Friday, May 12, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Movie and Religious Sensitivities

Date: 10th May 2006

To: Director
Customer & Licensing Services (Films and Publications)
Office for Art Exhibitions and Performances, Audio Materials, Films, Publications, Videos and Video Games:
45 Maxwell Road
URA Centre, East Wing

Dear Sir,

Re: The Da Vinci Code Movie and Religious Sensitivities

In a pluralistic society like Singapore, it is paramount to exercise empathy and understanding for the various religions within its delicate social fabric. The government has been prudent to insist that religious harmony and peace take precedence over the freedom of expression and speech. The mutual respect between religions has even been enforced via the Religious Harmony Act, the Penal Code, and the Sedition Act.

Prime Minister Lee, in a dialogue on 9th February 2006 with 1700 community leaders and students, aptly remarked, “And so in 1989 when Salman Rushdie wrote a book, Satanic Verses, which many Muslims found very objectionable, we banned it. People say, ‘where is freedom of expression?’, we say maintaining harmony, peace, that’s the first requirement.” (How to stay an oasis in a troubled world, Straits Times, Feb 10, 2006)

Singapore had made the right decision in banning religiously sensitive works such as Salmon Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, as well as the controversial sequence of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. This is appropriate under the Undesirable Publications Act (CAP. 338), which “prohibits the importation, distribution and reproduction of undesirable publications.”

The forthcoming release of the movie directed by Ron Howard on 18th May 2006, The Da Vinci Code, brings to mind certain religious sensitivities that are impossible to ignore. This movie is based on Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003 by Doubleday Fiction. Brown’s novel contains much blasphemous references to Jesus Christ, the deity worshipped by both Catholics and Christians. Iconoclastic doctrines such as Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, and subsequently having children, not only detracts from the Christian belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, but also challenges the veracity of Christian scripture.

It is a fact that many Catholic and Christian leaders have found Brown’s novel extremely objectionable and offensive. The massive volumes of literature published against The Da Vinci Code by Christian writers speak for themselves. According to Today’s article - “Da Vinci Code release sparks calls for fatal hunger strikes in India” - it is said that “Christian churches have condemned The Da Vinci Code as an attack on their faith and an aide of Pope Benedict XVI has called it a “perversely anti-Christian novel.”[1]

With regard to religious sensitivities, Brown’s novel may possibly be likened to a christianized version of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Despite being fictional works, they inevitably attack foundational teachings of both faiths. If the Undesirable Publications Act (CAP. 338) “prohibits the importation, distribution and reproduction of undesirable publications,” how does the Media Development Authority justify the “importation, distribution and reproduction” of Dan Brown’s novel - The Da Vinci Code - in Singapore?

Your Web site states that under the Undesirable Publications Act, “examples of undesirable publications include . . . objectionable publications which deal with matters of race or religion in a manner likely to cause ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups.”[2] I am sure the Media Development Authority would be sensitive to Christian sentiments, and exercise extreme caution when introducing such incendiary literature into Singapore.

As the movie The Da Vinci Code makes its debut in May 2006, I look forward to an explanation from the Media Development Authority as to why The Satanic Verses was banned in Singapore, while The Da Vinci Code is not only allowed in the bookstores, but also on the big screen.

Yours truly,

Vincent Chia

[1] “Da Vinci Code release sparks calls for fatal hunger strikes in India,” Today 10th May 2006; Internet; accessed 10th May 2006; available from
[2]; Internet; accessed 10th May 2006.