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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Faithful to the Novel

(Reprinted from the issue of June 1, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Faithful to the NovelRon Howard, the bald and bearded director who used to be little Opie of Mayberry, promised that his film version of The Da Vinci Code wouldn’t be watered down. It isn’t. All the vicious and absurd lies of the book have been preserved, even expanded and amplified.

The audacity is almost unbelievable. We see Silas, the deranged albino “monk” of Opus Dei, murdering several people, including a nun, while praying and scourging himself bloody. Author Dan Brown insists that the “factual” background of the book is thoroughly researched and accurate, and apparently Howard believes him, though the simplest check would have told him that Opus Dei doesn’t have monks (and of course has never even been accused of murder).

I don’t suggest he is ignorant of this; obviously he is deliberately lying. So is Howard.

But the movie’s smash worldwide opening, along with the novel’s tremendous sales, shows that there is still a huge market for lies about the Catholic Church, as there has been since the days of Nero. Even the reviewers who have panned the film have been far too gentle, as if its only flaw were ineptitude.

Howard, like Brown, is a modest talent, and maybe we should be grateful that he has made an utter mess of material that was incoherent to begin with. Brown did supply him with a surefire plot device: the hero, a Harvard scholar named Robert Langdon (implausibly played by Tom Hanks), who must solve the baffling murder he’s accused of before the Parisian police, determined to frame him (Opus Dei controls them too, by the way), can find him.

But any excitement dissolves in chat, not only tedious but inaudible to boot. Langdon is assisted by a young cryptologist named Sophie Neveu, played (just as implausibly) by Audrey Tautou, who is cute as a button but barely speaks English.

The chat sinks to its lowest level when Langdon and Sophie consult an “expert” on Christian history, Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen), who explains that Jesus was just a human sort of fellow, a married father in fact, whose divinity was never believed in until it was thought up by the Emperor Constantine in AD 325 and promulgated by the Council of Nicea. (Howard even supplies a flashback of the council, with rowdy bishops screaming at each other.)

Somehow the learned Teabing, Brown’s mouthpiece, has never run across the opening of John’s Gospel. Nor does this occur to the learned Langdon. Or to Brown, or to Howard. Folks, this is a seriously goofy movie. In that respect it is faithful to the novel.

I trust I’m not spoiling anything for you when I say that if Brown, Teabing, and Howard are to be trusted, the Church has been covering up the real story for 2,000 years. Naturally, this has entailed a bit of homicide. The Church has tried to wipe out those who knew the truth, as well as the underground “royal line” of Jesus’ descendants. (Sophie herself turns out to be one of them. Brown is not shy of positing coincidence.) In modern times, the Popes have delegated the mayhem. When someone needs to be whacked, Opus Dei handles it.

Anyway, Leonardo Da Vinci was in on the dangerous secret, and had to sneak it into his paintings, where it could be deciphered, centuries later, by Harvard professors. This is just a rough outline; I’ve had to leave a lot out, but Brown and Howard, alas, don’t.

One more sample of this bizarre history. During the Middle Ages, the Church burned five million innocent women for witchcraft. That’s a lot! Why don’t we hear about this in our Western Civ classes?

Brown’s history, in fact, reminds me of the elaborate delusions of intelligent psychotics I used to hear when I worked in a mental hospital. The big question is why so many seemingly normal people believe it.

Mugged by Reality

Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post takes note of a deep irony in the history of neoconservatism. The movement began in disillusionment with the Great Society’s urban policies, which led to riots, crime, and decay, aggravating all the evils spawned by the welfare state; to this day, the black family hasn’t recovered from the devastation.

In Irving Kristol’s famous aphorism, “A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.”

But today in Iraq, Meyerson observes, neoconservatism itself has been mugged by reality. Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!The neocons urged war on Iraq with all the naive optimism the old liberals once brought to the American inner city. Now they too are facing — or refusing to face — the “unintended consequences” of wrongheaded government action.

Baghdad is in total chaos, with religious fanatics on a murderous rampage even worse than anything our cities saw in the sixties. Neoconservatism used to stand for a pragmatic adaptation of ideological conservatism. Now it has become an ideology as far out of touch with reality as the liberalism it reacted against.

A New Home for Conservatives?

What with immigration, war, and spending, President Bush is now rapidly losing conservative support. Every day now, WMAL, Washington’s biggest talk-radio station, is flooded with furious calls from people who say they have been “betrayed” and “sold out” and vow never to vote Republican again. Yet most of these callers wouldn’t think of voting for a Democrat. They are refugees from Republicanism, in search of a new home.

So this should be a propitious year for a third party, one radically opposed to the Big Two. For more than a decade, Howard Phillips has been working tirelessly to build a truly conservative organization, the Constitution Party. Just getting on the ballot is a labor of Hercules, but this party has done so in 40 states, fielding candidates for Congress as well as president.

Though we’ve had our disagreements, Howard is one of the most principled men I’ve ever known. He just doesn’t budge from conservative convictions; he’s neither a neocon nor a pseudocon. And for all the Constitution’s flaws, I’d much rather have a government restrained by it than the kind we’ve had under the Big Two.

The time has surely come for America to take one bold step in the right direction. Or we’ll be very sorry we didn’t.

“When people talk about our two-party system, I think my fellow Americans must be seeing double” — SOBRANS. 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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