Dan Brown takes on the Masons

Lost Symbol coverWorried booksellers are thanking their lucky stars for the The Lost Symbol, which has already sold a million copies since its Tuesday release. (Booksellers are also anxiously anticipating Oprah's latest book club choice on Friday). A sense of professional and cultural obligation led me to join the 80 million other people who bought Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. I dutifully read the whole thing and saw the movie, like I did with The Golden Compass and Left Behind.

I won't be lining up to buy The Lost Symbol, so I am depending on the press to answer my questions: What's Dan up to this time? And will The Lost Symbol dis Masons like The DaVinci Code did Opus Dei?

Leading the charge on Sunday was Parade magazine's interview and excerpt. All I remember about the brief excerpt was: "Temple," "human skull," and wine that was "bloodred."

The Q&A interview was more interesting, as Q&A interviews often are (lots of examples in here):

Are you religious? I was raised Episcopalian, and I was very religious as a kid. Then, in eighth or ninth grade, I studied astronomy, cosmology, and the origins of the universe. I remember saying to a minister, "I don't get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?" Unfortunately, the response I got was, "Nice boys don't ask that question." A light went off, and I said, "The Bible doesn't make sense. Science makes much more sense to me." And I just gravitated away from religion.

Where are you now? The irony is that I've really come full circle. The more science I studied, the more I saw that physics becomes metaphysics and numbers become imaginary numbers. The farther you go into science, the mushier the ground gets. You start to say, "Oh, there is an order and a spiritual aspect to science."

On Monday came Janet Maslin's embargo-busting and largely positive review in The New York Times. Maslin confirmed rumors that symbologist Robert Langdon's new exploits involve Freemasonry, but left it at that. (She also described the book as "an affirmation of faith.")

While Maslin's piece neglected to explore the novel's Masonic elements, Mark Barna of the Colorado Springs Gazette (where I formerly covered religion) wrote a lengthy Sunday piece on Masons that never once mentioned The Lost Symbol. The article did report that local Masons are hosting an open house this Friday but failed to explain why they're doing so now.

A Sept. 3 Religion News Service story by S. J. Velasquez told how Masons were preparing for their anticipated appearance in Brown's crosshairs. (Confession: I have written for RNS for more than a decade and had planned to avoid commenting on its work. But I couldn't help myself this time because it did best in exploring the Brown/Masons religio-cultural sweet spot.)

As members of a secretive brotherhood, Freemasons are no strangers to conspiracy theories. They've heard it all before: that they're child-sacrificing cult members, or religious zealots plotting a New World Order with the Jews, or satanic anti-religious alien spies.

With Dan Brown's newest novel, "The Lost Symbol," hitting bookstores on Sept. 15--much of it rumored to center around Masonic myths--the Masons are in preemptive damage-control mode.

The article says Masons are hoping to make the best of a potentially bad situation:

"This is a major development that will affect the public perception of Freemasonry for years. Don't forget that tens of millions of people think they understood what Opus Dei was after they read '(The) Da Vinci Code,'" wrote Chris Hodapp, a Mason from Indianapolis, and author of "Freemasons for Dummies," in his blog of the same name.

The news isn't all bad, however. Whether Brown makes Masons the good guys or the villains, members of the brotherhood seem to agree that the attention could nonetheless pique people's interest and lead to increased membership requests.

In my three weeks on the GetReligion team I have seen that informed and engaged readers regularly comment on the site's posts. So how about it, folks? Has anyone out there seen (or written) any stories that address The Lost Symbol's portrayal of Masonry? Has anyone (go ahead, confess) already read the book? Any news in there?

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