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Debating DaVinci

Claire Kelley | Thursday, September 30, 2004

This election year, political discourse in our country is more polarized than ever.Negative ads and attacks on character have replaced logical analysis and thoughtful discussion about our country’s future. As political discussions take place on campus, dialogue has also taken place concerning the other subject you aren’t supposed to talk about in polite company: religion. On Saturday I attended a faculty panel entitled “‘The DaVinci Code’: An Assessment” that explored the literary, art historical and theological implications of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel that dropped to No. 2 this week after 77 weeks as No. 1. Professor Richard McBrien, a polarizing figure himself, theologically examined the hotly debated book and asserted that there is no evidence to support the novel’s premise that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. However, he said that if Jesus was married it was obviously to Magdalene. He praised Mary Magdalene as a saint whose importance has been historically understated.These are controversial words, considering that “The DaVinci Code”‘s overwhelming success has drawn outrage from some Catholics who believe it is heretical, anti-Catholic and absurd. But the novel has also won praise from other Catholics who have embraced cathartic discussions of “The DaVinci Code” as a way to confront deep-rooted concerns about the rigid stances of the Church hierarchy and its anti-feminist reputation, which has been intensified by the recent Vatican letter on feminism.Although “The DaVinci Code”‘s claims to veracity have been widely disproved by both art historians and theological scholars, important themes are raised through its fiction thriller package. Those who stood to ask questions at the panel on Saturday seemed to appreciate the opportunity to discuss those themes. To my surprise, no one who attended the lecture refuted Father McBrien’s analysis of the novel.As a student in Father McBrien’s Catholicism class my sophomore year, I thought his willingness to discuss and explain both sides of the most controversial issues was wonderfully therapeutic after years of authoritative and rigid Catholic religion classes. I am inspired in those moments at Notre Dame when there is discussion about Catholic issues that is not about who is right or wrong, who belongs and who doesn’t, and I can ask questions and challenge the way things are in the Church without being considered unfaithful or disloyal to my faith. Let us not be discouraged by polarizing issues or societal restrictions toward certain political or religious dialogue. I believe that our dignity is honored in dialogue where we can talk in an open and honest way about the tremendous mysterious of life, faith and sexuality. These discussions can eclipse those times, even at Notre Dame, where I have become burdened by conversations that emphasize rules or rigid answers.During the question and answer portion of Saturday’s lecture one woman stood and remarked, “I have had the best conversations of my life about this book.”Another man merely stated, “Isn’t this wonderful that we can have these discussions at Notre Dame.”