"The Da Vinci Code:" Does History Matter?

By James J Murtagh, M.D.

Warning: movie spoiler alert. If you have not seen "Da Vinci Code," consider seeing the film before reading further. However, since almost every person on the planet knows the plot of Da Vinci, this spoiler alert may not be necessary.
In my beginning is my end - TS Eliot

Is it easier to believe in the historical divinity of Mary Magdalene than the historical Jesus Christ? Does it matter?

After all, Tom Hanks says “the only thing that really matters is what you believe yourself.” The film’s heroine thinks for a minute, considers whether she might be Christ’s sole living descendant, puts her foot in the water, then realizes, no, she can’t walk on water. Drat, history got in the way.

History is more than bunk. Myth is important, but not all myths can be equally true. Truth, to be true, must be verifiable, or at least, it must be, in the phrase of Karl Popper, falsifiable.

Religious claims are indisputably most difficult. But two completely different sorts of religious truths exist: first, historical claims, and second, value claims. We cannot prove values, which are ultimately a matter of faith.

But historical claims can be verified or falsified. “Did King Solomon build a temple?” or “Did Mohammed raise an army?” or “Does the earth go around the sun?

Apologetics (both Christian and non-Christian) have wrestled with the search for a historical Christ for centuries. C.S. Lewis described in “Mere Christianity” what he called “the trilemma”: “Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. It follows that he was either a liar, a madman, or the Son of God.”

Bertrand Russell examined the trilemma and decided he was an atheist. Pascal considered roughly the trilemma and decided to wager to believe. But all realized that the historical existence of a divine Christ is historical claim that is either true or false.

But Dan Brown seems to put more credence in the divinity of Mary Magdalene than in the divinity of Christ.

What kind of paradox is this? Who would ever have heard of Magdalene if she had not been the follower of Christ?

More to the point, if Magdalene was a goddess, and Christ was not god, how could Magdalene find that Christ had left his tomb, and why would she proclaim he had risen? Was the goddess Magdalene defrauding humanity? Was she starting a false religion? Brown is asking us to believe and not to believe at the same time.

Some of my Christian friends have told me the Da Vinci code has strengthened their religious faith. What! The Da Vinci code postulates Christians have worshipped the wrong deity for 2,000 years. Essentially, Brown is claiming that traditional Christianity is a fraud, roughly equivalent to a form of devil worship.

You can understand how this has some people’s blood boiling. After all, a simple cartoon of another religious figure almost started a war recently. So, both the religious and non-religious may have a stake in the controversy.

The end of King Arthur’s grail quest, and all other grail quests from Indiana Jones to T.S. Eliot was the womb of Magdalene? Tosh.

It should be clear to atheists, Christians, and every one else that if Magdalene were a goddess, she would not have been  so easily fooled. The goddess could not allow Christians to persecute her true following. Why would a goddess reveal herself only to a small Priory of Sion? Shouldn’t salvation be for everyone, not just a few Gnostics?

Even conspiracy theorists ought to be suspicious of this conspiracy.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved Brown’s book. The places, the paintings, the ideas are magnificent and fascinating. Brown loves to stir up a hornet’s nest, and I love hornet’s nests. I love the debate and the dispute..

But Brown should have also paid attention to the fundamentals of logic. There is such a thing as verifiable or falsifiable truth.

Yes, if a pointy-eared Vulcan had appeared, he would declare, “Dan Brown is not logical!”

Dante believed in both faith and reason. Dante declared true facts can never contradict true faith. Tragically, false faith has distorted the search for truth.
Reasonable people can belong to the spectrum of religions. However, the basis of the Christian religion is based in both faith and fact. Some of those facts can be verified or falsified.

Dostoevsky felt that true faith brought true human freedom. However, he also feared that distorted religion often led to Big Brother-like Grand Inquisitors. Gandhi saw the truth in all religions, honored his Hindu heritage, but at the same time rejected the atrocity of the Hindu caste system.

All religions now declare “Never forget.” People who declare that history is bunk would doom the world to repeat unspeakable atrocities.

Da Vinci code is a wonderful piece of fiction. But it is time for the billions of readers and devotees of the book and movie to understand the self-contradiction.

Surely, if we cannot prove the historical existence of Christ, we cannot prove the historical existence of Magdalene, nor of their offspring, nor of the Merovingian dynasty or any of the rest of it..

The true meaning of  Mona Lisa’s smile may be that things cannot be true and not true at the same time.

Perhaps logic is the ultimate Holy Grail for humankind.