‘Da Vinci Code’ stirs emotions of clergy

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LEWISTON – When Hollywood unveils its version of “The Da Vinci Code” – a $125 million movie starring Tom Hanks – many local ministers and priests hope their parishioners stay home.

The reason: A hotly debated blend of fact and fiction and a story that challenges the roots of Christianity.

“It spits in the face of Christ,” said the Rev. Theodore Toppses of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston. The soft-spoken priest said he had read parts of the best-selling book by author Dan Brown and was insulted.

“He was clearly attacking Christianity,” Toppses said. He is discouraging people to see the film, which will be released nationwide on May 19.

Toppses is not alone.

Maine’s Roman Catholic diocese, which oversees each of the state’s 138 parishes and 54 missions, is guiding people to an Internet site titled “Jesus Decoded,” which it says debunks claims in Brown’s book.

The Christian Civic League of Maine, whose members include about 150 Evangelical churches, is calling for an all-out boycott of the movie.

“It’s an odious book that attacks the person of Jesus Christ,” said Michael Heath, the league’s executive director.

But not all religious leaders feel that way.

The Rev. Richard Cullen, who leads the Auburn United Methodist Church, said he planned to say little about the movie when it opens.

He read the book and “thoroughly enjoyed” it, he said.

“It’s a work of literature and that’s how I read it,” Cullen said. “I like that genre of fiction.”

Cullen doesn’t worry that Methodists will read the book or see the movie and change their beliefs as a result.

“I don’t think my congregation feels threatened by it,” he said.

For people who have yet to read one of the 40 million copies in print, the story is a kind of whodunit that begins with a mysterious murder inside the Louvre museum in Paris.

As the main character chases clues, details emerge of a conspiracy inside the Catholic Church.

Its aim: to hide the truth that Jesus Christ married and had children.

It’s an incendiary if unoriginal notion, one that’s led to countless analyses since the book became a massive seller. The movie’s imminent release is causing another wave of responses.

At the Bible Bookstore in Auburn, where a sign reads “Da Vinci didn’t convince me,” the business of debunking Brown’s book has led to brisk sales, cashier Misty Gendron said.

Shelves display several different volumes, some with accompanying work books. “The Da Vinci Deception” by Erwin Lutzer has been a particularly good seller, Gendron said.

The Rev. Toppses believes the drive to examine the facts of the story comes from the author’s insistence that some of the story is grounded in fact.

“It uses fiction as a mask,” Toppses said.

Other fictional movies such as those in the Indiana Jones series, which also use Christian relics in fantastic plots, feel less insulting, the priest said.

“Indiana Jones is more of a swashbuckling adventure,” Toppses said. Brown’s book goes to the heart of Christianity.

“We’ve become desensitized,” he said. “These days, people feel OK making fun of Christians. All religions are hands-off except Christianity.”

The Rev. Cullen didn’t feel insulted, though.

In fact, he hopes the movie will create discussion, much like the 2004 release of “The Passion of the Christ.”

“It’s positive and healthy,” Cullen said. “I’m glad for the opportunity to teach.”

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