After defaming the Catholic Church in Angels and Demons, then denying the divinity of Christ in The Da Vinci Code, what could Dan Brown possibly do for an encore? His latest bestseller, The Lost Symbol, attempts to deliver a positive message. No more are Science and Religion opposed. No more is Truth to be sought in obscure heretical writings. In The Lost Symbol, Brown’s self-projection of a hero, Harvard professor Robert Langdon, is gently led to faith in immemorial mysteries hidden in the Bible itself. But the altar calling him stands in a Masonic Temple, not in a Christian sanctuary.
Freemasons awaited The Lost Symbol with some apprehension. Given the perennial popularity of conspiracy theories about the Craft, they wondered if they would be demonized in this novel as badly as Opus Dei was in The Da Vinci Code. On the contrary, Brown glorifi es Masonry and its mysteries beyond what the contemporary Craft would claim. “Masons are the most worthy men you could ever hope to meet,” says Langdon. They are men of matchless character, achievement, and above all, tolerance—today’s highest virtue. Their status is so high that protecting Masonic secrets is a national security issue demanding CIA involvement.
The Lost Symbol is yet another Langdon scavenger hunt to collect mystic tokens and win cosmic prizes, this time while scurrying among the Masonic landmarks of Washington, DC. After a spurious summons to the Capitol, Langdon must search for a legendary Masonic artifact to ransom his kidnapped mentor, Peter Solomon. Solomon, head of the Smithsonian Institution, is not only fabulously wealthy (like a Rothschild), but brilliant, handsome, and a 33° Mason.
Solomon’s sister, plucky Katherine, has been conducting research on a New Age “science” called Noetics— the ability of mind to alter matt er—in a Smithsonian facility. She joins forces with Langdon and another 33° Mason to decipher clues while fl eeing the kidnapper and eluding CIA agents. After chases, captures, escapes, murders, and sundry havoc, the improbably grotesque villain meets a suitably gory end.
Dan Brown’s trademark touches abound. There is the obsessive need to invoke brand names, the use of lecture hall flashbacks for exposition, the random scatt ering of exotic—but irrelevant— terms, the false etymologies, the silly factual errors, the easily foiled security measures, the feeble misdirection, the tortured prose. There is the obligatory scene in which experts momentarily look foolish so that readers can feel clever as well as the inevitable tidbit of misinformation about the word “sincere” meaning “without wax.” Of such components are bestsellers built.
But The Lost Symbol’s differences from previous Langdon adventures are more signifi cant than the similarities. Both Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code crudely smeared the Catholic Church yet maintained plausible deniability—characters’ opinions are not necessarily those of their author. This time, Langdon tosses only a few insults at the Church and discloses that he is a Communion-taking Christian of unspecifi ed denomination, probably Episcopalian. Of course, Langdon admits that his Christianity is really paganism in heavy disguise, still covertly worshipping the Sun and Dying Savior gods.
In The Da Vinci Code, the Bible’s text and canon were fatally compromised by interfering editors. In The Lost Symbol, however, the scriptures of all religions encode hidden messages about mankind’s capacity to grab godhood. In other words, instead of the Gnostic Gospels being the true ones, the canonical Gospels themselves are Gnostic. As the ever-wise Solomon tells Langdon, “The Ancient Mysteries and the Bible are the same thing.” The Lost Word of Masonry is the literally the Word of God—in all the world’s scriptures.
Another major departure from Langdon’s prior outings is his position in the story. In The Da Vinci Code, he and the principal villain relentlessly instruct the ingénue. But this time, Langdon is patiently catechized by Peter and Katherine Solomon. Their tutelage peaks at the close, occupying the last 48 pages of the novel. The Lost Symbol ends with Langdon’s epiphany of hope as the sun—and Masonic “Light”—dawns over the dome of the Capitol. Langdon is illumined because he has helped to gather the wisdom scattered since “the ancients had praised God as a symbol of our limitless human potential.” God, for Masons, is a conveniently relative concept, signifying the energy of collective consciousness, Nature, or a remote Great Architect of the Universe.
The Craft denies that it is a religion, much less a rival to Christianity. Candidates are told that “Masonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” But the important Masonic commentator Albert G. Mackey admits that “Masonry is undoubtedly a religious institution… which, handed down through a long succession of ages from that ancient priesthood who first taught it, embraces the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.”
Dan Brown moves his hero Langdon from the first position to the second over the course of The Lost Symbol; invoking arcane secrets sells more books. Among Brown’s sources are works by the esoteric teacher and Freemason Manley P. Hall, identified in the novel as a “philosopher.” For instance, Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928), which Brown cites, provides the Hand of the Mysteries image used to summon Langdon and the key notion that Masonry guards primordial occult knowledge too powerful to unleash. Hall longed for the re-emergence of ancient psychic powers that anticipated—and surpassed—modern science. Langdon and the Solomons want to make that happen via Masonry and Noetics.
Another book by Hall, The Secret Destiny of America (1944), claims that the United States was intended to be a Neoplatonic utopia according to an age old secret plan devised by philosophers, scientists, mages, alchemists, and mystic adepts. Calling these conspirators the “Invisible College,” Brown borrows this preposterous idea so he can attribute America’s highest ideals of liberty and equality to Masonic sources.
Masonry was indeed prominent in early America, most notably in the person of George Washington. Nine of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence and 13 of 39 signers of the Constitution were definitely Masons. But overall, more colonial Masons were Tories than Revolutionaries. Anglo- American lodges usually supported society’s established order.
Brown overstates the Masonic character of Washington, DC by falsely identifying the original city planner Pierre L’Enfant as a Freemason. Although Langdon mocks theories about tracing Masonic emblems on the street-map of Washington, he accepts that old delusion dear to conspiracy buffs and some perfervid Masons— the Masonic character of our nation’s Great Seal. (Both its faces appear on the back of the one-dollar bill.) The only Freemason among the 14 men who contributed to the Seal’s design was Benjamin Franklin, but his proposal was not used. Design elements (the eagle’s stars, stripes, arrows, and the pyramid’s layers) number 13 for the 13 original colonies. The meaning is historical rather than occult.
The alleged Masonic significance of the eye and unfinished pyramid on the Seal’s reverse was seeping into common knowledge years before The Lost Symbol was published. The All-Seeing Eye of God within a triangle for the Holy Trinity is a Catholic emblem that predates Freemasonry. The Craft interprets it in a slightly different way than Christians do. Although Masons may imagine ties to ancient Egypt and may employ Egyptian décor, the pyramid is not among their motifs, nor is it used in their rituals. As Masonic writer Christopher Hodapp states, “The pyramid, finished or unfinished, is not a Masonic symbol, at least not in regular, recognized Freemasonry as practiced in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It never has been.”
Dan Brown’s precious lost Masonic pyramid and precious golden capstone are not suggested by actual Masonic usages, but are derived from the esoteric fantasies of Manly P. Hall, who called the historical monument a temple of the Ancient Mysteries, not a pharaoh’s tomb. The Lost Symbol collapses like a shoddy building.
The living God of the Bible is no mere symbol, however profound. He is neither the universe nor its Great Architect; he is our loving Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Ironically, Dan Brown’s tribute to Freemasonry shows why the Church has long condemned the Craft, even when practiced by good men who are not plotting against either Altar or Throne.
Masonry proclaims itself a unique source of Light, superior to all the world’s religions because it is based solely on human reason unaided by supernatural agency. Masonic brotherhood encompasses believers of any creed, as well as deists, pantheists, materialists, and, in some lodges, atheists. The Craft is indifferent to these distinctions. It substitutes its own fables for divine revelation and guards its mysteries through blood-curdling oaths that are disproportionate or frivolous. These tenets by themselves are utterly incompatible with the Catholic faith. They deny such basic Christian beliefs as the divinity and redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the unique authority of the Bible.
For these reasons, popes have rightfully and repeatedly denounced Masonry since 1738. Their grounds are theological, quite apart from concerns over blasphemous rites, persecutions, anticlerical activities, political plotting, exclusivity, and favoritism toward fellow members. In 1983, Rome reminded Catholics that Masonry is still forbidden to them under pain of excommunication, although the current Code of Canon Law does not specifically name the Craft. Other churches, including the Eastern Orthodox, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Mormons also ban membership in the Lodge.
If Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol sparks new interest in Freemasonry, Catholics need to understand the dangers of the Craft. As Catholic author William J. Whalen says in his excellent Christianity and American Freemasonry, we “cannot worship the Triune God on Sunday morning and the Great Architect on lodge night.”
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