Tuesday, January 4, 2005

The Da Vinci Code, Star Wars, and the Bible

I taught a Freshman Seminar last fall at UNCG called "Gods and God in the Ancient Greco-Roman World." It was a broad survey of ancient ideas about divine beings, and I had the students read a lot of primary sources, starting with Homer, and ending with St. Anselm in the Middle Ages (yes, the course is slightly mis-titled).

One of the oddest things to emerge from the seminar was the personal theology -- I should say theologies -- of the students.

Out of 20 students, all but 2 claimed to be Christian; the other two were somewhere between atheist and agnostic. But among the other 18, only about 4 held beliefs that bore much resemblance to orthodox Protestant or Catholic thought. Most of them believed that the Bible had been seriously altered or adulterated by wicked men sometime between Christ's lifetime and ours. They also tended to describe God as a "force" that permeates the universe, and some had quite detailed ideas about how this divine Force operates: "Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us . . ."

In short, these young Christians had aquired most of their ideas about the Bible and theology from two sources: Dan Brown's faux-theologico-historical pot-boiler The Da Vinci Code, and George Lucas's Star Wars movies. Some of them acknowledged this openly, and said they were more inclined to be influenced by Brown's book and George Lucas than by the New Testament.

So I'm glad to see that Brown's outrageously erroneous ecclesiastical history is getting some serious scholarly criticism by UNC religion professor Bart Ehrman. Unfortunately, most people don't read books like this. But they will go to the movie based on Brown's book that Ron Howard has apparently agreed to direct.



Anonymous said...

The Language Log has been pretty harsh on Dan Brown too... All in all, it's probably enough to convince me to steer clear of him for as long as there exist other books to read.

Joe Guarino said...

David-- The responses of your students, and of the general public to the book you mention, is disappointing. It is also, however, a bit worrisome-- yet unsurprising. We have to consider the general ignorance of history and the inadequate way it has been taught in recent years. Perhaps the fact that we are an immigrant nation means that we were all, to some extent, cut off from our historic roots. Some folks have no clue as to the degree of civilization that existed in ancient times; and there is a general tendency to presume that we are so much more advanced. Are we really?

Moreover, there is a general lack of exposure to education in the field of Christian apologetics. We are often unable to defend our faith because we do not undertake the hard work associated with learning of the canonicity of scripture and the rigorous manner it was initially vetted; the ample corroborating historic and archeological evidence of events that took place many years ago; and the general case to be made, based on reason, for the existence of God. Many churches do not provide this; and many Christians do not get it elsewhere. What is presented in some churches can be mere fluff.

So when a book such as that which you describe teeters on the edge of blasphemy, many are deceived. It appears there is much work to do to remedy the situation.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Glad to hear that Bart D. Ehrman is tackling this. I had him for an honors seminar titled "Jesus: The Man, The Myth." He bought us beers at Pantana Bob's if we promised to discuss class or debate him while we were there. Defintely a great teacher, the kind you remember years after undergrad.