Reading the Da Vinci Code has dramatically undermined the British people's trust in the claims of the Catholic Church, a new survey has shown.
People are twice as likely to believe that Jesus Christ fathered children after reading the Dan Brown blockbuster and four times as likely to think of the Catholic organisation Opus Dei as a murderous sect, according to Opinion Research Business (ORB) poll results released today by The Da Vinci Code Response Group.
The poll was commissioned by the Da Vinci Code Response Group, a group of leading Catholics who accuse Dan Brown of a dishonest marketing strategy based on peddling fiction as fact.
The Group says that the survey results show the need for a "health warning" at the beginning of the film.
The DVC Response Group is co-ordinated by Dr Austen Ivereigh, the Archbishop of Westminster's Director for Public Affairs. It includes a Benedictine abbot, a Jesuit priest, theologians, members of Opus Dei and other lay people.
A total of five questions were put last weekend to a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 adults by the leading pollster ORB.
The survey underscores the astonishing popularity of the novel, which has been read by more than one in five adults (22%) of all ages in Britain.
But the survey shows the vulnerability of millions to Brown's mixture of fact and fiction.
Of those who have read the book, almost one in three (32%) think the Priory of Sion is a real medieval organisation, a figure which falls to just six per cent mong non-readers.
The Priory of Sion was a twentieth-century hoax by a French monarchist, yet Dan Brown claims as fact at the beginning of the novel that it is a real medieval organisation.
The novel -- based on the Holy Blood, Holy Grail conjectures poo-poohed by serious scholars -- has also helped to undermine one of the key claims of the canonical Gospels, leading hundreds of thousands of readers to believe that Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene.
A massive 60 per cent of the adults polled believe there is truth to that claim after reading the book compared with just 30 per cent of those who have not read it.
"Our poll shows that for many, many people the Da Vinci Code is not just entertainment," Austen Ivereigh said. "For many it is just fiction. But an alarming number of people take its spurious claims very seriously indeed."
The DVC Response Group has been calling on Sony Pictures to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the film of the book, which is released worldwide on Friday. The Group says the disclaimer should make clear the film is fiction, as did the Last Temptation of Christ.
The film's director, Ron Howard, last week rejected that call, saying the film no more needed a fiction disclaimer than a spy thriller.
"From the start, the marketing strategy behind the Da Vinci Code has been to claim that it is based on respected theories," Ivereigh said. "Brown and Sony have encouraged people to take it seriously, while hiding behind the claim that it is fiction. Our poll shows they should take responsibility for their dishonesty, and issue a health warning."
There is some reassurance for the Catholic Church in the survey. Just over half (52%) of all respondents did not believe that it had covered up the truth about Jesus Christ, and reading the book had virtually no impact (50%) on that perception.
But among the remainder, those who had read the book were significantly more likely (36%) than those who hadn't read it (25%) to believe the Church was engaged in a 2,000-year conspiracy to cover up the truth.
Asked if they thought whether the Catholic organisation Opus Dei had ever ordered or carried out a murder, 17 per cent of readers believes it has compared with just 4 per cent of non-readers.
Jack Valero, spokesman for Opus Dei UK, described it as an "astonishing" statistic.
"Since we were founded in 1928 Opus Dei has promoted the highest moral standards at work, spreading a message of Christian love and understanding, yet the Da Vinci Code has persuaded hundreds of thousands of people that we have blood on our hands."
Opus Dei has been careful to avoid calls for protests or boycotts, while taking advantage of the organisation's new notoriety to make it better known.
"We have been saying that the Da Vinci Code is harmless fun as long as you don't take it seriously," Ivereigh added. "But it will be hard for Catholics to enjoy the film knowing that hundreds of thousands do take it seriously."
THE SURVEY'S KEY FINDINGS:
More than one in five (22%) British adults have read the Da Vinci Code.
Only one in three (33%) of those readers believe there is no truth in the novel's claim that Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene. Almost three in five (59%) of the readers think there is some truth to those claims.
Amongst all UK adults 27% think that the Catholic Church is covering up the truth about Jesus Christ a figure that rises to 36% among those who have read the Dan Brown novel.
Almost one in three (32%) of readers think the Priory of Sion is a real organisation existing since the Middle Ages, while 17% of readers think Opus Dei has ordered or carried out a murder as opposed to just 4% among non-readers.
A detailed breakdown of the survey's results is available from: www.rcdow.org.uk/davincicode.
THE DA VINCI CODE RESPONSE GROUP
The Da Vinci Code Response Group is a team of Catholics available for comment on the novel and the film. It is not an official body of the Catholic Church and contains a diversity of opinions and people, including a Benedictine abbot, two priests, theologians and academics, as well as members of Opus Dei and lay Catholics working in communications .
The DVC Response Group issued a statement on 6 May (see ICN) to draw attention to the dishonest marketing strategy of the DVC, which the Group described as "fiction trading as fact."
"We believe the DVC is fun and harmless in so far as it is treated as fiction," said the statement. "We do not believe in condemnations, boycotts or protests."
"But we are also exasperated that many people without a good understanding of the Catholic Church and its history have been understandably deceived by Dan Brown's claim that the DVC is based on facts and respectable theories. That deception is likely to be reinforced by the film, because images are much more powerful than words."
MEMBERS OF THE DVC RESPONSE GROUP
Co-ordinator: (Dr) Austen Ivereigh, Director for Public Affairs of the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
(Fr) Christopher Jamison OSB, Abbot of Worth
Jack Valero, Communications Director, Opus Dei UK.
Clare Czerwinke, Opus Dei Information Office
(Fr) John Hemer, Lecturer in Scripture at Allen Hall
(Dr) Gemma Simmonds, Lecture, Heythrop College London.
Fergal Martin, General Secretary, Catholic Truth Society
(Dr) Janet Martin Soskice, theologian specialising in symbol and metaphor, Jesus College Cambridge
Maggie Roux, Senior Lecturer in Film at Leeds Trinity and All Saints College
Melissa Morton, Opus Dei Information Office
(Fr) Peter Scally SJ, Jesuit Media Initiatives
LONDON - 16 May 2006 - 1,250 words
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