The Catholic Church and American Culture: Why the Claims of Dan Brown Strike a Chord
Eric Plumer has written a riveting exposé of the religion and culture wars that dominate America, and one that packs more information into 300 pages than even the most demanding critic could ask for. He writes in the Introduction that the contents are to be considered as a buffet table: "take what you like and leave the rest." This is impossible. Readers who are accustomed to opening a book on page one will feel compelled to read this book cover to cover.
The book deserves five stars for the sheer amount of research that has gone into it and for the way in which this material is presented. Plumer writes in a lucid and highly engaging narrative style that includes many historical and contemporary references, all of which illustrate the various subjects he explores. But there is another reason his book gets five stars. It is a book that needs to be read, as there are no others that address the same issue. While numerous books have been written debunking the claims of _The Da Vinci Code_, this is the first book to raise the question: if this novel and _Angels and Demons_ are so full of historical inaccuracies and downright lies, then why are they such phenomenal best-sellers? Plumer answers this question not by speculating on the human propensity to believe a lie, but by exploring the traditions, movements, and cultural influences that have made anti-Catholicism the last acceptable prejudice in America. The goal of the author is to spur dialogue not only within the Catholic Church, but also between fans of Dan Brown's novels and anyone who takes a critical stance toward the claims in his books. This new book will certainly to that. The author, though Catholic, has chosen to write as a detached observer, presenting us with the reasons, some of which seem indisputably justified, for the widespread anti-Catholicism that has long been a feature of American life.
Any criticism I might have of this book reflects my own stance on certain issues more than it points to a shortcoming of the author, whose conscious intent, it would seem, was to stay out of the fray. While a detached perspective was, to a certain extent, necessary in this book, I myself would have preferred that the author give us a clearer indication of his beliefs in chapter six, where the role of Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William James in shaping the religious consciousness of America is elucidated. As Plumer writes, these men were not Christians in the traditional sense of the word, because they denied the divinity of Christ. But then, in what sense were they Christians? Plumer distances himself to such an extent in this chapter that his own views are completely obscured until the very end, where they now appear on the other side of the horizon. (I might add that a defense of the orthodox teaching appears in the final pages of the book.)
There are ten chapters in this book covering ten topics. These include (among others) the Catholic Church and the sex abuse scandal, Opus Dei and the appeal of conspiracy theories, the controversy over homosexuality, the rise of modern science, and the place of women in the church, a chapter that includes a section on the sexuality of Jesus which I found both illuminating and insightful. Every chapter is an eye-opener, and every chapter will stir up a response. Having read _The Da Vinci Code_ or _Angels and Demons_ is not a pre-requisite to reading this one. Plumer's book is a "must read" for anyone who wants to know the signs of the times, and one that is certain to gain a wide audience.