Sunday, June 4, 2006

C-J Editorial

Editor's Note (7/10/07): Just one day after this exasperated post was first published, the C-J printed my editorial under the title, "Divinity School Student Reflects on Da Vinci Debate." Yay!

Last week, I wrote an letter to The (Louisville) Courier-Journal which addressed a few of the glaring problems in other readers' responses to The Da Vinci Code. They haven't printed it yet, so I decided to post it here... I've got to have some kind of outlet on this subject! ;-)

As a graduate student specializing in biblical studies, I have been both excited and intrigued by the intense dialogue surrounding The Da Vinci Code, just as I was by that surrounding The Passion of the Christ and the recently published Gospel of Judas. Although these three present radically different portraits of early Christianity--which exhibit varying degrees of accuracy--they share one critical piece of common ground: they have stimulated an immense amount of interest in the origins of Christianity. Ideally, they should be viewed as stimuli for further research into the subjects they discuss, not as infallible sources of truth. After all, while a book/movie, another movie, and an unusual ancient manuscript are excellent starting points for religious discussion, it seems silly and intellectually irresponsible to identify any one of them as a key to the Christian faith, even if they make such claims.

Two comments included in The Readers' Forum's recent section on The Da Vinci Code ("'The Code' and the Complaints About It," May 23) call for an immediate response. One reader was concerned by recent studies indicating that a large number of Americans "changed their beliefs because of the book." The reader concludes, "Imagine two million adults changing their beliefs based on this fantasy." However, for reasons similar to those mentioned above, it is possible for The Da Vinci Code phenomenon to lead people towards a different understanding of Christianity apart from its own claims. I was still in college when the book first became popular--so popular, in fact, that one of the instructors in the religion department offered a course entitled "Early Christian Literature" which included it as one of the required texts. The class was packed, and although the course did not espouse many, if any, of Dan Brown's own theories, it exposed many students to obscure Christian texts which were not included in the final New Testament canon but nevertheless offer a great deal of insight into the diversity of Christianity's formative years.

A second reader justified conservatives' responses to the book by arguing that if a similar book were written concerning the foundations of Islam, "no one would publicize it for fear of having their print shop blown up. Some 'peaceful religion.'" This statement is a sad demonstration of the insensitivity and ignorance that has produced religious conflicts throughout human history. The small percentage of Muslims who kill in the name of Allah should not be viewed as a representation of all Islam, any more than the Christians who kill in the name of their God (and there are many, throughout the world) should be viewed as a representation of all Christianity. Historically, of the three religions which claim descent from Abraham, Islam has proven to be the most tolerant ruler, often offering Christians and Jews a protected status as "peoples of the book."

It is my sincere hope that the discussions over these and other similar issues, which will continue through the summer and beyond, can be conducted in a spirit of love, acceptance, and understanding. Although this is often difficult, we should not forget that according to almost every source, these were the primary concerns of Jesus himself. Let us follow this exemplary example.

Matthew Burgess, MAR '07
Yale Divinity School
New Haven, CT 06511