Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Da Vinci Code and Christianity in America

The Da Vinci Code and Christianity in America: "This has nothing to do with politics, but I felt that we should have a post today."

I read The Da Vinci Code weeks after its debut. The company was pushing it long before its release in April, 2002. At first, I didn't want to be a part of the book's marketing campaign so I waited to see the public response. It made the bestseller lists the week after it hit the market and we fought to keep it in stock. When the initial surge plateaued, I checked-out a copy.

Unlike the movie business, a book with a lot of hype does represent something larger about our culture in general. With movies, hype is generated by un-related factors: actors, special affects, prequals, etc., but with books, only plot or author-history contribute to the immediate public-demand (not mentioning the media promotion). And since authors typically write in a single genre and focus on niche themes, the plot is the only thing that separates one book from another (outside of writing styles which really only matter to English majors, English teachers, or writers). The Da Vinci Code has recorded unprecedented sales and can not be compared with anything other than maybe the Harry Potter series, or, ironically, the Bible (the best-selling book ever).

No, The Da Vinci Code is not a great book. If it ever hits a required reading list for a high school or college class, it will most likely do so because of it's success. Or, as a representative of our culture. And though a time-period can only really be defined years after the next time-period ends, there are generalizations that can be made now to be expounded upon later by sociology and anthropology teachers later.

Since 9/11 our lives have been dominated by a new reality. That morning saddened, then humbled Americans. No longer were we the untouchable super-power we all believed. Every day, we went to work assuming the building would be where we left it the day before. When we're there, we take for granted our security because of securtiy guards, cameras, and metal detectors. All this faith in our routine because it is routine.

Then, Dan Brown creates this story that questions the very foundation of Christianity - another faith rooted in routine - and the "masses" eat it up. Some believe the "facts" that Brown claims. Others call it blasphemy. Some, go to the bookstores and pick his other books. Some, pick up the books he referenced in The Da Vinci Code. Are any of these facts real? Does it matter? For every fact, there's a fact that can state the exact opposite. Can people tell the difference? Does that matter? The Church is not going to crumble because of this book. The Vatican will not close.

Working in a bookstore, I've had people tell me I should read the book before even asking if I had and I've had the people yell at me for keeping it in stock. That's an average day at work. If it's not The Da Vinci Code, it's something else. Right now, I have marijuana-growing manuals in my Gardening section and I have a book preaching intolerance in my Religion section. People have asked for and complained about both. Ten people in a single room, ten different opinions.

Is The Da Vinci Code the next Great American Novel - no. Is it's success a surprise - again, no. American culture is being shaken by the search for truth - change. Some are scared, some have their bags packed, and are ready to go. Like the Celestine Prophecy, which Dobbs mentions in his essay, The Da Vinci Code is an alternate to the reality we have all expected to be true. But neither book is necessarily the only alternative. People like their choices buffet-style. We will always reach for the freshest pot of mashed potatoes.

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