By Amy Strauss
The novel has been an international phenomenon and best seller since it was first published in April 2003.
Vast spiritual discussions and debates prompted by Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" brought national attention to foundations of Christianity.
"What is real and what is invented causes the public to reexamine what they believe and why," said Joe Szimhart as he began a discussion of "The Da Vinci Code" at the St. Columbkill Catholic Church, Boyertown.
Szimhart, a man who once considered himself a "lapsed Catholic," led "Evening with The Da Vinci Code" on June 13. As the historical discussion of art, literature and religion began, Szimhart, a professional artist and cult researcher, revealed that the Catholic church commissioned him in 2002 to complete 14 canvases portraying the story of Christ's passion, death and resurrection, otherwise known as the "Stations of the Cross."
Szimhart said he believed he should read "The Da Vinci Code" to see for himself what the public was raving about. Now, after reading the novel twice, he describes Brown's story as "a wild goose chase behind a cult history."
"The Da Vinci Code" claims that the Catholic Church has suppressed the truth that Jesus never wanted to be worshipped as God's son, but rather married Mary Magdalene, and through their children planned to start a religion that would worship "the sacred feminine."
The fictional mix of murder and myth reveals that Leonardo Da Vinci discovered the secret and encoded it in his paintings.
"If you do not know the artist Leonardo Da Vinci, the novel is very compelling," said Szimhart. "Brown misrepresents Da Vinci and the Church."
Some purveyors of the controversy surrounding Brown's book argue that people who read "The Da Vinci Code" begin to believe the novel contains information that dogmatic Catholic priests prevented from being publicly disclosed.
"What was the Church suppose to have gained from hiding all of this," asked Sister Nancy Grace of St. Columbkill Church. "If it were true, why did they not say it from the get-go?"
"It is important to remember that good fiction uses historical facts to create its own drama," Szimhart said. "If an author wrote a novel about the Civil War and the facts were not correct, the author would get trashed."
The same goes for Dan Brown, he said.
But the best seller presents an unfair portrayal of Opus Dei, a devout Catholic sect that has been a part of the controversial scheme for a long time, Szimhart said. In the prologue of the novel, an Opus Dei member, the albino and the villain, was able to shoot a direct shot at the curator. However, Szimhart said, "albinoism causes poor eye sight, and the character should have been identified wearing lens [to be able to perform such a task]."
Through Szimhart's analysis of "The Da Vinci Code" and his open discussion, he brought to the forefront the issue of plagiarism.
"Books that have been published before Brown echo what he writes about," he said. "I wonder if Dan Brown had read these books [some published 20 or so years before his was]."
Several authors and their publishers, those of both fiction and non-fiction books, have taken Brown to court on cases of plagiarism.
"There is a sense of weirdness behind the many similar novels to 'The Da Vinci Code'," Szimhart said.
Lightening the mood of the evening, Szimhart enlarged a cartoon that humored the controversies surrounding Brown's novel. The cartoon read, "Forgive me father. I've read 'The Da Vinci Code' three times."
"Evening with The Da Vinci Code" enabled those in attendance to try and understand what of the novel they believe and what they disbelieve.
"No one wants to be misled," Szimhart said, and reading a novel like this is "supposed to expand knowledge," not alter it drastically.
"If anything, [the novel] has got people talking, and that is very good," said Father Robert Quinn of St. Columbkill.
Although he likes the idea of how the novel "challenges the status quo," Szimhart described "The Da Vinci Code" as "a tempest in a tea pot."
"Once it burns out, the steam comes out, and dies down. [The public] will realize it does not hold any water," Szimhart said.