May 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code, women, and Catholicism

One of the more curious aspects of the cult of The Da Vinci Code is the lack of skepticism about novelist Dan Brown's contention that Catholicism was a vast plot to steal from women the feminist freedoms they had enjoyed under "the pagans" who worshipped "the Goddess."

First, pagans didn't worship the Goddess because if they had, they wouldn't have been pagans, they have been monotheists. Like his New Age feminist sources, Brown is a slave to the intellectual prestige of monotheism. Let's face it, real Greco-Roman paganism, as described in, say, Homer, has a tawdry People magazine Jennifer Aniston vs. Angelina Jolie battle over Brad Pitt quality to it. So, a bunch of goddesses get reduced down to the Goddess because monotheism just seems more respectable.

Second, Brown, with all his talk of "the sacred feminine," is being intentionally hazy about what pagans have tended to mean by it: i.e., fertility goddesses. Now, you can see a bit of a problem for modern feminists in praising ancient conceptions of women as most sacred when barefoot and pregnant, but Dan Brown and his 60 million readers apparently can't.

hostility to paganism -- that's what the Protestants, Jews, and Muslims complained about ... that Catholicism wasn't hostile enough towards paganism. It's hardly a surprise that the Renaissance started in Catholic Italy. Or that the Reformation was a reaction to the High Renaissance in Rome. Here's a minor modern example: my younger son's otherwise perfectly sane Lutheran school refuses to hold a Halloween party because that's too pagan, so it holds a "Harvest Festival." To a Halloween-loving Catholic like me, that sounds like nuts, but it makes perfect sense to Lutherans.

Fourth, doesn't anybody remember basic Roman Empire sociology? Early Christianity particularly appealed to women, especially widows. The pagans, and anti-Christian philosophers like Nietzsche ever since, blamed Christianity for making Rome too soft, too womanly to fight off the barbarians. Historian Rodney Stark says in an interviews:

"Christian women had tremendous advantages compared to the woman next door, who was like them in every way except that she was a pagan. First, when did you get married? Most pagan girls were married off around age 11, before puberty, and they had nothing to say about it, and they got married to some 35-year-old guy. Christian women had plenty of say in the matter and tended to marry around age 18.

Abortion was a huge killer of women in this period, but Christian women were spared that. And infanticide—pagans killed little girls left and right. We’ve unearthed sewers clogged with the bones of newborn girls. But Christians prohibited this. Consequently, the sex ratio changed and Christians didn’t have the enormous shortage of women that plagued the rest of the empire."

Fifth, the idea that the Catholic Church kept women down is pretty odd: What other monotheistic religion honored hundreds of women as saints? Made the Virgin Mary the second most revered person of all? What other religion made women writers like St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena part of the canon of religious literature? What other religion encouraged women to found and run giant hospitals? Protestantism? Judaism? Islam?

Here's what I think is the underlying reason this farrago of nonsense is so popular with book-reading modern women: Even though the Catholic Church was more favorable toward career women (e.g., abbesses of convents) than other religions, the Church distinctly stood against the now popular idea that "You can have it all!" -- i.e., a career and sex. The Catholic Church offered lots of careers for women, but the careers required chastity. The Church saw motherhood as a separate career that didn't combine well with other careers, which in the days before effective contraception was more or less true.

So, the real complaint in The Da Vinci Code is that The Pill wasn't invented until 1964.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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