Da Vinci Code dissected by visiting professor
“Why are people so terrified of The Da Vinci Code?” asked Visiting Instructor of Religion Geoff Chaplin in his lecture on the best-selling cult novel by Dan Brown. “Why has this book not only sold millions of copies, but also spawned a cottage industry devoted to fighting it?”
The lecture titled “Can We Escape the Code?” took place this Wednesday and was sponsored by Oberlin’s Religious and Spiritual Life Office and First Church.
Rather than “give a catalogue of errors or poke too much fun at Mr. Brown,” Chaplin attempted to “offer an interpretation of the text and unpack the historical precedents of anti-Catholocism and conspiracy theories in The Da Vinci Code.”
This novel chronicles a symbologist and cryptographer’s quest to solve a series of puzzles ultimately leading to the discovery of the Holy Grail.
“I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code,” Chaplin said. “It was an action book and even though it didn’t make me say, ‘this is the best book I’ve ever read,’ I did enjoy it.”
He continued, “we have a category in our minds for strange, marginal things, and we file them all together in our minds. Dan Brown not only tells us they exist, he tells us that all the things we ever thought of as secret or forgotten are the same.
“Brown brings us into the text through utilizing a series of oppositions between science and religion,” Chaplin said. “The battle going on outside of our regular comprehension of events suggests that there is nothing we can do about it. This is what makes the book successful.”
For Chaplin, many of the “secret” themes and entities featured in The Da Vinci Code have this kind of fascinating draw. At one point, he flipped through his annotated copy of the book to demonstrate the recurrence of such controversial topics as “the sacred feminine,” “masonry,” “Opus Dei,” “the pentacle,” and “the Priory of Scion.”
Moving away from The Da Vinci Code’s appeal as a work of literature, Chaplin attempted to place its controversial, if fictional, charges in the context of anti-Catholicism and conspiracy theory.
Chaplin stressed that The Da Vinci Code was not the first text to earn a reputation as threatening to Catholic doctrine,
“People feel for some reason that if you have religion as the apex of all the truths that knit your life together, and you remove that, somehow, we will all end up in lawlessness,” he stated. “Books are sort of feared objects in the western tradition. They have been seen [throughout history] as feared things because they can convince.”
Chaplin went further, saying, “there is a tradition of fear of priestcraft in England, and of anti-Catholicism and fear of a Catholic empire in the United States. Does Dan Brown play on this? Yes, he does.”
Chaplin also discussed The Da Vinci Code as a book steeped in conspiracy theory. Defining a conspiracy theory as the conception of “people who get together and plot so that, for you, things go badly,” he said, “This egocentric approach makes everything about you.” Chaplin claimed this tendency of The Da Vinci Code to embroil its readers in an egocentric conspiracy theory is yet another marketing draw.
Though Chaplin’s lecture avoided the more contentious questions of
The Da Vinci Code’s validity, he presented it as an eminently
fictional work, one that, through the manipulation of cultural and spiritual
hot-button issues, has aroused considerable public interest.