Dan Brown’s Lowbrow Arianism

During the Danish Muslim cartoon controversy, CNN ran a disclaimer saying that it "has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam." But the Western elite, as they head off to the The Da Vinci Code, now say that viewing religious blasphemy, not suppressing it, is an important safeguard of "dialogue." Wild artistic license and savage religious criticism are back in the western elite’s good graces.

The Da Vinci Code controversy is a dismal reminder that the two wasting diseases of Western culture — anti-Western Islam and anti-western secular humanism — feed off common germs, one of which is the rejection of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Islam reduces Jesus Christ to a prophet; secular humanism reduces him to a married social worker and prophet of such modern causes as feminism and sexual revolution.

The Western elite’s respect for Islam and disdain for credal Christianity explain their horror at the Danish cartoons while rationalizing an anti-Christian movie of cartoonish proportions. Spiritual sickness in the West — which manifests itself in the willingness of Westerners to toy with their culture’s religious underpinnings for dilettantish and self-indulgent reasons — benefits Islam today as it did in the past.

Islam was preceded by heresies within the Christian world that denigrated the doctrine of the Trinity and denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. These heresies anticipated the rise of a major religion that would marginalize Jesus Christ as a mere human messenger. English writer Hilaire Belloc, among other Christian thinkers, viewed Islam as an imaginative reworking of heterodox Christianity, borrowing from among other ideas the heresy of Arianism, the position taken by the 4th-century theologian Arius that Jesus Christ was "from another substance" than that of God.

Today Arianism in the West is considerably more unsophisticated theologically (Arius was at least a real scholar; Dan Brown warmed up for The Da Vinci Code by writing such books as A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman) and contains the cultural obsessions of modern liberalism. For all of his talk about rigorously studying the past, Brown’s conception of Christ is conveniently fitted to and drawn from the present. But even lowbrow Arianism like Brown’s has the power to enervate the west while creating room for Islam to spread.

Brown’s cobbled-together Arianism profits off and finds protection in the spiritual torpor of a Western culture that treats its own traditional beliefs with a level of hostility and glib recklessness it never shows Islamic culture. Within a few months we’ve see the western elite at once censor facts about Islam while sanctioning an industry of the most destructive fictions about Christianity. They forbid laughter at Islamic culture; they encourage mockery of their own.

A measure of their impious, unserious, cowardly culture is the defense they mount once any criticism comes — that blasphemy aimed at Christianity is just good fodder for entertainment and grist for navel-gazing criticism. This is the fall-back position of the movie’s director Ron Howard and lead actor Tom Hanks now they sense that too-earnest a defense of the movie isn’t such a good career move (though the fact they made the movie at all represents their confidence in a de-Christianized culture to protect and celebrate them).

The elite would never use skepticism and relativism as a defense for subjecting Islam to half-baked, provocative, and obscene speculation. But that’s what they immediately use to silence and confuse Christians who object to such speculation about Christianity, and it works to a great extent since even Christians in a secularized culture come to accept everything as "debatable," a chance for "dialogue," and a test of whether they can humor criticism without looking unfashionable and foolish.

Even if The Da Vinci Code is a flop, and it looks like it will be, the movie will succeed in defining blasphemy downward. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggests that Christian outrage has been relatively muted because Christians don’t think the movie rises to the "level of blasphemy." The press reports that crowds in theoretically Catholic European countries have been large. So apparently Brown if nothing else is convincing many Christians that turning the life of God into cheap entertainment is no big deal.

True, the media elite that banned the Danish cartoons has started criticizing The Da Vinci Code. But what they are saying is not that it is blasphemous, just boring. They prefer attacks on Christianity to be a little more lively and less time-consuming.

Meanwhile, Tom Hanks is playing the relativism card. Sounding like he has spent the last few weeks reading the opinions of Justice Anthony Kennedy, he says that The Da Vinci Code is a "great opportunity to discuss and clarify one’s feelings about one’s place in the universe as well as in the mind of God." That Hanks thinks he can get away with this Junior High gnosticism is itself a sign of a hollowed-out culture in which nothing is sacred, a culture that appears hopelessly mindless and soft next to the resolute Islamic culture that marches towards it.

I find even the strategizing within some Christian circles about the movie to be a sad barometer of this trivial, imploding culture. The focus seems to be more on winning the PR debate according to worldly perceptions of success than on giving basic witness to Jesus Christ regardless of the consequences. Did the early Christians need PR specialists to tell them whether or not to respond to blasphemy?

The self-doubt of the west is so deep that while Muslims riot over art rooted in fact westerners don’t know whether to protest disgraceful art based on fiction.

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