Farewell to Mayberry 

     NEWSWEEK ended the year with a cover story hyping 
the forthcoming movie version of THE DA VINCI CODE, Dan 
Brown's huge bestseller, to be directed by Ron Howard and 
starring Tom Hanks. The novel is a brilliant thriller 
with an absurd anti-Catholic premise: that the Church has 
been trying to hide the truth about Jesus' marriage to 
Mary Magdalene (and their offspring) for two thousand 
years, which would be quite a feat; but the facts have 
been known to a few people anyway, one of whom was 
Leonardo Da Vinci, whose ostensibly religious paintings 
subtly subverted the Church's teaching. When anyone 
starts catching on, the Church resorts to murder to keep 
the truth hidden. The dirty work is handled by Opus Dei, 
one of whose priests has recruited a crazed albino to 
knock off a scholar who is hot on the trail.

     The story begins when the victim's nude body is 
discovered at the Louvre, and a Harvard professor (who 
happens to be lecturing in Paris) is wrongly suspected. 
He must not only escape the police but solve the crime 
and the larger mystery, in which he is assisted by a 
young Frenchwoman, a brilliant cryptologist, who turns 
out to be a remote descendant of Jesus.

     If you think all this is a little implausible, wait 
until you meet the British historian the hero turns to 
for assistance. He explains that nobody ever claimed 
divinity for Jesus until 325 A.D., when the emperor 
Constantine foisted the idea on everyone and it was 
adopted by the Church, though we never learn just why the 
Church existed at all for three centuries, if its central 
doctrine hadn't been thought up yet. We are, however, 
informed by this learned historian that the Church has 
been hostile to women throughout its existence, and 
during the Middle Ages burned much of the female 
population of Europe -- several millions of women -- as 
witches, apparently without protest from the male 

     All this is not so much bigoted as just psychotic; 
but Brown boasts that it's all meticulously researched, 
and that only the modern characters are fictions. In an 
earlier novel, he disclosed that the Church had executed 
Copernicus for his theory, so it may be time for him to 
hire a new research assistant with access to, say, a 
children's encyclopedia.

     Nevertheless, millions of readers are buying into 
this nonsense and thanking Brown for his illumination of 
the history which the Church had kept hidden from them. 
Among these is Howard, who says he loves the novel and is 
not toning down its controversial theses in his film. 
Many of us first knew Howard as Andy Griffith's little 
boy, Opie, little suspecting his latent intellectual 
depths. He has obviously put Mayberry far behind him.

The Triumph of the Darwiniacs

     Dan Brown's stunning success should give pause to 
anyone who has ever assumed that literacy is the antidote 
for ignorance, error, and superstition. In an age when 
most of us have been to college, you'd think there were 
some limits to popular gullibility. I am not myself a 
great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, but I wouldn't have 
expected to be widely believed if I wrote, for example, 
that Lincoln was actually a werewolf. Maybe I was 
mistaken. I guess you really can fool some of the people 
all of the time.

     Are people really that stupid? Some, yes. But I 
think we should be careful to distinguish stupidity from 
obtuseness. Many people make incredible errors not 
because they lack intelligence, but because on certain 
subjects they simply refuse to use their heads.

     Brown has found one of those subjects: the Church. 
He's not the first. Some of the great frauds of modern 
history have been perpetrated by highly intelligent men 
who have appealed to the desire for relief from the 
unbearable demands of Christianity; and other intelligent 
men have welcomed their doctrines. Think of the worldwide 
appeal of atheistic Marxism in the twentieth century. Or 
of the parallel appeal of "liberal" Christianity among 
some nominal Christians.

     After all, wouldn't our lives be easier if we 
refused to believe in Christ? This tempting thought can 
pervert the highest intelligence; in fact the term 
"intellectual" has become almost synonymous with 
unbelief. And the people we call "intellectuals" are 
often ready to believe in almost anything rather than 
Christianity, especially Catholicism.

     Today Marxism has been so falsified by disastrous 
experience that few still believe in it; but we are 
finding that Darwin has outlived Marx. Darwinism also 
appeals to godlessness, but Darwin, in contrast to Marx, 
didn't make predictions that history could refute in a 
generation or so. Today, in consequence, the Darwiniacs, 
as I like to call them, are going strong.

     A federal judge named John E. Jones has overjoyed 
the Darwiniacs by ruling that the teaching of 
"intelligent design" in public schools, even as an 
alternative to Darwinian evolutionism, violates the U.S. 
Constitution. Apart from being legal nonsense, that would 
outlaw even Aristotelian teleology as "religious." 
Children must be taught that nature has no purpose, 
beyond "survival of the fittest" -- though even survival 
is, strictly speaking, an accident rather than a purpose. 
We owe our existence, our humanity itself, not to 
anything intelligent, but to the chance mutations of 
stupid matter.

     This is the dogma of Darwinism, which passes for 
"religious neutrality" (at least among the modern 
mainstream of the irreligious). As always, liberalism is 
playing its old game of "Let's compromise my way." The 
happy medium between theism and atheism is atheism. As 
long as you don't call it atheism, of course. (You should 
call it Science.)

     So much for the idea that Nature makes nothing in 
vain. But why, then, does man seem to be, as cultural 
anthropology seems to suggest, religious by nature? Maybe 
because religion has (or once had) some survival value, 
even if religious beliefs are in fact false. Or maybe 
such beliefs, though generally false, at least don't 
prevent the survival of those who hold them. Perhaps they 
represent a harmless mutation we can live as well 
without. Or something.

     Obviously there is no end to this kind of thinking. 
It follows that we can believe pretty much whatever we 
want to, since Nature's only commandment, so to speak, is 
"Thou shalt survive." I'm not sure why this particular 
belief is held with such evangelical fervor. Why is it so 
urgent to teach the kids that life is absurd? Are little 
Darwinists better equipped for survival than little 
Christians? Is that what the Constitution tells us?

                 +          +          +                  

     SOBRAN'S wonders what Cardinal Newman would say 
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