by Tom Louderback
Just about everyone on the planet knows “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown is a controversial novel, and now, a controversial movie. As you’ve heard, the story raises questions about fundamental Christian doctrines. What if Jesus were not actually God? What if Jesus married and had children? What if secretive Church organizations had conspired over the millennia to cover this up?
This sounds wild and crazy. Don’t we just love stories about grand conspiracies, sinister plots, secret codes and murder investigations? Stir in world famous Renaissance art and ancient pagan rituals, and the plot gets thicker and thicker. Personally, I think “The Da Vinci Code” is all in fun. It’s a good read. (Brown’s previous novel,” Angels and Demons,” is even wilder.)
As to the churches, this book has infuriated some folks and inspired others. This second part might sound even stranger than the book’s plot line. It’s pretty easy to see how “The Da Vinci Code” would rile up folks of traditional Christian faith. How is it inspiring?
For many believers, like me, this crazy story challenges us to concentrate on what matters most in our religion by teasing us about the creeds and traditional articles of faith. In so doing, it reminds us to put substance over form. What if the forms were different, the book seems to ask us, would you still have the substance of your faith? We believe we would, indeed. Substance trumps form.
The substance of our faith is its values, meanings and teachings. How does it help people live more meaningful lives? How does it save souls? Many would say this substance of faith is most meaningfully expressed by the following passage from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 25. Many of us know it by heart: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … I was naked and you gave me clothing … Truly, I tell you, as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
This is the clearest statement of Jesus’ own personal identification with the hungry and poor. More than that, these words seem to be the focal point of his whole ministry. It seems fair to say that just about everything Jesus taught us comes down to how we understand these three words — love, compassion and generosity. The first two words are pretty easy to understand. But, the third one has been giving us fits for about 2,000 years. We seem to doing our best to re-define it or just forget it. We avoid it by refusing to acknowledge that good fortune accounts for a large part of our success in life. Some of us even go so far as to insist that we don’t owe anything to anyone.
On the other hand, many of us feel guilty because we know better. We react to that guilt by avoiding the issue of generosity altogether. We literally hide from the problems of hunger and poverty in the world today. We seek many different ways to escape. When we cannot escape, we refuse to look. None of these diversions really work, though. Our sense of guilt remains.
There seems to be only one way to respond effectively to our guilty conscience. Begin giving something back. Generously share our personal wealth with others. Demonstrate our gratitude for God’s love. Practice our compassion, in other words. We practice our compassion by doing our best to do better every day. Practice it step by step. This is a process of “continuous improvement,” to borrow the language of business management. Compassion trumps guilt every time.
As it turns out, there are at least 64 scriptural passages in the Bible about the liberation of the poor and oppressed and God’s love for them from Exodus 3:7-17 to Revelations 18:15-24. It appears that generosity is a big deal in the Christian religion; a very big part of its substance.
This is where “The Da Vinci Code” takes many of us. The story reminds us to keep our eyes on the ball. Remember what matters most of all. It also lets us poke fun at ourselves.
Tom Louderback is a member of The Louisville Friends Meeting. Contact him at [email protected]