On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Telling fact from fiction

Most of us tend to relate the visual image of The Last Supper to Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece where Jesus and his Apostles are seated at one long table, all facing front. 

Pilgrims to Jerusalem will be reminded that that is just not the normal
practice of the people at that time. Instead, the more accurate
depiction of The Last Supper would be for them to sit on the floor,
around various low tables. 

And certainly the most popular item being sold to pilgrims visiting the
Holy Land is an intricate piece of woodwork, made out of olive wood
tree, depicting such a scenario. I know. I bought one when I was there. 

The US$500 (RM1,080) work of art was sold to me by Sibly Kando, the
grandson of Palestinian shopkeeper Khalil Iskander Shahin, who became
rich and famous after he bought the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest and
largest collection of manuscripts with references to the Bible. 

I was in Jerusalem a year ago, when not too many people in Malaysia had read The Da Vinci Code and the people in the Holy Land had not even heard of Dan Brown.  

The Jerusalem woodwork has a semi-circular setting, with John, Jesus
and Judas seated together. On their extreme right is Peter, who served
food to them. 

In Da Vinci's painting, Jesus is seated in the middle and on his right
is John, which Dan Brown's book has claimed to be actually Mary
Magdalene, and not John. 

In the first place, it is unlikely that they would be seated in a
straight row, which would throw out Dan Brown's theory immediately. 

The premise taken by Brown is that Da Vinci had intentionally painted
the figure next to Jesus to look effeminate, to depict Magdalene
instead. They were said to have been married and had children. 

Having read the book, I decided to watch the movie, with an open mind,
to see whether the worldwide protest from Christians was justified.  

I have to confess that I enjoyed the movie. It was not as boring as the
critics had claimed. Director Ron Howard has done a decent job in
keeping the flow and suspense. 

But what startled me was that our censors actually allowed the full
nude body, minus the private parts, of the albino assassin Silas to be
shown. In this scene, the Opus Dei monk had continuously whipped his
already bloodied back, in a seemingly sadomasochistic manner. Grinning
in pain, Silas carried out the ritual in front of a picture of Jesus. 

Also, given the sensitive nature of the movie to many Christians, who
see it as blasphemous, the censors should have insisted that an
advisory be put up, at the start of the movie, stating that it is a
work of fiction. 

If The Passion of Christ
was banned on religious grounds (though subsequently shown to
restricted audiences), with the Home Ministry believing that it needed
to take into account Muslim sentiments, the censors should have
exercised the same caution with this movie.  

It has decided not to ban Da Vinci Code but surely an advisory would have been appropriate. In a plural society, the authorities must be sensitive to everyone.  

Having studied at St Xavier's Institution in Penang, a Catholic school,
I certainly appreciate the dedication, fairness and kindness of the
Christian brothers, many of whom came from Europe and made Malaysia
their home. 

Through such mission schools, they provided the best education to
Malaysians, regardless of their race and religion. Many parents today
do miss that quality of education in our existing school system. 

The Chrisitan brothers never made any attempt to convert me, and it was
more than 20 years after I left school that I became a Christian.  

The attempt by Dan Brown to paint the Catholic Church leaders as villains certainly pained many. 

Brown's storyline accuses the church of knowing the secret bloodline of
Jesus-Magdalene and how it conducted "the greatest cover-up ever"
through kidnapping, fraud, deception and even murder.  

While mature Christians, with a solid faith foundation, would not be
affected by the book or movie, the same cannot be said for those who
are still in search of God. Or rebellious teenagers who would be more
receptive of anti-establishment and sub-cultural views. 

More importantly, the church should be not disheartened because the
movie has generated debate over the role of Christianity and the

It has also put Christians in a positive light – that we prefer
intellectual discourse and persuasion rather than to resort to
emotions. Certainly no one has been killed over the movie and no
cinemas have been set on fire. 

The church should seize the opportunity, in a creative way, to talk about the book and the faith to non-believers.  

At the Wesley Methodist Church in Kuala Lumpur, I attended a full house
meeting on the book. The young posed tough questions to the pastor, of
which some were not convincingly answered, but it has certainly stirred
passion in Christianity. 

On my personal homefront, there was a lesson for my 15-year-old
daughter after she read the book. She, like many teenagers, has been
intrigued by Silas although Opus Dei is not a word widely used in
Malaysian homes. 

She has asked more questions about the church, which church elders
sometimes ignored or brushed aside. But that is how young minds work –
they no longer accept everything on the surface. This is the new world. 

Still, she was startled when I told her that one of daddy's friends is
a dedicated Opus Dei member who has visited us at home.  

The Opus Dei uncle is not albino but a mild-mannered Indian, who lives in Petaling Jaya, whose only sinful passion is the siew yuk (barbecued pork) in Pudu. He certainly does not hit himself with a chain. My daughter learnt to separate fact from fiction.