Catholics and 'The Da Vinci Code'
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott. With more than 40 million copies sold worldwide, The Da Vinci Code is the best-selling novel of all time. The movie based on the book comes out Friday and is also expected to be a blockbuster. No one is more aware of this than church leaders. More than half of the nation's churches say they are giving sermons or classes in response.
With the questions the book and movie raise about the divinity of Jesus and other church teachings, many Christian clergy see The Da Vinci Code as an attack on their faith, but as NPR's Greg Allen reports, the faithful are among The Da Vinci Code's biggest fans.
GREG ALLEN reporting:
It's nearly 8 p.m. at Church of the Resurrection, a Methodist congregation in suburban Kansas City. Several dozen people have gathered, not to worship, but to talk. First Associate Pastor Jeff Kirby leads them in prayer.
Pastor JEFF KIRBY (Church of the Resurrection): Be with us now as we go to our small groups, for we pray in Jesus' name, amen. Hey, thanks once again. I wanna just say thank you for listening so attentively...
ALLEN: It's one of the weekly meetings of the Alpha Group, a Christian discussion course that's offered around the country at churches of all denominations. Ministers like Jeff Kirby don't expect parishioners to just listen but also to ask questions.
The topic under discussion this night is how can I be sure of my faith, and some members begin by talking about a book that takes aim squarely at some of their most basic religious beliefs. About a third of the group have read The Da Vinci Code, and all are skeptical about the ideas that author Dan Brown labels as fact in his work of fiction. Terri McCarrie(ph), a school administrator from Leavenworth, says that she enjoyed the book.
Ms. TERRI MCCARRIE (School Administrator): It wasn't upsetting to me. It did cause me to question and think about things I had known all my life, but by the time the story was over, by the time the book was over, I found that I still believed what I've always believed.
ALLEN: What parts of the story were the things that were the, made you think the most, that were the most challenging do you think?
Ms. MCCARRIE: The idea of Christ having a relationship with Mary Magdalene, the idea of there being a child of this relationship and that child being the Holy Grail, pretty fascinating stuff.
ALLEN: McCarrie says in the end she decided that it wouldn't matter to her if the novel's claims were true. It wouldn't change her believe in Jesus' divinity or in the central story of Christianity, Jesus' death and resurrection. In an effort to find out how The Da Vinci Code is affecting faith, the nation's leading Catholic publication recently commissioned a poll.
Mr. DAN CONNORS (Editor-in-Chief, Catholic Digest): Only three percent made them question their faith.
ALLEN: Editor of Catholic Digest Dan Connors says the poll found that nearly 30 percent of American Catholics, some 20 million people, have read The Da Vinci Code, and the vast majority said it had no affect on their faith whatsoever.
Mr. CONNORS: It showed us that Catholics are pretty mainstream culturally, and that they're mature enough and strong enough to see a work of fiction as what it is, fiction.
ALLEN: Nonetheless, the film has sparked a cottage industry of debunkers, documentaries, training DVDs, and at least 10 books seeking to set the record straight. One of the best-selling of those books, Breaking The Da Vinci Code, was written by Darrell Bock, a New Testament scholar and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He notes that interest in the origins of Christianity and the historical Jesus goes beyond The Da Vinci Code.
A book about the recently discovered Gnostic documents, The Gospel of Judas, for example, is currently high on the best-seller list. The reason for that interest, Bock says, is simple. Christianity is not just religion. It's also history.
Professor DARRELL BOCK (Author, Breaking The Da Vinci Code): The Christian faith and Judaism are almost unique among the religions, and Islam to a lesser degree, in claiming that the faith that they're calling people to have is rooted in actual events that God was involved in on Earth, in real history.
ALLEN: At Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City, after a fried chicken dinner, members of the Alpha Group file out for small discussions. In one group, some members compare the popularity of The Da Vinci Code with Passion of the Christ. Like that film, they say The Da Vinci Code represents a rare opportunity to engage the culture at large in discussions of faith. For that reason, Pastor Jeff Kirby says, in the end, for churches and Christianity, The Da Vinci Code will be good.
Pastor KIRBY: I think the challenge for the church is to be well-informed and intelligent and ready to respond to the questions that people have.
ALLEN: When the movie comes out, Kirby says ministers would do well to keep in mind a quote from the book of Peter. Be ready at all times to give a thoughtful response to questions people have about that hope that's within you. Greg Allen, NPR News, Leewood, Kansas.