I brought up Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines because this theme runs through its main plot, as well as the plots of books like The Da Vinci Code. I'm referring to the species of smug, biggest-brain-in-the-room demytholigizing that I call Smrt storytelling.
Thanks to the accelerating erosion of the West's Christian foundations, the converged entertainment industry can't tell a good vs evil story anymore. See the mewling sub-pagans who denounce Tolkien for depicting orcs as morally inferior to elves.
Generating catharsis by appealing to the audience's shared sense of right and wrong is right out when you hold your audience's morals in contempt. Post-Christian storytellers must endeavor to scratch a different fundamental human itch. No, I don't mean smut. Lust certainly has a profitable track record, and you can bet it'll show up as window dressing, but it's a poor substitute for good triumphing over evil. The best postmodern alternative to justice is pride, and a Smrt Story is the favored vehicle for massaging the audience's ego.
Your boilerplate Smrt Story follows the basic mystery template with a key twist: The answer to the mystery involves debunking a central tenet--or perceived central tenet--of Christianity. I call such propaganda "Smrt" instead of "smart" because the author's theological knowledge is usually so deficient that the "dogma" he's debunking is a nonsensical straw man. But his ignorance sets a vicious frame wherein Christians may be lured into defending one error to refute another. Think of all the Dan Brown critics who argued that it didn't matter if Christ survived the crucifixion.
Baiting Christians into tilting at windmills isn't the main point of a Smrt Story. The Smrt author works his evil spell by taking the reader aside and whispering, "Look at all those rubes stumbling around in their superstitious fog. I can tell you're not like them. You can handle the truth, and here it is..."
Here's how the trick works. The Smrt author presents himself as a sort of Gnostic oracle who's got the dirt on some formerly sacred Western tradition. He doesn't break the fourth wall and make these claims overtly. Instead he establishes his credentials by portraying the skeptics attacking the fable as cool, informed characters the reader wants to emulate. At the same time, those who cling to traditional Western beliefs are mocked as credulous--often violent--dupes. The Smrt author carefully frames the window of allowable debate in his world to exclude any compelling arguments for the defense.
Skilled Smrt authors will introduce some last-minute ambiguity to allow the rubes some wiggle room. This conceit is just a sugar to coat the poison pill. It's usually presented as an afterthought, and often for a laugh. The story's main impression remains: The reader has joined the cool kids who know the truth behind the fairy tales.
Being based in falsehood, the Smrt story never satisfies as deeply as heroic tales of heroes triumphing over villains. But when you've traded your birthright for an unwarranted sense of smug superiority, giving the audience a transitory thrill is the best you can hope for.
To wash the taste of SMRT out of your brain, read my action-packed mecha thriller Combat Frame XSeed.