The Resurrection and The DaVinci Code

George Weigel

Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel, The DaVinci Code, will certainly outsell N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God by a factor of 10,000:1, and probably more. Quite unintentionally, though, Dr. Wright’s book is the perfect response to the anti-Christian slander that underwrites The DaVinci Code – the charge that the early Christians deliberately lied about Jesus, his friendships, and his fate in order to keep women subjugated. Really.

Jesus, you see, was not a carpenter and itinerant preacher of the Kingdom but a wealthy religious intellectual with aspirations to David’s throne. His well-healed and royally inclined lover, Mary Magdalene, is the “holy grail,” because she held within herself the blood of Jesus while bearing his children. After Constantine legalized Christianity, the Church rewrote the story to suit its, and Constantine’s, imperial purposes. Thus the truth (sic) about Jesus and the origins of Christianity can only be found in the “gnostic Gospels,” ancient texts never incorporated into the New Testament but unearthed by archaeologists in recent decades. These esoteric texts reveal the story the Church has been suppressing for almost two millennia, often by violence.

All of which could be dismissed as the most ludicrous rubbish were it not for the fact that recent academic work on the gnostic Gospels has tilted, if in a more refined way, toward a thesis not unlike Dan Brown’s in The DaVinci Code. I recently saw a whole slew of such books displayed on a single table in a large bookstore under the rubric, “Now that you’ve read The DaVinci Code…”. (I asked the store manager whether they were planning a display entitled “Now that you’ve read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the classic anti-Semitic canard. He didn’t know what I was talking about.)

I’m almost ashamed to mention The Resurrection of the Son of God in this context. To put it simply, this is the most exciting work of biblical scholarship I’ve read in twenty years. It gave me the same kind of intellectual thrill and spiritual glow I experienced when I first read Servais Pinckaers’ The Sources of Christian Ethics in the late 1990s: the sense of being in the hands of a master teacher who has an astonishing amount of material at his fingertips, wears his scholarship lightly, has original things to say, says them brilliantly, swats critics deftly, and in doing all of that changes the state of the question. Wright’s Resurrection – 700+ pages of closely argued analysis of biblical texts, early Christian documents, and other ancient sources – isn’t leisure reading. Those willing to work through it, though, will come away with their Easter faith re-confirmed on a solid historical foundation.

Yes, that’s right, a historical foundation. For Wright’s argument is that the only historically satisfactory explanation of the rise of the early Church and the only satisfactory reading of the relevant texts (Paul’s references to the Resurrection in his letters and the four Gospel accounts) lead to the conclusion that “Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.” As Dr. Wright puts it, briskly, “…the only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus alive again.” Yes, Wright continues, this involves “accepting a challenge” to the way we usually think about the world and the way it works. But if we’re willing to think outside-the-box of conventional modern world views, “the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead.”

In other words, N.T. Wright uses the skills of historical-critical scholarship precisely to affirm the historicity of “the resurrection of the Son of God.” A more thoroughgoing demolition of the trendy scholarship and pseudo-scholarship underneath The DaVinci Code could not be imagined.

The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press) will be of special interest to bishops, priests, and deacons preparing homilies and to teachers charged with transmitting the Church’s faith to the next generation. For too long now, in Wright’s Anglican Church as well as in the Catholic Church, the resurrection has been preached and taught under a cloud of debunking. By contrast, Wright’s Resurrection is a brilliant example of critical affirmation.

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.