But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16 NRS)

Dan Brown is the now-famous, now-fabulously-wealthy author of The Da Vinci Code. With over 40 million books in print, the movie hit theaters this past weekend. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, it too stands to be a smash hit although the movie has been severely criticized in many reviews.

Christians generally, and Catholics in particular, have been either confused or offended by the misrepresentations of Scripture, history, and ancient literature in The Da Vinci Code. The confusion comes from a lack of information; ignorance has people asking, "Is that really true? Is that how we got the Bible?" The anger tends to come from people who have information; it causes them to say, "That isn't correct! How dare anybody so misrepresent the Bible or history!"

Brown can get away with his frequent substitutions of fiction for fact only because so many of us are so poorly informed about Christian faith and history. Yet the furor generated by The Da Vinci Code is provoking people to study. It sends them to helpful books such as Ben Witherington's The Gospel Code or Bart Ehrman's Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code. In spite of what may have been Mr. Brown's intention, I am seeing good things come from his project.

In summary, the book and movie deny Christ's deity, attack the authenticity of the Four Gospels, and accuse Christians of suppressing the "sacred feminine." The facts are that New Testament writings affirm Jesus' deity 200 years before Brown says the notion was promoted, the Four Gospels were accepted long before Constantine knew they existed, and the "sacred feminine" is a hoax.

So many of us are so poorly informed!
And if Christianity is a conspiracy against women, it has been terribly botched! The Gospel of Luke, for example, goes to great lengths to show how Jesus affirmed, included, and honored women. While males such as Peter and John were sometimes "slow of heart" and "dull of understanding," the female followers of the Son of God grasped his true identity. They didn't flee and hide when he was crucified. And they were the first witnesses to his resurrection.

There is no historical evidence — contrary to The Code's claim — that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus. She was, however, one of several women in the Gospels whose lives found meaning as loyal disciples to him.

Some Christians may feel obliged to boycott or picket the movie. Others of us will attempt to use it as a teaching opportunity. But I don't anticipate any riots or embassy burnings or assassinations! In the end, we may owe a debt of gratitude to Dan Brown for creating an opportunity for authentic faith to shine.

Editor: Check out other resources on the Da Vinci Code