Will the release of a paperback edition of "The Da Vinci Code" be a sign of the End Times? Will everyone who refuses to read Dan Brown's anti-Bible masterwork be automatically raptured? Sorry, just trying to get into the swing of things for this summer's gathering of the Christian Booksellers Association. As the New York Times pointed out earlier this week, a wave of anti-Da Vinci Code books is hitting the shelves. So far, 10 seems to be the total, but someone really needs to get that up to the biblical 12. That's a lock to happen, once the movie hits. For a handy Beliefnet.com guide to these books, click here.
What's really interesting about this to me is that all kinds of conservative Christians are writing these books, even though Brown's pulp pageturner is clearly meant as an anti-Catholic manifesto.
In a way, Roman Catholics reading The Da Vinci Code should be flattered. After all, according to Dan Brown's vision of past and present, the only embodiment of Christianity the world has seen is the Roman Catholic Church.
This is true. The book doesn't even break stride long enough to throw mud at the most obvious of evangelical and fundamentalist targets. And folks, it's hard to write about the early Church Fathers and the roots of Christianity without running into Eastern Orthodoxy, but Brown pulls it off. The man has a serious, serious case of Romeaphobia
Despite this, the always informative Laurie Goodstein of the Times notes that all kinds of Christians are trying to take Brown on -- from Dallas-based premill Baptists to mainstream Lutherans. Her story is packed with statements such as:
"Because this book is such a direct attack against the foundation of the Christian faith, it's important that we speak out," said the Rev. Erwin W. Lutzer, author of "The Da Vinci Deception" and senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, an influential evangelical pulpit. ...
The critics and their publishers are also hoping to surf the wave of success of "The Da Vinci Code," which has been on The New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list for 56 weeks. There are 7.2 million copies of the book, published by Doubleday, now in print. Of the 10 new Da Vinci-related books, eight are by Christian publishers. One evangelical Christian publisher, Tyndale House, which hit gold with the "Left Behind" books, is about to issue not one but two titles rebutting "The Da Vinci Code."
But note: Almost all of these anti-Da Vinci books will be sold in Christian bookstores, rather than in the mainstream stores that are selling truckloads of Brown's work. In other words, the odds are stacked against anyone reading these books unless they are already members of the choir of traditional believers who shop in such holy locations.
Online sales may help in this debate. But this is a classic example of how traditional religious books are marketed by believers to other believers, while the edgy books that shape the rest of the culture are stacked on the hot tables in the front of coffee-bar bookstore chains from coast to coast. It's not a fair fight. Is this a news story? Meanwhile, as Goodstein writes:
There is evidence that Mr. Brown's novel may be shaping the beliefs of a generation that is famously biblically illiterate. Michael S. Martin, a high school French teacher in Burlington, Vt., said he decided to read the novel when he noticed that his students were reading it in Harry Potter proportions.
"We like conspiracy theories, so whether it's J.F.K. or Jesus, people want to think there's something more than what they are telling us -- the they in this case being the church," Mr. Martin said.