A Review of the Catholic Argument

(contains spoilers)

All the fuss about this book was certainly warranted. Dan Brown has written a very interesting take on the Roman Catholic Church which has tickled my fancy for the first time since the film “Stigmata”. While artistic licence in that film combined excerpts from the Gospel According to Thomas and phrases like “The Kingdom of God is all around you”, the film made its point: the Roman Catholic Church is not telling us everything.

More recently (in the last four or five years) I’ve been exposed to more free thinking about religion than ever before. Some would put it down to the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, which has been placed at approximately 2100 AD. Since we’re just one degree away from this age, it’s not altogether unreasonable to speculate that we are already feeling what this astrological age implies, and which was so eloquently sung in the musical “Hair”: the mind’s true liberation.

In any event, my views on religion and an anthropomorphic personification of God in the traditional Judeo-Christian fashion has never quite been focused. In other words, whenever I went to church (I was christened as a Methodist, my father was Catholic, my family went to the local Anglican church, and at one stage I rejected everyone who was not “reborn”), I found most of it really depressing. The charismatic church that I attended in high school, and the Methodist church my maternal family attended, were probably the most comfortable – yet not necessarily comforting – places to worship a fuzzy thing we called God.

In the years since I was around 11 years old, people in my family have dropped like flies. Starting with an aunt who died from breast cancer, to a grandfather that died from prostate and later bone cancer, to a father that died from massive heart failure, to both grandmothers dying within eight days of each other, I’ve taken a long hard look at my faith. Even at 13 I became a reborn Christian to fit in, because there had been a scare of Satanic activity in the town my school was located, and I fell for the charismatic talk. I rejected the Ninja Turtles, He-Man, and other various “Satanic” things. At one stage I wrote to my parents and told them that they themselves were evil. It apparently upset my mother, though we have never spoken of it.

I digress. The book which I have just finished reading, by Dan Brown and available in paperback from all book stores, was very interesting. Some of the concepts I already knew, such as the Fibonacci sequence, the Divine Proportion (also known as phi, or the Golden Ratio), and its appearance in nature. If you are mathematically inclined, I suggest also reading a book called “The Golden Ratio” by Mario Livio. He examines the claims of the appearance of phi in various man-made things, like art and architecture, and dismisses many of them outright. Although he never really makes his point, the book does make one more aware of the inherent beauty of nature.

Then we get to the meat of the Da Vinci Code. It is clear that Dan Brown wrote his theory down and then created a novel around it. Some of it reads like Anne Rice. Some of it reads like a fantasy story. Some of it is annoying, and some of it is enlightening. Whatever those parts represented individually, as a whole the book changed my perceptions and also made me think. I like books (and films) that make me think.

If you haven’t read the book, stop reading this article right now. If you’re going to wait for the film, prepare for disappointment. Tom Hanks doesn’t have a deep voice, which is one of the key features of the lead character. But seriously, unless you’ve read the book, or have no interest in reading it, stop reading this now, as I begin to discuss the theories.

My father bought a book a long time ago called “Jesus The Man”. All I remember is that it had a pink cover, and may have been written by a woman. He told me at the time that I was not allowed to read it. At 28 years old, I still haven’t read it. All the same, he let me read the most horrific Stephen King schlock (which I still love) at that age. It makes you think. In any event, I remember sneaking a peek one day and finding out that it was an historical look at Jesus the man, who may or may not have married Mary Magdelene and had a number of offspring. Which meant some other stuff the churches have been telling us might not necessarily be true.

This is the place where I have to let you in on a little secret. Euphemisms were (and still are in some respects) lost on me. Similes and metaphors were taken literally. When I was told someone was pulling my leg, I imagined them literally pulling at my leg. It did not make sense. So when someone in primary school told me (in our compulsory Bible Education class) that a burning bush had spoken to Moses, and Mary had fallen pregnant without having sex, and it had rained for *only* 40 days and 40 nights and suddenly the entire planet was covered in water, I found things a little hard to believe. We were taught that true salvation and eternal life in the hereafter was only through feeling guilty and talking to some dude who was not actually there. As a six-year-old, I had a problem contemplating three weeks of school holidays, let alone eternal life after death (which itself was a bit strange). I could not and still do not understand why some people say “dead”, others say “passed on”, and still others say “passed over”. I say “dead”. If you kill an ant or a spider, they curl up and die. Do they have an afterlife? I was told by my parents and various other authority figures that dogs had their own heaven. And yet I could never imagine heaven myself. Why live for 70-odd years and go through all sorts of punishment and hardship at all? If heaven was so grand, why did we live here in the first place? Why does the church always *make* you feel guilty and then *make* you beg for forgiveness? I’m here to enjoy life! If I wanted to feel guilty, then I might as well enjoy it while I can.

Then we were told about this place called Hell. Hell was worse than heaven. Hell was eternal damnation, with the devil and his demons (who were actually angels that turned bad), and you had stuff like fire and brimstone. Your soul (the bit of fluff in your heart that magically transports the “real you” into the afterlife) gets to burn and burn and burn. For ever. Riiiight.

So let’s put this in perspective. If you’re good, you go to heaven. If you’re bad, you go to hell. But *you* don’t actually go to either place, your *soul* does. Okay, fine. But here’s another catch. If you want to avoid hell, you’ve got to pray to an imaginary friend called Jesus, who was a guy who lived two thousand years ago, and is one part of the Holy Trinity of God. But you pray to God as well. Through the Holy Spirit (who got a bad reputation as a Ghost and was upgraded to a Spirit). If you’re Catholic, you actually pray to Jesus through his mother. Er, okay. Let’s get back to her and focus on the Trinity. So we’ve got these three things that are actually one thing. And that one thing created the heavens and the earth. Fine, it’s a bit of a stretch, because I want to know how he created them. And if it’s a “he” or an “it”.

The Bible tells of two Gods, who are actually the same guy. He. A man, or Man if you will. In the Old Testament (the Bible buffs call this OT to sound clever), God was a mean bastard who punished bad people with floods and plagues and burning things and turning people into pillars of salt if they were bad and disobeyed his Ten Commandments. Then in the New Testament (and there I thought NT was a computer operating system), God was a really laid back guy, who took a load off and sent along his only son, born to a woman who never had sex, who lived for 33 years and took on the entire world’s sin, only to die a painful death and, get this, *rise again* three days later. The entire faith of Christianity is based on the simple notion that this guy was *dead*, and then God (who happened to be his dad) woke him up, told him to come back home, his work here was done, and then the dude vanished into a cloud of smoke.

Now let’s hear another version of this story. Mary (the mother of Jesus) was Greek. Joseph was a carpenter. They were not married. In the culture and law of her day, she could not be pregnant if she was not married. It just did not happen. So Mary and Joseph, who by all accounts were a loving couple, got nasty one night and Mary ended up with a bun in the oven. Whether Gabriel was really Joseph in a white sheet or a figment of Mary’s imagination, we’ll never know. So anyway, now she’s up the spout and it’s not allowed, so she tells everyone who will listen that it was an “immaculate conception”, the first sign of the new Messiah as prophesied. Mary was a good little girl and knew all her Jewish Bible, so the clever girl spoke of this immaculate pregnancy to avoid certain death. They flee to Egypt for a while to avoid being asked for marriage papers.

Anyway, she’s heavily pregnant one night in August / September of around 5 BC, they’re back in the land of Israel, and she tells Joseph that she’s going to pop, and they must find a place to have the kid. Since they are not married, no one will let them stay anywhere, because remember, a pregnant single woman does not exist. Eventually, an old innkeeper takes pity on the couple (probably because Mary’s going to have the child on his doorstep), and lets them use his stable. Cue sounds and smells perfectly suited to birthing a Jewish King. No wonder the wise men got lost in “The Life of Brian”.

Around the same time on the same night, some shepherds are watching their flock grazing in the fields. Which means it cannot be the Winter Solstice (on or around 24 December, 2000 years ago). In any case, they see a bright star in the sky. They think it’s cool and they also know their scripture, so they want to check it out. Three astrologers (wise men, who may just have been women), who just happen to be watching the same sky, recognise the Star of David and realise the prophesy is coming true. The new King of the Jews has been born. Fantastic, let’s go surprise him with some gifts. Well, I’ll let that part stay, although it is based on older pagan things as Dan Brown states.

So we know the rest. The child is born, Boney M happen to be in the area and write an album about it which plays at the same time every year for another two millennia. Joseph brings his son up as a carpenter. Mel Gibson films him making a really good table, and all the while, this free thinking kid whose mother knows the scripture and whose father knows a good two-by-four reckons that the world is being led around like sheep. Using analogy and metaphor (and a cool fast-forward to 27 AD), he starts getting a reputation as a guy who makes sense. Plus he’s from the line of King David which is noble blood. Erk, that means King Herod feels threatened by his sudden popularity. And so do the Jewish rabbis. They conspire to kill him, and use Judas to betray Jesus.

Oh, and by the way he’s got this really neat girlfriend who is also nobility, called Mary Magdalene. In fact, she is the only woman whose feet Jesus washes. She’s even sitting with him at the Last Supper (check out that graffiti Da Vinci did and look *closely* to Jesus’s right). They’re an item, and according to Dan Brown, she’s the female to his male, the yin to his yang. Think about it – this guy knows nature, he’s studied it, he’s also studied the Jewish lore, he knows his stuff. He even uses nature a lot in his parables, because people at the time identify with the goddess worship of pagan ritual. In fact, Jesus capitalises on this. Everyone around him knows that Mary is his woman, and since it’s naughty to get her pregnant without marrying her, they are officially hitched. And she’s now up the spout. Oh dear. If Jesus is supposed to be the Son of God, how can he partake in earthly pleasures like sex? Marriage? Nope, this has to stop.

So now Jesus has realised that the Jews and Romans are on to him and want him out of the picture. He knows because he has spies who will do *anything* for him. Remember, this is a man of the people. Compare it to modern day politics if you like. So he conspires with the two Marys – his mother and his wife – to somehow subvert the crucifiction into a con. He doesn’t know how, but he does know that the Garden of Gethsemane is going to experience a total eclipse of the sun on that Friday. Why? Heck, this guy knows his stuff. And for upward of 20 years he was studying everything he could, so that he could get the message out to people not to be led around like sheep.

Eventually, they come up with a plan, but in the meantime it’s clear that Jesus’s choice to let Mary Magdalene continue his teachings is unpopular with Peter. In my opinion, I think Peter had a crush on Jesus, but again I digress. So along comes the fateful betrayal by Judas, who is so upset that he hangs himself. The Romans march JC off to the prefect, who “washes his hands” of the problem by making the people decide whether to free him or Barabbas. The people, caught up in the propaganda, decide that Jesus should be crucified.

Let’s cut to the bit now where Jesus is hanging on his cross between the two criminals. He knows the eclipse is close, but it’s taking forever. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, you get the idea. In the end, just before it happens, the Roman soldier in charge of leg-breaking is about to smash the legs of the Lord, when Mary uses her wiles on him and says to pierce his side instead. Breaking his legs would kill him and their plan is to keep him alive but only just enough to survive. So the soldier pierces Jesus in the side, and blood and water come out. Any doctor will tell you if someone is dead, that wouldn’t happen.

So the big eclipse happens, the two Marys remove Jesus from the cross, they wrap him up and take him off to the tomb to hide him before anyone else realises he’s still alive. He needs time to recover before he and his wife can move somewhere else and start afresh. After three days the natives are getting restless, they want to see their Messiah, heck, in Jewish tradition they should have buried him the day after the crucifiction (Saturday) and now it’s Monday.

So they reckon it’s time to gatecrash the tomb. Unbeknownst to them, there is another entrance to the tomb, since the Marys would have had to come in and out to feed the poor dude. It’s through this that Jesus makes his escape. Trouble is, here comes the crowd, led by Thomas the Doubter. Oh crap, thinks Jesus, now what? Taking a cue from his mother, and referring to his two decades of knowledge about Jewish faith, he says he’s “risen from the dead”! Thomas calls his bluff, so Jesus shows him the scars from the crucifiction. Thomas reckons this is definitely the same guy, and tells everyone that Jesus has arisen from his death. Jesus doesn’t need the publicity, so he arranges some type of exit which will amaze everyone. He finds a hill which tends to have a bit of low-lying cloud cover, times it to the right date, and “vanishes into the sky”.

Now Jesus has escaped down the other side of the hill, where his cart is waiting with pregnant Mary Magdelene. They get away and live happily ever after. In the meantime, 300 years down the road, Constantine the Great has decided that to remain king, he must unite pagan and Christian beliefs to find a common ground. He calls a meeting with all the Christian followers, sets the dates for Christmas, Easter, and the Bank Holidays, merges the pagan symbols into Christian ones, and tells the priests and bishops to remove all references to the earthliness of Jesus. After all, to make Christianity and therefore the Church stronger than paganism, they need to prove beyond a doubt that Jesus was actually divine.

Someone, I think it was Napoleon, said that history is written by the winners. The Bible is taken by these scribes in around 300 AD and rewritten. Bits are removed. Bits are changed. Mary Madge is typecast as a whore (which title befalls our own Madge of the 20th Century), the book of Genesis is rewritten to make woman the subjugate of man, and for another two millennia, women’s liberation fights to get back the respect it so rightly deserves. In the end, control by small-minded men has cast the world into thousands of years of war, hate and penis pumps, when in fact we should just be getting along.