A summer fog rolled in early this morning, blanketing the Bay Area and threatening misty rain to the north. Temperatures plummeted. The gray damp seeps into the skin and the spirit, and, as we entered the Caldecott tunnel on the way to church this morning, the white swirls slipped alongside the highway, creeping on little cat feet as the poet Carl Sandberg once wrote. The sun is hidden up and away – still there, I’m told, but hidden.
There are many things we cannot see from our vantage on the edge of this tumbling planet we call Earth. Yet we wake in the morning and go about our business of life as though we can see, trusting. We trust that gravity will keep us from flying off the edge and into orbit. We trust that if we eat we shall not be hungry. We trust that the vehicle we enter, start, and maneuver, will obey our commands, although we cannot see the engine or predict the oncoming traffic or crazies who lose control of the wheel. We trust without seeing. We trust and act as though we can see. If we didn’t do this we would be paralyzed, would remain under the covers, perhaps under the bed. (And we would starve.)
In our daily lives we learn to trust greater authorities than ourselves, and we learn to trust the authority of experience. I use both authorities when I act as though gravity will keep me attached to the planet – the authority of science and the authority of experience, for I have never flown into orbit (yet). I trust both authorities with regards to eating and hunger. And also, I trust both authorities when I drive my car. Even when I pass through foggy patches and dark tunnels buried inside a mountain, I trust I will come out on the other side. Tunnel engineers tell me I will. My experience tells me I will.
This is a theme of my newly released novel, The Magdalene Mystery, which I am happy to say is now in print and available at Amazon and the OakTara Store. It is a mystery, a love story, a cliffhanger. But it is also about truth and trust and how we know what is true and whom to trust. It is about choosing which authorities to believe. It is about the manipulation of truth for profit, for power and the devastating effects of such manipulation in art, the media, the world at large.
Since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, a story alleging the marriage of Christ and Mary Magdalene, writers and composers have hopped onto his lucrative money train. Did these authors consider whether the claims were true? Did they see themselves as authorities? Were they New Testament scholars? But audiences believe these claims simply because they are in print, or in a movie or opera. The works are reviewed by media, after all!
The blind lead the blind. We live in a fallen world and much is at stake in this propaganda war. Propaganda is not a word one hears anymore, for twisting the truth to one’s own benefit has become common practice, and propaganda has negative overtones. Truth, propaganda says, is relative. But is it?
Truth is truth. I for one choose the authority of the Church and two thousand years of debate and prayer and councils and scholarly exegesis. I do not have two thousand years to do this, and I am grateful that this is one wheel I do not need to re-invent. We do have expert authorities, at least as expert and as trustworthy as we will see in this world. There will always be fallen authorities, men and women who veer intentionally or unintentionally from what is real, embracing the false. There is simple incompetency. But we also have that vast consensus of history and tradition, Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead.”
There has been a trend in the last century to profit from attacking large institutions. Big government and organized religion provide giant antagonists, becoming the new dragons to slay. The underdog rises from oppression; the prisoner throws off his chains. This trend developed naturally from the cult of the anti-hero, the folk hero with no princely powers who slays the dragon. The anti-heroes, ordinary folks like you and I, defeat or laud their ordinariness. They are lovable and inspiring. But when such trends cross into lies about the profound nature of life, death, love, God, and misstate the truth about man – who he is, where he came from, and where he is going – the trends become dangerous.
“It’s just fiction,” I’m told. “It’s just a book, an opera…”
Ah, art, it’s subtle power! And it’s stretchy, flexible boundaries. And this, too, is a theme in The Magdalene Mystery. Is it okay – in art – to mislead, misrepresent, twist history? To rewrite what has been said to be true for two millennia? To assume that because some don’t believe the Messiah came that the Messiah didn’t come? These are large leaps in logic, and dangerous ones.
Like the sun behind the fog, God is not always seen, felt, experienced. Does this mean he is not there? We look to our authorities for belief that he is – philosophers, historians, theologians, our own experience.
How do we know the New Testament claims are true? Did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead? If he did not rise from the dead, the Church offers me nothing. If he did rise from the dead, the Church offers me everything. If the Resurrection is true, all falls into place, for all the whys are answered. The fog burns away, the sun comes out. I see it all. I see Mary Magdalene reaching to touch the risen Christ, this Son of God with a resurrected body. I see God. I feel his great love for me.
So I’m celebrating my novel’s birthday. My characters finally live and breathe, and can speak to you directly, after being cooped up in my brain and in my laptop’s memory. Perhaps they will stop nagging me, trying to escape. Now they join the characters in my other novels, a large family that keeps me sweet company even in the fog. This I know from experience.