in America are all to used to distrusting and hating. You can ignore it. You can debate an author who has set himself up for victory either way. He claims some of it is true. He claims some of it is fiction. You can't win. You can ignore it. You can cry blasphemy. You can cry "idiot". Does any of it work? Not in a land where truth is of marginal interest at best, and where popularity and entertainment value are highly prized. Welcome to the Areopagus, boys.Warren

05.22.06   derekac says:
I'm not sure this is an entirely helpful approach to take.Is ridicule really the best way to encounter this movie?we know that the historical basis for this film is at best, flimsy, and we know that the whole thing was constructed as a kind of ‘fiction’ in the first place, The writers of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail have admitted as much themselves. But what is more significant is the phenomenal success that that book, and 25 years later, the Da Vinci Code, has achieved. The ideas expressed are clearly giving answers, however implausible, to questions that the mainstream churches are failing to answer. Questions about power and authority, questions about the place of women, the place of sexuality. Even abstruse theological questions about the nature of Jesus. These questions are being discussed on TV, in pubs, in the newspapers, in a way that thirty years ago would have been thought inconceivable thirty years ago. God was dead back then. God was completely irrelevant to ordinary lives unless you were part of an obscure little group of the faithful.But now ‘our’ subjects are suddenly in vogue again. This book, and the new movie, give us an incomparable opportunity share the Gospel of Jesus in whom there is no Jew or Greek, Slave or free, male or female.We have a unique opportunity and a unique position from which to engage with a unique cultural phenomenon. I pray that we can be faithful witnesses to a living and loving god.

05.19.06   Godspy says:
Is Dan Brown a convinced heretic hell-bent on bringing down Christianity, or a hack writer who stumbled on a crackpot conspiracy theory on par with alien abductions, Holocaust denial, and lizard men?

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