The Right Perspective on Dan Brown and The Lost Symbol
The first thing for every Freemason to do is to keep the right perspective on Dan Brown and The Lost Symbol. That perspective is this: Dan Brown is doing Freemasonry a favor, whether he portrays Masons as heroes or villains -- whether he wants to or not!
Well has it been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. I am told that, many years ago, one much-maligned celebrity, when asked how this person felt about being the subject of so many scandalous stories in the press, simply replied: "I just ask them to spell my name right."
I have made the case in Part 2 of this series that every Freemason ought to care about Dan Brown's portrayal of Freemasonry in his new novel. That is certainly true: Dan Brown's novel will shape the public's perception of Freemasonry for a generation. However, this is not to say that care should turn to fear. Rather, we should make it our business to seize the day and take advantage of this tremendous opportunity.
If The Lost Symbol sells "only" as well as The Da Vinci Code, somewhere over 80 million people worldwide are going to hear about Freemasonry; at least 45 million of those are going to be in the United States. When the movie comes out, as it inevitably will, there will be tens of millions more people who hear about us. That kind of exposure -- exposure on a scale we could never hope to buy! -- will create curiosity. A culture that thought Freemasonry was extinct will come to understand that we are still around, and that Masonry has something to offer.
Our job, then, is to capitalize on that curiosity, to reach the right kind of man, and to give him the opportunity to take the initiative to ask about Freemasonry. (He can't take the initiative if he doesn't know we exist, or what we stand for, right?)
And just what is "the right kind of man"? The man who is interested in improving himself, in making a real contribution to society, in building something of value rather than just existing and consuming. The man who is interested in basing his life on deeper values, not the shallow values put forth by popular culture. The man who has a belief in a Supreme Being, whatever his formal religious affiliation (if any). The man who -- regardless of his race, color, nationality, ethnicity, or any of the other ultimately meaningless accidents of birth -- the man who wants to base his life on the search for philosophical Truth, the company of a Brotherhood of good men from all walks of life, and the rendering of Relief and service to the needy.
To a large extent, these guys don't know where to find us or how to approach us. Our job? Show them where and how. And Dan Brown has given us the perfect vehicle with which to accomplish this.
So, regardless of what he says about us, let us not focus any anger or irritation at Dan Brown. He's doing us a favor. (Although, I will admit, if he slams us, that Lower East Side Kid who lives in the tenement apartment neighborhood in my soul will be thinking, "Lost your symbol, Dan? I've gotcha lost symbol ri-i-i-ght here, buddy boy . . ." Not that the Masonic Gentleman in my soul would ever even think anything like that, mind you. No sirree.)
There are two levels of action that we should pursue: action on the organizational level -- the Grand Lodge and the Particular Lodge within the Blue Lodge, the local York Rite Bodies, and the Scottish Rite Bodies on the level of the Orient and Valley -- and action on the part of the individual Mason. In the remainder of this post, I describe the actions that Masonic organizations should take; in Part 4 of this series, I shall address actions that the individual Mason should take.
Every organization within Freemasonry should take some part in responding to Dan Brown's novel and its portrayal of Freemasonry (whether that be good, bad, or ugly). This means, in the Blue Lodge, every Grand Lodge, District, and Particular Lodge (that is, the local lodge where you meet). In the York Rite, this means the York Rite Bodies of a particular locale. In the Scottish Rite, this means both the Southern Jurisdiction and the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, each Orient, and each Valley within each Orient. It's time for a full-court press.
(The other concordant and appendant organizations are also welcome to participate. My suggestion, however, is that you give strength to your local Blue Lodge, York Rite, and Scottish Rite organizations, rather than divide our efforts.)
In many areas, it will be necessary and sensible for the Blue Lodge and the Rites to simply work together. However, the fact of the matter is that some brethren affiliate more with the Rites than with the Blue Lodge; to maximize our manpower, we should engage them through the Rites.
In addition, each organization has something special to add in the drive to get the word out about Freemasonry. The Blue Lodge has our history and basic symbolism to discuss. The York Rite has its ties to Templarism to describe, and its focus on the Temple of Solomon. The Scottish Rite can explain the way that it draws from various traditions for its degrees; the Scottish Rite also needs to address the real history of Albert Pike, as opposed to the fantasy that I think will be put forth by Dan Brown.
Consequently, what I say below applies to each level of each of these three organizations, the Blue Lodge, the York Rite, and the Scottish Rite. When it comes to public communications, each of these organizations should coordinate with the others. Events like open houses should be held in coordination and conjunction among these three branches of Masonry.
In this connection, I think of the February 2008 open house hosted by the Scottish Rite Valley of Orlando, Florida. The Scottish Rite made its building available for the event (it has the largest Masonic building for miles around), and the Blue Lodges in the district, as well as the Orlando York Rite Bodies and the Scottish Rite itself, provided manpower. The open house was well attended, and a surprisingly large number of local men came forth to submit petitions to the Fraternity.
I see two specific types of activity at the organizational level: public relations, and public events. I describe each of these below.
When The Lost Symbol is published on September 15 of this year, you can expect at least a small-scale media circus, such as attended the publication of the last few Harry Potter novels, except that this time adults will be the focus of the midnight bookstore parties and the TV interviews. News organizations will be hungry for anything to broadcast. We can help to fill that need.
- Dan Brown's novel features the Freemasons.
- The Freemasons really exist today, in your community.
- The local Freemasons will be glad to answer questions about Freemasonry, its history, and its symbolism, for the news media.
- Questions should be addressed to specific people, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers.
As you can tell from the illustration above, I suggest that Masonic organizations host open houses that revolve around the theme of The Lost Symbol.
Elsewhere, I have posted an August 2007 white paper on preparing an open house to address Dan Brown's Masonic novel. (This paper also addressed what turned out to be a bust for Masonry, the second National Treasure movie. The Lost Symbol, however, is not a movie where the script can be changed at the last minute; presses are printing this book at this very moment, and the publisher's clues definitely point to Freemasonry, as I note here.)
Given the clues that Dan Brown's publisher has posted since late June regarding the novel, I would amend the white paper to suggest the following as points to focus on in an open house:
- The basic symbolism of Freemasonry
- Freemasonry, the Founding Fathers, and the American Revolution
- The role of Freemasonry today: the search for Truth, as expressed through our symbolic initiations; the promotion of Brotherhood, through the fellowship of the lodge involving men from all walks of life; the providing of Relief, both locally and through our charities.
In addition, we should take on directly a number of topics where it will likely be necessary to correct Dan Brown:
- The Illuminati and Freemasonry. The two were separate organizations. The Illuminati were antithetical to the spirit of Freemasonry. The Illuminati took over some Masonic lodges in Europe, but died out during the period 1784 to 1795.
- The Knights of the Golden Circle. Despite the novel, there is no connection between them and either the Scottish Rite or Albert Pike.
- The Great Seal of the United States. It's not a Masonic symbol or set of symbols.
- The Streets of Washington, DC. They are not full of Masonic symbols.
- Political conspiracy. It's not a Masonic activity.
- Whatever else Dan Brown says about us that isn't true
I would suggest October as a prime time for the open houses. This novel is going to sell quickly, and interest will be highest at that time. However, this novel is also going to be a big winter holiday gift item, and so perhaps February would be a good time as well.
Next time: What the individual Mason can do to prepare for the opportunities presented by the publication of The Lost Symbol.