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.