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Monday, May 01, 2006

The usual

The Sunday Herald gives some reasonable coverage of various Christian groups' attempts to use the 'Duh Vinci Code' (as our American brethren seem to be calling it) as a 'teachable moment'. (I've yet to work out exactly how that phrase is meant to function grammatically, but still.) Sadly, however, although on the whole it seems like a reasonable bit of journalism, there's still a fair bit of cluelessness lurking.

Amy Welborn, it notes, 'ends a trenchant defence of the scriptures with a dismissal of credulous Dan Brown fans that suggests a blissful ignorance of the irony that her own religious beliefs are based on ancient testimonies which remain no more verifiable than Brown’s goofy conjectures. "To be honest," she writes, "there is not much that an intellectual discussion is going to do to change these people’s minds. They are truly True Believers and largely immune to reason."'

It is (as you all know) quite false to suggest that the various Gnostic-ish traditions (including, as plenty of people have pointed out, modern misreadings of Gnosticism) upon which Mr Brown draws are of equal credibility to the Gospel texts and the tradition of the Church. I won't go into the usual spiel about early manuscript transmission, the witness of post-Apostolic Christian writing, etc etc. If the journalist in question had given any serious thought to whether and how we know about the beliefs of the early Church, he would have seen that it is more plausible (at least) to suppose that the Apostles, their successors, and the majority of Christians, held and preached orthodox Catholicism. Yet the journalist seems (I hope I do not do him a disservice) to imagine that everything from two thousand years ago is so obscure as to be impenetrable to critical thought. I suspect that, in this, he may have been influenced by the commonly-held idea that religion involves, at some level or another, irrational belief in propositions which have no rational content.

Whether or not Mr Phelan does hold these opinions, the evil mode of thought upon which Mr Brown's opera feed is in any case precisely the abdication of discernment: the assertion, or rather the assumption, that no claim can be discerned to be true, and that every statement is of equal authority - which is to say, none at all. As Aelianus pointed out recently in a quite different context, this is easily short-circuited with the example of the Holocaust. No-one denies that we have definite historical knowledge of its happening. When it comes to the claims of Christianity, it is really just as useless to say that it is all a matter of opinion. We ought to be attracted, like Helena, to facts, not to airy fairy (or, in the mithras case, bloody and bullish) bosh. But if apparently quite intelligent people are happy to work on the assumption that, when it comes down to it, we don't know anything remotely certainly - what on earth is one to do?

Oh. Yes. Fast and pray.