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'The Da Vinci Code' and the business of faith

Last month, in his Easter sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, argued that accepting 'the official version' of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is a matter of 'faith'. Rather odd, that: what he calls for is faith not in what Jesus preached but in the churches that have set themselves up as interpreters of what he said and as the constructors and purveyors of his biography.

'The Life of Christ' continues to be added to or amended right up to now as circumstances, mostly commercial in nature, 'demand', as in 'the market'. What is discussed in this book is not 'Providence', which Jenny Diski recently defined as an "Edwardian compromise between a Victorian God who manages the affairs of men and blank Darwinian nature".

Life of Jesus

'The Da Vinci Code' offers quite another, though long obvious, reading of the life of Jesus: it locates his beliefs within the rites of faith based in the cycle of the death and resurrection that govern the processes of nature. Though it is not as simplistic as, say, Eliot's "Three thngs.

What things? Birth and copulation and death", this story is well on its way to yielding handsome returns to the parties named in it. It has 'opened a window of opportunity', among other lines of graft, for guided tours to long neglected places of worship. It is a good thing that people visit them; among the gapers, rubber-neckers, camcorder wielders, there would be some in whom it may awaken a sense of the nature of life.

The Anglican Church in Australia has set up a $50 million fund to combat the fall-out from this book, via ads on TV. There is nothing strange in that enterprise Down Under when one considers the use of the idiot-box by weird evangelists to raise money: "God / Jehovah - a pagan figure, as in this book, "told me I shall have $2 million by next Wednesday to go on with my work", they declare, "and it will be given to me!'.

And old ladies in the audience search for chequebooks in their handbags. (Bush himself wouldn't do anything so silly, he's on the pulpit demanding votes so he can damn the 'created world' for all the rest of time as human's know it.) The head of the Roman Catholic Church too had used his Easter sermon to attack this book and the Vatican spokesman (sic) has launched a tirade against it.

According to this book by novelist Dan Brown, the Christian gospel is a selection of the accounts of the life of Jesus given by some eighty people who knew him. The stories had been collated three centuries after the death of Christ, for political purposes, by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, himself not a Christian: he was the head of the priesthood of Sol Invictus, 'the Invincible Sun'. Dr. Williams of course has bound himself to the 'authorised version' of the New Testament - a version that was further edited, not just in language.

Even so it is disingenuous to assert that 'You must accept what is there in it as a matter of faith', particularly as he has come out strongly against 'creationism' in the USA, where Bush is pushing for its moronic tenets to be brought inside the classroom. The Roman Catholic Church goes further: besides its claims to infallibility, it asserts that the faithful must seek god through its bureaucracy.

People who are, by whatever means, brought into its fold, are 'catechised' from childhood into accepting the supremacy of that bureaucracy, to being bound by its dictates on all matters, mostly temporal. Superstitions of various sorts are not merely encouraged, they are enforced by procedures that can only be described as fascistic.

Those who were acculturated, if that is the word, into that organisation but have thought themselves out of its coils, are branded 'heretics'. The violence of the threat, quite on par with the brutalities being reported from Abu Gharib and Guantanamo, of a long spell in 'purgatory' before their souls proceed to the horrors of 'eternal damnation' in 'hell', pass such people by.

They are not numerous enough in this part of the world to reform that Church - if such an intrusion of 'enlightenment' was possible. Contrary to the all-round accommodations Brown makes to 'sensitivities' including the Jewish, and which have made it a 'best-seller', it is in Ireland, and in and around Rome, the natives know at first hand what the Vatican is about. Faced by defections, its policy makers decided to expand enrolment in the poorer communities especially in Africa.

But, as has happened in China, the native priests took over the business for themselves; it is not clear yet what commissions / tithes they have negotiated with the Vatican bank. The operations of that bureaucracy, its dependence for its survival and prosperity on obscurantism and violence of a radical order, has been shown up time and time again, as, for instance, in 'The Name of the Rose', - a much better work than 'the Da Vinci Code'.

That is sad, sadder still is that the 'shepherds', much less the 'sheep', have been kept away from the argumentations of such as Thomas Aquinas.

By the accounts given in this book, Jesus of Nazareth had laid no claim to divinity, either in his genesis or in the conduct of his life. He had grown up normally for that time and place, taken Mary Magdalene for spouse, and fathered a daughter. The book also asserts that Mary and Jesus were descended respectively from the houses of two Kings, David and Benjamin, and that their own issue survived through the Merovingian Kings in continental Europe.

Shocking revelations

The novel follows a search, in the late 20th century, for her relics: 'the Holy Grail', the 'sang real' or 'royal blood'.

'The Holy Grail', then, is not the chalice that Jesus was said to have used at the 'Last Supper' but the symbol of fertility embodied in the female genetalia. The point is made that in Leonardo's famous painting there is no one 'cup' or 'chalice' from which the wine was drunk, but a drinking vessel for each person present.

The figure to the right of Jesus Christ is that of his spouse, Mary Magdalene - whom, ab initio, the Roman Church proceeded to demonise as a whore. As for Peter, shown wielding a knife, its headquarters are named after him. The story is founded on the work of a body of persons, 'the Priory of Sion', which, given the balance of force (temporal / physical), necessarily had to act in secret.

It is said to have been headed by individuals of such diverse gifts as Botticelli, da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Jean Cocteau. It had set itself the task of protecting 'the sacred feminine' also in its physical manifestation as Mary Magdalene and her remains.

'The Priory' (who remained faithful to Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the one being incomplete without the other) had moved her remains from place to place to prevent sacrilege being visited upon them by the then established Church of Rome.

The symbols employed by the newly established organisations, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, and other Christian churches are traced to their origins in pagan (i.e., those not approved by the establishment because it could not exercise any form of hierarchical control over them) religious beliefs and practices. (The Roman Catholic Church also employs a 'hands off' policy, less violent but essentially similar, towards such works as 'The Imitation of Christ' by Thomas a Kempis).

The symbols employed by these established religious organisations, 'established' as in 'registered companies', are easily traceable to those pagan symbols or the concurrence in them as, in thumb-nail style, is demonstrated in this book.

As the text has it, these religions are based in fertility rituals that mark human culture throughout the world, as in Pattini worship here, with its halamba or anklet, in ceremonies conducted by a pattinihami, - a kapurala dressed as a woman. Basically this book suggests that 'the sacred feminine' had been erased in the stories told by the religious organisations that appropriated, so to say, 'copyright' to Jesus of Nazareth (that being Big Business, very big).

There is nothing new in that. Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' have superseded the much earlier, and altogether more powerful work, 'Sir Gawaine & the Greene Knyghte' (which Brown refers to). Even so, the tales told by Chaucer's pilgrims on their way to Canterbury have to do with men and women, with 'sex' if you wish to put it that way.

How immediate the impact of that poem, first read in my late teens, had been on me I find evident in my 'Letter To My Daughter' (1986) as I awaited her arrival in the southern spring in Australia (where 'Easter' has no such associative meaning in the autumn of April):

The days will pass and then the night having passed, the winter wind shaken the last shivers from my limbs, the season will turn to that of your coming.

Wild flowers then are said to spring out of the earth, like life itself, like that day in March, in the shadow of distant thunder on the eve of the April rains, I met your mother.

She wept for the passing year, unaware the Greene Knyghte was there, already, at her elbow, waiting for those tentative drops of rain to fall. The years that followed, she heard the threshing of his sword heaving in her lungs and Gawain panting in a world no longer forested.

Time of resurrection

The time of resurrection, the New Year, with its avurudu kumaraya, is roughly the same in the northern latitudes and has the same signifiers. Even before the scandals associated with the Vatican Bank (mentioned in this book in relation to 'Opus Dei', the principal agency that emerged as 'hit agent' against 'the Priory', and whose 'Work' has as little to do with 'God' as does the 'work' of the Vatican), came before public view, the Roman Catholic Church was long past being able to pretend that it is not primarily a business corporation.

The greed that arises from stupidity, the stupidity that drives greed, as it dictated the actions of that Church in da Vinci's lifetime, have been documented by Barbara Tuchman in her 'The March of Folly (From Troy to Vietnam)'.

A scrutiny of the portfolio of investments by that Church here, for instance, would confirm the range of its business activities - from banking to education, to medical services, to the fisheries, to public policy making / politics ... Its more obvious appropriations of real estate to mount statues off roadway junctions, as its comrade-in-arms, the LTTE has planted 'sleepers' in similar strategic places, are there for anybody to see.

How its local Board of Governors, the 'Catholic Bishops Conference' views the presence of 'the sacred feminine' in suicide bombers we have yet to hear from them. Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate of England, wrote his own 'Pilgrim's Progress' twenty-five years ago.

Much of it escaped comprehension (poetry is not understood without some effort by the reader - as some of our Professors should begin to understand).

An informed critic, Ekbert Faas, suggests that in his long poem, 'Crow', Hughes probes classical and biblical myths, and that he shows that such myths, 'far from giving order to the chaos of modern life, represent the very roots of this chaos'. On his part, Hughes has explicitly stated that, for 'marriage with its creator', the male ego must undergo a 'self-immolation in new, greater and other life'.

Influenced, as he seems to have been, by Tantric Buddhism, Hughes articulates the ancient notion of sexual union as being the route to a knowledge of god or an experience that is adjacent to it. He writes of "the God-seeker, whose spiritual ecstasy hasn't altogether lost the sexual samadhi of the sperm".

The physical representation of that idea may be seen in sculptures of the bodhisattva, Avaloketisvara, joined with a woman in the manner celebrated by the protagonist in 'The Da Vinci Code', (but without the audience: an individual, not a communal, act of worship).

In 'Crow's Song About England', which may be seen as a re-enactment of the story of Adam and Eve (which too, as might be expected, figures in Brown's book), the female at heaven's gate is desecrated: She tried to keep her breasts. They were cut from her and canned. It was produced in open court she was sentenced.

Scrutiny of the Church

The nature of the male domination of the Vatican, within it and by it, a central theme in 'The Da Vinci Code', (let's leave homosexuality aside for now), is visible in the sculptures of Popes in the Sistine Chapel. Most of those figures exude a lust for power perhaps unequalled by its manifestation, no less naked, in political figures of this day.

All such sculptures show men shrouded in vanity, some in venom, a few in a portrayal of humility altogether hopeless of being experienced by them.

They do look bizarre in the company of that master-work which graces the entrance to the Chapel: Michaelangelo's 'Pieta', the exquisite sculpture of the dead Jesus in the arms of a woman, - his mother?

 

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