Sunday, May 14, 2006

Truth is stranger than fiction

Several staff and leaders have been getting prepared to respond to the upcoming Da Vinci Code (DVC) movie. Tze Wei and I spent Saturday finalising material for our Monday night seminar.

Movies have such a powerful influence on our society that many people's views of reality and morality are shaped largely through their entertainment choices. 'The Last Temptation of Christ' was a controversial movie. The DVC is more controversial. Many are getting ready to see this one.

The DVC is based on Dan Brown's best selling mystery novel. The novel is well-written. It's an entertaining, exciting and page-turning thriller. He crosses over into multiple genres - suspense, fiction and religious.

Although a work of fiction the book claims to be meticulously researched and goes to great lengths to give the impression that it is based on fact. It is not clear how many of the acknowledgements in the book are credible. For example, Project Gutenberg is an online library of public domain texts. It may mean no more than that he used their facilities and they did nothing special to assist his research. Then the hero in the novel is a 'renowned Harvard symbologist'. Harvard has no department of symbology.

The author also uses occult, feminist and Gnostic fantasy. Some titles in his bibliography represent New Age speculation that run counter to history. Historians and scholars do not take these works seriously. Yes he tries to use the reputation of brilliant men such Leonardo Da Vinci to help make its case that historic Christianity is a pack of falsehoods. Using a painting as a historical record?

Although unoriginal in its allegations, the story proves misguided theories don't fade away. It is imaginative fiction combining half-truths, distortions and historical inaccuracies. It misrepresents some currently popular but silly ideas of the life and teachings of Christ. It is ignorance at best and falsehood at worst. It's a grand conspiracy story. In the conspiracy is heresy. Heretical conspiracy disguised as a suspense novel.

Does anyone take these ideas seriously? Would anyone pay money to read this? About 40 million people around the world! Brown has a way of making the novel's theories about Christ and the early church seem credible. So why do people want to believe or are at least open to the bizarre claims?

Well the story appeals to modern secular sensibilities. It corresponds with what people want to believe. We desire a Jesus who is more like us. This is a world that rejects absolute truth and reconstructs truth.

Another well known feature of today's culture is that many can't tell fact from fiction. Some who believe in the speculative theories of the DVC will hold on to them whatever the evidence. Truth is stranger than fiction.

There is also a need to feed the public taste for conspiracy. I've read that the way to increase any blog readership is to be controversial. Conspiracy is always controversial.

It doesn't help that many Christians are not aware of the church's history. We need to learn our story.

Beneath the surface, our culture is fascinated with spiritual topics. From the 'Gospel of Judas' to DVC, our culture is responding to God-shaped vacuum in our hearts.

Nobody needs to burn books or do loud protests outside cinemas. (Negative publicity only helps the movie). This cinematic event is an exciting opportunity to clarify real history. Talk to people the truth of historic Christianity. Turn an anti-Christian story into an opportunity to some helpful conversations.

"Rather than protesting the DVC, why not invite people to read a better book - the Book that tells the dramatic story of God who sent His son, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross and who rose again to break a curse, not a code." Ed Stetzer

Here's the first step. Be equipped to know the truth so we can proclaim it clearly and graciously. Know the truth. That's why we're having tomorrow's seminar.

Second, don't be afraid to ask our friends, neighbours and co-workers, "Do you understand what you saw?" They might reply, "What does it all mean?" We need to be sensitive to such a question. Remember Philip asking the Ethiopian eunuch, "Do you understand what you are reading?" in Act 8:30.

A follow-up question we can ask: "Does the novel match up with the facts of history?" In asking, be humble and gentle in our life.

Finally, be confident in our faith and allow that confidence to overflow in genuine concern for those around us who may be struggling with spiritual decisions. I read a great opener: "Now that you've read the fiction, read the facts". II Timothy 4:2 encourages us to be ready to share our faith in season and out. Share and see some of our friends come to accept the truth of Christ.


Paul said...

Pastor Ben,

I fully agree with you about the world being so enticed about lies and fiction than knowing the truth. Some of my friends even started to believe even if they knew it was fiction because of how well Dan Brown weaves his story tales.

I think if we were to come up with a book that some well-known historical figure was some gay or something people would be willing to buy and believe in lies. They'd willingly pay for it.

This is just the world the prince of the world has shaped into. haha..

Looking forward to your seminar to bring the truth.

Jonathan Chua said...

Pastor Ben,

Hello.. have a doubt in my mind after watching the Da Vinci Code. Who is Mary Magdalene? Why people believe that she's a prostitute when the bible did not specfically stated it? I having some doubt about Mary Magdalene.. can you please explain to me who exactly is she?

Big J=)

ben kc lee said...

Paul, yes the line between education and entertainment is blurring. so many people learn 'facts' from tv programmes and movies.

Big J, I directed your question to Here's the reply... Mary Magdalene was a devoted follower of Christ. Some thought she was a prostitute because they associate the sinful woman (Lk 7:36-50) with her (Lk 8:2). In Luke 8:20, Jesus cast 7 demons out of Mary Magdalene. People assumed that Mary Magdalene's demonisation had to do with her living a sinful life (i.e. prostitution). This is untrue because demonised people in the New Testament were seen as helpless victims rather than as sinners. Had this been understood, the identification of Mary with prostitution might not have happened.

The Bible didn't name the sinful woman in Luke 7, neither did it state that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. In conclusion, it is incorrect to assume that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.(source: International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)

Jonathan Chua said...

Thanks P.Ben. =D