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Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons”: Religion vs Science

An explosive international thriller from international bestselling author Dan Brown, Angels & Demons careens from enlightening epiphanies to dark truths as the battle between science and religion turns to war. The first of five novels in the Robert Langdon series.

Angels & Demons was one of the best page-turners I have ever read. From the very beginning I couldn’t put it down. I did not know where Brown would take the story next. Following the main character Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist on his first great adventure was breathtaking. I wanted to learn more, to know the secrets of the Illuminati and the only way to do it was to let the story naturally unfold as I read. I can usually guess what is going to happen in thrillers, but Brown did a wonderful job keeping everything a mystery until absolutely necessary to reveal the secrets.

An ancient secret brotherhood.
A devastating new weapon of destruction.
An unthinkable target…

When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol — seared into the chest of a murdered physicist — he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati… the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. The Illuminati has surfaced from the shadows to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy… the Catholic Church.

Langdon’s worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the Vatican’s holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces he has hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival.

Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even to the heart of the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra follow a 400-year old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair… a secret location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.

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Brown, who himself worked as a teacher, based part of the character of Langdon on himself. He worked the plot around the age-old debate of religion versus science with a few other subplots around it. The subject, already controversial, leads to the tension in the plot.

Its story and it’s place in this age-old debate is what I enjoy most about the novel.  The clash between science and faith is everywhere. While religion propagates that with science we are letting go of our spirituality and belief, science debates that with religion we underestimate, even kill our potential.

It is symbolised through the opposing organisations of the Illuminati (who claim to speak for free thought and science) and the Catholic Church (which bulwarks two millennia of dedication to the Christian faith). And the characters are often seen in a fix on which side to support. Leonardo Vetra, a priest and scientist, was murdered as a result of this debate. Highly religious people like Ventresca shudder at the thought of a love affair between a priest and a nun even though it was not physical. Then, people like Kohler condemn religion as he was denied medical aid as will of the God.

That this clash can be a war is spelled out by both sides, though Leonardo Vetra and his daughter, Vittoria, show readers that it is possible for these two methods of seeking the truth to find peaceful accord within a single heart.

At one point in the book Vittoria says:

“Faith is universal. Our specific methos for understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some of us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves.”
— Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

This quote represents a philosophy reminiscent of Kierkegaard and the Post-modernists, in that it portrays both religion and science as a universal human experience with various expressions. It also offers a markedly weak position on truth. Truth is not offered here as being objective, but rather, truth is the word we use for a belief that is big enough for us to subscribe to it with our subjective opinions.

Most people reading Angels & Demons believe that the plot seems like an attack on religion by science, but actually the whole plan is designed to make people condemn science and grow more religious.

At one point in the novel, Leonardo Vetra tells us:

“And yet remarkable solutions to seemingly impossible problems often occur in these moments of clarity. It’s what gurus call higher consciousness. Biologists call it altered states. Psychologists call it super-sentience. And Christians call it answered prayer. Sometimes, divine revelation simply means adjusting your brain to hear what your heart already knows.”
— Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

This exactly what I mean by the book tries to make people more religious. Offered as the analysis of a scientific man, this quote lends credence in the book to the idea that religious clarity and super-insight are essential natural. This poses truth as reachable. It humanises religious experience in a way that promises narrative clarity in the book and conceptual clarity for the reader who is barraged by many subversive religious ideas.

There is one poignant chapter for me from this book that I cannot get out of my head when I think of Angels & Demons and the religion vs science age-old debate. It is when the camerlengo is addressing those on the other side of the war.

He said:

“Science may have alleviated the miseries of disease and drudgery and provided an array of gadgetry for our entertainment and convenience, but it has left us in a world without wonder…
…Whether or not you believe in God,” the camerlengo said, his voice deepening with deliberation, “you must believe this. When we as a species abandon our trust in the power greater than us, we abandon our sense of accountability. Faith … all faiths … are admonitions that there is something we cannot understand, something to which we are accountable . . . With faith we are accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to a higher truth. Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed. If the outside world could see this church as I do … looking beyond the ritual of these walls . . . they would see a modern miracle… a brotherhood of imperfect, simple souls wanting only to be a voice of compassion in a world spinning out of control.”
— Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

The novels intention was not to attack religion, as one might think, but in fact to encourage readers to embrace it. Or at least attempt to understand it.

2 comments

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