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YOU ARE HERE:   Home >  Archives >  Updates >  2005 >  January 2005 >  Cults and Religion in the News

Cults and Religion in the News

Ravi Zacharias Speaks in the Mormon Tabernacle

On November 14, 2004, Indian-born Christian evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacharias spoke on a topic familiar to all those who have benefited from his ministry: the defense of the truth of Jesus Christ in a society dominated by skepticism and relativism. The pulpit was not typical, however-Zacharias lectured to a mixed crowd of approximately 7000 Evangelicals and Mormons in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Zacharias’ lecture, entitled “Who is the Truth,” acknowledged important differences between Mormon and Christian views of Jesus, but also emphasized commonalties:

[Zacharias] acknowledged there are doctrinal differences—including some that are deep—between traditional Christianity and the LDS faith.

His hour-long sermon emphasized aspects of Christian doctrine for which Mormons have a different understanding, such as sin, salvation through the Cross, and the Trinity.

But his overarching message-that Jesus Christ is the answer to the longing in all human hearts-was one that resonated with both evangelical Christians and Mormons. Salt Lake Tribune

When Zacharias concluded his speech, he received a standing ovation from Evangelicals and Mormons alike.

Even though this was a tremendous opportunity to share the truth on Mormonism’s most sacred soil, it did not pass without controversy. Some Christians have expressed displeasure with Zacharias and other Christians who participated in the meeting. Zacharias responded to this sentiment on his website:

To the critics who objected to my being there, I say that all my life as an apologist I have spoken across wide chasms of thought and virtually to every major religious group, sometimes at the risk of threats and violence. Differences ought not to keep us from carrying the truth to everyone.

Zacharias also acknowledges the theological disagreements between himself and his Mormon audience, but affirms his belief that the gospel can penetrate such barriers:

I have no doubts about the differences between the LDS faith and the historic Christian faith, differences that are deep and foundational in terms of authority. But the proclamation of the living Christ can break down hearts all over the world that we might see ourselves as He sees us and call upon Him and no one else for our salvation.

Da Vinci Code Fans Pillage French Town

The quiet town of Rennes-le-Chateau (population 152) in the south-east of France has become a mecca for fans of Dan Brown's bestseller, The Da Vinci Code. Rennes-le-Chateau is home to one of the many intriguing elements in the novel's conspiracy-laden plot: an eccentric priest, Abbe Berenger Sauniere, who became rich overnight through some unknown means and used that wealth to redecorate the local church in a bizarre-and, some believe, symbolic-manner.

Some conspiracy theorists, such as the authors of the controversial Holy Blood, Holy Grail, claim that Sauniere possessed documents regarding the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and that the Vatican paid him vast amounts of money to keep the priest silent. This theory has been popularized in The Da Vinci Code. The novel's worldwide popularity has led to a vast increase in tourism in the tiny hamlet: roughly 120,000 visitors passed through the town in 2004.

While the villagers welcome tourists as a boon to their economy, the new interest on Rennes-le-Chateau has also aroused less welcome attentions. Most who have read Brown's novel view it simply as an exciting novel, but many of its most ardent fans accept its claims as fact. This belief has led some to treat Rennes-le-Chateau as a promising site for amateur Indiana Jones-style relic hunting. Visitors have been digging in the church's cemetery, attempting to disinter bodies and tunnel into the church, all in a misguided search for Father Sauniere's lost secret. These acts of vandalism have led local authorities to close public access to the cemetery, and to rebury Sauniere's body in a 3.5 ton concrete tomb.

The locals seem mystified by the uncritical acceptance of The Da Vinci Code's claims on the part of its more destructive fans. The town's mayor, Jean-Francois L'Huilier, expresses the bafflement of the villagers:

It's a well-written book but it's a novel, not a historical document. It astonishes me that some readers get to the end and think it's true.AFP

Mayor L'Huilier might be even more surprised to find that Dan Brown himself believes his book is true. As Brown said in his interview on ABC Primetime,

I began as a skeptic. As I started researching The Da Vinci Code I really thought I would disprove a lot of this theory… I became a believer.ABC Primetime

If the residents of Rennes-le-Chateau want to understand the uncritical reception of The Da Vinci Code by many of its fans, perhaps they should look to its author.