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Angels & Demons.

Angels & Demons. By Dan Brown. New York: Pocket Star, 2000. 569 pages. Paper. $7.99.

The success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003) is leading many readers to his prequel novel, Angels & Demons, another thriller that depicts secret societies and apocryphal mysteries from Renaissance church history. Its theology may be controversial, but it presents an opportunity for pastors to engage in theological conversation with lay persons who do not read expressly theological works.

Angels & Demons begins with the murder of physicist Leonardo Vetra at the CERN research center outside Geneva, Switzerland. Vetra's body is branded with the word "Illuminati"--the name of a secret society of Renaissance scientists persecuted by the church, dedicated to the church's destruction, and believed to be defunct. CERN director Maximilian Kohler calls upon Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon to find Vetra's killers. Langdon enlists the help of Vetra's daughter Vittoria, and together they uncover a terrorist plot to employ a futuristic weapon to destroy Vatican City during the conclave to elect the next pope. Langdon must decipher a series of clues hidden in Renaissance art works across Rome in order to find the terrorists before the Catholic Church is destroyed.

Theologically, the organizing theme in Angels & Demons is the conflict between religion and science. Brown's characters offer several perspectives. Leonardo Vetra sees a common truth in science and religion and seeks to demonstrate scientifically the Christian doctrine of creation. Kohler claims that science can better answer every question that religion claims to answer, so religion is unnecessary. Vittoria Vetra contends that all religions point to the same truths. Vatican official Carlo Ventresca believes that he can convert people from trust in science to faith in God through a demonstration of miracles.

From a Lutheran perspective, Brown's premise that the church cannot exist without its hierarchy, wealth, and worldly symbols of power is a theology of glory. Brown's failure to acknowledge that Christianity is larger than the Roman Catholic Church is also troubling. But Brown's key insight is important: that science is less of a threat to faith than misguided attempts to defend Christianity against unbelief using empirical proofs.

Bruce P. Rittenhouse

University of Chicago Divinity School
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Author:Rittenhouse, Bruce P.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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