Thursday, June 01, 2006

DaVinci Code - Unfounded Fears

My wife and I have now seen the DaVinci Code movie. (Commence applause.)

My assessment:
First - "yawn."
Second - How is it that so many people are afraid of this story?

First off, interspersing an alleged "action" movie with enormous chunks of dialogue didn't work so well. It was like the book in that regard, but at least with the book you could put it aside when your eyes began to glaze over. Of course, it is in the big chunks of dialogue where all the alleged "scary" stuff is said.

Which brings me to my second level of assessment. Maybe it is because I am not a right wing Christian (label used rhetorically), but I am having trouble locating the source of people's fear of the ideas upon which Dan Brown bases his novel. Can someone help me out, here? Is our faith really so shallow as to be threatened by a novelist creating a popular plotline based on a few heretical teachings? What exactly are we supposed to be afraid of, here?

Actually, I have the same questions about some of the other "issues" that are in the public discourse just lately. For example, can someone tell me why I am supposed to be afraid of gay marriage? What exactly is the threat to marriage as a covenant relationship (or "institution" if you prefer) posed by two people of the same gender who desire to enter it? Or consider the fears of some who say that Mexican immigrants are out to colonize the United States and systematically erode our culture - where does that fear come from? I think I'll go ask my friend Gerardo, who works an exhausting, menial job six days a week in order to feed himself and support his family back in Mexico how he manages to have the energy left to plot such grandiose schemes of U.S. domination.

Fear of denominational decline; fear of lawsuits; fear of sickness or injury; fear of insufficient retirement income; fear of death. How much of what we do is based on our fear?

In a recent column, Bill Tammeus of the Kansas City Star wrote:

The most difficult part about confronting and overcoming that fear is that much of it is so rational, so understandable. In some ways, fear arms us so we can survive.
We are, after all, on this side of 9/11. Isn’t fear of additional terrorism sensible?
We are often victims of crime. Isn’t fear of muggers, car thieves and rapists rational?
We have seen huge corporations fold up and destroy people’s retirements. Isn’t fear that we’ll lose what we’ve worked for understandable?
We have watched cancer, AIDS and heart disease blow huge holes in our families and our circle of friends. Isn’t fear of a deadly diagnosis to be expected?
In fact, is it any wonder that we think Ralph Waldo Emerson got it only half right when he wrote that “fear always springs from ignorance”? It also springs from what we know only too well.

But then he goes on to write, "Fear, after all, has helped to create the poisonous atmosphere in which today’s political and religious rhetoric simply drips with anger and hatred." His claim is, while there is no denying fear's existence, we also must acknowledge fear's toxicity. That goes directly to motivation for our actions.

We read in 1st John that "there is no fear in love." Would it not be a more faithful approach to base our actions on love, rather than on fear? Risky? You bet! Jesus risked his very life for such an approach. But if one truly believes that "perfect love casts out fear," then fear as the motivator for our actions cannot be sustained. What we do, as Jesus himself did, ought to be motivated only by love.

I'm not afraid of the DaVinci Code, gay marriage, or Mexican immigrants. And I lament for those who are, because they are deprived of an opportunity to be grounded in God's love, and are likewise deprived of an opportunity to share that love with others. In fact, I'm not afraid of very much at all - fear is toxic. As Bill Tammeus puts it, "We cannot be true to our higher calling if we let fear prevent us from giving ourselves away to others. Casting out fear, in fact, may well be our highest calling."


Adam Caldwell said...


Elizabeth said...

Nicely said. I think you hit exactly on the mark.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Andy. Lots of the military aggression is also caused by our fears, perhaps fear of losing our comforts and wealth. (Why did we attack Iraq again?) The questions raised by the DV Code novel and movie are not a threat in anyway to people of faith. It's not history. It's not theology. It's not Biblical scholarship. It's not scientific discovery. It's just not worth another thought. If you enjoy a good story, you might want to read the book. But skip the movie. One of my biggest fears is that the church simply continues to atrophe due to complacency. Peace, JB

Anonymous said...

The only fear I have about DaVC is that it is confusing people who are not grounded in the faith. Maybe those of us who have been exposed to the Gnostics before are not shaken, but what happens to those who are hearing this for the first time? Isn't respecting the damage this heretical novel/movie could be doing worth a response from the church? I think the "fear factor" is being overused. I'm conservative on the gay marrige debate though I know and have known many gay people/ couples over the years. No, I'm not afraid of them or that they are destroying America...I simply (and respectifully) disagree with their understanding of human sexuality. The point is, accusing people of being afriad (they don't understand...they are afraid of us) is a new sort of "race card".

(I may regret saying that). -Mitch

Andy B. said...

Brother Mitch,
So, are you saying you are in the "sex is only for making babies" camp, rather than the "sex is an expression of love for one another" camp?
And I'm going to have to call you on that "fear is the new race card" remark. I am basing my comments about the fear of others based solely on my observations of their actual reactions, in their own words, no less. You make it seem like I'm just making things up.

Anonymous said...

Brother Andrew, I apologize if I sounded accusatory. I know that you are speaking from your personal experience, I would not dare charge you with making things up. Still, I think it is easy to write differing opinions off as unfounded or unreasonable levying a charge of fear against them…it can become a cop out of sorts, thus my “race card” interpolation, which becomes more regrettable each time I use it. I know that because I’m in the “sex is reserved for one man/ one woman within the covenant of marriage” camp that I have been accused of being afraid of gay people, which is not only untrue, but unfair. (“He’s too afraid of gay folk to know them and therefore doesn’t understand” which I hear as “His opinion doesn’t count because he is obviously an unenlightened bigot.” I know there are knuckleheads who think that gay Mexican Gnostics are trying to take over the good ole’ US of A and are afraid of that, but they are a scant few.
Fearfully yours, -Mitch

Jim in Tampa said...

I read the book and was disappointed with the movie. But I thought "Angels & Demons" was a better book. I couldn't figure out the controversy either. I thought it wasn't a bad action-flick-lite type of movie but I couldn't see how it could convert anyone to believing the accounts to be actually true.

Larry B. said...

Picture the following scenario - Someone decides to make a movie about Jesus and in the movie he portrays Jesus walking around Jerusalem going up to openly gay people and telling them they are an abomination before God and will be excluded from the kingdom of God unless they repent and become straight. Wouldn't you, Pastor Andy, feel the slightest bit of anger of such a portrayal? You wouldn't want to at least get a message out to people that this is not what everyone thinks?

Why then are some so critical of someone having a visceral reaction to a cherished part of their life being turned into a conspiracy theory and spread through books and film so millions of dollars can flow into the hands of a few people?

What is even worse, is that Christians have turned against those who raise the objections as though they are a pariah to society and use labels to box the objectors in. The original post is a perfect example where arguments are simply rejected by generalizing the reaction as one of "fear" and then debunking "fear" which by proxy is supposed to debunk the original argument. It's really a logical fallacy brought about by attempting to shift the frame of reference for the argument.

People can have reasonable positions for rejecting a proposition which have little or nothing to do with fear. And fear can bring about the recognition that one needs to acquire knowledge to determine whether the position is rational or not.

Your example of people fearing mexican immigrants taking over could be one of fear, or it could also be a reasoned position. There are groups in the US who do want to reclaim a large portion of the southern US and are open about the intention. They identify themselves as the Nation of Aztlan. They have local chapters in nearly every high school in the city where I live. They have stated their intentions to find a way to have our state secede from the US and return to their homeland. Now is it fear for me to repeat in a factual manner what they have said?

If I turn to scripture and find through reason that the scripture is definitively negative towards homosexual behavior, and never once holds up the ideal of a "committed" relationship as being the only pre-requisite for a sexual bond, where in all cases when a sexual bond is discussed the pre-requisite is the male and female relationship, and then I conclude that homosexual marriage is therefore at odds with scriptural teaching am I acting out of fear?

It's funny, I just came back from working a trade show in Las Vegas and they use the "fear" argument too. Essentially they are telling you that you have "nothing to fear here" so go ahead and do whatever. i.e. any objections you have to sexual sin, gambling and gluttony are just silly fears and are to be ignored. You couldn't possibly have a thoughtfully reasoned position that would prevent you from engaging in any of those behaviors.

Andy B. said...

Larry B.,
Congratulations on your parallel between the Gospel and Las Vegas. I have never heard the two phrases "Perfect love casts out fear" and "What happens here, stays here" compared in such a way :)

I will also have to do some thinking on your "visceral reaction" comment. What's the difference between a visceral reaction and fear? Fear is visceral but not everything visceral is fear? Something like that, I suppose.

And finally, with regard to your scenario, I don't really think "The DaVinci Code" is about Jesus as much as it is about the church. If it truly is a threat, it's not a threat to Jesus, it's a threat to the church.

Larry B said...

I agree - strange parallel. Reminds me a little bit of C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters where Screwtape might have co-opted the biblical mandate and turned it into something totally opposite.

Maybe Screwtape himself is working in Las Vegas now :)

Anonymous said...

My comment will not inspire any dialogue or posess any entertaining value. I simply wanted to state that once again an intervention by the Almighty has happened to me. I fully awoke in a complete state of anxiety in the middle of the night. Why? I don't know. I have a feeling it has to do with my serious illness at Christmas time that seems to continue to haunt me and freak out my system, although I am fully recovered. When I awake like this, the first thing I do is pray to bring me back to rationality. That usually takes me down a notch. But tonight I needed more, and BINGO, an entire blog post on fear and how I need to give it up to God. Thanks! I think I can go back to bed again.

Shelly :)!