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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Farewell to Mayberry

(Reprinted from the issue of January 5, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Farewell to MayberryNewsweek 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 population.

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. Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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?

SOBRANS wonders what Cardinal Newman would say about the debate over Intelligent Design. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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