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Ignorance is sometimes preferable to harsh truths in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”

Dan Brown‘s The Da Vinci Code is a fascinating and absorbing thriller — perfect for history buffs, conspiracy nuts, puzzle lovers or anyone who appreciates a great, riveting story. It heralds the arrival of a new breed of lightning-paced, intelligent thriller utterly unpredictable right up to its stunning conclusion, which, believe you me, will have you gaping at the last page.

It is the second, and the most popular, novel in Brown’s Robert Langdon series.

While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci — clues visible for all to see — yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.

Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion — an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others.

In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who seems to anticipate their every move. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory’s ancient secret — and an explosive historical truth — will be lost forever.

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The Da Vinci Code is instantly a controversial book with the way Brown talks about religion and science. In his prequel, Angels & Demons, he takes on the war on science vs religion (see post about that here) but this time around, Brown focuses on the fact that believing in God is not the same as not believing in science and truth, and that people should be allowed to have faith in something, regardless of what that faith is.

Brown refuses to accept the idea that faith in God is rooted in ignorance of the truth. The ignorance that the Church has sometimes advocated is embodied in the character of Bishop Aringarosa, who does not think the Church should be involved in scientific investigation. In The Da Vinci Code, the Church has also enforced ignorance about the existence of the descendents of Jesus.

Langdon believes that those who truly believe in God will be able to accept the idea that the Bible is full of metaphors, not literal transcripts of the truth. People’s faith, in other words, can withstand the truth.

But that does not mean that they need to be told the truth behind every single metaphor or be told every single secret that could destroy or diminish their faith. In The Da Vinci Code, Langdon suggests that perhaps the secrets of the Grail should be preserved in order to allow people to keep their faith.

He says:

“The Bible represents a fundamental guidepost for millions of people on the planet, in much the same way the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon offer guidance to people of other religions. If you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted the holy stories of Islamic belief, Judaic belief, Buddhist belief, pagan belief, should we do that? Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.”
— Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

Here, Langdon is showing us the books deeper message: that ignorance is sometimes preferable to harsh truths.

Langdon is an academic and a religious scholar, not a man of the Church, so to some degree he can hold himself apart from controversy over religious doctrine. Unlike Teabing, he has refused to judge Christians who believe that Jesus was the son of God and therefore could never have been married, and that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. He sees the secret of Jesus’ life as one that could probably lie undiscovered for years without any particular poor effect on the world.

In this moment, Langdon refuses to politicise religion. He believes that people who have faith should be allowed to have it, because they’re not hurting anybody.

His statement seems at odds with other stories he tells in the course of the novel. It is he who mentions women being burned at the stake for helping other women give birth without pain, and tells of the paintings of Da Vinci that were painted over because they were inconsistent with the teachings of the Church. Perhaps this quotation is an attempt, however inconsistent with Langdon’s character, to provide a counterpoint to another character, Teabing’s, fanaticism.

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