From the Toronto Star:
First he enraged the Vatican with Da Vinci Code. Now he takes on the secretive Freemasons in The Lost Symbol. Are they worried? Not yet.
First things first. The Masons want you to know that Dan Brown is not a Mason.
“Everybody thinks he’s been in touch with us and that he’s a Mason and all that. He isn’t. Maybe he wants to be,” Mansour Hatefi, grand secretary of the Grand Masonic Lodge of the District of Columbia in Washington, said yesterday.
This morning, hundreds of thousands of Masons across North America will be deciding if Dan Brown is ever welcome to join.
Brown made his reputation figuratively kicking the Catholic Church and its secret societies in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. His newest novel, The Lost Symbol, out today, is based in Washington and puts the fraternal society of Freemasons in the pop-historical crosshairs.
In response to Brown’s previous work, the Vatican fumed. It tried laughing it off. It even tried banning – well, on-location filming at least. But nothing could rid the public announcements of a defensive tone.
It was a five-year, slow-motion PR disaster, one that the Masons are anxious to avoid. “I think they’re waiting for (The Lost Symbol) with some trepidation,” said James Wasserman, author of The Secrets of Masonic Washington. “If he turns it into some horrific cult that he intends to slam, people will be very upset. The hope is that he uses Masonry as a romantic backdrop.”
Wasserman isn’t a Mason, though he intends to join. Sitting on the inside looking out, Hatefi was determined to think positively.
“There was a time when we didn’t want attention like this. Times have changed,” said Hatefi. “Some people may find some of this objectionable … but with the Internet, people can go and find out the truth for themselves. Our main adversary at this point are the fanatics, the church and all that.”
“The Roman church. The Catholic Church.”
So much for the enemy of my enemy.
There are reportedly 5 million Masons in the world – most of them in the United States and United Kingdom. Fourteen American presidents and six Canadian prime ministers, including John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker, were Masons.
Canadian Masonic leaders were not nearly as loquacious as their Washington counterparts.
Reached at the Grand Lodge in Hamilton yesterday, a spokeswoman said the Grand Master and Grand Secretary were both unavailable to comment. No others could speak for the Canadian organization, which dates to 1855.
The first lodge was established more than a century earlier in England. It is quasi-religious, taking many of its bounty of symbols from the trade of stonemasonry, extolling honesty and “square dealing.”
Brown’s book centres on Washington, which Wasserman calls “a Masonic city.” George Washington, a Master Mason, had the city constructed on Masonic lines (the downtown is laid out in a perfect square, an important symbol). That leaves all sorts of interpretive avenues open for Brown’s hero, symbologist Robert Langdon.
Six and a half million copies of the book were due to be released this morning.
“Most of us feel that (the book) is good for the fraternity, that it will encourage young people to look us up,” said Hatefi. “We couldn’t pay to get this kind of attention.”
Freemasonry has traditionally drawn members from a small pool – mainly well-to-do, white Protestants. Today, the movement’s leaders are eager to embrace inclusiveness, though women still don’t make the cut.
“We are very much committed to welcoming diversity, all religions and sects,” said Hatefi. “Um, make sure that you spell that with ‘t’. As for the other one (sex), we’re still working on that.”
Some Freemasons in history:
Transoceanic flyer had Masonic insignia emblazoned on his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis
Leafs star and coffee king belonged to Toronto lodge
The voice of the Enlightenment joined the Freemasons only a month before his death at the urging of long-time Mason Benjamin Franklin
Voiced cartoon characters Bugs, Daffy, Porky. Member of Mid Day Lodge No. 188 in Oregon
Pilot, astronaut, senator, Mason
Screen star belonged to the Beverly Hills lodge
Dan Brown’s earlier books focused on the Catholic Church. What some religious authorities said:
THE DA VINCI CODE
Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor bought it at an airport. “People obviously enjoyed it or it wouldn’t be selling millions,” he told BBC London news in 2004. “My advice to people is to enjoy the book, but don’t take it as real in terms of facts about the Catholic Church or about anything, really.”
Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, as Archbishop of Genoa (now the Vatican’s secretary of state), called the book a “cocktail of inventions.”
Brian Finnerty believes that there’s much wrong with the presentation of Opus Dei in the book. “You won’t find any albino monks walking around this building,” the numerary told the Star during a tour of Opus Dei’s New York City office in 2006.
ANGELS AND DEMONS
Reviewers at L’Osservatore Romano, which covers the Pope’s public activities, said in 2009: “(It’s) a video game that first of all sparks curiosity and is also, maybe, a bit of fun.”
Rt. Rev. Malcolm McMahon, the Bishop of Nottingham, said the book is “mischievous to stir up this kind of anti-Catholic sentiment.”
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