There’s nothing I like better than a good murder mystery. I cut my teeth on Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Perry Mason, and Ellery Queen. Nowadays I turn to such luminaries as John Grisham, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson, and William Bernhardt. And that is what Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol is a good murder mystery, at least superficially.
Actually, the storyline is a good carrier for philosophy—Masonic philosophy and Dan Brown’s philosophy which somehow become intertwined. Brown has more hidden meanings attributed to Masonry than all the members of any American Grand Lodge would have in a lifetime. But, without all the puzzels, Brown wouldn’t have had a good carrier for his philosophy which he tries to convince you is part of Masonry. The philosophy of Noetics is not part of Masonic thought, nor is a Gnostic religion endorsed by Masonry although you can find many Gnostic Masonic practitioners.
This is the first criticism of The Lost Symbol and the most telling. Millions of people unfamiliar with Masonry will pick up the book (or film) and go away believing that the gospel of Dan Brown is the real deal of what Freemasonry is all about. That the United States was founded by Masons who were predominately Deists is not a fact but a hotly debated hypothesis. The idea that Washington DC was modeled on ancient Rome has some merit but giving the impression that it was the totality of the city is just plain wrong. Not to provide any room for Christian/Jewish thought, Christian /Jewish philosophy and Christian/Jewish symbolism is to steer the discussion and the minds of readers into a mode of Masonic/Deists/Gnostic “God is within you and you are God” philosophy which is not generally representative of where most Masons were two hundred years ago nor where they are now.
The second criticism of The Lost Symbol is the constant mentioning of a special knowledge that 33rd degree Masons possess and a certain special inner circle within the secret society. Believe me when I tell you that many Evangelical Christians and “New World Order” conspiracy freaks have made these charges for years. Just ask Pat Robertson. I’ve had these people tell me personally, “Well, if you don’t see it, you just aren’t privy to the inner circle.” So we have the profane telling a Mason that they know more about the Freemasonry than a mason does. The Internet is full of these conspiracy theorists who will tell you how satanic and evil Masonry is. We need another supposedly intelligent and celebrated testimonial affirming this loony vision like we need another hole in our head.
And because Masons like things in threes, let me add a third criticism of the book. Why are we, as Masons, so quick to jump on the bandwagon of sensationalism? Why do we believe that this book will be our Savior; that it will bring us all kinds of new membership? Are we that desperate? Is sensationalizing Masonry not corrupting it? Has the message of Masonry and the true philosophy of who and what we are been somehow compromised for the sake of personal profit? And are we just a tad too willing to sacrifice our doctrine for the sake of popularity? If so why don’t we promote a few books with the hidden Masonic meaning of the phallic symbol? After all, sex sells everything from cars to soap.
Lest you think I have been too hard on the book, there is much to be said in its favor.
The science of Noetics that Brown talks about is a serious scientific investigation today. There is a whole school of Quantum Physics that brings science and religion together. There are tests being performed that show that the speed of light has been far surpassed and that the power of thought is energy, an energy that can be created by human beings. This line of inquiry is not far fetched. And it is a development which I feel is the next human frontier. That being said connecting it into Masonry is a stretch, but one that if you don’t take seriously and see Brown smiling all the way to the bank makes a good story.
The way The Lost Symbol is written is a very effective way to get a message across if that is your intent. That is if you have an agenda or a definite message which you want to put forth, wrapping it within a powerful fictional story is always more effective than a dry recitation of philosophical thought written in the manner of a documentary or nonfiction work. Those who have read Atlas Shrugged will recognize this same technique employed by Ayn Rand. John Galt’s long soliloquy at the end of Atlas Shrugged matches the same dissertations of Peter & Katherine Solomon in chapters 131 AND 133 of The Lost Symbol.
The Lost Symbol is a great read and a book that will bring many newcomers to Masonry. I enjoyed reading it. But I have to ask if going down this road and becoming dependent on the growth of the Craft welded to sensationalism is not a corrupting influence, the road best not traveled.