Looks Like We Can Forget the Oscar Nominations. . .

. . . for The Da Vinci Code. The consensus: too long, laughably pretentious and boring. Even critcics who made no secret of their disdain for Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular didn’t like the film (Check out Richard Corliss’ review in Time, or Owen Gleiberman’s review for Entertainment Weekly here). And audiences are no happier — a 6.2 rating on imdb.com. Keep in mind that open-night audiences are usually the ones most eager to see a film: in this case, that would be all the fans of the book. Happily, while we can probably still expect a huge opening weekend, the movie won’t be around long. The influence of the book, unfortunately, may go on and on.

I’m off very shortly to join the “Othercott” brigade with a friend, at the AMC theater in Times Square. We’re going to see the very well-reviewed Over the Hedge. (Saturday afternoon and a family film? Bound to be huge crowds). It will be interesting to find out how many other people are there for the same purpose we are. Whatever happens, we’ll probably have a much better time than the people suffering through the DVC.

Check back here to get the story.

Da Vinci Dialogue?

I’ve had a very long and busy week, so anything I’m now posting is already old news . . . but I’m going ahead anyway.

Last Tuesday afternoon, May 2, I went to a special event at the Tribeca Film Festival — a panel discussion called “What would Jesus . . . Direct?” All the people on the panel were Christians involved in the film industry. They discussed how Hollywood is waking up to the fact that there is a huge Christian audience out there, but they really don’t know how to reach us.

The talk soon turned to the upcoming Da Vinci Code movie. Cuba Gooding Jr. seemed to get the most microphone time — but then he is an Academy-award -winning actor (and does ever know it!) He made some good points. Among them, that the Christian audience does have a good sense about movies that would be worthwhile from their viewpoint. Back in 1981, when Chariots of Fire came out, Christians and others turned out for a film no one had heard of and made it a hit. Now with the Da Vinci Code, he said “they will have it on their radar — and if they sense it isn’t something they want, they won’t come, and the film will flop” (or words to that effect).

This made things a bit difficult for another panel member, Jonathan Bock, president of Grace Hill Media, who was working with Sony on the marketing campain for The Da Vinci Code. He declined to say much about his work on it, but insisted the film was a great opportunity to “engage the culture” and get “dialogue” going. “After all,” he said, “when was the last anyone cared about what happened at the Council of Nicaea?”

It’s hard to blame him for defending his work — which is one of trying to minimize the damage that the book and movie are causing, engaging in dialogue and debating the very real issues involved. But forgive me for being a little dubious. Of course, any of us who are able to and who have read the book, should by all means engage in dialogue with those who want to. I’ve done so myself. Just the other day, a young colleague at work, who had just recently returned to the Catholic Church, asked me about the truth of the “historical” claims in it. She had not read it, but was certainly curious. I gave her the straight dope, and she seemed satisfied.

But there is a whole other group of people, the Da Vinci Code “true believers,” who cannot be brought to engage in dialogue. When they listen to our explanations of the truth, they tend to reply “Oh, you Catholics are brainwashed — you’ll believe anything your Church tells you,” or “the Church is afraid — anything they say is just more lies to maintain power.” Most of them are led not by belief in Dan Brown so much as anger against the Church. Many don’t care about truth, but cling to the book because it’s what they want to believe. It’s very hard to debate when one side is interested in truth, and the other is wandering in a crackpot fantasyland. The claims in the DVC are, to borrow one of my favorite phrases from C. S. Lewis, nonsense that has not even risen to the dignity of error. Discussion here is not going to do much good — and the movie is going to fuel the fire.

Certainly there are issues that need to be cleared up – the reasons for believing in the divinity of Jesus, the truth of the Gospels, the too-negative attitude of some Christians toward sex, the Church’s treatment of women — but if you are going to seriously tackle these things, it would be best to leave The Da Vinci Code out of the discussion altogether, since it only spreads error and confusion.

Above all, the main reason not to go see the film continues to be the fact that we would be putting money into the pockets of people who are defaming Christ and insulting the Church. Let’s not let Sony sucker us in to get our money to support blasphemy. If you want to read the book in order to be prepared for questions, please do — but borrow it from the library, or, as I did, from a friend.

And the “Othercott” is gaining steam — more than 16,000 hits on Google as of today! Also an article in the New York times on Thursday.

See you at Over the Hedge on May 19!

The Real “Sacred Feminine”

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.

St. Elizaberth of Hungary by Hans Holbein the Elder

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.

Word is Getting Around

The news is spreading about the Da Vinci Code “Othercott.” This past weekend I attended a seminar in New York for aspiring Christian screenwriters hosted by Act One. Many of those attending had already heard of the plans for attending a film other than DVC on the weekend of May 19. Many were giving the news to those who had already heard it. So far the plan has been publicized on blogs, podcasts and Christian radio stations.

It has also just made the pages of one of America’s premier Catholic publications, Our Sunday Visitor, in an article titled “The Da Vinci Code Wars.” Reporting on Janet Batchler’s “Othercott” initiative, author, Colleen Carroll Campbell, writes:

It’s not a bad idea. America’s movie moguls may be insenstive boors when it comes to religion and morality, but they are acutely aware when it comes to the bottom line. . . In the week before the [Oscars], a poll from MSNBC.com and Zogby International found that 60 percent of Americans believe Hollywood’s values are at odds with those of most Americans. Had Hollywood producers been listening, they might have discovered a reason for our declining interest in our work. But movie moguls are a tone-deaf lot, and in the end, the ring of the cash register may be the only message they can hear. (OSV, April 9, 2006, p. 17).

This initiative is already becoming popular. Stay tuned . . . and don’t forget to go to the movies on May 19!

This is Real “Choice” — and Truly Pro-Life

Here’s some news from the Feminists for Life website:

Feminists for Life supports the Coercive Abortion Prevention Act introduced Thursday, March 16, 2006, by Michigan women legislators. The five-bill package identifies very specific forms of coercion from financial threats to physical violence, which could result in jail time and/or fines. Abortion providers would be required to expressly screen women for coercion, inform coerced women of their rights, and refer them to domestic violence agencies.

“There is nothing pro-choice about having no choice,” said Feminists for Life President Serrin Foster. “Women deserve better than unwanted abortions.”

The legislation stands in stark contrast to a lawsuit—nicknamed “Roe v. Wade for Men”—filed on March 9 in U.S. District Court in Saginaw, Michigan. The suit, supported by the National Center for Men, contends that men should have the choice to “decline fatherhood,” including financial responsibility, in the event of pregnancy. State courts have ruled in the past that any inequity experienced by men is outweighed by society’s interest in ensuring that children get financial support from both parents.

“We have heard from too many women and girls who had unwanted abortions due to threats of withholding financial and emotional support,” said Foster. “Women and girls have repeatedly told us stories of being thrown out of their home by boyfriends, husbands and parents who said they would pay for an abortion, but if she has the child she’d be on her own; employers who found pregnancy and parenting incompatible with the job, educators who tell women they can’t possibly complete their education if they have a child.”

“The worst cases have been those involving not only verbal threats to withhold financial support and emotional support, but those where physical violence has been used against pregnant women,” said Foster.

Why don’t those who claim to be for “choice” ever support legislation like this?