Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ross Douthat Is A Gullible Hack

The movie version of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons is out, and Ross Douthat can't control his loathing for the entire enterprise. The mass market paperback thriller and summer Tom Hanks vehicle, which have made millions of dollars, exist to push an agenda, says Douthat, practically vibrating with indignation.
Brown is explicit about this mission. He isn’t a serious novelist, but he’s a deadly serious writer: His thrilling plots, he’s said, are there to make the books’ didacticism go down easy, so that readers don’t realize till the end “how much they are learning along the way.” He’s working in the same genre as Harlan Coben and James Patterson, but his real competitors are ideologues like Ayn Rand, and spiritual gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. He’s writing thrillers, but he’s selling a theology.


In the Brownian worldview, all religions — even Roman Catholicism — have
the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one
of them might be particularly true. It’s a message perfectly tailored for
21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither
swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized
“religiousness” detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.


They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional
religion’s dogmas and moral requirements shorn away. The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal and conservative believers often encounter a God who’s too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they’re making or how many times they’ve been married.

These are Dan Brown’s kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination
with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who’s a thoroughly modern sort of messiah — sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

Douthat's proof of this attempt to take Christianity away from him and give it to the immoral masses is an interview with Brown that reveals his purported "didacticism."

Q: You've written novels about a classified intelligence agency and an
ultra-secretive brotherhood. Are secrets something that interest you?

Secrets interest us all, I think. For me, writing about clandestine material
keeps me engaged in the project. Because a novel can take upwards of a year to
write, I need to be constantly learning as I write, or I lose interest.
Researching and writing about secretive topics helps remind me how fun it is to
"spy" into unseen worlds, and it motivates me to try to give the reader that
same experience. Lots of people wrote me after Digital Fortress amazed that the
National Security Agency is for real. I've already started getting similar mail
from Angels & Demons--people shocked to learn about the Illuminati
brotherhood, antimatter technology, or the inner workings of the Vatican
election. My goal is always to make the character's and plot be so engaging that
readers don't realize how much they are learning along the way.


[A]: I imagine some controversy is unavoidable, yes, although it's
important to remember that Angels & Demons is primarily a thriller--a chase
and a love story. It's certainly not an anti-Catholic book. It's not even a
religious book.

Brown explicitly states that the book delves into arcane Vatican matters to get the reader's interest. Most mystery and thriller writers do the same thing. The most entertaining mysteries teach you something new, or immerse you into a new world for a couple of brief hours. The mystery alone is usually not enough; it takes entertaining settings and characters as well. Brown's schtick is the Vatican, and there really should not be any confusion between a beach novel and religious dogma. Douthat manages to dredge up an unbelievable amount of indignation over a couple of popular novels.

Brown’s message has been called anti-Catholic, but that’s only part of the
story. True, his depiction of the Roman Church’s past constitutes a greatest
hits of anti-Catholicism, with slurs invented by 19th-century Protestants jostling for space alongside libels fabricated by 20th-century Wiccans. (If he targeted Judaism or Islam this way, one suspects that no publisher would touch him.)

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 — they’re 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 he’s the only historically-plausible Jesus there is.

For millions of readers, Brown’s 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 can’t have both.

Douthat should unclench his fingers from around his Bible; nobody's trying to take Jesus away from him. Or trying to deny "Catholicism’s truth claims." They're making a buck and probably increasing Vatican tourist revenues. But Douthat feels "targeted" and "demonized," and calls Brown anti-Catholic twice. He grossly overreacts, defending his Faith from the scourge of popular fiction and summer blockbusters. How dare anyone say that his religion is not the one true religion?

I'm having a hard time seeing why Douthat is in the Times. The Villagers usually prefer their that moral scolding is a little more entertaining, a little more secular. Sex scandals or Democratic witch-hunts, not fundamentalist rants against heathen Hollywood. That's what Big Hollywoood is for, and I fail to see why the Times would use the imploding world of wingnut welfare journalism as a business plan.


fledermaus said...

The lost gospels are real enough, but they neither confirm the portrait of Christ that Brown is peddling — they’re far, far weirder than that — nor provide a persuasive alternative to the New Testament account. Yeah, why can't the gnostics have a nice rational religion where three buck chuck actually turns into blood, you can buy your way into Heaven if you got enough money and one old white guy selected by a bunch of other old white guys is totally right about everything and incapable of being wrong.

But the Gnostics, yeah they are out there, man.

Downpuppy said...

He can rail against watered down religion, but official doctirne now seems to be that "GOD is inherently undetectible"

Once the religion has defined itself as vaporware, how much more watered down can you get?

. L. Kiner said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

Susan of Texas said...

Downpuppy, that's why I like the new pope. He just says that the Roman Catholics are right and everyone else is wrong. You can't argue with that logic.