Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol': A Mormon’s Response

lostsymbol

lostsymbolLike many authors ranging from Victor Hugo and Shakespeare to James Redfield and James Ferrell, Dan Brown understands the power of a good fictional story. In reading his books, you realize that like the mentioned authors, he teaches ideas and concepts through a made up story instead of a true one. The advantages to this are twofold: 1. You don’t have to write a bibliography (or otherwise back up or defend what you say), and 2. More people will read it if the story’s engaging, regardless of the ideas being taught.

I remember laying in bed reading the DaVinci Code several years ago excited by the story, intrigued by the symbols and codes, and impressed by what seemed to be some restored-gospel truths about Christ and his possible marriage to Mary Magdalene. Originally I rejected the idea of the marriage, but after talking to some of my mentors of the time, decided that “we don’t know” is probably the only for-sure answer we are going to get for the time being.

DaVinci-artworkHowever, I had a powerful epiphany in the middle of the book and came to a much better understanding of Christ’s relationship to the Church. In the DaVinci Code, Brown explores the sacred feminine and the idea that a woman (Mary Magdalene) and Christ’s descendant-bloodline constitute the Holy Grail that so many people believe is a cup. It changed the way I see many of the parables told by the Savior and many other aspects of the New Testament. As I said, we don’t know for sure if Christ married Mary, but this is where Brown gets off track, as do many people I’ve discussed the book with. The key is not about whether or not Christ was married, its about Christ’s relationship to the church, His one true church. Throughout the New Testament, one reoccurring metaphor is that of Jesus as the bridegroom, and the church is his bride. Thus if we follow Brown’s line of reasoning, but with this one minor correction, the Holy Grail is to receive all the blessings that he offers us through His church. As Christ himself put it: “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God” (John 17:3). The Holy Grail is to become the family of Christ, though perhaps not through actual blood lineage, but through sealing bonds combined with the Atonement to make us His–one with Christ, as a husband and wife are commanded to be one. This is one of the great metaphors of the New Testament, and definitely part of the great secret of all time.

Though I enjoyed the story (not necessarily the writing), the DaVinci Code left me almost frustrated because Brown came so near to truth, but still completely missed it. In fact he even went as far as to assert that Christ was merely mortal, not God at all. This is something many people say, but begs the question: “if he was merely mortal, then what makes his bloodline (or wife) special?” Regardless of the plot flaws, it falls back on an old and widespread idea that C. S. Lewis addressed very eloquently:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.1

The Lost Symbol continues on the course set by The DaVinci Code. Here, Brown takes Robert Langdon on an adventure set in Washington DC. A city full of art, architecture, symbols, and all that Langdon specializes in. And once again, the goal seems to be the ultimate quest. The Holy Grail, which has long represented the ultimate quest for knowledge and enlightenment, has already been found. So what’s left? How do you go bigger than that without the strange inter-dimensional aliens quest like Indiana Jones? Mr. Brown’s answer is: the ultimate secret of human potential. Essentially its the true Holy Grail that Brown missed when researching The DaVinci Code. There, he got distracted by a woman (Mary Magdalene) and as a result, tried to de-deify the Savior of the world. us_capitol_dome

In The Lost Symbol, “apotheosis” is the goal. “Apotheosis” literally means to become like God, or the process of becoming godlike. Its similar to the word “deification.” Among many others, the ancient Pharaohs and Mayan kings tried to literally make themselves into gods on earth, but knowing they were still mortal, they built temples, participated in rituals, and setup burial chambers that were designed to aide them in actually becoming a god in the afterlife. Today, the word is often used when a person is so widely honored and adored, that their name and image become super-human. In the book, a painting features prominently titled “The Apotheosis of Washington,” and is painted inside the dome of the US Capitol building. It depicts George Washington being received into heaven, and attaining the status of a God. As both Bryce Haymond and Mark Koltko-Rivera have detailed so well, this strikes a chord with us Mormons.

However, just like before, Brown comes very close while still managing to miss entirely. As Robert Langdon and others pursue Masonic clues leading to the secret of Apotheosis or deification, in an attempt to stop a madman, they learn about both the ancient path to Apotheosis, as well as the supposed modern, scientific equivalent which is supposedly being explored through Noetics. Both are fascinating subjects, and perhaps easier to be introduced to in a novel, than in going to the source material that at least one of Brown’s characters is so familiar with.

I believe that the reason we see common threads that run through secret societies and cults from the Ancient Hellenes Maya, to the modern Freemasons and even court oaths and Boy Scouts, is that even apostate peoples understand the power and importance of temple worship. Since the first descendant of Adam left the true church of Christ, those who followed similar paths have been trying to regain that which they lost: the path back to God. Book_of_Abraham_Facsimile_3Many of those have realized that priesthood, ceremony, learning through symbolism, and sacraments, are key and important factors in attaining this. Abraham tells us that one of the first Pharaohs of Egypt did exactly this:

Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. (Abraham 1:26)

Whether it was the Greek Orphic cults or much more modern Masons, people in various cultures and times have tried to do as Pharaoh did, in restoring the lost knowledge, ordinances, and teachings that God taught Adam & Eve. However, all have had the same problem Pharaoh did, they did not have the proper priesthood authority.

Here is where Dan Brown wanders off the path. He seems to be unable to get over his assertions in DaVinci Code, that in fact Christ is not a God. Not only that, but perhaps there is no god. Man, however, can somehow become god. Or perhaps human potential is god? If man can achieve his full potential, then he will become Godlike? This point he never makes clear and leaves open to speculation and whatever it is that Noetics is supposed to uncover. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the ideas and concepts of Noetics are fascinating, as are the various ancient texts and teachings mentioned throughout the book. Both may prove to help us better understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For me, study of ancient culture, cults, temples, etc. have greatly enhanced my understanding of the modern temple, our cannon of scripture and much more (thus this blog). This is because they try to teach truth, even if they don’t have all of it. And often they understood symbolism as a way of teaching, much better than our modern society. Unlike Mr. Brown however, I believe there is much of these same “echoes” of truth (as one of my mentors liked to say) left in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and to a lesser extent, the various protestant sects.

For me, reading the last two Robert Langdon adventures has been like cheering your football team on, in the toughest game of their season. They’re trailing 27-30 with just under a minute left in the game. They’ve marched all the way from their own 20 yard line, down to the other team’s 15. They’ve run perfect play after perfect play, get a first down on the 5 and have four downs to score. Then they promptly get a 10 yard penalty, followed by 3 wasted downs, and throw an interception on 4th down with 5 seconds left (some of you may have surmised that I’m a Cougar fan). Its just frustrating  to read a very well constructed story, written about symbolism and secrets hidden throughout history, that seems to be on the right track, almost the entire way, then still misses the touchdown somehow.

Family Bible from the mid 1800's

Family Bible from the mid 1800's

In the dénouement (stop reading if you don’t want to know), Brown points to “the word”–aka the Bible–as the secret to unlocking human potential and the deification of man. Once again, we as Mormon’s agree completely, and search for symbolic and allegorical meanings beyond most of the Christian world (or should be). We believe that understanding truth is the single most potent factor in changing people to become like God. As Mormon puts it: “the preaching of the word had a… more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than… anything else, which had happened unto them” (Alma 31:5). But we can’t read a Bible that discounts Jesus Christ as Lord, Master, and Savior of all mankind. Nor can we swallow the idea that being made in God’s image is something less than a complete description: flesh, bones, mind, spirit, and all.

Understand, the book has a great story, and tons of intriguing details, places, symbols, etc. In spite of some super-repetitious descriptors and at least one major plot point that was very, very weak when finally revealed, Brown really understands how to keep tension and conflict as a constant throughout. I think its a great read that is both thought, and learning, provoking, and many who are LDS might even benefit from reading it, if it gets them to ask more questions about the symbols and symbolism in our own temples and the temple experience. It also, as Mark Koltko-Rivera pointed out, may lead to great missionary opportunities as people start questioning some of the ideas in the book.

My point is simply this: Mr. Brown, in spite of the shock waves The DaVinci Code sent through much of the world, in the the restored church of Jesus Christ, we don’t find it strange to think Christ might have been married. In fact our doctrine suggests that if he wasn’t, he will need to be at some point. We fully appreciate the sanctity and sacredness of the sacrament of human sexual intimacy. We appreciate, respect, and elevate women in playing a divine and special role in God’s great plan. We offer illumination, enlightenment, and secret knowledge to those who are true seekers. We believe the body and spirit make the soul of man, therefore the concept that our minds unleash our potential and are connected with the spiritual, is familiar. We teach the concept of man becoming like God (even gods themselves), or apotheosis; in fact it is perhaps the core doctrine of our religion, and one that sets us apart from most modern religions. Ceremony, symbol, allegory, parable, etc., etc., are all commonplace forms of teaching throughout our church. They offer depths upon depths of understanding, and also weed out those who are not true seekers by hiding their deeper meanings. The word, or holy scriptures are central to all our learning, teaching, and action in the church, and they offer the same depths of understanding through use of the same types of symbols & allegory already mentioned. I could continue this list, but hopefully you get the point. And so Mr. Brown, if yourself is in any way represented in the character of Robert Langdon, and you’ve opened yourself to possibilities, “come and see” what a religion that has been teaching so much of what your recent books assert, for well over a century and a half, has to offer.

  1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1952, pp. 40–41

18 thoughts on “Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol': A Mormon’s Response

  1. Great post. Great thoughts. You brought up some things for me to ponder. Thank you.

    One minor correction, "The Apotheosis of Washington" is the name of the painting in the US Capitol, not the name of a book.

  2. Except that Masons don't engage in Temple worship nor are they trying to restore knowledge attributed to Adam.

    • Gac,
      Mason's engage in ceremony that they consider sacred, which teaches people that participate to become more like God, in buildings they themselves call "temples."

  3. It seems a bit of a stretch t claim that Greeks and apostates and virtually anyone else who dabbled in secrecy did so because they were trying to get back to temple worship. Perhaps secrecy and symbolism have their own attractions to humans and not all of those attractions are of a divine nature.

    • Ray,

      I didn't mean to imply that everyone who did anything in secret, was trying to get back to temple worship. Sorry if you understood that from what I wrote. What I was trying to say is the people in every culture (especially nobility who had the luxury) have been worried about their own mortality. But whether they were using religion to control the population, using cults as a way to pass knowledge among elites, or just outright mimicking the things of God in "secret combinations;" since God (through Adam) is the originator of sacred ritual, symbolism, and worship, we find many temple themes, symbols, practices, myths, stories, etc. etc. in every major culture (and most minor ones) throughout the history of the world.

      Based on my own studies those that have the most consistent and frequent ties are the ancient Egyptians (obvious from Abraham), Greeks, and Maya. However, I'm not an expert. Many LDS scholars that are, as well as many non-LDS scholars such as Joseph Campbell, have documented this. Truman Madsen said of Hugh Nibley: "If there is a major preoccupation in his life, certainly over the last twenty to twenty-five years, it has been the temple. His task has been to study world ritual, to look at ceremony as it relates to temples all over the world, going as far back as possible in antiquity."

  4. I'm sorry, but you've been given incorrect information. Masonic ceremonies are not considered sacred. The Masonic temples represent King Solomon's Temple, which figures in the allegorical drama presented. They do not have religious significance. There is no teaching to help men become more like G-d, if for no other reason than Masons do not define Deity, leaving that for each individual man to decide. There is no doctrine of salvation taught in Masonic ritual.

    If you are in Utah, come to Salt Lake. I'd be happy to give you a tour of the Salt Lake Masonic Temple.

  5. GAC,

    Sorry, I didn't mean to present myself as an expert. I understand that Masons adhere to no set of "doctrines" and make no claims to salvation, and are therefore not a religion. And you are right, they don't engage in "temple worship" as you mentioned previously. You'll notice I also mentioned the ceremonial practices of courts of law, and Boy Scouts. Both of which we all know can be entirely Godless, at times.

    I would humbly suggest (you seeming to be much more expert in Masonry than I), however, that their ceremonies and structure, whether adopted from Ancient Egypt, Rome, Solomon's Temple, or other sources, are echoes of things taught to Adam. I believe that all these threads that so resemble temple ceremony truth, all lead back to Adam, or Moses, or Solomon, or Jesus Christ, each in their respective restorations of temple principles and worship. The same can be seen in our day, wherein break-off groups (polygamists for example) mimic temple ceremony, symbols, etc. (check out Manti sometime). In another few generations their ceremonies may look very different from those they copied, but echoes will remain. Already, break-off groups from the early days, have a very different set of practices.

    Thank you so much for your kind offer. I would love to tour the SL Masonic Temple, and would be very grateful to have you as my guide. I live in the Sandy area, so it should not be a problem. I'll email you. Thanks again.

  6. Thanks for the kind note. Let me clarify: The ritual used by Masons does not descend from Solomon. Our ritualistic drama simply uses as a back drop King Solomon's Temple. We do not claim that the ritual descends from Solomon, Egypt and certainly not Adam. Indeed, we use different modes of recognition and signs in different rituals. What I have taught in the US is not what I have taught in the UK.

    I have glanced at the e-mail you have sent and will contact you on a tour of the Salt Lake Masonic Temple

    • Thanks for your kind invitation. Your online handle obscures your credentials on the subject. Thanks for clarifying that. I was well aware, but perhaps others weren't, especially from my comments on the subject which could be misleading. Thank you once again, we're honored by your comments and welcome them at any time. I look forward to the tour.

  7. […] They do articles on Mormon topics around the internet, and featured our recent article “Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’: A Mormon’s Response” as reflective of the LDS response to Brown’s new novel. Visit their blog to see what […]

  8. Hi Great post!

    Reminds me of a lot of Hugh Nibley's writings.

    I would agree more than GAC about the points pertaining to Freemasonry, we do very much point towards becoming like "Grand Architect of the universe." Though it is not said outright, anyone who has read Manly P halls discourses, (considered one of the most knowledgeable freemasons of our time) must come to the conclusion that freemasonry at one time did have a divine origin.

  9. Thanks for the enlightening information. I am in the midst of reading Brown's book, and similarly fascinated by the LDS themes he conjures (knowlingly or not).

    GAC and Colt: I have been very interested for years in mason's symbols, and read some interesting descriptions from a friend who was a Prince Hall mason (though ironically not African American, though I know their group is no longer just African Americans). Though obviously from your comments regarding the Masons there is no attempt to achieve a religious status (Brown actually gives a great litmus test for this in the book when looking back on a lecture, and a student notes the ABC of religion–religion Assures salvation, Believe in a precise theology, and Convert nonbelievers), my understanding (with an incredibly limited background) is that the Masons do seek a degree of perfection in life, striving always to seek it and using the symbols of construction as reminders of how and why to seek that perfection. Does that jive with your understanding?

    I love mostly that what I've read so far in Brown's book is a reminder to people to look beyond the surface of a belief system or a perceived activity, and understand the rationale for the symbolism. For example, I'm in Iraq right now. I see women wearing burquas all the time, and our media tends to present this as a representation of the repression placed upon women in Muslim cultures. However, as I've come to understand, the purpose is to protect the sanctity of marriage, and help others to avoid the temptation of objectifying the female body–both of which are serious concerns both in our church and the Western world today. I don't necessarily agree with the way that some in the Muslim faith choose to enforce this, nor do I think that it is necessarily the most effective way (very Mosaic), but when I think of the purpose, I have a greater respect for the faith of Islam and the desire of adherents to be focused on things of a spiritual nature, rather than being overwhelmed by "pursuits of the flesh."

  10. Darkbull: Great thoughts!

    One of the best similarities that I have come to find between the Masons and LDS is that both have a similar way of relating information. In Masonry there is a ask and get kind of policy. Nothing if given until the seeker asks or endeavors to find it. Meaning there are alot of things that some members know. But others could be at a similar or higher degree and know less. In the LDS faith the most repeated phrase in the Book of Mormon is "ask and ye shall receive seek and ye shall find knock and it shall be opened unto you, for unto him that asks shall it be given, he that seeks shall find, and unto him that knocks shall it be opened unto him, even all the mysteries of heaven." Both peach first the heart then the mind kind of learning. However the LDS differ in one aspect. They will peach repentance and faith in Jesus Christ to all. In hopes that someone will feel the light contained therein. Then once your mind is enlightened to that degree. You have to start to spend more time in order to become more enlightened. It is interesting to note that nearly all the Brethren of the early LDS church were Masons in Navuoo. A number according to LDS church history to be around 2000. The LDS believed and currently do still believe that Masonry is close to the priesthood and held many important truths lost through the ages. The LDS believe that Joseph Smith taught what could be called the pure masonry. If you compare the stories of Joseph and Hyram Abiff: Hyram was visited by two Gods that gave him instructions on how to build the temple. Joseph was visited by Two Gods and Taught how to build the Temple again. And both were martyred by those whom they had brought up. It is really quite intriguing.

    If you really want to see how close the two orders are, Read "The Egyptian endowment " by Hugh Nibley, and compare it to" Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians." by manly P hall.

    Feel free to email me with any questions or thoughts ColtDarleyPharm@gmail.com

  11. I would not say Masons search for perfection. I think it more accurate to say the seek to subdue their passions and improve themselves.

  12. GAC,

    In my mind, your statement would be synonymous with seeking perfection. Why better yourself if you're not striving for the ideal. I'm not suggesting that it would be achieved (outside of utilizing the Atonement in the quest), but I think that it is a worthy goal, and would/should be what any individual/group is seeking who tries to improve themselves.

    It is sad that suggesting perfection as a goal might elicit negative criticism from those who might twist it into meaning something it isn't.

  13. Thanks to all who've participated in this discussion. I'm not trying to kill it by saying this, but I appreciate all the different perspectives and insights. This is the kind of discussion I'd hoped my blog would generate. I see it as serving 2 purposes: 1. A place where I (and other people) can share what I've learned through posting articles. 2. A place where we all learn from each other, by participating in the discussions that follow a post that accomplished #1.

  14. Great blog and discussion here. I have nothing really else to offer than I really enjoyed the novels talked about, and they have sparked an interested both in religious and secular symbology. Thanks for the blog!

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