The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Da Vinci CodeDue to the content of this book, I am planning to avoid using some of the more explicit terms that Dan Brown uses. This is not out of prudishness, but because I want to avoid getting this website blacklisted from key word filtering software. 🙂

If you are unaware of the content of this book, let me bring you up to speed. According to popular presentation, this book postulates that Mary Magdeline was the literal bride of Christ (who was only a man) and that she carried his daughter. Supposedly, the Catholic church has sought to silence this truth in an effort to protect their power and in an effort to subjugate women. Brown calls this the “greatest cover up in the world.”

OK. That’s is how I’ve seen the book is described in the media and elsewhere. That is also misleading. Peel back the layers of the book just a bit, and you find the real point of the book. Dan Brown didn’t write a novel; he wrote a philosophy book. He teaches a philosophy (the sacred feminine) that inverts the two basic premises upon which God founded human society.

First, Brown inverts the position of the genders. He places woman over man. Now, I am not chauvinistic; I believe that women are more competent than men in many (if not most) areas of life. I don’t understand why God chose to place men in the position of authority. Why did God choose Isaac over his elder brother Esau? Why did God choose Abram and make him special? Abram worship a pagan deity when God called him. Why pick him? Why not Job (who lived in the same time frame)? The apostle Paul wrestled with these questions in Romans 9.

We don’t understand why God chooses the lame and the unlovely (1 Corinthians 1:26-31), but he does. I don’t know why God chose men to be in authority over women, but the fact remains that God did choose to do so. Women are to support men; men are to lead.

Of course, since the Fall, sin nature has tried to invert this ordering by God. What is one of the biggest weakness’ for men? The desire to be lazy: not to work or lead as God commanded. Women are the opposite; they are to be submissive but desire to lead. This is sin. Both sides have to invert their sinful desires

Brown raises the female gender to a position worthy of worship. He takes the inversion of God’s natural order to the extreme. This approach appeals to people, because it appeals to the sin nature. Men and women both hunger for this twisted view of creation, thanks to our sin nature.

Second, Brown deliberately splits the marriage relationship. He separates the “one flesh” from Genesis 2 and calls for open relationships. Archeology (and sorry, I don’t have a source in front of me) tells us that this form of physical worship service can be traced as far back as Abraham’s time in Palestine. Of course, just because it is old doesn’t make it right…. Simply put, this is an inversion of God’s natural order.

Again, God saw fit to build the family unit. Why did God determine that monogamous relationships were best? Could He have organized creation in such a way that open relationships were better? Sure He could have done that, but He chose not to do so. Therefore, Brown is expressly rejecting God’s natural order.

The story is not so much about the characters, but about the philosophy.

You could ask why people enjoyed the book so much since it’s a philosophy book. Honestly, Brown did a great job. Considering that the book is mostly lecture intertwined into a conspiracy theory, most people would failed miserably in making this style readable. Brown does a great job.

And why does modern America accept or give credence to these preposterous theories? Well, Brown uses a Professor character (Robert Langdon) to teach this as fact. (J0hnny Long, has repeatedly demonstrated a simple truth: if you act like you know what you are doing, no one will question you. A corollary is found in this book: if you brazenly treat it as true, no one will question you.) Sophie is the intellectual cop that is slowly converted from skeptic to convert. The professor teaches these “facts” without proof. In fact, whenever proof is required, Langdon trots out the usual proof: “… well documented,” or “the Dead Sea Scrolls prove this,” or even “scholars all over the world agree.”

The only “proof” that he places on the table are the gospels of Judas and Mary Magdeline. What gets me is this: There are few copies of these two apocryphal books, but Brown treats them as completely reliable. There are numerous copies of the New Testament and Brown treats that as unreliable. Why does he choose to ignore the preponderance of evidence in favor of that which is clearly unreliable? Simple, Brown has an agenda.

Brown made up most of the facts in this book. While many books have been written to challenge Brown on religious and historical grounds, Brown acknowledges that he falsified the facts but claims to believe the premise regardless. Truly, that is the definition of tragic.

This book is not for teens unless the teen is quite mature. Though details aren’t terribly explicit, the implicit nature of the story puts this easily into a PG-13 level.

The Card by Arnold Bennett

Reading this book introduced me to an interesting new word: card. Mind you, that’s not a card as in a birthday card or a playing card. In this context, the term card refers to someone who will do anything to remain popular in the public’s eye (as Wikipedia defines it: a “character”, someone able to set tongues wagging). A card does not act like the quintessential spoiled Hollywood brat; he is more of a lighthearted fun-loving type of person. A card tends to be engaging, impulsive, and brash; a card might even be extravagant and ostentatious. I suspect that this definition has been depreciated as the world has become smaller and it became more difficult to achieve the same effect in the eyes of a local community.

In the case of this clever tale, our card is Edward Henry Machin better known as Denry Machin. The locale in which he became the card is known as The Five Towns (possibly based on the six town district in which Bennett grew up). As you will see, a card is a card by birth as well as by choice.

Denry’s first demonstration of being a card occurred by chance when he was sixteen. He was clerking for Mr. Duncalf when the Countess of Chell arrived seeking Mr. Duncalf’s services. She desired that Mr. Duncalf assist with inviting certain of the town folk to a ball and to assist with the distribution of the invitations. As Mr. Duncalf was absent, Denry spoke with the Countess instead. Since it soon became his job to compile the various lists of invitees to the ball, he added his name to the list. But, of course, that wasn’t enough. Denry was poor, couldn’t dance, and didn’t own a nice suit let alone attire suitable for a ball. So, he did the the only thing a reasonable young man could be expected to do: he traded an invitation to the ball for dance lessons with Miss. Ruth Earp and exchanged a second invitation for a dress suit from Shillitoe the tailor.

Once at the dance, Denry was bet that he wouldn’t ask the Countess for the first dance. Denry impulsively accepted; oops. Then, Denry entertained the Countess to the consternation of onlookers.

This chance bet became the seed money for his rise as a Card. In the earlier chapters of the book, Denry frequently made business decisions on the spot without much thought (decisions that appeared foolish to everyone – including himself). Yet, these decisions usually worked out in his favor; it would seem that Denry had an innate sense of risk and could intuitively pick out the best choice. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view), Denry couldn’t prevent himself from opening his mouth nor could he back away from these risky decisions after he announced them to the public. These successful and occasionally philanthropic risks, made him extremely well known in the five towns as he capitalized on various opportunities to amass a small fortune for himself. Eventually, Denry learned to plot these decisions and to maximize the profitability of each decision.

Through this enchanting tale of Denry’s rise to cardom (can I make up that word?), Arnold Bennett creates a unique and delightful experience. I must say that this was a story that I enjoyed immensely. I was saddened to discover that it only covered about sixteen years or so of Denry’s life (though there is a sequel). We leave him just as he became the most important man in the Five Towns.

You have to read or listen to this story. You can buy it here. There wasn’t anything that I saw as objectionable other than the winking at Denry’s occasional duplicity since the “ends justified the means.”

Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts, by Frank Richard Stockton

Like the Stockton, a nineteenth century author of children’s books, I find pirates to be a fascinating subject. Who where they? What is myth and what is accurate? For the record, Stockton does not promote violence, buccaneering or piracy. On the contrary, this book came out of a childhood love of pirates that was turned into a more practical adult view of their crimes and sins.

In Buccaneers, Stockton tells the history of those called Buccaneers and Pirates. Stockton starts with a bird’s eye view of the history. As he progresses along the timeline, he pauses in each chapter to tell about one or more pirates that were representative of that point in time. This isn’t a traditional history book. Stockton specifically focuses on the pirate history off the coast of the Americas and then turns each chapter into a mini biography of a pirate or two.

Did you know that the two terms are not synonymous (in the strict definition of the words)? Buccaneers were men who plundered the Spanish exclusively. Buccaneers also demonstrated great bravery in their willingness and frequently successful attacks on much larger forces. Later there was some confusion as various nations paid buccaneers to attack their enemies without sparking an “official verifiable incident.” The victims viewed these buccaneers as pirates. Now, the term pirate was given to those who gave up national allegiance. These cut throats seldom attacked a stronger force for they were cowards. Pirates attacked any vessel or community that they viewed as weaker.

From buccaneers that went “legitimate” to pirates that terrorized the US from a small eight or nine man craft to female pirates, this book is chock full of page turning stories. A small list of chapter titles:
– The Pirate Who Couldn’t Swim
– A Pirate Author
– L’Olonnois the Cruel
– Villainy on a Grand Scale
– A Tight Place for Morgan
– The Story of a High-Minded Pirate
– A Greenhorn under the Black Flag
– Story of Two Women Pirates
– The Real Captain Kidd
And so on….

One of the most interesting characters of all was John Esquemeling the pirate author. This buccaneer played buccaneer so that he would have material for writing. He interviewed various buccaneer and learned their stories. Much of the early history that we know about buccaneers comes from his work, though I take it all with a grain of salt. I can’t imagine that the buccaneers were always accurate in their story telling. In fact some of the facts that Stockton reports from John Esquemeling seem rather fantastical. I would take the early portions of this book with a generous grain of salt. As the story moves closer to the present, there are more third-party sources that make the facts more reliable.

Stockton also takes great care not to detail, the worst offenses of the pirates and buccaneers. Rather he speaks very generically about their viciousness. I don’t see why most junior high school students couldn’t read this book.

I particularly enjoyed the stories about the gentleman pirate (who had a marriage proposal from a victim) and the religious pirate who required his men to attend church on Sundays (and prohibited them from desecrating or stealing from the church). ? Fun stuff…. Here is the e-text and here the audio.