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Interview with Carl E. Olson, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax

Why don’t you like The Da Vinci Code? After all, it is an entertaining read that has gotten a lot of people thinking about Jesus and religion. And even if you don't like it, is it worth writing a book?

The short answer is that I don't like falsehood. And I especially don't like it when falsehood is accepted wholesale and given the sort of acclaim and attention that only the truth deserves. If The Da Vinci Code had sold five thousand copies, it would have been a annoying blip on the cultural screen. But its incredible success demands a response because the issue is ultimately one of truth. Not just of facts about Jesus and Christianity (although they are very important), but also the very idea that truth exists and that it can be known.

You feel The Da Vinci Code attacks Catholicism and Christianity. It seems that, if you and other Christians are secure in your faith, you wouldn't this work of fiction a problem. Isn't it only fiction after all?

Many fans of Brown's novel want to it both ways, saying "It's only a novel!" on one hand, but then touting its supposedly well-researched character on the other. Saying it is "only a novel" is a mindless cliche; nobody runs around saying that Uncle Tom's Cabin is "only a novel!" or that Hamlet is "only a play!" All fiction, whether excellent (Hamlet) or rotten (The Da Vinci Code), influences how readers see the world, even if they aren't aware of it. And in the case of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown is quite open about his desire to "expose" the "truth" about Christianity and the Catholic Church as well as push a certain ideology, namely radical feminism. In addition, he claims (at the start of the novel and in interviews) that the novel is well researched and historically accurate.

If there was no response to the novel from Christians, it would make a sort of loud silence that would cause many people to say, "Christians aren't responding because they have no answer." Responding to something has nothing to do with insecurity. You can either respond with confidence or with insecurity; we are certainly responding with confidence based on the knowledge that the novel is full of errors, many of them so egregious and laughable it is amazing to consider that they are accepted by anyone.

I think an analogy is helpful here. If you were walking with your mother down the street and a stranger ran up and slapped her across the face, would it be insecure of you to defend her and to throw the assailant to the ground? Of course not. Frankly, The Da Vinci Code is an attempt to slap the face of our mother, the Church. And as children of the Church, we believe we have a responsibility to defend her and stand up for her.

The Da Vinci Code has influenced millions of people in this country alone. And now Ron Howard, the director of A Beautiful Mind, is making it into a movie. How do you think the motion picture will influence filmgoers?

That's difficult to say, for a couple of reasons. One is that I'm not sure how well the novel, which is rather boring and lacks much action, will translate to the big screen and how much the film will deviate from the novel. Secondly, anti-Catholic movies have not faired well at the box office in recent years, and making a movie based on a best-selling novel is not always a guaranteed success. I'm sure that some people who see the movie but haven't read The Da Vinci Code will pick up novel after seeing the movie. Only time will tell. I have no doubt, however, that the studio will sink a lot of money into promoting the movie, so I'm sure it will get quite a bit of attention.

What is different about general critical and journalistic reaction to The Da Vinci Code and the reaction to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ?

Night and day, for the most part. The Passion of the Christ was roundly condemned by many critics and newspapers as being historically unsound and anti-Semitic. In fact, there were some critics who nearly guaranteed a new Holocaust if the movie appeared in theaters. That, of course, was ridiculous and merely showed the biases of the critics. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, most of the critics are either silent or praising the book. And yet the novel is filled with errors and falsehoods, and it is extremely bigoted towards the Catholic Church. The response? Aside from a few exceptions, a collective yawn. Consider that when Mel Gibson was interviewed by Diane Sawyer about The Passion, he was raked over the coals regarding his alleged beliefs about the Holocaust and Jews. But when Dan Brown was interviewed on The Today Show, CNN, and for the ABC Special "Jesus, Mary, and Da Vinci", he was never asked about his obvious dislike towards the Catholic Church. On the contrary, he was treated as though he were a scholar and historian, not a second-rate novelist.

Is there really an anti-Catholic spin in the media today? Shouldn't the media be free to question and challenge whoever they want to?

There is little doubt that most major media outlets have a bias, usually tacit, against Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular. This has been documented recently in books such as Philip Jenkins's The New Anti-Catholicism and Bernard Goldberg's Bias. This isn't to say that most reporters are actually anti-Catholic or have a conscious agenda against the Catholic Church. Rather, many of them take it as a given that religion is contrary to reason and progress, and that devout Christians are strange, almost alien, creatures.

I'm all for journalistic integrity and have no interest in censorship. But I'm also not going to censor my own criticisms of The Da Vinci Code, or of biased reporting. It was rather revealing, I think, that the ABC Special "Jesus, Mary, and Da Vinci" included only one Catholic (Fr. Richard McBrien, not known for upholding Church doctrine), but several feminists and various other Christians, most of them friendly towards The Da Vinci Code. A television station in the Northwest, where I live, had a panel discussion of the novel, with participants from Judaism, Islam, feminism, and Protestantism--but no Catholics. Such occurrences are not, I think, accidental or coincidental at all.

Why did you write The Da Vinci Hoax and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

My co-author, Sandra Miesel, and I wanted to write the book to first of all set the record straight, but also to provide a helpful context for understanding the novel and its influence. We go into great detail about Brown's sources, the different movements that he draws upon, sometime directly and other times indirectly. We examine why we think the novel is so popular and what that says about North American culture. We hope the book will not only answer questions about The Da Vinci Code, but will also answer related questions about Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and Christianity.

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