Arts, Media, and Entertainment

American Gnostics

Despite “bombing with most critics,” The Da Vinci Code is doing well at the box office. In its first weekend in theaters it made $77 million in the United States and $224 million worldwide But, for the New York Times, the real story isn’t about the movie; it’s about the audience. And, for once, I agree with the Times, for the film exposes what the Da Vinci craze is all about. As the article puts it, the movie encapsulates “an era in which many Christian believers have assimilated a whole lot of new and unorthodox ideas . . . [into] their faith, while still seeing it as Christianity.” One such “believer” so-called quoted in the article called himself a “Gnostic Christian.” He said, “I don’t need someone to interpret God for me . . .” For him, church was not for instruction, much less being told how to live his life. Instead, it was for “[communing] with others.” This attitude is not just the result of reading or seeing The Da Vinci Code. Rather, as George Barna told the Times, for millions of Americans “The Da Vinci Code essentially reinforced what they [already] believed.” Barna calls that belief system “pick and choose theology.” Another way of putting it, of course, is “Gnosticism.” In one form or another, Gnosticism has been tormenting Christianity since the late first century. The letter to the Colossians and the Epistles of John were written, in part, to combat an early form of these beliefs. I said “beliefs” because there are various forms of Gnosticism. The one that church fathers like Irenaeus wrote against “portrayed Christ as a heavenly being who came down to earth to awaken them from their spiritual slumber by disclosing their own divine inner nature.” These Gnostics despised their physical natures, which led some of them to embrace wanton promiscuity. After all, if your body is not a temple, you can’t dishonor it. We can see elements of that kind of Gnosticism in today’s so-called “spirituality,” especially among New Agers. But there is another variety of Gnosticism that’s even more connected to what people told the Times. In his book The American Religion, Yale’s Harold Bloom described what he regarded as the Gnostic tendencies of American popular religion. According to Bloom, some parts of American Christianity have stressed “a Gnostic knowing of Jesus through direct acquaintance.” Since this experience of “Jesus” is direct, there is no need for an institution like the Church. This experience-centered religion, untethered to church or sound instruction, fits in well with our self-centered culture, a world in which everything—including God—exists to glorify the imperial self. And the Da Vinci myth is the ultimate conceit, telling us that we ourselves have the key to life, that we are god—which is, of course, the temptation the serpent offered Eve in the Garden. The verdict is now in, so you can explain to your neighbors what is behind all of this Da Vinci hype, besides Dan Brown making himself a fortune. It’s a seductive lie, as old as humanity itself.


Chuck Colson


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