I just finished Dan Brown’s latest thriller, The Lost Symbol, which was published a few days ago on September 15th. There has been a lot of anticipation surrounding this book, since 6 years have passed since the publication of his bestseller The Da Vinci Code, with 80 million copies sold worldwide to date. Many wondered if Brown would repeat his success with this book, and while the jury is still out on the answer to that question, I must say that I’m personally fascinated by the material that Brown discusses in this novel.
As was predicted, the story centers around the subject of Freemasonry (or simply Masonry), which most people have heard of but know little about. This is perhaps the reason Brown chose to explore this subject, one that was ripe for novelty in historical fiction. However, as before, Brown branches out into a myriad of related subjects and connections, weaving a web of mystery and puzzles which must be solved once again by his favorite character, Robert Langdon.
But this is not going to be a review of the book. There will be ample time for that, with more qualified critics analyzing the merits and faults of Brown’s work. In addition, I don’t want to spoil anything while the pages are still wet. I do quote some brief excerpts from the book below, but they are mostly circumstantial details, and won’t give much away about the plot, if anything.
What I do want to point out are some interesting general impressions I had while I read, particularly as they relate to me, my studies, and the LDS (Mormon) faith. Call them synchronicities or coincidences, or just interesting tidbits, either way they have called my attention.
The Apotheosis of Washington
Three months ago, on June 27, 2009, I wrote a short post about the painting that adorns the interior side of the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building rotunda. That painting is called The Apotheosis of Washington, which surprisingly figures quite predominantly in Dan Brown’s book. I had been watching a show called Secret America on Discovery, when they had mentioned the painting. I immediately went online to find out more about it, and wrote about it on TempleStudy.com. The strange thing is that it was a pretty obscure painting that not many people had heard about.
What’s even more interesting is that I mentioned the painting again just two weeks ago, on September 3. A friend had told me about an ebook that had been written about the U.S. Capitol, and the painting of Washington filled the front cover. It’s quite possible that people have been getting wind of the subject matter of Brown’s book for a while, making programs and books about the more esoteric aspects of Washington, D.C., and I picked up on some of that because of their relationship to the temple. But it still surprised me to find that prior to The Lost Symbol‘s publication, I had written specifically about a painting which bookends and frames the plot of Dan Brown’s novel.
Why is the painting so predominant? The book does a good job of explaining that, as well as my previous posts. The painting depicts George Washington, one of our Founding Fathers, and first President, ascending into heaven to sit amongst the gods and becoming deified as one of them. As theosis is a major theme of the book, man’s potential to become like god, it is no wonder that Brown used this painting as a central motif.
Theosis, or deification, has always been a sticking point with critics of the LDS Church. To these seemingly erudite scholars, a belief in theosis is likely the most heretical and blasphemous doctrine Mormonism could have possibly come up with – the idea that fallen and sinful man could rise to the stature of our God in heaven. And to many modern-day Christians, it probably seems that way. Fortunately, with some homework, you will quite literally find a plethora of references to the doctrine of theosis in the ancient world, including in Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, even Jesus Christ himself declared that man had divine potential when he repeated the Psalm, “ye are gods,” to teach the Jews it was not blasphemous for him to call himself the Son of God (John 10:31–36; cf. Ps. 82:6). Indeed, even the idea of “fallen” man indicates that he was once at a higher state, a state to which he can return through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The Latter-day Saints believe that we are literally children of God, our Father in Heaven, and as His children we have the potential to become just as He is.
Dissertations and books have been written on the subject of theosis, and much more could be said. Suffice it to say, for the present, that even Christianity’s most oft-quoted and beloved modern theologian, C. S. Lewis, once said the following:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . . 1
The command “Be ye perfect” is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to Him perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said. 2
Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be remade. . . . we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. 3
Moreover, even entire semester university courses have been designed to teach on this particular, that there is a common theme throughout the works of C. S. Lewis, and that is “theosis… Christianity’s ultimate end is the deification of a person”4. One of my favorite lines in The Lost Symbol on this subject was a simple statement from Peter Solomon:
“A wise man once told me,” Peter said, his voice faint now, “the only difference between you and God is that you have forgotten you are divine.”5
I want to take note of the two references to Mormonism in The Lost Symbol. The first is on page 79:
“As are many equally improbable beliefs.” Langdon often reminded his students that most modern religions included stories that did not hold up to scientific scrutiny: everything from Moses parting the Red Sea . . . to Joseph Smith using magic eyeglasses to translate the Book of Mormon from a series of gold plates he found buried in upstate New York. Wide acceptance of an idea is not proof of its validity.6
This is somewhat of a backhanded compliment. On the one hand, Langdon is saying that the stated origins of the Book of Mormon are improbable based on scientific scrutiny. On the other hand, he compares the belief to Moses parting the Red Sea, quite a miracle and one which many millions of several different faiths believe was a literal reality. What is interesting is that even though the stated origins of the Book of Mormon may not hold up to “scientific” scrutiny (and they probably never will), neither has science, or anyone else, been able to determine and explain the supposed actual origins of the complex book of 588 printed pages, produced in 60 some-odd working days, if it wasn’t translated as it claims. It is like Dan Brown producing The Lost Symbol in 60 days, instead of 6 years, and that’s giving him extra time with 79 less pages to write. Furthermore, there are references later in The Lost Symbol that indicate that the always incredulous Langdon might have began to think differently after his experiences. Warren Bellamy teaches him:
“I’ve learned never to close my mind to an idea simply because it seems miraculous.”7
The other reference to Mormonism is on page 438:
…all spiritual rituals included aspects that would seem frightening if taken out of context—crucifixion reenactments, Jewish circumcision rites, Mormon baptisms of the dead, Catholic exorcisms, Islamic niqab, shamanic trance healing, the Jewish Kaparot ceremony, even the eating of the figurative body and blood of Christ.8
The exquisite irony here is that even Dan Brown took Mormon practices out of context by misstating our ritual. Mormons practice baptisms “for” the dead, not baptisms “of” the dead. It is precisely these kind of mistakes that make rituals appear frightening. There are many who do not understand this LDS practice because they believe we somehow baptize literal dead corpses – “of” the dead. I’m not exactly sure how the logistics of that would work, and it would require a host of exhumation permits, but it is far from actuality. We baptize for, and in behalf of, people who have died without the opportunity of baptism. Members of the Church research their own line of genealogy, and take names of ancestors to the temple so they themselves can perform proxy vicarious baptisms, in name only, for their deceased forebearers who did not have that chance in life. We believe that those people have the opportunity to accept or reject the baptism performed for them in the afterlife.
I now want to take note of a few intriguing references to subjects that I did not know were thought about outside of the LDS Church; indeed, I have not heard them discussed outside an LDS context. The first is “intelligences.”
After their discussion, Katherine had a strange notion. Her brother had mentioned the Book of Genesis and its description of the soul as Neshemah—a kind of spiritual “intelligence” that was separate from the body. It occurred to Katherine that the word intelligence suggested the presence of thought.9
This was something that I thought was unique to LDS belief, the idea that the spirit is an “intelligence.” Indeed, the Book of Abraham in the LDS canon teaches about intelligences:
21 I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.
22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born. (Abraham 3:21–23)
Here, the Book of Abraham makes clear that intelligences, souls, and spirits, are all inter-related, and may be one in the same thing. They are the “minds” of men and women before being born on the earth with physical bodies. Interestingly, a few verses earlier the scriptures suggests that God is God because he is “more intelligent than they all” (Abr. 3:19). This is a related theme to theosis taken up in the book, that it is the enlightened mind and exalted intelligence that eventually deifies man to become like God. Katherine in the book goes so far as to say that “it was our minds that were created in the image of God”10. As far as the pre-mortal life is concerned, LDS belief would agree with her, but we also take it to the next logical conclusion, that what man now is, God once was, and that as God now is, man may be11. Consequently, we believe that God has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s, albeit exalted and perfected (D&C 130:22).
Directly after discussing intelligences, Katherine explains her conclusion:
Noetic Science clearly suggested that thoughts had mass, and so it stood to reason, then, that the human soul might therefore also have mass. Can I weigh a human soul?…
Katherine recalled writing in her lab notes with a trembling hand: “There seems to exist an invisible ‘material’ that exits the human body at the moment of death. It has quantifiable mass which is unimpeded by physical barriers. I must assume it moves in a dimension I cannot yet perceive.”12
Again, LDS scripture indicates that spirit has mass:
7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter. (D&C 131:7–8)
This was a revelation received by the Prophet Joseph Smith in May of 1843. I don’t know of any other religious faith that believes that spirit is matter, finer and more pure matter, but nonetheless has a mass. Also notice, however, that the scripture says “spirit,” not “spirits,” and is therefore not necessarily exclusively describing spirit bodies. It says “all spirit.” Other early Mormon prophets taught that all space has life, and therefore all space has energy. Another scripture tells us that “light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space – The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things” (D&C 88:12–13; cf. D&C 88:37). All space has light. All space has energy. All space has matter. All space has mass. When our bodies (and minds) are purified we will see that it is so.
Of course, one theme mentioned time and time again throughout the book is the ancient mysteries.
“The Hand of the Mysteries is a formal invitation to pass through a mystical gateway and acquire ancient secret knowledge—powerful wisdom known as the Ancient Mysteries . . . or the lost wisdom of all the ages.”13
I’ve written about “the mysteries” before. Suffice it to say that the mysteries spoken of in early Christians texts use the word to indicate certain initiation rites or sacraments. Joseph Smith used the term “mysteries” to describe the ordinances of the temple, in association with the authoritative keys of the priesthood14.
Plurality of Gods
The Lost Symbol also briefly notes:
God is found in the collection of Many . . . rather than in the One.
“Elohim,” Langdon said suddenly, his eyes flying open again as he made an unexpected connection.
“I’m sorry?” Katherine was still gazing down at him.
“Elohim,” he repeated. “The Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament! I’ve always wondered about it.”
Katherine gave a knowing smile. “Yes. The word is plural.”
Exactly! Langdon had never understood why the very first passages of the Bible referred to God as a plural being. Elohim. The Almighty God in Genesis was described not as One . . . but as Many.
“God is plural,” Katherine whispered, “because the minds of man are plural.”15
On this subject, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
It is perfectly true, as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price and in the Bible, that to us there is but one God. Correctly interpreted God in this sense means Godhead, for it is composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Godhead presides over us, and to us, the inhabitants of this world, they constitute the only God, or Godhead. There is none other besides them. (1 Corinthians 8:5–6.) To them we are amenable, and subject to their authority, and there is no other Godhead unto whom we are subject. However, as the Prophet has shown, there can be, and are, other Gods.
Have we overlooked the fact that the scriptures, ancient and modern, hold out the promise to all those who are faithful and true to every covenant and obligation which the gospel places upon them that the reward will be that they shall become gods? Jesus taught this doctrine to the Jews. It is interwoven throughout all of our Standard Works. The promise has been made to all who are just and true, that they shall become sons and daughters of God, members of his household, (Ephesians 3: 14–15) “joint heirs with Jesus Christ,” (Romans 8:17) and entitled to the fulness of exaltation.
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. (D&C 132:20)16
A Modern Worldview from Plato’s Cave
Lastly, four years ago, long before I started TempleStudy.com, I wrote a paper for Dr. Brent Strong’s History of Creativity course at Brigham Young University17. The final assignment of the course was to either do a project or write a paper that would exhibit big “C” creativity. Big “C” creativity was contrasted with little “c” creativity. Little “c” creativity was described as something that is creative on a personal level, something that gives you many personal “firsts.” Big “C” creativity was something else entirely, something big enough to be creative on a world-wide level, something that was unique, valuable, had intent, and implementation excellence and continuance. While this is not the place to explain fully what those terms meant, suffice it to say that big “C” creativity needed to be something other than your home-made weekend papier-mâché project. It needed to be creative to the world.
I took the project seriously, and thought of many things I might be able to do. Finally I decided to try to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Hugh Nibley, and write something of real worth. I’m glad I did, as it is probably one of the major catalysts that drove me to build this website.
What I wrote was “A Modern Worldview from Plato’s Cave.” For a long time I had the impression that the world is not exactly as we see it. Reading certain books on quantum mechanics, in particular, opened my eyes to a new level of reality. Something else is going on in our world that we are just beginning to try to grasp, yet remains mind-boggling. The interesting thing is that there were many parallels of the same theme manifest in many times, cultures, religions, and locations around the world. The diversity of the theme I wanted to explore, to see if I could come to any conclusions of “why.”
The reason I bring this up now is that after having read The Lost Symbol, the subject of my paper four years ago bears upon some of the same subjects as the novel, namely Noetics, quantum mechanics, the power of the mind, enlightenment, and hidden secrets in the world. Some of my paper almost reads as an extension of one of Katherine’s or Peter’s sermons from the book. As I read The Lost Symbol, I couldn’t help but notice that I had studied some of these things before.
I have never published the paper I wrote, but today seems as good a day as ever, particularly in light of this new novel that will surely generate conversation on the topic for the foreseeable future. Below is a link to a PDF of my paper. I’ve also embedded it below for easy viewing. It is about 50 pages in length. Please let me know your thoughts.
There will be much more to discuss about Dan Brown’s latest book. Do you have any insights about The Lost Symbol you’d like to share? Please discuss with us in the comments.
- C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory [↩]
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity [↩]
- C. S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle [↩]
- University of Notre Dame, Department of Theology, Undergraduate Course listing, class THEO 40238 C.S. LEWIS: THEOSIS, link. [↩]
- Page 492 [↩]
- Page 79 [↩]
- Page 211 [↩]
- Page 438 [↩]
- Page 392 [↩]
- Page 501 [↩]
- The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), 2. [↩]
- Page 392, 395 [↩]
- Page 78 [↩]
- Richard H. Winkel, “The Temple Is About Families,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 11 [↩]
- Page 504-505 [↩]
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 2 (1958), 142. [↩]
- MFG 201, History of Creativity: Pre-1500, BYU. [↩]