The success of Dan Brown’s “message,” Ross writes in his latest column,
cant be separated from its dishonesty. The secret history of Christendom that unspools in The Da Vinci Code is false from start to finish . The lost gospels are real enough, but they neither confirm the portrait of Christ that Brown is peddling theyre far, far weirder than that nor provide a persuasive alternative to the New Testament account. The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John jealous, demanding, apocalyptic may not be congenial to contemporary sensibilities, but hes the only historically-plausible Jesus there is. For millions of readers, Browns novels have helped smooth over the tension between ancient Christianity and modern American faith. But the tension endures. You can have Jesus or Dan Brown. But you cant have both.
Perhaps you can already hear the fearsome Linda Hirshman twisting in her seat. Ross, you see, did not study theology — not even as an undergraduate , or so Hirshman would have it . I, lazily, have not yet phoned Ross to confirm; I think I’ll wait until Hirshman discredits Maureen Dowd for lacking even a bachelor’s in journalism.
Meanwhile I’ll also point out how cheap and risible it is to then “assume” — in the name of being “charitable” — that Ross “is actually making a political point” — precisely, of course, the point Ross did not make, in fact. Guess what it is?
He might be arguing that the popularity of Brown’s books reflects an American preference for a kind of civil religion, which does not immediately drive people to pile up the wood around the stake, the better to slake the appetite of their jealous and demanding god. Many commentators on the American political scene including, for example, the locus classicus of American observers, Alexis de Tocqueville, noticed the same thing. The only difference is that they thought it was a good thing that American democracy was buttressed by a spiritual element which did not immediately involve hooded minions, whereas Douthat regrets.
Hirshman’s Ross — jealous, demanding, apocalyptic — is not only uncongenial but farcically implausible. Yet it isn’t a weakness for nonsense that should get a blogger’s credentials pulled. It’s a level of contempt so comprehensive that her line of argument turns on a shoddy little stunt of active malice. I expect this to be the last five minutes I put to the stake over Ms. Hirshman.
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