Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The House of Jesus

In my Small Rural College Town there's a coffee shop that's run by the parnter of a English professor. I had a few Women's Studies courses with her and she'd have class in the back room of Washington Street Java Company. I always meant to take my camera and get a picture of it, the lesbian-owned Fair Trade coffee shop sandwiched between Edna Campbell's Christian Bookstore and The House of Jesus. I peeked inside the House of Jesus once--how can you not check out a store with a name like that--and they had a bookcase entirely devoted to books criticizing The Da Vinci Code. I never paid much attention to the hype before, but as soon as I started reading it I thought Ah. So that's what all the fuss is about.
Only the idea that Jesus had girl cooties could provoke walls and walls of books trying to "debunk" a novel. The concept that icky girls could have been among the disciples--and worse, that Jesus did the nasty with one of them--brilliantly combines the two things Christianity abhors the most: women and sex. The cornerstone of Christianity is the transcendence of those two things, so no wonder everybody's so pissed off.
Dan Brown can't write worth a damn, of course--Robert Langdon is so obviously a Mary Sue, it's not even funny--his plot is liable to collapse at any moment under it's own weight, and there aren't any real characters to speak of. But his premise is fantastic. Goddess worship, secret societies, classic art, ancient myths, obscure codes, lost treasues, and homicidal albino monks. Even despite the wooden prose, that's good stuff. I can see why it's so enormously popular: easily digestable fiction with really sexy trappings--France, the Louvre, the Mona Lisa, the Holy Grail. Like a librarian in the novel comments, everybody loves a good conspiracy theory. It's juicy stuff for Joe Schmoe on the street, the idea that Christianity and the Church could be the product of a millenia of propaganda and deliberate misinformation, with a little murder and warfare thrown in.
But I imagine for every Christian gasping at Dan Brown's audacity, there's a neo-pagan like me rolling their eyes and going "Well, duh!" The pagan roots of Christianity (Jesus Christ owes a heck of a lot to Mithras and Horus), the bastardization of pagan symbols and ritual--neo-pagans have been talking about this for the last fifty years or so; feminist scholars and thealogians have been discussing ancient goddess worship and the sacred feminine since the 70s. Maybe it's because I don't have any of my books with me, but I found the expository chapters detailing the symbolism and history more interesting than the formulaic plot. Brown's ideas of a Church vs Priory of Sion cold war are fuzzy at best. It's not that I doubt that the Church did everything in it's power to destroy the sacred feminine, paganism, and the figure of Mary Magdalene; I just doubt that it was a Vast Grand Conspiracy. It didn't have to be; ancient patriarchal culture + Roman politics = an inherently misogynistic ideology. Like I said, in my opinion and experience, Christianity is fundamentally a denial of women and sexuality--of life, embodiment. Woman-sex-chaos-emotion-irrational-nature-goddess-pleasure-life are all entangled in a patriarchal system that aims at disembodiment, at transcending the human body. The world is inherently corrupt, people are born bad due to Eve and Original Sin, the "need" for salvation and redemption which can (convienently) only be found through the Church/Jesus (depending on your brand of Christianity)--such a theology would obliterate Mary Magdalene without the need for an organized campaign.
Frankly, it's kind of bizarre to see the basic tenets of my personal spiritual practice outlined in a paperback thriller, soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks! Brown's ideas of ancient European paganism seem to draw mostly on old school Gardnerian Wicca, and reproduces a lot of old fallacies. The sacred marriage ritual that Sophie witnesses isn't all that ancient, for example. And for all the talk about the sacred feminine and goddess worship, the book misses the point by a mile. All of the novel's "experts" on the Goddess are men, of course; I thought maybe Brown would have name-dropped Marija Gimbutas, but apparently not. Hardly any women in the novel at all (not surprising, since it's a masculine genre. Who wants to read about icky girls?) And the big secret about Mary Magdalene's connection with Jesus is so lame it's almost laughable--she has his baby. Her big role in the founding of Christianity is to take a page from her mother-in-law and get knocked up with Sacred Sperm (Sing it with me, folks! "Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great...") She's literally a vessel, objectified into The Grail, the Cup of Christ. Which speaks volumes about our fucked up notions of reproduction, but that's another rant. She's not really an improvement on that absurdity the Virgin Mary as a concept of the sacred feminine. It certainly doesn't compare to what I find in Goddess spirituality.
It falls apart at the end, where Brown tries to placate his audience by pulling the rug out from under the structure he's created. He tries to have it both ways, the Church is the Bad Guy, more or less, throughout most of the book, but he uses Langdon to reassure us that modern Christianity really is all sweetness and light. "The modern Church doesn't kill people!", he keeps saying, and he's right, of course. These days the Church is content to simply rape little boys and lie about it. We do find out the location of the Holy Grail at the end, sort of, I think, but the characters decide to keep quiet about it, I'm not sure why. Maybe they feel it would just be really mean to shake the faith of all those nice church-going folks or something. None of it makes any sense, really, but it will make a good movie, if you don't think too hard during it. I'll see it, at any rate, just for Audrey Tautou.

ETA: The typos! My god, the typos! In this and other posts! This what happens when you operate in two languages that have large amounts of shared vocabulary. Your spelling disintegrates, your grammar dissolves, your brain gets fried.


At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Edna Campbell's. Gotta love it.

You know, I have yet to read The Da Vinci Code, because I have a strong dislike for historical fiction, and because my dad is a dork who owns the book whence Dan Brown pulls his conspiracy theories. It's called Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and goes into the whole Prieuré de Sion/Friday the 13th/Shroud of Turin/Templar Knights thing much better than I imagine Mr. Brown could. It's drier than the Sahara, but it's full of really intriguing facts, as well as long rosters of European nobles who were once Templars, ever housed Templars, talked to one, flirted with becoming one, or heard tell of one two counties over. Anyway. Probably not as accessible as The Da Vinci Code, but chock full of fun stuff to think about.


At 8:42 PM, Blogger nicotinefreegirl said...


If only to check out the House of Jesus.

Da Vinci Code. I was intruiged by it but I share your opinion on Dan Brown's ability (or lack thereof)to write (not that my opinion matters anyway).

And don't worry about the typos. I hardly noticed them. (Now that confirms my suspicion that I could be dyslexic)

At 3:47 AM, Blogger Andygrrl said...

LOL, well if you want to visit the House of Jesus you'll have to visit rural Missouri. Though rural France is a good place to find life-sized crucifixes next to country roads (secular culture MY BONY WHITE ASS).

And re: Holy Blood, Holy Grail, sometimes there's nothing I like better than dry-yet-intriguing nonfiction! I wonder if I could find a copy here...

At 7:32 AM, Blogger Winter said...

Cheers for the review. I have no intention of reading it, but I wanted to know what it was about.

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous roro said...

I wasn't going to read it either and then I was on the phone with my mom a few months ago and she said "Well, we gotta go now, hon. Your father and I have to go defend the sacred feminine at our Book Club" and I thought "Damn. Now I have to read it." And so I did. And I fully agree with your review.


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