Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dan Brown: Part the Second

We have been exposed to only two of Dan Brown's works: The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. We were well aware that the former was anti-Catholic. In reading about Angels & Demons, it seemed to Us that the victim in the book was The Catholic Church. So, We bought it. And We were quite disappointed.

Reading it was a pleasure in the beginning. It was fast-paced, and Brown used a technique I found to be very captivating and which a few books also used: using many small chapters, each one about a scene or person. Thus, Group A are doing such-and-such in chapter VI, and in chapter VII Group B's actions are told. While reading about Group B, We are anxious to read about Group A. A useful style indeed. Although Brown's book is not the first place We encountered this technique: We have forgotten where We first noticed it.

The basic premise of the book revolves around the supposed rise of a secret anti-Catholic, anti-religious, atheistic, and pro-scientific organization called "The Illuminati." Janus, who supposedly is the head of The Illuminati, uses an unnamed Hassassin (as Brown puts it), a descendent of the Nizari Ismaili Assassins of Alamut, to commit the various crimes The Illuminati evidently set into motion to bring down The Catholic Church, literally and figuratively. The Illuminati hate The Catholic Church, accusing The Catholic Church of persecuting scientists, tearing down science, and attempting to crush science and reason with religion, tyranny, and oppression. Involved in this is CERN, some European research entity that is almost religiously and evangelically atheist. One of its top scientists is murdered by the Hassassin on orders of The Illuminati. Evidently this scientist, a Catholic priest, was about to scientifically prove the existence of God. There are others reasons why he was murdered. His adopted daughter, Vera, accompanies Robert Langdon (the protagonist here as in The Da Vinci Code, where Vera accompanies him as well). It seems that The Illuminati are Hell-bent on eradicating The Vatican, and plan to do so as its cardinals come together to elect a new pope.

A brief note before continuing. Brown uses the word "Hassassin" to refer to a group and as a singular noun. This is technically incorrect. Also, the use of "s" is also technically incorrect. This word Brown uses is supposedly derived from the Arab word from which comes the English word "assassin." This Arabic word is "Ha(sh)(sh)aa(sh)een," which means "those who take hashish," "hashish" being a narcotic. This word, it should be noted, is in the plural, specifically the oblique plural or the plural ending used when the word is in the accusative or genitive case. Coloquially, many people use the oblique plural by default. The nominative plural would be "Ha(sh)(sh)aa(sh)oon." The singular would be "Ha(sh)(sh)aa(sh)." (As one can see, the nominative plural is "oon," while the oblique plural is "een.") Why Brown replaced "sh" with "s" We do not know. Brown should have used, in easier English transcription, "Hashishun" or "Hashishin" to refer to the group, and "hashash" or "hashaash" to refer to an individual from this group. There is still debate whether this term for the group known as the Assassins is correct. Some, such as Farhad Daftary, claim that this is a disparaging term used by Muslims to refer to these Shiite sectarians, evidently that they are so whacked out they must be smoking it up. Another explanation, from Muslim and non-Muslim sources, for this term refers to the rrumor or legend that this group would take young men, drug them up, take them to a garden with many earthly pleasures, saying that this is what Heaven would be life. After removing the young men from "Heaven," they would send them out to accomplish whatever mission they were given, with the promise that successfully completing it will earn them such a wonderful reward in Heaven. This group was characterized not only by its ruthfulness and reach but also with its members' devotion, who would gladly die for the group and its deeds. Considering today's suicide terrorists and how they are motivated by religious zealotry instead of drugs, this explanation of drugging members could be false: there are other motivators and influencers than drugs. The group called itself "al-fidaa'iyoon" (oblique plural is "al-fidaayeen"; singular is "al-fidaa'ee"), meaning "those who sacrifice themselves." Muslim suicide terrorists used the same word today (often using the oblique plural instead of the nominative plural).

Also, Brown uses a word to refer to cardinals who are preferred to become pope: "preferiti." The actual word in common use is "papabile."

Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not proceed if you plan to read the book.

It turns out that the continued existence of The Illuminati was a hoax. The Hassassin was duped. The real mastermind, Janus's real identity, was the Camerlengo, he who is in charge of The Vatican between popes. The Camerlengo had the scientists (and, later, four cardinals) murdered, planted an extremely destructive device under The Vatican, and killed the former pope. Why? Because people needed a miracle to retore the fear and love of God into their hearts, and they needed something (an organization) to unite them in opposition so that they would reject science and embrace religion. It seems that CERN's atheist, anti-religious director was right in his staunchly anti-religious rants.

Once We realized the direction the book was going in, We decided enough was enough. We skimmed the rest.

Why? Why is Brown so anti-religious? Why must he portray The Catholic Church as harboring violent fanatics who kill with impunity? Why does he depict conservatives as evil and religiously liberal people as good, if misguided, human beings? Why is Brown distorting the science-religion debate with such biased and counterproductive fiction?

Yes, the book is fiction, but like all books it has a message. Good wins, evil loses. In this case, religion is evil and science is good. Religion is trying to oppress science and is wrong; science's uncompromising opposition to religion is justified. A double standard indeed.

We were quite disappointed in this book. Far from being the victim, The Catholic Church, yet again, is portrayed as the villain

Would an author using anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic rhetoric ever be able to become as popular as Brown? No. He'd be condemned throughout the Republic. (Except anti-Semites, who would be hailed as "courageous" by academics.) But Brown's anti-Catholic schtick makes him popular and rich. Quite sad, really.

Update: In the comments, Christopher Taylor sagely points out that Brown is not so much anti-religion as he is anti-Christianity. Brown's pontifications (through his characters) on paganism, feminism, and other New Age-ish movements demonstrate that Brown would like to support and promote this modern challenger to traditional religions or, at least, to Christianity.

Indeed, We had forgotten that arguments Gnostics (and now ardently atheist scientists) make against the dominant religion are being used by members of the New Age movement against Christianity.

However, from what We have seen from and discussed with adolfo velasquez (a frequent commenter at the Ace of Spades HQ), this anti-Christianity is not an integral part of Neo-paganism. We feel Brown is doing a disservice to Neo-paganism, to Christianity, and to popular conceptions of religion and Christianity, particularly when he uses lies within truths and propaganda to support his agenda.

This is not for the sake of comparison, but this reminds Us of what We have heard from somewhere (We have forgotten where) that the problem with Satan is not that he lies but that he mixes truths with falsehoods: people believe him because of the truths but are utterly misled because of the lies.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.


At 3:14 PM, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

Actually it seems more to me that the message isn't so much anti-religious as it is pro-pagan/new age feminist. He goes out of his way to invent and jam his ideas into history, distorting statements, outright lying about what occurred and having his characters pontificate long and hard about the goddess and how she rules. He's got a religion, it's just anti-Christian.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Hmmmmm. Very true indeed. Thanks!

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Wickedpinto said...

It is neither.

In a priveladged society, everyone feels as though they know more than someone else.

The da vinci code proves the ignorance of the author, while simultaneously supporting his ego.

Every stupid person loves to be brilliant, I admit, I do it too. Only, I try to use truth as a tool, rather than fabricating "truths" to supply my statements.

Dan Brown is a lazy fucking author who thinks that because he doesn't research facts, makes them facts. Thats the problem.

I DO think "jesus" fucked mary, but the subsequent controversy is virtually insignificant.

Odd that a lazy well read drunk is more honest than someone who sells facts as fiction, to define a truth that is false is making less than 30K actually tries to tell the truth.

good system we have.

Why I drink? Why I abuse?


I'm in a bad mood sorry mus.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

No need to apologize, wickedpinto. As usual, you make very good points. Thank you!

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Scott said...

This can be boiled down to the "We have met the enemy, and He is Us" plot device that eclipsed the previous "We have met the enemy, and He is Them" standard in the 50s and has only gained in popularity since.

It is for this reason that people like Brown construct plots which start out suggesting that danger comes from without, while always in the end assuring us that it was all an elaborate misunderstanding and that the danger was all along an internal matter.

That's almost as standard as good triumphing over evil now.

Aside from the more obvious influences of liberal Hollywood agenda, this approach is also aided by the simple expedient of giving the viewer an enemy based closer to home and which he therefore better understands (or thinks he understands); the flying monkeys in Wizard of Oz may have been enough generate sufficient unease in viewers back in the 50s but the same shtick nowadays would just cause a lot of eye rolling.

So in my opinion this is at least partly attributable to modern audiences being jaded.

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous kevlarchick said...

Good point wickedpinto, although I probably wouldn't use the same words. Jesus and Mary M may have "consummated," but it does not affect his personage at all to me. If he was married, then he was a normal Jewish man of the time.

Why do I drink? For the buzz, of course.

At 6:19 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Thank you, Scott and kevlarchick!


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