Newsweek turns maudlin

Newsweek5 29 06The cover story of the May 29 Newsweek is an oddity. Much of the story is driven by the popularity of The Da Vinci Code (both as pulp fiction and as popcorn movie), although Newsweek dispenses with most of Dan Brown’s alternative reality in a handy sidebar.

The story also is odd in that it calls the Magdalene an “inconvenient woman,” a sort of white martyr of the church’s patriarchy, even while it mentions that throughout church history she has inspired admiration and devotion.

Even in dealing with Pope Gregory the Great’s declaration that the Magdalene was the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair, Newsweek cannot decide whether the Pope was “attacking” Mary or holding her up as a model of penance:

It was only a matter of time before the Magdalene also came under attack. The moment arrived on an autumn Sunday in the year 591, in a sermon preached at the heart of the Catholic Church. Taking the pulpit at the Basilica San Clemente in Rome, Pope Gregory the Great offered a startling conclusion about the Magdalene: she had been a whore. Before she came to Christ, Gregory explained, Mary’s sins were manifold: she had “coveted with Earthly eyes” and “displayed her hair to set off her face.” Most scandalously, she had “used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.” Looking out at his audience, a somber mass of monks, Gregory gave Mary a new identity that would shape her image for fourteen hundred years. “It is clear, brothers,” he declared: she was a prostitute.

But it was not clear at all. Gregory’s remarkable assertion was based on the idea that Mary was the unnamed “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’ feet in the seventh chapter of Luke — a conflation many contemporary scholars dismiss. Even if she were the sinful woman, there is no evidence in any Gospels that her sins were those of the flesh — in the first century, a woman could be considered “sinful” for talking to men other than her husband or going to the marketplace alone. Gregory created the prostitute, as if from thin air.

The pope made his new Mary a reformed whore because he knew that the faithful needed a story of penance that was at once alluring and inspiring. The early Middle Ages were a time of tremendous social tumult — war and disease roiled nations and sent destitute women into the streets. Gregory’s church needed a character from Jesus’ circle who provided an answer to this misery, who proved that the path of Christ was an escape from the pressures of the sinful world. The mysterious Magdalene of the Resurrection story was peripheral enough to be reinvented. Finally, the church fathers were able to put the inconvenient woman to good use.

Newsweek interviews the familiar academic admirers of Gnosticism such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman. Karen King of Harvard offers some critical words about The Da Vinci Code as too retro:

The current Magdalene cult still focuses on her sexuality even though no early Christian writings speak of her sexuality at all. “Why do we feel the need to resexualize Mary?” wonders Karen King, author of “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala.” “We’ve gotten rid of the myth of the prostitute. Now there’s this move to see her as wife and mother. Why isn’t it adequate to see her as disciple and perhaps apostle?”

The story would have been more informative, and may have even offered a clash of ideas, had Newsweek interviewed Da Vinci critics such as Darrell Bock, Greg Jones, Sandra Miesel, or Amy Welborn.

At least we can be thankful the story doesn’t indulge in hysterical Gospel of Judas-style predictions that Sunday-school teachers will have to rethink the entirety of their message because a Gnostic text preaches Gnosticism.

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What Jesus wouldn’t do

lutherReader James S. pointed out something from one of the articles Terry linked to in his last Da Vinci post. It comes from Owen Glieberman’s piece in Entertainment Weekly:

Yes, a soupcon of research reveals that the Priory of Sion is a hoax invented in 1956, and surely it can’t be proved that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were ever intimate (though Martin Luther believed so).

Martin Luther believed what? That Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate? What hogwash. Unfortunately, the lie is getting some traction. CNN republished it. Time made the claim in 2003. I even spoke with a copyeditor last week who removed it from an article during the fact-checking process.

Since I’m Lutheran, I’m quite familiar with many of the wonderful things Luther said and wrote. I’m also familiar with many of the stupid things he said. But it takes willful misunderstanding of Luther to say that he believed Jesus was intimate with Mary Magdalene.

Only by putting Luther in the worst possible light can you make this claim. Luther thought about a lot. And most of it was written down. The most complete collection of Luther’s writings is the Weimar Ausgabe, consisting of 101 large folio volumes. While only a fraction of these writings have been translated into English, the majority of these translations appear in the 54-volume American edition of Luther’s Works. Luther wrote about everything from vocation to Scriptural canonicity; from the Doctrine of Justification to civil administration.

Pelikan 01So from these 101 volumes of Luther’s voluminous writings we have Luther’s consistent preaching of Jesus as sinless. And then on page 154 of the last volume of the American edition — edited by none other than the recently deceased Jaroslav Pelikan (pictured) — we have a statement attributed to Luther by John Schlaginhaufen. It’s from a section of the Works called Table Talk and collects freewheeling conversations Luther enjoyed with friends.

“Christ was an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well, for it was said, ‘Nobody knows what he’s doing with her’ [John 4:27]. Again, [he was an adulterer] with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8 [:2-11], whom he let off so easily. So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died.”

The editor points out that the quote lacks context. Other Luther scholars have pointed out that the quote, read without interpretation, would not fit with anything else Luther said about Jesus. But that doesn’t stop Time, Entertainment Weekly, CNN and other media outlets from repeating this ridiculous statement that, if taken seriously, would contradict thousands of sermons, hundreds of speeches and hundreds of pages of collected writings. Readers who are interested in explanations that match with Luther’s thousands of other teachings about Jesus may be interested in what this Lutheran pastor has to say:

So what in the world was he talking about at dinner that day in 1532? The Biblical context, Christian theology, and a knowledge of Luther’s way of thinking lead us to one or two possible conclusions . . .

Luther may have been examining Jesus from the perspective of His First Century witnesses, who were shocked that He ate and drank with “sinners” and that He’d sit and talk one-on-one and in public with a woman . . .

The other logical conclusion the total evidence allows is that Luther was speaking theologically. Talking with, granting forgiveness to, and allowing anointing by these women was emblematic of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. He was no passive bystander of the human condition, but He lived among us. While sinless, He took our sins upon Himself that He might fully forgive us. Paul summarized this work in 2 Corinthians 5:21, saying, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)”

Speaking of the great Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, his death last week was not marked nearly enough in newspapers. The Washington Post‘s obituary about the man, who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1998, also had a surprising error:

Jaroslav Jan Pelikan Jr., the son of a Lutheran minister who had emigrated from what is now Czechoslovakia, was born in Akron, Ohio, on Dec. 17, 1923.

Czechoslovakia — forced together in 1918 — split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

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Who does Dan Brown say that I am?

ChristSinai 01And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Who do men say that I am?

– Gospel of Mark 8:27

Please do not blow a fuse, dear readers.

I am not opening this post with a Bible verse in order to veer into evangelism. For most of the week, I have been looking for mainstream press reports about The Da Vinci Code that found a news hook other than (a) evangelicals trying to use the movie for evangelism, (b) scholars shredding the novel’s historical claims, (c) movie executives insisting that their product was only fiction or (d) speculation about the impact of the lousy reviews on the box office and the future of what was supposed to have become a major franchise for Sony Pictures. Weeks two and three are the keys.

On that final point, I do wonder if Tom Hanks is locked in for the future. And here is another question about the future: How do you film Angels & Demons — much of which happens in churches in Rome, and much of the final act actually in the Vatican — without the cooperation of the Holy See?

Well, there is a different angle out there. Reports indicate that the movie has softened the novel in at least two key ways.

First, it has edited out or weakened much of the oh-so-sexy pagan roots of the plot. Where’s that passage in the book about sacred sex inside the Jewish Temple’s Holy of Holies between the priests and holy women representing an ancient Jewish goddess?

But, most importantly, the movie has tried to adopt a slightly less hostile stance toward Christianity. The movie strives for a more mushy, spiritual, “dialogue”-oriented approach that, at crucial moments, says, “maybe,” “maybe,” “maybe.” As Associated Press religion-beat veteran Richard N. Ostling notes in an analysis piece:

An early clue that the film is trying a different tack from the novel comes when it omits the book’s thesis: “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” The script instead turns that concept into a question: “What if the world discovers the greatest story ever told is a lie?”

The chief alterations, however, pop up during a pivotal theological discussion between the story’s two experts on religious history, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). The maniacal Teabing makes the claim (disregarded by real-life scholars) that Christianity considered Jesus a mere man and turned him into a divinity in A.D. 325. Good-guy Langdon mildly objects, inserting a critical viewpoint that the novel lacks.

The bottom line is that the novel said Jesus was a remarkable man — bright, charismatic, hot and all that — but just a man. This is the Jesus of the old liberal mainline Protestant world. But the novel added another layer of commentary, saying that the true Christianity of the Gnostics and other believers in the “sacred feminine” was buried by the evil, sexist, frumpy men who were setting up the Catholic version of a Roman empire. This is the modern, sexy, almost Wiccan gospel of some segments of the liberal mainline Protestant academic world.

The movie says most of that, but adds a crucial word — maybe. In the end, it says that the most important thing is for believers to believe something and only nasty traditionalists care about the details. But the bottom line remains the bottom line: Dan Brown is acting as an evangelist for a syncretistic, pluralistic, at times neo-pagan version of Christianity.

Thus, one of the best news hooks right now can be summed up in this statement: “Who do men say that I am?” As USA Today noted:

At one climactic point, Langdon says, “History shows Jesus was an extraordinary man. Why couldn’t Jesus have been divine and still have been a father?” That line was not in the book.

The filmmakers try to back off from a hard-line stance on the question of Jesus’ divinity. Says Langdon, near the end of the film, “What matters is what you believe.”

Wasn’t there a way to work Oprah into the movie to deliver that line?

I would imagine that some mass-media people may not be happy about this change (and the fact that the script is terrible and most of the performances wooden or cheesy). Over at Entertainment Weekly, reviewer Owen Gleiberman cuts to the chase. Is that disappointment we hear between the lines?

A crucial change from the book is that Langdon has been made into a skeptic, a fellow who doesn’t necessarily buy that official Christianity is a lie. This is a sop to the film’s critics (i.e., the Catholic Church), but it feels cautious, anti-dramatic. Yes, a soupçon of research reveals that the Priory of Sion is a hoax invented in 1956, and surely it can’t be proved that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were ever intimate . … But what we want from a film of The Da Vinci Code is the fervor of belief. … As a novel, The Da Vinci Code has a resonance that lingers. It may be less history than hokum, but it’s a searching product of the feminist era, when even many true believers have grown weary of the church as an instrument of moral reprimand and male dominion.

2795So here is the question, and it’s one that I think is at the heart of the movie story: Who is Jesus, according to Dan Brown (and thus, the Sony Pictures franchise)?

This is a question linked to millions and millions of dollars worth of tickets. What does Brown believe? Will he stand up for his own beliefs or will be compromise, in order to give his actors and directors wiggle room? In novels one and two in this series, Brown had firm, blunt beliefs. He waffled a little, but not much. It seems that the movie has retreated into an Oprah-esque world of “maybe.”

This may be The Matrix all over again, in a strange sort of way.

The siblings Larry and Andy Wachowski — the word “brothers” is problematic right now — were also pushing a gospel rich in neo-Gnostic images and themes, with a literal union of the divine feminine and the male savior.

The Matrix gospel worked when it was visual, vague and exciting. It sank into irrational, wordy quicksand when the siblings attempted to explain their beliefs. They refused to retreat and the result was a disaster that still made lots of money, but it was clear that the franchise declined with each film. It had nowhere to go.

Will Brown be honest? Will he answer questions? Will he have the courage of his convictions, or compromise in an attempt to be safe? No wonder there are rumors of writer’s block on the third book.

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Killing Rachel, over and over again

rachel scottI guess I am going to have to download that damned Super Columbine Massacre RPG game if I want to know the answers to some of my questions. I want to know if the angels and demons present in the original press coverage of that 1999 tragedy made it into the game.

As noted in a Washington Post report by Jose Antonio Vargas, the game has been lurking on the Internet for more than a year without drawing much interest. But now it is getting media attention and, thus, the attention of survivors and their families. The game, as a game, is said to be pretty shoddy, but it contains real images and quotations from the event. The once anonymous creator of the game has been outed as 24-year-old Danny Ledonne.

And what about all of the God talk and the anti-God talk? The words of the boys who thought they were gods and the martyrs who testified to their faith in God? Still no concrete information, but the following chunk of the Post report does include a hint that, yes, Rachel Scott is in the game.

Roger Kovacs, a 22-year-old Web developer, was so infuriated about the game this week that he sought to figure out who “Columbin” was. Once he learned Ledonne’s identity, he posted it on the game’s site. “One of the girls who died was a friend of mine,” Kovacs said. “Rachel. We were in the same church group. Anyone playing this game can kill Rachel over and over again.”

Richard Castaldo, one of the students injured that day, had a different take. He is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back, chest, arm and abdomen. He’s a gamer — he wants to be a sound engineer for games — and he’s played the Columbine game. There are some parts that were tough for him, the 24-year-old said, but he thought the game has a unique take on that day. “It’s weird for me to say this, I guess, but there’s something about it that I appreciated, seeing the game from the killers’ perspective,” Castaldo said.

Both of those quotes are chilling, in totally different ways.

Has anyone else see some serious coverage — MSM or online gamer sites — of this “shooter” game?

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Attack of Da Cannes tomatoes

killertomatoesAs regular GetReligion readers know, we don’t pay much attention to editorials and reviews, unless they touch on topics that are so newsworthy that we simply have to talk about them. You could make a case that the current flood of negative reviews of The Da Vinci Code movie would fall into this category.

But there are just too many of them. If you want to tap into that, you can head over to Rotten Tomatoes and eat your fill.

So what about the news itself?

Well, the DVC news coverage is also so heavy that I am having trouble trying to read even a 10th of it. Then again, that is why God made Ted Olsen, over at Christianity Today‘s blog. Click here if you want access to his usual blitz of URLs to reviews, news, strange press releases and who knows what all. And Olsen offers this interesting thought for reporters working this story:

What Weblog doesn’t quite understand is the use of the term boycott in talking about one particular movie. Is saying “don’t see this movie” or “this movie stinks” the same as calling for a boycott? If so, then why are critics described as “panning” the film but pastors and bishops are “calling for a boycott”? And is choosing not to see a film the same as taking part in a boycott? Because I’m not reading a lot about the big R.V. and Just My Luck boycotts. And if it’s a boycott to refuse to see a film, what do you call Sony’s refusal to let people who want to see the film (namely film critics who aren’t in Cannes) do so?

Meanwhile, if you want to know why there are so many stories about about this movie gracing prime slots on the front pages of major newspapers, click here to see the “Well, Da Duh!” story of the day — a newsy report by Godbeat veteran Tom Mullen, writing for Editor & Publisher‘s website. It does seem that more secular editors want to “get” religion news when it involves Hollywood, the Vatican, heresy, alleged feminism, multimedia evangelism, screwed-up history, a kinky albino monk (repeat after me: Opus Dei does not even have monks), goddess worship and a splash of edited-out sacred sex.

You think? Thus, Mullen writes:

Newspapers don’t always do a good job of covering religion. You don’t have [to] look too far for critics in and outside the newsroom whom [you] can fault about how the whole realm of belief is covered. And it’s interesting to note how a Hollywood movie has again become a huge religion story that’s inspiring so much copy. Where is all the religion coverage on matters a little closer to home, a little closer to readers’ everyday lives? That’s still a topic for discussion at length, but for now, it’s worth noting what many papers did well over the last week or so before “Da Vinci” opened.

Read it all. And let us know if you see stories that do a good job of dealing with the facts of this story, as well as the hot opinions on both sides.

One thing is clear: Everyone needs to read the latest opus from the amazingly literate and fair-minded Peter J. Boyer of The New Yorker. If you have not read his “Hollywood Heresy: Marketing ‘The Da Vinci Code’ to Christians,” then what are you waiting for? It gets five stars (out of five).

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How much of Columbine is in the game?

SCMRPG RolloverI started to post this as a cryptic “From our no comment department” item. You know, one of those short posts in which one of us writes a sentence or two and then asks people to read an article that speaks for itself, usually in a way that is quite bizarre.

So click here. Then click here for the “Video game reopens Columbine wounds” story at the Rocky Mountain News.

The report is pretty straightforward. The anonymous creator of the game has said he wanted to provoke real dialogue about the events and the actions of two disturbed but intelligent young men. In an email to the newspaper he said:

“I’m routinely accused of being soulless, of being destined for an eternity in hell, and similarly colorful assertions,” he wrote. “However, I cannot emphasize enough that there is a small fraction of the population who really gets it, who really understands why I made the game and how possible it is to escape from the polarized, dualistic thinking the Columbine shooting seems to (elicit) in most people.”

To say that the game offended many people would be an understatement.

“It’s wrong,” said Joe Kechter, whose son, Matt, was murdered in the Columbine library.

“We live in a culture of death,” said Brian Rohrbough, whose son, Dan, was gunned down on a sidewalk outside the school, “so it doesn’t surprise me that this stuff has become so commonplace. It disgusts me. You trivialize the actions of two murderers and the lives of the innocent.”

The story does tell us that the video game ends with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in hell, fighting the demons. What I found interesting is that the report does not mention any of the other religious elements of that God-haunted story.

That’s important. From the beginning to the end, the Columbine story and the debates about the coverage contained strong religious themes and images. As a reader, I wanted to know: Did any of those words, images and deeds make it into the game? After all, we are told that the game includes images and quotes from videos and articles about the massacre.

Where to begin? Did it include Rachel Joy Scott writing and drawing in her school notebook minutes before she died? Her journal entry — complete with a rose and 13 tears — ended with this prayer:

“Am I the only one who sees? Am I the only one who craves Your glory? Am I the only one who longs to be forever in Your loving arms? All I want is for someone to walk with me through these halls of a tragedy.”

30Is that in the game?

How about some of the dialogue from the videos that Harris and Klebold left behind? After all, the killers said they wanted to start a “religious war” and they mocked a Christian girl named Rachel.

In their pre-rampage videotapes, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold discussed — in their litany of hate — how they wanted to start a “religious war” and mocked a girl named Rachel who had shared her Christian faith.

In audio tapes aired on CNN, and transcripts released by parents, Klebold said: “Stuck-up little b–, you f– little Christianity, godly little w–.”

Harris: “Yeah, ‘I love Jesus, I love Jesus.’… Shut the f– up.”

Klebold: “What would Jesus do? What would I DO? (Makes shotgun sound at camera)”

Did any of that make it into the game? I would assume it did.

And what about the stories of Cassie Bernall, Valeen Schnurr and others who were shot after being mocked for their faith? Some of the eyewitnesses differed on the details, but it was clear that the killers — before pulling the trigger — were asking some people, “Do you believe in God?” Where did all of that come from?

It was Bernall who left behind a note, found by her parents, that described the tensions in her school and then said:

“I try to stand up for my faith at school. … I will die for my God. I will die for my faith. It’s the least I can do for Christ dying for me.”

I have searched around online and cannot find out what I want to know. How many of the angels and the demons of Columbine made it into this crude video game? I think many readers would want to know.

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Dan Brown: “All of this is factual”

pillar1It’s time for the obligatory update on you know what. In the media blitz, the most interesting angle (at least to me) is that the New York Times has joined the Los Angeles Times in wondering out loud about Sony Pictures’ decision not to allow critics to dissect the movie in advance. Here is how reporter Sharon Waxman deals with the buzz and the whispers:

In contemporary Hollywood, movies released without first undergoing test screenings, media screenings, “tastemaker” screenings and screenings for critics are fairly rare; that course is usually reserved for duds that studios would rather nobody notice. For a movie like Sony’s “Da Vinci Code” — with huge anticipation, a blockbuster-size budget, a major movie star in Tom Hanks, an Oscar-winning director in Ron Howard and source material read by tens of millions of fans — it is something close to unprecedented. Yet that has been the studio’s course.

“The Da Vinci Code” will make its debut at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night. Critics and other journalists will first see the movie on Tuesday night, barely allowing them time to write their articles for the Wednesday premiere and Friday opening in theaters around the world.

It is also clear that much of this tension and intrigue is linked to the movie’s strong evangelistic message that millions and millions of Christians have been faked out for 1,700 years or so. Nameless studio checkwriters put it this way:

The concerns, said executives involved with the picture, were that information about the film could start a nit-picking debate over the filmmaker’s choices in adapting the book, rather than focus on the movie overall, or that it might fuel religious opposition to the film.

It is possible, of course, that this is the usual delay with special affects — a modern fact of life for directors who have to burn the candles at both ends until minutes before shipping the prints to the studio lords. Ask Peter Jackson.

Then again, the secrecy may be linked to author Dan Brown’s all-consuming desire for stealth and mystery. Will he, for example, play any role in the press junket for the movie? Will he do interviews with real journalists? The problem with doing real interviews with real interviewers is that they often ask real questions.

Yesterday, Catholic scribe Amy Welborn — who knows a thing or two about the DVC wars — posted a great example of this, using Lexis-Nexis to recover some of an April 26, 2003, NPR Weekend Edition interview that Linda Wertheimer did with Brown. Here is the key quote to remember, during a week in which Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and the Sony brass will endlessly repeat their mantra that everyone should lighten up and remember that this is “just fiction.”

What does Brown say about that?

WERTHEIMER: How long does it take you to research a book like this? I assume that, among other things, you would hear from the world if you’ve got anything wrong.

Mr. BROWN: Certainly. And it takes me about two and a half years to entirely research and write a book like this. Before I even started writing a page, I’d spent a year in research, and a lot of the research for “Angels and Demons” that I did in Vatican City played into this book, as well as my art history training in Seville.

WERTHEIMER: You’re trying not to get too fictional with the facts here?

Mr. BROWN: Absolutely. The only thing fictional in “The Da Vinci Code” is the characters and the action that takes place. All of the locations, the paintings, the ancient history, the secret documents, the rituals, all of this is factual.

See? The ancient history, etc., is all factual.

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News flash! Brown on Brown, again

0767926021 01  SCLZZZZZZZ V54155182 There he goes again.

As I stressed in my recent “Who is Dan Brown?” piece for the Da Vinci Dialogue site, the author of Da Book that is being turned into Da Movie isn’t terribly fond of facing tough questions about his work or his beliefs.

Thus, I bring you this news flash: Dan Brown has interviewed himself again and Dan Brown, the novelist, thinks that the upcoming movie of Dan Brown’s book is just great.

It was a really nice touch that Brown allowed this new content about himself — it’s a short clip from the foreword of the published movie script — in one of the only places in public media that people online will not be able to link to it and discuss it. That would be USA Weekend, which noted at its website:

The exclusive cover story written by Dan Brown on The Da Vinci Code movie is available only in our print edition. See USA WEEKEND in your local newspaper.

You’ll be shocked to learn that Brown offers no insights into the truth claims vs. fiction issue and he does not even bother to address his critics directly. Here is one of the only interesting quotations:

“Novels change as they adapt to the screen. They simply must.

“Now, before you read this as an author’s disclaimer for any differences between the book and the movie, let me assure you that it’s all there — the Louvre, Saint-Sulpice, Chateau Villette, Westminster Abbey, Rosslyn Chapel, the codes, the sacred feminine, and the quiet invitation to think about faith, religion and history with a fresh, open-minded perspective.”

Take that, historians! This means that all of his fact-based critics are the opposite of fresh and open-minded. But we already knew that, of course.

It is also interesting that at the end of the article he comes very close to confirming the rumors of his wife, Blythe, being the coauthor of the book. Then again, maybe he is just being loose with his metaphors. It’s hard to tell fact from fiction with this guy. Brown writes:

“My wife and I live our lives by a simple mantra — to make wonderful memories every day. For us, few memories will ever be as vivid as the night we spent exploring the darkened Louvre by flashlight … and seeing a frightened curator flee through the Grand Gallery with a pale monk in pursuit.”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has put into print a hint of the buzz on the left coast, where some people are wondering why the studio isn’t letting critics take an early look at the movie. Of course, it is perfectly logical for Sony executives to assume they do not need to use traditional PR for this product. Nevertheless, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has heard some of the whispers.

The film’s distributor, Sony, has been doing its best to keep the film shrouded in mystery, forgoing the usual media run-up in favor of an unveiling at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday. It’s a tactic usually employed by studios to try to hide stinkers. But Goldsman says it was a strategy decided upon before the film was even edited, “which was to try to diminish the ability of people to indicate pre-release what was different from the book. Part of what is intriguing is the ability to go and experience that yourself.”

Not incidentally, however, the strategy also undercuts critics and protesters who are forced to resort to debating the merits of the book — not the film.

Early reports do indicate that the movie contains actual flashbacks to offer its own twist on biblical events, which means that many of the book’s long conspiracy-theory speeches will now be offered as clips from a kind of post-Passion, neo-gnostic, goddess-friendly bathrobe epic.

Traditional Christians and historians are going to love that. And their complaints will be music to the ears of the millions of loyal fans of the novel and, almost certainly, the movie. As one Brown supporter wrote me this morning, in an email from Memphis:

liberating jesus from the likes of falwell, roberson, bush, graham the younger, van impe, hagee and the rest of the ahistoricalevangelicaldumbdamentalists seems to me to be a fine mission and ministry … likewise for the seriously constipated roman catholics who believe they, too HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS and the ONLY ANSWERS!! those whose “faith” is “threatened” by this book — or any serious theological thinking and reflecton — probably deserve having that “faith” “threatened” … big time!! time to grow up into the big world of adulthood, kiddies!!!!

P.S. Our friends over at Beliefnet have a pretty interesting series of video features up right now on you know what, featuring Father Robin Griffith-Jones of the Temple Church in London. They are not journalism, per se, but they do give you an idea of what critics — even left-of-center mainline critics — are saying about the book.

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