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What Does the "Da Vinci" Popularity Tell Us?

The L.A. Times is rollin’ this week. In amongst an interesting article on open borders by Tim Cavanaugh and a fairly surprising op-ed on low wages by George McGovern is Tim Rutten’s intriguing perspective on the popularity of "The Da Vinci Code" in America. (Incidentally, is there a better surname for a legislator than McGovern? If only someone could be the McDonald’s of governing: quick, straightforward, and unobtrusive.)

Full disclosure. The Wife and I listened to an audio book of “The Da Vinci Code” and I enjoyed the process for the most part. We are currently in the middle of an audio book of Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons.” Again, it’s not a torturous process for me. But I’m also aware that the novels are just that: novels. Fact is not what sounds plausible (or implausible in this popcorn book), but rather what is, well, fact.

Rutten posits a reason why many Americans are confused about the fact this book is a novel:

[T]he attitudes that make Americans so "religious" are the same ones that have made them such a ready market for the "Da Vinci" flimflam. This country is suffused with religious sentiments and impulses, but Americans are abysmally - even willfully - short on religious knowledge. All the periodic hand-wringing over this country's crisis of faith or creeping secularism notwithstanding, the problem with Americans is not that they don't believe anything; it's that so many think they can believe anything - and that believing one thing doesn't preclude belief in another.

Very interesting. The idea is that America is filled with ill-informed opinions disguised as beliefs founded in knowledge. Repetition of “belief” statements replaces wisdom. Russet does not mention it, but I find it intriguing that America’s PC-ness has come back to bite us:

Brown's claims for his book and, by extension, the film adaptation belong to a strong new current in American life - the culture of assertion, which increasingly pushes logical argument out of our public conversation. According to this schema, things are true because I believe they are true and you have to respect that, because it's what I believe. Thus, the same sensibility most likely to take offense at this film - that of the religious assertionists - is the same one that makes things like creationism an issue in our schools and the demands of biblical literalism a force in our politics. Brown and his foolishness are, in fact, a part of this same culture of assertion and not of some wider secular one.

In the 90‘s, we developed a culture of respect for all beliefs. Everyone is allowed to have ideas and they should be considered on an even keel regardless of the source. Recent history has taught us that the Right is organized and able to take advantage of and gain power from any possible opening. Well, here we are dealing with the grassroots effort of the Right to take those PC ideals they originally detested and flip them on edge to convince a large segment of the country that their general concept of faith should be placed on the level with concepts that have required decades of study and research by career thinkers. The push is not to bring these ideas together in one’s head, but to conflict the ideas with each other.

The reality is that Joe Schmo, who’s day job is respectable - perhaps a small business owner - should not have equal footing in the evolution, global warming, or national security argument as someone who has dedicated his or her life to one of these concepts. There is already enough room for discussion, disagreement and logical debate between people who actually understand the subject. Joe Schmo can most certainly gain an opinion through hard work, if disconnecting the cable TV and revisiting the concept of reading is hard work, and I applaud all those Schmos who do this. But if Joe Schmo’s opinion is based on either what a power-base has told him or simply a vague concept of the idea floating in his mind, well, I don’t think Joe Schmo brings anything to the table.

Can we suppress a man’s ability to speak his mind? We can not and should not. But should we, as thinking Americans, be required to give his opinion equal weight? No. And if our government is truly a moral and just body, should they be giving these unfounded concepts the label of opinion based in fact. Certainly not. That is the immoral choice.