I am morbidly fascinated with the people who debunk Dan Brown’s novels. Brown has created rolicking adventures that are not even that well written but tap into what anybody wants in a story. You don’t even have to be a “conspiracy theorist” (an entire category the debunkers love to look down on) to think there might be mysteries, things hidden in plain sight, “more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
In Angels and Demons, Brown suggests that clues to nefarious activities could have been hidden in visual monuments and that the very people they were hidden from would not have seen them because the clues were not a part of their worldview. In this argument, the elliptical form of the colonnade in front of St. Peters would have been seen by the Popes as the arms of Christ embracing the church. Or the arms of the church embracing the people. In any case, sacred symbolism.
But, again according to the argument, the elliptical form would have been seen by scientists newly exploring astronomy as the elliptical path of the planets around the sun – a monumental denial of the church’s insistence that the earth was the center of the universe. It makes a very good story.
Pieces of that story can be taken apart. Parts can be factually disproven or logically cast into doubt. But it is first and foremost a story, created out of complex and enigmatic images that everyone can see. The story is compelling because it entraps us in desires that unite us as human beings – the desire simultaneously for explanations and for mystery. We want both and we don’t have a lot of patience for people who tell us we can’t have both. We don’t want science to tell us faith is a figment of our imaginations and a sign of a simplistic, gullible mind. Likewise we don’t want religion to tell us not to use our minds to inquire, to question what is told to us as Truth.
It is not that we want the right to make up our own minds about What Really Happened. We don’t want to resolve that question at all. We story-readers and story-hearers want to know as much as we can about the footprints of Sasquatch and the sonar trace of Nessie but we are secretly rooting for both of them to win, to elude our grasp, to fade before our eyes into the mist. Definitive proof that they do or do not exist ends the story and that, more than anything else is what we don’t want. We want to gather in the story-telling circle, a fire crackling nearby, the dark beyond the windows. We want a story that will make us shiver. We want it to make sense of the world on the condition that there will be more to hear tomorrow.