Sunday, May 14, 2006

The DaVinci Code and the Flight from God

In an article for the National Catholic Register (May 14-20 edition) on the success of the DaVinci Code entitled "But Why Is it Popular," Mr. Clemens Cavallin, a professor at the University of Bergen, Norway in the Department of History of Religions, asks the important question, "How are we to understand the success of the book (and probably, soon, the film)? Why are so many reading it? There are, after all, many fast-paced thrillers and books inspired by conspiracy theories on the market."

Mr. Cavallin provides a tentative answer, "We have to see the success of The DaVinci Code against a backdrop of increasing modernization and 'demythologization' that have simultaneously pushed religious discourses to the realm of fiction, and increased the power of fiction through movies and the Internet....Secondly, we have to consider the de-Christianization of of the Western world, which has led to the impression that Christian ideas and institutions have little influence on society, but also that much knowledge of Christianity, its beliefs and history, is lost. Our era neither knows nor feels any loyalty toward our Christian heritage; on the contrary, we see honor in turning against it. Thirdly, it is necessary to take the postmodern condition seriously. The borderline between fact and fiction has become fuzzy and arbitrary. There is widespread skepticism toward the power and self-sufficiency of human reason. For many, there is very little that is absolutely a fact and, respectively nothing which in an absolute sense is fiction; everything is about perspectives."

I believe professor Cavallin is on the right track. Yes, the success of The DaVinci Code should be viewed against the backdrop of "increasing modernization and 'demythologization.'" Yes, another factor which explains the book's success is the de-Christianization of the Western world. And yes, the borderline between fact and fiction has been obscured in our postmodern society.

These are all factors behind the success of The DaVinci Code. But they are secondary factors. For each one of these factors is merely a symptom of the primary factor which is responsible for the success of The DaVinci Code: Namely, man's flight from God.

In his powerful classic entitled, "The Flight from God," the eminent Swiss philosopher Max Picard writes: "In every age man has been in flight from God. What distinguishes the Flight to-day from every other flight is this: once Faith was the universal, and prior to the individual; there was an objective world of Faith, while the Flight was only accomplished subjectively, within the individual man. It came into being through the individual man's separating himself from the world of Faith by an act of decision. A man who wanted to flee had first to make his own flight. The opposite is true to-day. The objective and external world of Faith is no more; it is Faith which has to be remade moment by moment through the individual's act of decision, that is to say, through the individual's cutting himself off from the world of the Flight. For to-day it is no longer Faith which exists as an objective world, but rather the Flight; for every situation into which man comes is from the beginning, without his making it so, plainly a situation of flight, since everything in this world exists only in the form of the Flight." (The Flight from God, Gateway Editions, 1951, pp.1-2).

Picard goes on to explain in this critically important work that, "The man of the Flight cannot bear the feeling that there is one thing and one thing only: the Flight. He needs something wholly other, something, now threatening, now friendly, which is above him, like a heaven beneath which he can make his journey...This is Art...The very existence of Art in a sphere of its own already means that it is 'wholly other,' and from the beginning it is other than reality itself. The strange thing about Art is that a work of art is indeed made by man, but that once it is made it stands there independently of man. This gives it a semblance of otherness." (The Flight from God, pp. 138-139).

This is of the utmost importance for "modern man" as he flees from his God Who is Wholly Other. Nature abhors a vacuum after all. And so, in his flight from the Divine Other, man in the flight substitutes "Art" for the Divine Being as the Wholly Other." Picard explains that the cinema " the perfect Flight" and that here is where "men may learn how best to flee." For this reason, "..cinemas are everywhere erected, examples of the Flight. The figures on the screen are fashioned only for the Flight, they are disembodied. Like one in a hurry who drops his luggage, the figures have laid down their bodily substance somewhere in the background, while they themselves make off in the foreground of the screen, outlines only of their bodies. Sometimes they are still for a moment, looking backwards fearfully, as if there was one who pursued them. Alas, it is only a game, they do but pretend to be afraid. No one can reach them, these things without being. And now, as if they want to fool the one who pursues them, they move more slowly, they even translate a movement which ought o be fast into a slow one; they demonstrate slowness in the Flight, so sure are they that nothing can reach them, these things without being. Here in the cinema it is as if there were no more men, as if the real men were somewhere in safety, had for long been in safety, and as if these shadows had been left behind simply to flee in place of the real men. They only pretend to be in flight and even the men who sit in front of the screen in order to gaze at the shadows there seem nothing but dummies, arranged to complete the illusion,while the real men have long since departed." (pp. 8-9).

Dr. Von Hildebrand was right when he said that, "Modern man has lost that consciousness of being a creature which even the pagan possessed, and he lives in the illusion that by his own powers he can transform the world into a terrestrial paradise." (The New Tower of Babel, Sophia Institute Press, 1994, p. 21).

Having decided against God, "modern man" has embraced the Flight. This flight from the Divine Other has led to the decline of man's confidence in the powers of human reason to attain reality and truth. Man in the Flight has concluded today that all truth is relative. In the same way that Pilate asked Our Lord, "What is truth?" and hastened in his flight to the judgment-hall without waiting for an answer (John 18:38), so "modern man," in his embrace of relativism, joins the flight without any thought of inquiring for the truth. Instead, he settles for illusion, rejecting the permanent authority of truth as founded by the Divine Other in reality, reason and revelation while setting himself up as the autonomous source of all truth:

"Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the 'mystery of iniquity' in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 675).

The Antichrist is behind the Flight, urging "modern man" to hasten in his Flight and not to look back. How will this Flight end? In the words of Romano Guardini:

"One day the Antichrist will come: a human being who introduces an order of things in which rebellion against God will attain its ultimate power. He will be filled with enlightenment and strength. The ultimate aim of all aims will be to prove that existence without Christ is possible - nay rather, that Christ is the enemy of existence, which can be fully realized only when all Christian values have been destroyed. His arguments will be so impressive, supported by means of such tremendous power - violent and diplomatic, material and intellectual - that to reject them will result in almost insurmountable scandal, and everyone whose eyes are not opened by grace will be lost. Then it will be clear what the Christian essence really is: that which stems not from the world, but from the heart of God; victory of grace over the world; redemption of the world, for her true essence is not to be found in herself, but in God, from whom she has received it. When God becomes all in all, the world will finally burst into flower." (The Lord, p. 513).

Professor Cavallin concluded his article by writing that, "..we are likely to see the Da Vinci message and agenda presented and acted out in many different ways and with the help of the whole spectrum of mass media."

I couldn't agree more. To secure himself in his Flight from God, "modern man" will no doubt rush to embrace anything which assaults those sacred and supernatural realities which remind him of his creature status and his total dependence on the Divine Other. Like Pilate, "modern man" isn't interested in truth. He has ceased struggling to be a man. He has preferred the Flight.

Until next time,
God love you
Paul Anthony Melanson

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