Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009
And another attack aimed at the Catholic Church

Reading Angels and Demons, I wasn’t so much struck by the work’s bigotry as by how badly it was written. The cliched style is the literary equivalent of cotton candy. And for someone with so much animus toward religion, Brown employs the deus ex machina more frequently than the Old Testament.

But more disturbing is Brown’s commingling of fact and fiction disguised as fact, aimed at convincing his readership that the Catholic Church is vehemently, even violently anti-science, and therefore anti-progress and anti-reason.

By fiction disguised as fact, I don’t mean standard historical fiction techniques like creating new characters against a backdrop of actual historical events. I mean massively altering or fabricating historical events and chronologies. For instance: virtually every historical fiction writer fudges dates a little, but Brown shifts key timelines by more than a century.

Perhaps Brown counts on most of us to be too lazy or obtuse to fact-check his work on the Internet. And judging from his hordes of unquestioning fans (and, usually, myself), he’s probably right.

So, I got off my duff (a matter of speech — I actually sat on my duff throughout this ordeal) and actually (gasp) looked up some of the claims Brown makes in Angels and Demons.

Here are just a few inaccuracies (hardly an exhaustive list) I picked up in several exhausting minutes on the Web:

Brown claims: Copernicus was murdered by the Catholic Church.
Fact: Copernicus died quietly in bed at age 70 from a stroke, and his research was supported by Church officials; he even dedicated his masterwork to the Pope.

Brown claims: “Antimatter is the ultimate energy source. It releases energy with 100% efficiency.”
Fact: CERN, the lab which plays an important role in his story, actually debunked this claim on their website: “The inefficiency of antimatter production is enormous: you get only a tenth of a billion of the invested energy back.”

Brown claims: Churchill was a “staunch Catholic.”
Fact: Any history buff could tell you that Churchill wasn’t Catholic, he was Anglican; nor was he particularly religious. The only things Churchill was staunch about were cigars, whiskey, and defending the British Empire.

Brown claims: Pope Urban VII banished Bernini’s famous statue The Ecstasy of St. Teresa “to some obscure chapel across town” because it was too racy for the Vatican.
Fact: The statue was actually commissioned by Cardinal Cornaro specifically for the Cornaro Chapel (Brown’s “obscure chapel”). Moreover, the sculpture was completed in 1652 — eight years after Urban’s death.

Brown claims: Bernini and famed scientist Galileo were members of the Illuminati.
Fact: The Illuminati was founded in Bavaria in 1776. Bernini died in 1680, while Galileo died in 1642 — more than a century before the Illuminati were first formed.

This last falsehood bears further examination, because the Illuminati are so integral to the plot of Angels and Demons. The great Baroque artist Bernini is also a central figure in Brown’s tale.

It may seem like a small “white lie” to change the timeline so drastically, and to make Bernini a key player in an Illuminati plot against the Catholic Church. But Bernini was an extraordinary Baroque artist who deserves better than Brown’s treatment.

Imagine that someone made a film that portrayed Steven Spielberg as a closet anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Movie fans would be justifiably outraged.

But Dan Brown wrote a book (soon to be a movie!) identifying another great artistic virtuoso, Bernini, as a secret atheist who hated the Catholic Church. In reality, though, Bernini was a devout Catholic who went to mass every day and pursued the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which include up to five hours of daily silent meditation.

In one of the movie trailers (since taken down — I wonder why?), Tom Hanks chastises Vatican officials — “You guys don’t even read your own history!” — for not knowing about “La Purga,” the branding and execution of four Illuminati scientists in 1668.

The irony’s so rich, it could pay off the national debt. Because, you see, it’s Hanks’ character who doesn’t know his history. Repeat after me: there were no Illluminati before 1776

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