The Dirt on Opus Dei

     Secrecy! Conspiracy! Sadomasochism! Hidden links to 
the Pope! Dark rumors! Vast riches! Enormous power! 
Spanish! And worst of all, Catholic!

     The last part is true, at any rate. Opus Dei is 
indeed a Catholic organization with Spanish roots, so it 
must be capable of every manner of sinister activity.

     For decades the news media have created the 
impression that Opus Dei is a sort of Catholic version of 
al-Qaeda, at least as they portray al-Qaeda -- a huge, 
weird octopus of an outfit, with fanatical cells of 
members scattered everywhere, devoted to the blackest 
reaction and most bizarre rituals, ready to commit bloody 
crimes and even mild ascetic practices.

     Having dealt with members of Opus Dei for 30 years, 
and having studied its literature, I can testify that its 
members do engage in an occult practice: They pray a lot, 
and they bring their piety to all sorts of ordinary jobs. 
Makes your blood run cold, doesn't it?

     This was Dan Brown's insight when he made the 
villain of THE DA VINCI CODE a sociopathic albino 
murderer who kills on command of an Opus Dei priest. 
Brown, who is pretty reclusive himself, wisely avoids 
interviews but insists that the novel is based on solid 
history and thorough research, which taught him that the 
Church has been lying about Jesus from the start, that it 
burned five million women for witchcraft in the Middle 
Ages, and so forth.

     Most of Brown's "research" consisted of lifting such 
howlers from another book, whose author brought a 
plagiarism suit against his publisher; Brown himself 
wasn't a defendant, but he should have been embarrassed. 
It appears, however, that he is pretty much impossible to 
embarrass, like people who report their conversations 
with extraterrestrials on talk radio midway between 
midnight and dawn. There is no sign that he has ever 
read, say, the New Testament.

     To make a long story short -- no, it can't be done. 
Let's just move on. The aggrieved author lost his suit, 
Brown's borrowing of his crackpot ideas was deemed no 
violation of copyright, and the movie version of his 
mega-bestseller (starring Tom Hanks, directed by Ron 
Howard) is ready for release.

     So now TIME magazine has done a cover story on Opus 
Dei, conceding that Brown's assertions are a bit 
over-the-top and finding no evidence that its members 
commit murders more frequently than, say, members of 
Satanic sects. Nor can it be definitely linked to the 
events of September 11, 2001 (though it does oppose 
contraception). The truth will out.

     If TIME winds up making Opus Dei sound 
disappointingly innocuous after all, Terry Eagleton, 
writing in HARPER'S, agrees with Brown and then some. 
Eagleton is a veteran Marxist literary critic, raised 
Catholic, and if the Marxist dream has faded, he has kept 
his dialectical fangs sharpened. Now getting long in the 
fang himself, Eagleton fumes that the organization is 
"right-wing," had ties to the Franco regime, and does not 
conform to Current Feminist Guidelines in separating the 
sexes, with -- gasp! -- males in authority. The gulags 
may be closed now, but you can bet that Eagleton will be 
the last to betray the Revolution.

Rumsfeld's War

     Washington's warriors have been turning on each 
other, with retired generals calling for the removal of 
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for gross mismanagement 
of the Iraq war and President Bush once more expressing 
the highest confidence in him. The more basic question is 
whether this war should have been launched in the first 
place; and lurking in the debate is the further question 
of whether the war should be extended to Iran.

     Evidently the professional military men are deeply 
uneasy about this administration. Normally they tend to 
be conservative Republicans, so the situation is unusual; 
some civilian hawks are muttering about "mutiny," 
"revolt," and "insubordination." But this misses the 
point; the officers want to win the war, and they think 
Rumsfeld and, by implication, Bush are losing it.

     If only Bush were a Democrat! Then the Republicans 
in Congress and the media would know what to say about 
him. But partisanship being what it is, they fall back on 
the lame position that the Democrats are even worse, and 
in politics we must be realistic, face the facts, and 
settle for the best we can hope for under the 
circumstances, which is called "the lesser evil."

     Strangely enough, however, partisanship soon forgets 
itself and exalts the Lesser Evil as almost the Ideal. 
Think of a political convention, with all its paper hats, 
balloons, speeches, chants, and brass bands: "Hooray for 
our Lesser Evil! Long live the Lesser Evil! May the 
Lesser Evil live forever!"

Narnia on the Screen

     Disney's recent film of the first of C.S. Lewis's 
directed by Andrew Adamson, is now on DVD, and though I 
missed it in the theater, I'm pleased to say that I find 
it a very creditable adaptation. The great lion Aslan is 
plausibly animated, with Liam Neeson supplying his 
splendidly resonant voice; he is well matched by Tilda 
Swinton as the evil Queen, beautiful, exquisitely 
sinister, and dangerous. The four children and minor 
characters are well played, though some, like the 
Beavers, are a mite too cute.

     Having found the ballyhooed LORD OF THE RINGS 
trilogy far too big and loud for my taste, I approached 
the climactic battle scene with misgivings; they proved 
unfounded. The attack of the miscellaneous monsters is 
thrillingly designed and directed against a magnificent 
landscape. And those wolves!

     Still, I somehow doubt that Lewis would approve this 
production, but it's hard to specify why; his stepson 
Douglas Gresham served as coproducer, so I doubt that it 
did great violence to his intentions. The story's 
Christian overtones are uncompromised, as far as I can 
see. The film has been the great success it deserves to 

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