Like 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.
However, 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.
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. Many 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.
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.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1952, pp. 40–41 ↩