I'm puzzled by the lawsui
t launched by a couple of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail against The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown for copyright violation.
Every lawyer in court yesterday was equipped with copies of both books. Mr Justice Peter Smith, who exhibits both a refreshing northern accent and a magnificent moustache, disclosed that he had read both — but not, he said, in an analytical way. Jonathan Rayner-James, QC, for the claimants, told the judge that Dan Brown had “appropriated” the central theme of HBHG. “The claimants are not alone in this. Many people all over the world have commented to the same effect since The Da Vinci Code was first published.” One who noticed was a letter-writer to The Times.
Brown, however, claims that HBHG was “incidental” to the creation of his book and was consulted only at the very end of its making.
“This is an extraordinary claim that would surprise anyone who has read The Da Vinci Code after reading HBHG,” Mr Rayner-James said. “HBHG is a book of historical conjecture setting out the authors’ hypothesis. The authors’ historical conjecture has spawned many other books that developed aspects of this conjecture in a variety of directions. But none has lifted the central theme of the book.”
At one point the judge, who appeared intent on keeping a tight grip on the case and on counsel, interrupted Mr Rayner-James to say: “You couldn’t blame Mr Brown for reading HBHG and thinking, ‘That’s a cracking good story’.”
Mr Rayner-James said his clients had invested a great deal of time, effort and skill in their book, while Dan Brown had “appropriated its architecture”, and had even copied some of the language. The author’s copy of HBHG was heavily annotated, it was alleged.
“It is not as though Brown has simply lifted a discrete series of raw facts from HBHG. He has lifted the connections that join the points up.”
I have objected from the start to Dan Brown's claims that his book DVC is based on historical facts, especially since I recognized influences of the allegedly non-fiction book HBHG in those so-called facts.
Which leads me to wonder about what has happened to the whole concept of facts.
Back when I studied for a year at Dartmouth College, my religion professor repeatedly said, "Facts are not self-evident." I've often thought of that statement and, perhaps without thinking about it too deeply, have agreed with it. The way I understood it, though, was that facts need to be arranged or set into a narrative in order to be evident, we select among facts, we determine which facts are important, we put them in hierarchies. But I never questioned whether there are in fact, facts, actual truths. Things that indisputably happened.
Now it would seem that even the non-fiction authors of HBHG think that the way they've arranged the facts makes it as much of a creation as a work of fiction. Well, in this case, I am inclined to agree! But this leads me to wondering whether our culture is losing respect for the concept of facts, for a sense of objective reality out there that can be measured and agreed upon.
Yes, we are discovering new things about memory, how plastic it is, how our memories are shaped by our self-image, our stories about ourselves. We know eyewitnesses often see different versions of the same crime and that authority figures can influence the way someone recalls an event. But does that mean the event did not happen in a certain way merely because memories are faulty, or memories conflict?
Several years ago, through I listserve I belonged to, I met someone who had read HBHG and was persuaded by that book that the Christian faith was bogus. He took word for word the authors' claims that Jesus never died on the Cross, that the Turin Shroud was wrapped around a living man whose blood still flowed and Jesus escaped the tomb and ran off to India or something. Can't recall it all.
Now, apparently Dan Brown doesn't want to go that far and deny the Resurrection, though he does deny the divinity of Christ in DVC, claiming the the Emperor Constantine created the idea Christ's divinity in the 4th Century and foisted it upon the Church, which up until then thought Jesus was a nice sage. (Not true, by the way!)
These are not the only books out there that erode faith in the facts of the Gospel.
Recently I had a conversation with a dear friend who has read several books that debunk the idea there ever was a historical Jesus, books that claim the Christian faith was merely a bunch of rising, dying vegetation God myths cobbled together from the surrounding societies. That friend now doubts whether Jesus ever did really exist as a historical person.
He still believes in Jesus, but Jesus has become mythologized, disembodied, spiritualized, it seems.
That is basically how Brown ends the DVC, talking about how all religion is just "myth," uplifting stories that might help us live better lives but have no historical basis in fact.
Is it a bit like saying facts don't matter? Is it like saying that facts don't even exist?
This all reminds me of the stand that Francis Schaeffer, founder of L'Abri,
took against those who, following in Kierkegaard's footsteps, would sever the "upper story" of the Christian faith--the poetic, metaphorical, spiritual and psychological truths in the Bible--from the facts contained within.
For Schaeffer the facts were of crucial importance. They grounded the "upper story."
To me the historical facts of Jesus' existence are overwhelming.
And I agree with C.S. Lewis, who said:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
[CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 3, The Shocking Alternative]