Anything That Interests Me! :)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Anything that interests me - Against Holy Blood, Holy Grail

Anything that interests me - Against Holy Blood, Holy Grail
and all that crap...

When I was in the military, we used to have some time off for ourselves known as "nights off". That meant that you could get out of camp for a bit, and then come back at midnight. It was called "nights off" for the simple fact that the sergeant major would delay your book out timing until it was about 7PM, hence "night" and not "evening" off - I am just kidding. Kidding about the part about the CSM of course, but not kidding about the part about the nights off.

Anyways, I happened to be at Popular Bookstore during one of the nights off, and this book caught my eye - Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln.

This looks mildly interesting, I thought. I read it and I was riveted. (Back then, I was.)

The book was absolutely badly written. The print was small, it was repetitious, and it was quite boring. But the conclusions that the writers drew were ground breaking. Bear in mind, back then I was grappling with both existentialist questions and also the fact that my reason was standing in the way of religious faith.

According to the book, Jesus Christ did not die on the cross but he lived on after the crucifixion. I know I am doing a hasty summary here, but please bear with me. The best is yet to be. That amazing claim was groundbreaking, at least to my mind in those days.

The authors went on to claim that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdelene and they had children, and the whole of the Holy Grail was nothing more than a bloodline of Jesus, which linked him to the Frankish Merovingian dynasty. Jesus Christ was the father of a race of leaders, or more accurately priestly kings, and they established Christianity in Europe. Even better is that this secret was preserved by the Priory of Sion - an allegedly ancient and powerful organisation holding the secret of the Holy Grail - despite the Roman Catholic Church's various and numerous attempts to silence them. The Knights Templar and the Cathars were all killed in the Catholic Church's attempt to keep the secret hidden, until of course, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln - as well as other researchers - found out the truth.

I went back to the bunk in total confusion. The incredible book was groundbreaking, and mind you, many say that it led on to the Da Vinci Code by church-basher and conspiracy-theorist Dan Brown.

Last week, I went to look for the book. Somehow I got it into my mind to acquire a religious collection. I bought the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels, The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, and even a book that attempted to square physics (as we know it) off with religion! I was very pleased with my collection, but yet was disappointed when many a bookstore told me that Baigent et al's book was out of print, and they had no more stock. I must say that I regreted not buying that book when it was prolific, and I must also say that a couple of bad words arose in my mind... never mind.

Finally, after looking high and low and spending a little fortune, I found it at MPH. It was the very last one in that particular MPH. Holy Blood, Holy Grail - Holy Cow, I got it!

This time I read it not for ideas, but read it slowly and carefully, measuring every syllable and every nuance. I also read it in the light of what I knew by now (2009), that Pierre Plantard had fabricated the Priory of Sion and that the whole she-bang he orchestrated was a hoax, and that Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln had walked into a con. Was the latest understanding and information by Wikipedia, BBC documentaries, Google, and the best scholars from various fields around the world correct, or were the conclusions of Holy Blood, Holy Grail correct?

This is what I know and what I have come to realise:

1. The entire book was written in the form of a preconceived hypothesis. The authors found what they were looking for and did not follow the evidence. Most of the pages are rife with "perhaps", "maybe" and "it is our hypothesis". Therefore, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is not non-fiction and scholarly history, but speculation. Pierre Plantard himself, the man who fabricated the Priory of Sion and his own royal lineage, stated that he himself never put himself forward as a descendant of Jesus Christ.

2. The Priory of Sion was a hoax. Plantard admitted it. A reading into the text shows that the authors were initially suspicious but later gave in.

3. The Grnostic Gospels had long been in existence and Christianity had never been a place with a fixed and easy understanding. Yet, the particular Gnostic group that claimed that Jesus was human was one of a myriad other groups with various competing claims, some of which claimed that Jesus was a lesser God, and some of which gave Jesus incredible nebulous form and incredible pantheistic powers. In fact, Lee Strobel has demonstrated convincingly that most of the Gnostic gospels were not taken seriously by mainstream Christians because of their far fetched ideas, and in some cases, were nonsensical fabrications.

4. There are indeed myths about the Knights Templar and the Cathar heresies. But the thing to note is this: they weren't hiding any secret. There was none. And the heresies had persisted for centuries and this was no new secret.

The Knights Templar were rich because of banking and the modern invention of cheques is sometimes attributed to them - so it was "banking" that made them rich.

The Cathars were indeed heretics, so claiming that they thought they knew a secret vis-a-vis the Catholic Church turns out to be a non sequitur. Let's put it this way: if you are a criminal, obviously you do criminal things, for if you don't do anything criminal, you're not a criminal.

The Albigensian Crusade was also explained in terms supporting the heretics. I think a personal departure is insightful here.

Warren Buffett once said that if you don't know jewellery, know the jeweller. And I happen to be a nominal Roman Catholic and I know who St Dominic is. It is on record that he even gave up his favourite manuscript, which he spent a lot of time copying, so that he could donate money to the poor. In fact, he was an educated and learned man, who declared that proper religious argument and proper reasoning, as well as faith in the Bible and in the Rosary, would win over the heretics. He also spent a lot of time trying to convert the heretics and to win them over by argument, even submitting to their own methods of determining truth. Now, with this kind of man, kind and reasonable, is it likely that he would be the kind of mad, fanatical extremist willing to kill thousands? The question answers itself.

Now, it is perfectly natural for a Catholic to say that St Dominic was a good man, and perfectly natural for Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln to say that St Dominic was a religious fanatic. It is only expected.

But given the knowledge of the man's character, it is not possible to agree with the authors' portrayal of the Crusades. Mind you, the heretics killed Pierre de Castelnau, the pope's representative, thus provoking the war. Mind you, the heretics were the ones attacking villages where innocents were, and not St Dominic and his band of priests attacking villages. St Dominic didn't attack anyone. It's a small point, but if the authors didn't even get this one right, but used their ideology and their flawed historical method to colour their writing, then it's not honest - and it's not good history. It's just their prejudiced opinion.

5. The writing in Holy Blood, Holy Grail was still as bad, poor, and repetitive as I last remembered it. Redundancies, misspellings, and lots of minor mistakes abounded, that it is hard to remind myself that these are professional writers.

In conclusion, Dan Brown's work which was based on Holy Blood, Holy Grail is demonstrably false. Holy Blood, Holy Grail is also demonstrably false and the hypotheses advanced are nothing more than flights of fancy that have no true underlying basis. The Nag Hammadi and the Gnostic gospels do exist, it's true - but the thesis that Jesus did not die, had children, and his heirs are kings, is totally bogus and nothing more than speculation. This book, in other words, is speculation and guesswork disguised as history.

The above are my personal academic views on religion, Catholicism, and a neutral book review about a book that interests me.

Anything that interests me!