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The Conspiracy Fixation

As I argued in my commentary published yesterday, “Deciphering The Da Vinci Code,” much of the appeal of the book has to do with the conspiracy theory that lies at its heart. Conspiracy fiction sells, as do efforts to prove great conspiracies behind the events of history — including events ranging from the fall of Rome to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In the case of The Da Vinci Code, the proposed conspiracy is based in claims that are easily disproven. Yet, millions of readers will be unaware of the unsustainable nature of his argument.

In The Boston Globe, Richard N. Ostling, religion writer for the Associated Press, puts it this way:

As Dan Brown writes in “The Da Vinci Code,” “Everyone loves a conspiracy.” So here they are — the supposed secrets nobody wants you to know, least of all the Christian church. Jesus never died on the cross. No, he retired to Egypt. Or was it France? He sired a royal bloodline with wife Mary Magdalene.

Can this all be true? No, say virtually all serious historians who deal with the first century.

But that doesn’t matter in the world of publishing. The staggering success of “The Da Vinci Code” — 40 million hardcover copies in print worldwide plus another 6 million in paperback — has given a boost to books marketed as both nonfiction and fiction that play on the idea that great mysteries envelop the “greatest story ever told.”

Ostling cites Lynn Garrett, religion editor of Publishers Weekly, who said, “Conspiracy theories have tremendous appeal for Americans.” She added that many readers are ready to believe the worst about Christianity.

Of course, the truth is far more interesting than fiction.