Though I’ve blogged about The Da Vinci Code, I haven’t yet described the strange experience of actually reading it. It’s so hard to give the 2 or 3 people left in the world who haven’t experienced this wonder of a book a proper idea of the superior cheesiness of its dumb thriller plot, the sublime wackiness of its bug-eyed “secrets” and “revelations,” the . . . well you get the idea.
Above all, they have missed the fever of its author’s enthusiasm for the “sacred feminine” — though this is certainly very widespread in culture today. But nowhere will you find it as you do in DVC. We not only learn, as everyone knows by now, that Jesus was really just the hanger-on, that Mary Magdalen is the real divine figure, the religious link to the goddess in every woman – the feminine principle the male-dominated church has been oppressing for centuries. We also learn that the hero, Robert Langdon, wears a Mickey Mouse wrist watch — in honor of the divine Disney figure of Sleeping Beauty, made so drowsy by patriarchial oppression — or maybe just by the droning nature of the prose. This particular revelation is where I finally lost it, and gave in to the giggles.
I don’t want to give the impression that I think that patriarchal oppression is a laughing matter. Particularly when it comes to the very real sins of the Church towards women in the past – part and parcel of what society has done to them, and the Church, holy though she may be in her essence, is always part of a sinful society (Hey, did the author even realize that the Church he sees as so oppressive of women is actually always described as feminine?).
But surely inquiring minds (at least 2 or 3 of them) want to know: what does the religion of the goddess and the “sacred feminine” offer that is so much better than what the Church has given women? What exactly does The Da Vinci Code’s goddess stand for? What does she do? Darned if I know, and, as I’ve said, I’ve read the book. The closest I can come to an actual answer is that she stands for the principles of tantric sex. Yep, that’s it. The divine earth mother sexuality in every woman is the means for the male partner, as the moment of greatest pleasure, to experience the divine – what women get out of it isn’t mentioned. Oh, I forgot, they’re already divine. Is this all the revelation we’re going to get? That’s what a goddess woman is for? To give men pleasure? Well, they certainly have for centuries, but what’s so liberating for women in it?
Now I believe, and the best writers in the Church, starting with St. Paul, have always believed that the physical love of man and wife should be a divine mystery of self-giving, like the relationship between Christ and the Church. But it’s not likely to come about through tantric techniques, or we women imagining that we’re already divine. It comes about through the effort to overcome the self, through mutual self-sacrificing love, which isn’t very popular with Da Vinci Code devotees searching for an easy fix religion. Nor will such a religion give any cure for the real source of oppression, one which Langdon and crew don’t seem too eager to search for — inside the human heart and its sinfulness.
Most of all, this feeble and impoverished conception of women conceals from them their real greatness. Some of the greatest women in history have a divine aura of a quite different kind about them — the saints, not imagined “goddesses” pasted over the image of saints like Mary Magdalen.
This brings me to the reason I haven’t blogged for almost a month. I’ve been given an assignment by Minister General and Vicar General of the Franciscan Third Order in Rome, to revise my doctoral dissertation on St. Elizabeth of Hungary and to translate some of the earliest sources on her life in time for the eighth centenary of her birth in 2007. This is going to keep me very busy for some months, but for me, it’s a glorious and longed-for opportunity to let people know more about one of the strongest and most compelling women in history.
Elizabeth, the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, was brought up in Germany and married to Landgraf Ludwig IV of Thuringia. At one of the most glittering courts in Europe, with a husband and children she was devoted to, she became aware of the suffering and misery outside the walls of her castle. She founded a hospital, cared for the poor, and comforted lepers in person. When she became aware that much of the suffering was due to unjust taxation, she refused to eat any food taken from the poor peasants in this fashion — perhaps history’s first boycott. Though her husband supported her, she became a scandal among many at the court. When her Ludwig died, Elizabeth was cast out with her children. She gladly accepted suffering with the poor as one of them. Devoting herself to God, she donned the habit of the Franciscans and worked for the rest of her short life in a hospital for the destitute. She went from being her country’s Princess Diana to its Mother Teresa. She is still loved and remembered and celebrated 800 years after her death as an example of courage, love and selfless dedication.
If an “oppressive” Church can produce a woman like that, what kind of woman would a truly liberated society produce?
Forgive me, though, for thinking that real liberation is going to come from somewhere besides the teachings in the Da Vinci Code.