May 16, 2006
Readers: dumber than you think they are
If you're like me, you probably think the Catholic church and Catholic-affiliated organizations are making way too big a deal out of The Da Vinci Code and the ways its story deviates from Biblical assumptions about Jesus. I mean, come on. Nobody really thinks that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children together, or that Opus Dei are a bunch of power-hungry murderers, just because that stuff is part of the plot of some popular airport novel.
But the chuch has gone so far as to appoint an archbishop to counter all the non-factual elements of the book, produce a documentary called The Da Vinci Code: A Masterful Deception, and Opus Dei wants a disclaimer about the fictional nature of the story to be shown at screenings everywhere. Which is ridiculous--doesn't the Vatican have bigger issues to worry about than a movie? Don't they know that people can tell the difference between a novel and a history book? How stupid do they think the general public is?
Well, pretty stupid, as it turns out. A group of Catholic leaders in the UK recently sponsored a survey to compare the beliefs of people who have read The Da Vinci Code and those who haven't. It turns out that the book does appear to influence what people believe about Jesus and Catholic institutions.
A Reuters piece on the survey says, "They interviewed more than 1,000 adults last weekend, finding that 60 percent believed Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene -- a possibility raised by the book -- compared with just 30 percent of those who had not read the book.
"The novel, which has sold over 40 million copies, also depicts Opus Dei as a ruthless Machiavellian organization whose members resort to murder to keep the Church's secrets. In the survey, readers were asked if Opus Dei had ever carried out a murder. Seventeen percent of readers believe it had, compared with just four percent of non-readers."
Considering that over 20% of the adult UK population has read The Da Vinci Code, maybe the Catholic church has some basis for concern. We all know that surveys can be biased and skew results in favor of a particular position. And I don't believe that writers and movie producers should be held responsible for some viewers' beliefs being overly influenced by their work. But if that many people out there don't understand that movies and novels aren't real, maybe Dan Brown is actually a frighteningly powerful figure in modern theology.
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