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Young Star

Burned at the stake

THE OUTSIDER - Erwin T. Romulo -
Religion is a burning issue these days.
With the release of Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s sensational bestseller The Da Vinci Code and the revelation of the existence of a Gospel of Judas, the controversies surrounding the fundamental beliefs of Christianity has reached a pitch that resembles something of a "pop phenomenon". Forget debating whether "God is dead" – that’s still chatter of the intellectuals and existential teenagers – the topic now is whether Jesus was the man we all thought he is, that benign, bearded figure in our pictures that’s able to return our gaze no matter where we stand. (Interestingly, for three centuries after the Crucifixion, Jesus was traditionally depicted as a beardless youth.) Did he marry and father a bloodline that exists to this day, as is asked in Dan Brown’s sensational bestseller – now Hollywood blockbuster –The Da Vinci Code? Was Judas the patsy in a conspiracy planned by its own victim, as revealed in The Gospel of Judas? Clerics and heretics are locked in heated debate.

It’s anyone’s guess why of all times such subjects have become so hot. As many followers of such issues will tell you, most of what Dan Brown "exposed" in his fiction has been said before in books like in purported non-fiction exposes like Holy Blood, Holy Grail or The Templar Revelation (the latter’s authors Clive Prince and Lynn Picknett appear in cameos in the Tom Hanks film, if my eyes don’t deceive me). Although they have yet to be made available in popular format here in the country, you can easily access the Gnostic Gospels (i.e. those considered heretical by the Catholic Church) online.

One mustn’t undervalue the entertainment factor. Even if Dan Brown can’t write a decent sentence, he certainly can spin a yarn. (The New York Times’ A.O. Scott cites this example of Brown’s prose style: "Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair." Warning: If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.) For thrillers, you need popcorn: scholarly and researched theosophical texts, on the other hand, need several cups of strong coffee and, quite possibly, the fear of God.

The Gospel of Judas
however is – at the very least – readable. For a Roman Catholic boy like me (educated by the Opus Dei, no less!), it was actually a page-turner. Much of the publicity centers on the fact that it portrays Judas as a martyr and possibly the greatest apostle of them all. However, there are many more shocking statements that tellingly confirm the angst of pulp horror master H.P. Lovecraft. (The pulp writer puts at the start of his seminal short story The Call of Cthulhu: "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far…")

Equally interesting is Herbert Krosney’s The Lost Gospel, an account of how this intriguing manuscript came to light and how narrowly it was lost. Found in a cave, subjected to the vagaries of the "black market" and an expert team’s struggle to preserve what was left, it is a fascinating adventure – one might be tempted to call it a yarn but one must be respectful.

What are we to make of all this? For one, it’s definitely welcome. The fact that we can discuss such topics openly in coffee shops without fear of even a Monty Pythonesque-Inquisition is certainly progress. Is it a sin? Most certainly not. One can’t imagine anyone flagellating himself for reading Dan Brown for anything except perhaps the writing. If confronted with the prospect that indeed the Messiah was only a man, a true Christian will still follow the dictates of his own convictions. Truth is relative: faith is all we got. Read on!

CALL OF CTHULHU

CATHOLIC CHURCH

CLIVE PRINCE AND LYNN PICKNETT

DA VINCI CODE

DAN BROWN

GNOSTIC GOSPELS

GOSPEL OF JUDAS

HERBERT KROSNEY

HOLY BLOOD

HOLY GRAIL

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