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May 24, 2009

Facts discarded, distorted in ‘Angels and Demons’

By Sister Helena Burns FSP


Author Dan Brown has — with the inexplicable help of Hollywood — created his own genre of film. The “Dan Brown” Genre. That is, fantasy very loosely based on reality — it’s fiction when Dan Brown says it is, and reality when Dan Brown says it is. Facts be darned. History be darned. And now, science be darned.

Why do I say that Hollywood has aided Brown? Doesn’t money explain all things? No. There are standards in Hollywood. If something exists in reality, like say the Catholic Church, or a certain landmark, or period in history, or discovery of science, one must present it as accurately as possible. It’s called “verisimilitude.”

Fiction and fantasy employ some semblance of reality from which the imagination then jumps off (“what if”?). Otherwise, we have entered the world of the hubristic babblings of someone too lazy to do their homework at best, or the world of the malicious, absurd or insane at worst. One is allowed one or two “cheats” per film — impossibilities that everyone knows (or could easily discover) are impossible.

But Hollywood has bent all the rules for Brown. Brown’s (only?) genius is that he has delved into the arcane world of church history and spouts off supposed factoids that, quite frankly, your best-educated priests, Catholics, theologians would have to look up to ascertain their veracity. Or not.

I must stop and give credit where credit is due. This “Dan Brown” genre of public discourse (of whatever medium) already has a name (coined by the razor-sharp wit of Stephen Colbert): “truthiness.” Permit me to explain what this word and this very “climate” are all about. The following reference is from the “truthiness” entry in Wikipedia.

“Truthiness is a term first used in its recent satirical sense by American television comedian Stephen Colbert in 2005, to describe things that a person claims to know intuitively or ‘from the gut’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination or facts.”

“We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth — the truth we want to exist,” Colbert says. The examples of “truthiness” in “Angels and Demons” are simply legion (in both book and film, just as they were for “The Da Vinci Code”).

For a brief attempt at cataloging errors, check out Steven Greydanus’ article in Catholic World Report, “The Hollywood Illuminati.” For corrections to “The Da Vinci Code” check out Amy Welborn’s excellent books “De-Coding Da Vinci,” and “De-Coding Mary Magdalene.”

I’m afraid that, even though we don’t talk about “The Da Vinci Code” anymore, it has taken its toll and planted a deep-seated skepticism in many people about Jesus, the Gospel and women and the church. (Note: Jesus’ mother has no place in Brown’s history of the world. Women are simply objects through which men get in contact with the divine. The feminists of the 1970s, to their credit, would never have swallowed these things as 21st century women have done.)

Are we wasting our time “answering” Brown? No, because Brown claims his stuff is factual. When someone claims to be saying true things about you and they’re not, it’s called slander. We are simply correcting gross inaccuracies and slander. For the record. For those who prefer facts to fiction.

In case you had any suspicions, “Angels and Demons” will confirm for you that Robert Langdon is, indeed, Brown’s alter ego. Although the book “Angels and Demons” was written before “The Da Vinci Code” the screenplay was written as a sequel. In other words, “The Da Vinci Code” is triumphantly referenced in “Angels and Demons,” and how it “did not endear Langdon to the Vatican.” In this movie, Langdon is summoned by the Vatican for help. But this Catholic Church, remember, has already been completely undermined as a fraud.

What is “Angels and Demons” all about? A conclave, a conspiracy and the red herring of the church vs. science. One can’t help note a sense of creepy glee by the writers as we witness the graphic, brutal torture of four elderly cardinals. At least the cardinals can’t be hated for being white any more. Just old and male and celibate.

The screenplay (which is kinder to the Catholic Church than the book) zigzags rapidly between insulting the church and patting her on the head. For the record, the church’s enemy is not science, it’s evil. Read Pope John Paul II’s “Fides et Ratio” document ( Or check out the Vatican’s worldwide science/ theology/philosophy project at

Sure, go see “Angels and Demons” if you wish. But leave your brains at the door.

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L, limited adult audience.

Burns, who ministers in Chicago, has a philosophy/theology degree from St. John’s University, N.Y., and studied screenwriting at the University of California- Los Angeles.