Revisionist Christianity and the Restless Heart
by Burke Mees
One of the more popular forms of attacking Catholicism involves not rejecting the faith outright, but instead subversively re-defining it in a way that brings it in line with the orthodoxy of our secular culture.
Recently we’ve seen a lot of claims to have discovered the “real” message of Christianity, which is invariably at odds with the old message that has endured unchanged for 2000 years. These re-interpretations of Christianity are often based on new “historical scholarship”, and usually do not withstand much intellectual scrutiny. They also usually reflect passing cultural movements, bringing Christianity into conformance with various politically correct secular ideals. Consider the media’s promotion of the Gospel of Judas, the ordination of women “priests”, books proclaiming that the Bible supports homosexuality, and so on. Redefining Christianity has become a fashionable means of attempting to undermine Christian beliefs.
The Da Vinci Code is a classic example of this trend. The book advances the idea that Christianity as we know it is a sham, and that the “real” message of Christ, according to “new historical scholarship”, is really a gnostic pagan belief in the “divine feminine” that seems to boil down to deifying the self and doing what you want.
The book concludes with a “happy ending” of locating the hiding place of documents that supposedly prove that Christ was not divine and therefore offers no redemption to mankind. The key points of history cited in the book are demonstrably false, the statements about traditional Christian beliefs are misleading, and its message requires a tremendous amount of blind faith to accept, yet it is not uncommon to hear people say that “the book makes me re-think my religious views”. A lot of people seem eager to hear its message, which is the only way to account for the phenomenal popularity of a book that has no more literary merit than the average mystery novel.
The Da Vinci Code’s success, along with the ongoing appearance of alternate interpretations of Christianity, raises the question of why so many people are drawn to the message that Christianity is a sham? When people are free to accept or reject traditional Christianity as they see fit, what motivates some people to go out of their way to discredit it on such flimsy grounds?
The answer, I believe, reflects our secular culture’s lingering uneasiness about its abandonment of Christianity, haunted by the question “but what if it is true?” Our post-Christian culture desperately hungers for the message that it was right to abandon Christianity, that it was all a sham in the first place, and that this can all be documented by “new scholarship”.
People seek reassurance to justify the path we have chosen, and Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, offers just the right kind of reassurance, saying that it is all right, even praiseworthy, to do your own thing, to deify yourself.
We have a natural uneasiness about what our culture has embraced, and the resulting tension can be alleviated, at least temporarily, by a re-write of Christianity. That, I believe, is why people flock to Dan Brown’s story, which redefines history and religion in a way that justifies the direction our culture has chosen. That is why many people are so drawn to this book that they practically defy reason to believe its message.
Saint Augustine pointed out that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. We all feel the restlessness of Saint Augustine, and the desire to satisfy that restlessness is what ultimately makes the likes of The Da Vinci Code popular.
Speaking to a culture that feels the longing from having distanced itself from God, the book tells us that we can find fulfillment quickly and easily through the gnostic belief in the divine feminine. This sounds good because, like the latest miracle diet, it does not require any sacrifice, discipline, or commitment on our part. Nor will it ultimately satisfy that restlessness. Saint Augustine would tell us as much, since he spent his early years following a philosophy with similarly self-directed consequences. Dan Brown is profiting from our restless hearts, but giving us nothing to ultimately satisfy that restlessness.
In this way, the success of books like The Da Vinci Code is really a testament to the strength of Christianity. The fact that we can’t seem to walk away from Christianity without making flimsy excuses on the way out testifies that it does speak to the human heart. Normally when the discernment of truth causes us to abandon old beliefs, we cast them off quickly and easily because we have found something better. For example, we don’t have any lingering angst about our abandonment of Newtonian Physics, we don’t have to make flimsy excuses about why we no longer worship Zeus. Christianity is different, though. We can’t seem to discard it without feeling uneasy, and secular society’s backward-looking obsession with discrediting Christianity is a testament to this. Despite two thousand years of adverse circumstances, persecutions and the failings of its own membership, Christianity has endured because it does speak to our heart.
While The Da Vinci Code is beginning to fade into a footnote of revisionist history, the wider trend that it exemplifies is alive and well, and the next similar attempt to redefine Christianity will not be far behind.
How should we respond to these attempts to undermine our faith? Should we object to them? Should we be offended by them? There is nothing offensive about an honest proposal of alternate beliefs. As a Catholic, I believe that free intellectual inquiry will always lead to the truth and that honest discussion of opposing philosophies will provide an opportunity for that to happen. For that reason, I don’t object to Dan Brown proposing a pagan religion, what I object to is the underhanded way in which he does it.
Rather than presenting his ideas in the light of day to stand on their own merit, he tries to hijack Christianity with phony “historical scholarship”, stating that his distinctly non-Christian message is the “real” message of Christ. If Dan Brown or others believe they are really onto something that expresses the truth, why not honestly submit it for our consideration? He doesn’t seem to think that his gnostic worldview and goddess feminism can stand on their own merits, but rather must be bolstered by a distorted re-write of history based on deceptive half truths. He is not honestly trying to advance his beliefs, he is trying to undermine ours. That is my objection to agenda-driven revisionist accounts of Christianity, and that is what I find offensive about them.
Really, it is not for us to re-define the truth of religion to our own tastes, rather it is for religion to tell us the truth about ourselves. The Truth speaks to the restless heart. It is perfectly reasonable to discuss what is the Truth, but it is clear to me that re-inventions of Christianity that are built on deceptions do not offer us the serious discussion this topic merits.
Burke Mees is a commercial pilot in Alaska, and his art work has been featured on the covers of Voices and Adoremus Bulletin.
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