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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Divine in 'Da Vinci'

Hear the Rev. Jim Miller, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church, talk about 'The Da Vinci Code'
 •  'Da Vinci' gospel goes forth and multiplies

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

Island churches embrace hype surrounding expected blockbuster, "The Da Vinci Code" as way to enlighten.

JOHN CORNELL | Gannett News Service

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When "The Da Vinci Code" opens at theaters Friday, the best-selling novel is likely to become a best-selling movie. Some interesting footnotes:

  • A USA Today-Gallup Poll found 43 percent of those surveyed said they definitely won't see the film, but that group was made up mostly of people who hadn't seen a movie in the past year. Some 28 percent definitely will see it, the same number who might consider it. And 72 percent said they see it as entertainment, the same percentage as those who said no movie has profoundly affected their religious beliefs in any positive or negative way.

  • In the same poll, 19 percent blamed Satan for destroying people's faith through books, movies or studies that raise doubts about Jesus or the Bible, a group that was made up of mainly weekly churchgoers. However, Catholics were least likely to blame an evil force.

  • Merchandising: Three "Complete Idiot's Guides" have come out, the last just in time for the movie's release: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mary Magdalene," "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Gnostic Gospels" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Freemasons." Also, Sony movie tie-ins include games, apparel and religious and art books.

    Source: Advertiser news services

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    The Rev. Jim Miller received an overflowing crowd last Sunday at the Honolulu Academy of Arts for his "Da Vinci's Secrets Revealed" lecture.

    REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou star in "The Da Vinci Code," which posits a religious conspiracy theory around the life of Jesus.

    Sony Pictures

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    "The Da Vinci Code"

    Directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks, based on the novel by Dan Brown

    Opens Friday

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    Some clergy in Honolulu are looking at the opening of this weekend's expected blockbuster, "The Da Vinci Code," as a teachable moment.

    While the No. 2 man in the Vatican's powerful doctrine agency, Archbishop Angelo Amato, urged a boycott of "The Da Vinci Code" movie, saying Dan Brown's novel, on which it is based, is filled with "offenses, slander, historical and theological errors" concerning Jesus and Christianity, several pastors here didn't expect any protests.

    In fact, a good number of Christians were using it as a talking point at church.

    Calvary Chapel, First Presbyterian and Kaimuki Christian churches all advertised talks on the book, which re-imagines the story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

    Some, like the Rev. Amy Wake, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church, are even taking it a step further. She's leading a movie-and-discussion field trip to the multiplex with members of her congregation on May 28.

    "It's a work of fiction," said Wake, putting her emphasis on the last word. "It's not real. ... There is just enough historical truth to make it confusing, which is why we want to have a conversation afterward."

    Wake and others in the clergy said while popular movies may or may not have a bearing on one's faith (see quotes below), they still make an important starting point for discussion. "If they are people of faith, they take their faith with them wherever they go," she said.

    "The book and movie can be confusing for people, which is why churches should discuss it."

    Others, too, are planning to take in the show. The Rev. Jim Miller, the associate pastor of First Presbyterian who led a discussion at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, said he plans to see the bargain matinee.

    "(Brown) has already got $40 million," he said. "He's not going to get $9 of mine."

    Miller's "Da Vinci's Secrets Revealed" lecture on Sunday at the art museum drew an overflow crowd, caught in the buzz of the Tom Hanks-Ron Howard project. It's an opportune time to jump into the discussion, Miller said.

    "Since everyone's looking in that direction, let's see if we can get in the picture," he said, but added "there's no furor at the grassroots level."

    He isn't the only one trying to get into the picture.

    "Our whole service (on June 4) will be dedicated to talking about that film and book," said Robin Gattis, pastor of New Hope Hawaii Kai. "It's an opportunity to create dialogue. Every once in a while a book or film will come through that captures people's curiosity about Jesus."

    Gattis has about a week to read the book so he can prep for a study session with several congregants, though friends have told him he won't need it one read the 102-chapter page-turner in two days.

    Some have taken umbrage at what have been called heretical ideas about Jesus, the central human figure of Christianity but what gets people hooked is the whiff of a conspiracy, Gattis said.

    "Anything that has any conspiracy element JFK's shooting, Pearl Harbor is of great interest to the public," he said. "That's what we're going to try to capitalize on. ... The story of Jesus has been blurred and retold many times. ... Who he is generates this wave of interest."

    Chaplain Robert "Bob" Brown, who has been discussing religious themes at Mid-Pacific Institute for the past decade, knows timing is key. His recent gathering of middle- and high-schoolers focused on the year's pop-culture Jesus fix. Witness: "Passion of the Christ," the current brouhaha about the role of Judas in Christ's crucifixion and, of course, "The Da Vinci Code."

    "The prime thrust of chapel is (to teach) students to become inquisitive thinkers, ask questions, check background and resources, to try to find whether it's true or not," he said. "... It's a good thing for them to check these things out and find out for themselves."

    The chaplain read the book and enjoyed it, but wanted to make sure his impressionable students some of whom like living in the alternative realities of video games and Sim cities and fantastical Dungeons & Dragons learn to think critically.

    While he attends International Baptist Church, where he'll be talking about it at adult Sunday school class, Brown the chaplain plans to wait until the movie comes out on video before he drinks in the action.

    Not so for Brother Greg O'Donnell, Damien High School president and CEO, who said he might see the movie, but not for any teachable moments especially not for teenagers.

    "If we were to use a teachable moment, it wouldn't be through a historical novel," said O'Donnell. "Teenagers don't see nuances it's not in their repertoire. ... There are far better resources than 'The Da Vinci Code.' "

    Though a Roman Catholic brother, he's not in the "boycott it" camp: "I go back to the idea (that) it's a fictional story, it's a novel," O'Donnell said. "I don't know what's so objectionable. You always have the choice to go or not go. It's a work of fiction, not historical fact."

    O'Donnell is one of those who finds himself snickering when he hears something is "based on a true story." That means nothing, he said.

    "It could be the character existed, but that could be the only touch of truth," he said, adding his crowd is a bit more discerning. " ... The historical novel has been replete with these problems since the day the genre started, and if people take it seriously, they're missing the point."

    Even people in the pew say they aren't confusing book or movie with fact.

    "I don't believe a lot of what it says it is fiction," said Rose Domondon, parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Pearl City, adding that she's aware that some might take fiction as fact.

    The controversy feeds the hype machine, Domondon suspects.

    Domondon doesn't expect her priest to discuss "The Da Vinci Code" in his sermon this weekend, "but I might be wrong," she said.

    Information about the Vatican's Amato was reported by The Associated Press.