Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Lost Symbol and Masonry, Part 2: Why Freemasons Should Care About Dan Brown

In my preceding post, I explained why I believe that the Scottish Rite, and Albert Pike, are going to take it in the chops in the forthcoming Dan Brown novel, The Lost Symbol. I expect that Albert Pike will be portrayed as a treasonous scoundrel who worked with the Knights of the Golden Circle to accumulate assets for a second War Between the States -- using the Scottish Rite, in both the North and the South, to create and perpetuate this conspiracy. I expect that today's Scottish Rite will be portrayed as a conspiratorial organization in our very day.


In this post, I address one simple question: Why should Freemasons care? (In my next post, I address the question, what should we as Freemasons do about this?)

It would be easy to just kick back and forget about all of this. Here are what seem to be some good reasons to do so:

  • "It's just a novel, for pity's sake -- who cares?"

  • "I'm Scottish Rite in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction -- why should I care about this?"

  • "I'm not even Scottish Rite -- why should this matter to me?"

I can understand these positions. However, I believe that they are deeply flawed. To understand what is wrong with these attitudes, we need to consider the power of fiction.

The Power of Fiction

Best-selling novels can be powerful in forming public opinion. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was the best-selling American novel of the 19th century, outselling everything but the Bible; it is credited with forming the American debate about slavery, and shaping events leading to the Civil War. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1936) sold 30 million copies, and had an effect on the self-image of the Deep South that is still evident today. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) sold 25 million copies, and gave our vocabulary such terms as "Big Brother" and "Orwellian." Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) sold 30 million copies, and is influencing attitudes towards race in this country to this day. Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961) sold 10 million copies and left its title as part of the English language. Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970) sold 40 million copies and influenced the attitudes of a generation of Americans regarding what they could do with their lives.

When novels become movies, they can be even more powerful in affecting public attitudes and behavior. Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather (1969) sold 21 million copies, and was made into a blockbuster movie in 1972; half the guys I know still quote from that movie as if it were scripture, even if they weren't born until a decade after the film was made. Shaft (1971) was a novel before it became a film (surprise!), and affected urban fashion in some communities for years.

And Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (2003) was bigger than all of them.

This novel has sold 81 million copies in six years. The 2006 movie was the second-highest grossing movie of the year, and its $230 million opening weekend gross currently stands as the seventh-highest of all time.

Dan Brown has had six years to come up with something to top that. And he has.

Brown's publisher has such confidence that Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol, will be a huge bestseller that it is printing 6.5 million copies in the initial print run -- the largest 'first print' in the history of Random House. (It is doing this, knowing that bookstores have the right to return unsold copies to the publisher!)

The point of all this is that Dan Brown has the power to shape the nation's (even the world's) attitude towards Freemasonry for many years to come. If The Lost Symbol even sells "only" as well as The Da Vinci Code has, then there will be about 16 to 20 copies of the book sold for every Freemason on earth. We no longer live in a society, even in the United States, where people's attitudes about Freemasonry are shaped by their experience with actual Masons; rather, their attitudes are shaped by books and other media.

It doesn't matter whether or not you are a member of the Scottish Rite yourself. What Dan Brown says about today's Scottish Rite will be the the opinion that his readers carry about Freemasonry in general.

It doesn't matter whether you are a member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction or not. I doubt that Brown is going to spend a lot of time on the fine points of Masonic jurisdiction. In addition, the people whom I suspect he depends on for part of his back story -- Warren Getler and Bob Brewer, authors of Shadow of the Sentinel, also titled Rebel Gold -- simply don't care about any of that; in their fantasy land, Albert Pike controlled both the Northern Masonic and Southern Jurisdictions. Thus, the brethren of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction shall be tarred with the same broad brush as the brethren of the Southern Jurisdiction of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

Sort of gives a whole new slant on Masonic brotherhood, doesn't it? I am reminded of words attributed to brother Benjamin Franklin, supposedly said after the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "We must hang together, gentlemen--or, assuredly, we shall each hang separately!"

What it comes down to is this: If I am right, and Dan Brown does sock it to Scottish Rite Freemasonry in his new novel, it will be the biggest black eye for the Fraternity since the Morgan incident of 1826 -- and we should all know how well that turned out. Brown's novel has the potential to shape public attitudes towards Freemasonry for the next generation. We need to do something about this, something to take our fate, and the destiny of our Fraternity, into our own hands.

The Traditional Masonic Hands-Off Attitude Towards Criticism

I am well aware that the traditional Masonic attitude towards criticism is to ignore it, to stay above the fray and wait for the truth to prevail.

This was a fine approach to take when public discussion was civil, educated, and proceded according to the rules of the Marquis de Queensbury. We don't live in that world any more.

As I have explained at length in my white paper, "How Should Masons Respond to Anti-Masonry?", the traditional Masonic practice of ignoring criticism no longer serves the Fraternity well at all. In the landscape of the 21st century, if one does not respond to criticism, one might as well wear a big sign around one's neck that reads "YES, I'M GUILTY." Remember that the English common law principle states that "Silence is assent."

We don't want to assent to the picture that Dan Brown may be painting of the Craft, even through silence.

"But What If You're Wrong?"

Perhaps you're wondering, "but what if you're wrong, Brother? What if Dan Brown does not paint the Scottish Rite or Freemasonry in treasonous terms after all? What if you've read the picture wrong, so to speak, and the Freemasons in general, and the Scottish Rite in particular, are the heroes of Brown's novel?"

Then there is all the more reason for us to do something about this.

If Brown's novel paints a favorable picture of Freemasonry, then we need to be prepared to ride the wave of interest that will follow. I realize that some brethren expect that, with the publication of Dan Brown's Masonic novel, the petitioners will line up outside the lodge door. Actually, we need to keep in mind that we are working against two generations or so where Masonry has been essentially invisible in society at large. Despite all the Shrine circuses, all the service projects, all the efforts that have been made, Masonic membership is at an 80-year-low, even as the population of North America has soared (as noted by the Masonic Service Association here).

Indeed, even though media events like the National Treasure movies have painted Freemasonry in a positive light, there are other currents in American society that have sought to demonize Freemasonry. This may be why religious-based attacks against Freemasonry are increasing, according to the Masonic Information Center. All of this will work against petitioners arriving at the Western Gate.

Should we care about this? After all, there is also some moral peril in 'worshipping at the altar of bigness,' as pointed out by the Knights of the North in their thought-provoking paper, Laudable Pursuit.

Fair enough. However, Freemasonry is not just some vehicle for our own amusement. It is, or is intended to be, a vehicle for the improvement of society. We need a certain critical mass in order to fulfill our mission. If we don't wish to do that, we might as well roll away our altars and become footnotes to history.

Me, I'd rather make history.

To do that, we need to make Freemasonry available to every man who has a mind oriented to the search for truth, the appreciation of fellowship, and the giving of relief to the needy. In my next post, I'll describe how to use the occasion of the publication of Dan Brown's novel, The Lost Symbol, to further those ends.


  1. Great post and I agree completely. We cannot sit on our laurels on this one. Either way, good or bad we'll need to do more than tread water here or we'll surely sink.

  2. "It is, or is intended to be, a vehicle for the improvement of society."

    So what is that "improvement of society" you speak? The country has never been in worse shape.

  3. Anon,
    The improvement in society is to the betterment of Mankind. In other words if more men were Masons, and upheld their obligations we would not be in "worse shape". And I imagine your are thinking that this is the worst we have seen as a nation? Lest I remind you about the Great Depression, WWI & WWII. I think anyone who has lived and remembers these times will tell you you couldn't be more wrong about the curent state of the counrty. Just saying...

  4. Buffalo Bill: Thank you for your kind words about the post, and for your explaining the point of my remarks. In addition, thank you for giving us a sense of perspective about the current state of the country. At the same time, perhaps for Anonymous, this _is_ the worst time Anon's ever seen. I continue below in that spirit.

    Anonymous: You prove my point exactly. Freemasonry is at its lowest point, in terms of the proportion of the population who are Freemasons, in almost a century -- and the country is in bad shape. Coincidence? Maybe not.

    Now, as any of my statistics students would tell you, 'correlation does not establish causation.' (Yes, I _did_ make them stand up in class and chant that.) Thus, maybe these two facts are just coincidental.

    But I would point out that a lot of the reason that we are in trouble as a country is because of unethical behavior, even outright swindling, of different sorts -- and outright greed, and short-sighted thinking, on the part of many.

    Perhaps I'm just optimistic, but I would like to think that if ten or fifteen million more men in America were living the principles of Freemasonry, then perhaps, just perhaps:

    -- we'd have fewer people who overextended themselves in their mortgages, who bought more house than they could afford, thus precipitating the mortgage crisis;

    -- we'd have fewer people who would have developed the predatory mortgage practices and incomprehensible financial derivative instruments that helped lead to economic meltdown;

    -- we'd have reached a number of the brilliant men who have swindled their way into billions of other people's money -- and now, into long prison terms -- before they 'turned to the dark side,' as it were. Yes, Freemasonry is about making good men better; part of that, however, is about keeping good men from becoming bad men, to put it simply;

    -- we'd have more people who would be focused on actually buildign something of value with their work, rather than focusing on get-rich-quick schemes and other vain activities;

    -- we'd have more focus on education in this country generally;

    -- we'd have more people helping more people, before it got to the point of skyrocketing rates of bankruptcy and homelessness.

    Freemasonry is about improving individual character (not just polishing up the personality), which will have an inevitable effect on society.

    Thanks to both of you, Buffalo Bill and Anonymous, for furthering the conversation on these points.

  5. Buffalo Bill, What makes you think men believe your precept is their need for improvement?

  6. "...unethical behavior, even outright swindling, of different sorts -- and outright greed, and short-sighted thinking, on the part of many."

    Hypothetically, would an unethical god that I believe in and assuring me it's alright to do those things qualify me for the Masons?

  7. Anonymous, I cannot answer for Buffalo Bill. I also think your fingers may have slipped while typing (a constant problem for yours truly), so I'm not sure quite what you meant in your comment to him. However, let me interpret your comment to mean, "What makes you think men believe that your Masonic precepts are their way to improvement?"

    It's important to keep in mind that Freemasonry, not being a religion (let alone a universalistic one) does not propose itself as a universal solution, let alone as a path to salvation. It permits men who _do_ think Masonic precepts are attractive (and several of the basic precepts are well-known to the public) to petition to learn more about Freemasonry, and undergo its ritual initiations. So, Masonry has no Gospel to preach to the world; it does seek to improve its members.

    (If I have misunderstood your comment, please correct me.)

    In terms of the "unethical god" comment: Actually, this is not hypothetical at all: the Great God Mammon, the self-proclaimed Almighty Dollar, suggests just those very things: swindling, cheating, conniving, and so forth.

    However, an unethical god by definition is _not_ a Supreme Being. An unethical god is inferior to an ethical one. By definition, the Supreme Being is the most ethical and good being of all.

    Thus, believing in an unethical god would not qualify you for the Masons. You need to believe in a Supreme Being (however you understand that) to qualify.

    Thanks again for contributing to the discussion.

  8. "Freemasonry, not being a religion (let alone a universalistic one) does not propose itself as a universal solution"

    Masons not being a religion of itself might not fit the definition of being a "non-religion" if one keeps current with the concept. Ritual practice, belief in a Supreme Being, etc.

    There are several gods among various people that claim to be a Supreme Beings but I don't understand how it is that you are able to determine which is a Supreme Being, ethical or good. What is the ultimate standard for the such a judgment?

  9. "What is the ultimate standard for such a judgment?"

    Yes, you are right about my editing and typos because I do want to edit these posts but sometimes not until later.

  10. Mark,

    I'm tripping you up a little but the point being made is there are many tribal gods across South American countries with no sure relation to our standard of good and evil which has been based on Christianity.

    Based on belief in one of the other "Supreme Beings" the Masons would be forced to accept a member of a headhunter tribe if he applied in honesty. He really could not be denied membership because his god was deemed less civilised unless my take is all wrong. He would be a "Supreme Being" believer.

    Its seems the Masons are like a United Nations of gods with membership, just as the U.N. is a government of many governments as members. Can that assumption be incorrect?

  11. I'm not really here to work you over but what better place to get these life-long and nagging questions answered.

  12. Mark,

    I have eagerly awaited a reply but then short of that went looking around the site herein to find The Lost Symbol and Masonry, Part 3.

    There has never been a more in-depth writing explaining what Freemasonry is held out to be.

    Will reread and make speculation. Thanks.

  13. Maybe the Lost Symbol is about a lost symbol.

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  15. If my intentions were to keep everyone believing god was not a goddess, and to conceal the truths of history of past religions for man to prevail in this world only to fall on his face for 5000years then where do i sign up? I'd be more willing to seek freemasonry out if knew it to be the truth of our historyinstead of the KansasCity shuffle to keep everyone but the wolves looking in the wrong direction so the mason's prosper.what does a beehive stand for in freemason drawings?

  16. Anonymous: The first part of your comment is very puzzling to me, so I cannot respond to it.

    You say, "I'd be more willing to seek freemasonry out if I knew it to be the truth of our history instead of the Kansas City shuffle to keep everyone but the wolves looking in the wrong direction so the Masons prosper." Actually, Masonic ritual does not purport to relay actual history. The mythic history portrayed in the Masonic degrees is meant to inspire, nothing more. Beyond that, there is very little of history mentioned in the ritual at all, so it is hard to see what you mean about misdirection. I also don't see how Masons are supposed to "prosper" by any of this.

    As far as the beehive is concerned, this is what a prominent American Masonic scholar of the mid-19th century had to say about the matter:

    "Beehive. An emblem of industry [that is, hard work] appropriated to the third degree. This is a virtue ever held in high esteem among the craft, for our old charges tell us that 'all Masons shall work honestly on working days, that they may live creditably on holidays.' There seems, however, to be a more recondite [i.e., esoteric] meaning connected with this symbol .... as a symbol of regeneration--of the second birth from death to life." (Albert G. Mackey, _Lexicon of Freemasonry_, published 1845, entry "Beehive")


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