I keep getting "Hey, it's just a novel" email. Yes, I know. So here's why a novel that is the sequel to an 81 million-copy blockbuster, with an initial printing of 6 million copies, makes me nervous.
In May 2006, a Catholic group calling itself the Da Vinci Code Response Group sponsored a survey of 1,000 adults in the U.K. The results of the poll noted that people who read The Da Vinci Code were twice as likely to believe that Jesus Christ fathered children, and four times as likely to think of the Catholic organisation Opus Dei as a "murderous sect."
The novel, at that time, had been read by 22% of the adults in Britain.
An article about the poll published by the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, went on to say:
Of those who have read the book, almost one in three (32%) think the Priory of Sion is a real medieval organisation, a figure which falls to just 6 per cent among non-readers.
The Priory of Sion was a twentieth-century hoax by a French monarchist, yet Dan Brown claims as fact at the beginning of the novel that it is a real medieval organisation.
The novel -- based on the Holy Blood, Holy Grail conjectures poo-poohed by serious scholars -- has also helped to undermine one of the key claims of the canonical Gospels, leading hundreds of thousands of readers to believe that Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene.
A massive 60 per cent of the adults polled believe there is truth to that claim after reading the book – compared with just 30 per cent of those who have not read it.
“Our poll shows that for many, many people the Da Vinci Code is not just entertainment,” Austen Ivereigh said. “For many it is just fiction. But an alarming number of people take its spurious claims very seriously indeed.”
Just over half (52%) of all respondents did not believe that it had covered up the truth about Jesus Christ, and reading the book had virtually no impact (50%) on that perception.
But among the remainder, those who had read the book were significantly more likely (36%) than those who hadn’t read it (25%) to believe the Church was engaged in a 2,000-year conspiracy to cover up the truth.
Asked if they thought whether the Catholic organisation Opus Dei had ever ordered or carried out a murder, 17 per cent of readers believes it has – compared with just 4 per cent of non-readers.
It is entirely possible that the Masons will actually be the good guys in Brown's book. Maybe it is the good and honest Masons of the local lodges who are good, and the Scottish Rite Masons and disciples of Albert Pike who are the evil geniuses. Or maybe the massive Templar treasure, spirited to Scotland, then to Oak Island, and finally to America, where it briefly financed the Confederacy, is now buried with Albert Pike's remains deep in the House of the Temple. Or perhaps Brown will continue his philosophical battle with the Catholic Church, and use the Vatican's longstanding rulings against Freemasonry as a new battlefield. And then there's the possibility of a Mormon connection...
Regardless of what the plot is, the British poll makes it clear the power of any book that is read by a quarter of the population, and its ability to influence beliefs, no matter how fictional the story may be.