Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Secret Behind the Final Secret of The Lost Symbol


[HEAVY DUTY SPOILER ALERT: In this blog post, I reveal the conclusion of The Lost Symbol. If you want the pleasure of experiencing the surprise of the conclusion, then do not read this post until after you have completed reading the novel.]

At the conclusion of The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown gives extended attention to a remarkable set of spiritual concepts. However, the casual reader might not know that there is a real-world group that espouses something very much like these concepts. Thus, in this post, I describe what I think is the unstated backstory to the conclusion of The Lost Symbol.

Early on in The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon looks up from inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, and sees the 1865 painting by Constantino Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington (shown above; click on the image for a larger depiction). The ancient Greek word "apotheosis" has no single-word equivalent in English; it indicates the event of a human being becoming a god. (See the last page of Chapter 20, and all of Chapter 21.)

Throughout the novel, one of the subplots is that the leading female character in the story, Dr. Katherine Solomon, is engaged in research involving a field called noetic science. In the novel, we learn that Dr. Solomon has uncovered a variety of paranormal, even godlike capacities in the human mind -- capacities that can be developed here and now.

Much later, at the conclusion of The Lost Symbol (Chapter 133 and the Epilogue), Robert Langdon is taught some fascinating philosophical, religious, and spiritual concepts by Dr. Solomon. One of these concepts is the idea that the destiny and birthright of human beings is to take on the role of divine Creators. We join these two in discussion in Chapter 133, with Dr. Solomon speaking:

" ... We've been reading the Bible too literally. We learn that God created us in his image, but it's not our physical bodies that resemble God, it's our minds. ... [O]nce we realize that we are truly created in the Creator's image, we will start to understand that we, too, must be
Creators. When we understand this fact, the doors will burst wide open for human potential.

... Langdon gazed up again at the image of The Apotheosis of Washington--the symbolic ascent of man to deity. The created . . . becoming the Creator. (Page 501, American English edition.)

Langdon then reflects on the Hebrew word Elohim:

"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." ...

"God is plural," Katherine whispered, "because the minds of man are plural." (Page 505, American English edition)

In essence, Katherine Solomon is teaching Robert Langdon the ideas that (a) human beings have the potential within them to develop into gods, and (b) such a development would result in a plurality of gods. The "Lost Symbol" of the novel's title reflects the notion of God as a symbol for the highest potential of humankind. (By implication, Dan Brown is teaching the same ideas to his readers.)

Wow. This sure sounds different!

This is certainly going to make for controversy in this, the world outside the book, our world. As there were those who condemned The Da Vinci Code because they considered it heretical, so too there will be those who condemn The Lost Symbol for what they consider heretical teachings.

As it happens, there is a backstory to this concept, the idea of the human being becoming god. This concept is actually a religious doctrine of one of the largest religious organizations in the United States: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known popularly, if unofficially, as 'the Mormons'; their official website is here). It is not widely known in the general public that this doctrine is central to Latter-day Saint (LDS) belief. It is, however, a doctrine with which I am familiar.

That is because I am a Latter-day Saint.*

It is not my purpose here to go into a lengthy consideration or defense of this doctrine. (I have another blog for discussions of LDS doctrine.) However, for the benefit of the fans of Dan Brown, I shall just sketch out the broad outlines of this doctrine.

The LDS scriptures include not only the Bible but other sacred books as well. In one of these, the following is written concerning those who make sacred covenants with God and keep those covenants throughout their lives. After their deaths in this world, at some undefined time, the following happens:

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. (The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, Verse 20)
Such individuals are permitted to maintain their family structure throughout the eternities. This is the highest blessing possible, and it is the essence of eternal life, the kind of life that God has. (Some further basic information about the LDS doctrine of exaltation is available here.)

The LDS doctrine of exaltation (as it is known) is certainly different from the concept that Dan Brown portrays in The Lost Symbol. For Dan Brown's characters, the notion that humanity is made in the image of God is figurative ("it's our minds" that resemble God, as Dr. Solomon says); for the LDS, it is both figurative and literal (that is, God has a body in whose image humans are made). In Dan Brown's novel (p. 79 of the American English edition), Robert Langdon also claims that the LDS account of the origin of the Book of Mormon, a distinctive LDS scripture, does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. (I beg to differ, but that discussion is for another time and place.)

However, for all that, it is worthwhile for the Dan Brown fan to realize that there is a body of spiritual doctrine that has remarkable similarities to the concept that Dan Brown portrays in his novel.

We could just stop here. However, surely this question arises: How can we account for these remarkable similarities?

Dan Brown visited Salt Lake City's Temple Square complex (the LDS equivalent of the Vatican in Roman Catholicism) in 2004 and 2006, as reported on local television. During his 2004 visit, as his host noted, Brown was specifically interested in the Masonic-like symbols on the Salt Lake LDS Temple: "He was ... very interested in the symbology on the Mormon temple ... the pentacles and the suns and the moons and the stars and all that. So, I gather his primary interest was to ... see the Mormon embellishment of Masonry as it exists, in his mind ...." (Of course, the LDS Temple is deeply connected with the LDS doctrine of exaltation; the purpose of LDS Temples is discussed here.) In 2006, as reported on TV, Brown was granted access to certain LDS historical archives.

Thus, for whatever reason and in whatever way, Dan Brown has had a certain interest in the Latter-day Saints and their most important and distinctive spiritual practices and doctrines. I think that he saw fit to adapt the LDS doctrine of exaltation for literary purposes in The Lost Symbol.

I will have more to say about the connections between (1) the concepts that Dan Brown puts forth in the conclusion to The Lost Symbol, (2) LDS belief and practice, and (3) Freemasonry in my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown and the Truth About the Freemasons. (Agents' and publishers' inquiries are welcome! My e-mail address is on my Blogger profile.)

{*I am an active, temple-attending Latter-day Saint. I am a returned missionary, and have served as a counselor in two bishoprics and as a stake high councillor. After several years teaching recently as the teacher of the Gospel Doctrine class in Sunday School, I now serve as a family history consultant. I have published articles in the two major organs of the independent LDS press, Sunstone and Dialogue, and a brief piece in the Ensign.}

[The image of Brumidi's "The Apotheosis of Washington" is from pictures taken by Raul654 in 2005. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and is shown here under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.]

30 comments:

  1. The British and American editions have exactly the same pagination.

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  2. Anonymous: Thank you for clarifying that. I had no way of knowing. (If I may ask: I do not doubt you, but how do you know?)

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  3. I am Mormon also and I nearly fell off my chair when the leads starting contemplating the idea of theosis. I had heard rumours about a possible LDS tie in with this story, I did not see this one coming. Quite elegant really. Too bad the LDS Church is not given a nod during all of this. Dan Brown basically aped our doctrine to sell books! I wonder how mainline Christians will respond to this twist?

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  4. Now, when yje book is out in the open, I can discuss it more in details.

    My nr. 1 "wow" is the religious aspects and possible inpact on actual discussions.

    Obviously, Jerusalem (and/or Mekka) is no longer "the holy city" :)

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  5. Anonymous: I was stunned, myself. However, I don't construe this as Dan Brown aping our doctrine to sell books. I think he got out to Salt Lake, heard some ideas that resonated with him, and decided to incorporate them into his narrative, somewhat transformed to fit his point of view. Writers do this all the time; I don't begrudge him this.

    Actually, in a very real way Dan Brown has done the Latter-day Saints a favor -- intentionally or not -- by putting this doctrine in front of the public. It is really the lynchpin of the LDS Gospel, but it is little known and poorly understood by the public at large. Maybe now that will change.

    My guess is, the conservative evangelical Christians will utterly condemn Dan Brown and his book, for three reasons: (1) he has a different concept of God and Jesus than they do; (2) he celebrates Freemasonry, which is condemned by the conserv.-evangel. crowd, and (3) he puts forth ideas that are somewhat like the LDS concepts of the plurality of gods, and exaltation to godhood -- which the conserv.-evangel. crowd utterly condemn.

    Frankly, given the very low level of rationality displayed in the anti-LDS, anti-Masonic literature that is generated by the conserv.-evangel. sector, I feel myself in good company to be condemned by them.

    Thank you for contributing to the discussion.

    May: Glad you are well, up in Norway. I think that people shall still consider the classical holy cities as every bit as sacred as they always did. However, perhaps people will pay some attention to the spiritual or esoteric side of Washington, DC, much more than they had before.

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  6. Hi again, May,
    I am happy that you were not put off by the agressive postings of a few bloggers here. Perhaps you could tell us some more about your hypothesis of a brotherhood of rival authors and your implication that The Lost Symbol dethrones Jerusalem as The holy city.

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  7. The non-LDS world has already started to (re)recognize deification as a historically biblical concept. I worked with a friend (Dr. David Paulsen) to publish a paper entitled "Are Christians Mormon?" wherein we analyze the convergence of various strands of Christendom with Joseph Smith's views on a variety of topics.

    For those interested, here's a link to the paper:
    http://byustudies.byu.edu/shop/pdfsrc/45.1Paulsen.pdf

    The discussion of theosis begins on page 73.

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  8. I loved the book as well. I don't think he attacking religion per se. As a Mormon I do find it fascinating that the "apotheosis" (men becoming gods) theme that runs through the book is basically a doctrine that is at the very center of Mormon belief. I know he spent some time out in Salt Lake researching LDS temple symbolism. I guess he may have found some doctrinal parallels that he wove into the story.

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  9. Brett:

    Thanks for that link. It reminded me of another piece of scholarship by Truman Madsen with the same name from the late 70's:

    http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/trumang.htm

    For all of the Evangelicals who seem to deny Mormons the right to be Christian, the better question indeed seems to be are Evangelicals slowly becoming Mormon as new interpretations and findings shed new light?

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  10. Anonymous:

    We got the idea from Truman's piece (and cite to it at the beginning of the article).

    Brett

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  11. I enjoyed hearing Truman Madsen touch on this "nature of man" topic at a Philosophical Conference at Yale several years ago. There was 30 minutes of him explaining what Mormon's believe and then a 10 minute rebuttal from some philosopher of another religion. (Many other doctrines teach that after death we will sing praises to God eternally.) One British man said "It would be arrogant of man to believe that he could ever become like God." Truman leaned into the microphone and said "Would it not be more arrogant to eternally create creatures who will do nothing but worship you?" I loved it.

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  12. Kathleen Koltko-RiveraSeptember 16, 2009 at 11:32 PM

    In speaking with my non-LDS friends, a common concern about the LDS doctrine of godhood is that God, our Father-in-Heaven, will somehow be replaced or treated with a lack of reverence if any human were to attain the status of a god. (Small "g" intended.) When I explain that nothing could be further from the truth; that our eternal progression and growth in intelligence, love, and compassion are to His glory--they do not diminish it--this resonates with most people.

    The foundation of their concern often rests in a misunderstanding of our relationship with God (big "G" intended). He will always be the Creator of our world, our Father-in-Heaven, the Father of spirits--and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even if any of us progress to the point of godhood, we will always regard God as our Supreme Being, and treat Him with the respect and reverence that He deserves.

    As an aside, given Mr. Brown's interest in philosophy related to the Divine Feminine, I wonder if he is aware that per LDS doctrine, there is a Mrs. God. Yes, to any non-LDS readers of this blog, God has a wife. We believe that we have both a Heavenly Father _and_ a Heavenly Mother our spirits. If we were created in God's image, if you are a female, as I am, how else could it be?

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  13. Mark,

    I don't think it's necessary to say Brown picked up this apotheosis idea from the LDS. After all, The Da Vinci Code discussed Gnosticism at length, and that particular group certainly had similar ideas.

    However, there was another link with the LDS that I thought Brown would include after I saw the Twitter clue about Durer. In the end, the element was very prominent, but no link was given to the LDS. So perhaps he just couldn't shoehorn an LDS angle into the book, but just incorporated elements he had come across during his research.

    Or maybe the next book.... ;)

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  14. Finishing on Chapter 133 was a nice touch. And if the British and American books are exactly the same pagination, then I appreciate the planning/typesetting for page 333. ;)

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  15. Brett, Anonymous, and Thelma: Thank you for the references and incidents you have related. I have long felt that this doctrine was going to be a focus of public discussion at some point; perhaps this novel is moving us closer to that day.

    Incidentally, I shall be posting on this issue at my "Mormon From Manhattan" blog (http://themormonldsblog.blogspot.com/). You (and anyone else) is welcome to come and set a spell, comment there on this issue, or any other one.

    Kathleen: Hi, honey!

    Machine.Elves: Of course, there is no way to definitively prove what Dan Brown was thinking without asking (and having him answer!).

    I am disinclined to attribute his treatment of (apo)theosis solely to Gnosticism.

    First, there is no one gnostic "group," but rather a variety of groups that apply a gnostic slant to some major religious tradition (Judaism and Christianity being prominent here); which gnostic group is Brown's inspiration?

    Second, the whole Salt Lake City trip thing is highly suggestive to me. He was very interested in the Temple. The whole point of the Temple is theosis.

    Perhaps one day Dan Brown will comment on the issue and settle it.

    I'm a bit wary about asking, but here goes: What was the Durer clue element that you saw tie into the LDS?

    As far as the chapters and pages are concerned: this was masterful, yes.

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  16. ...And don't forget about the "other" blockbuster that pivots on mere mortals transforming into perfect, godlike persons...The Twilight Saga. The theme of exaltation and eternal family units is central to that story.

    It seems like the LDS doctrine of exaltation is having a ridiculously good year in massive, global, pop culture.

    Thelma: That anecdote about Truman Madsen is precious! I had the opportuniy to be part of a project that created a tribute video for him shortly before he passed away. I don't think we'll ever have another Truman.

    Here is a link to the video:

    http://www.mormontimes.com/people_news/newsmakers/?id=8026

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  17. Mark,

    I was talking about the Magic Square.

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  18. Anonymous: You are quite right about the Twilight saga. That brings some other things to mind for me regarding the matter of LDS ideas coming out in mainstream literature; look for a post on this idea at my LDS-oriented blog, "Mormon From Manhattan," found at http://themormonldsblog.blogspot.com ; probably today.

    We may never have another Truman Madsen -- but, in one sense, we shouldn't. He did his work. The real question is: will we have, for example, a Mark Koltko-Rivera, functioning at the potential that he has? (This is a perspective very in keeping with The Lost Symbol, incidentally.)

    Machine.Elves: Hmm. I must be very slow this morning. What was the connection that you saw between the LDS and the Magic Square in Durer's Melencolia I? I am intrigued.

    It is a great pleasure to see the interchange on the Comments here. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

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  19. Machine.Elves: I finally got it: the Jupiter square.

    There were many rumors that Dan Brown was going to address the Mormons in this book somehow. It seems to me that that would have been an awful lot to shove into a single 500-page book.

    On the other hand, Dan Brown is on record as saying that he sees himself putting Robert Langdon into 'about a dozen' novels. So, maybe next time ....

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  20. Will def make me think a little more every time I say I believe in the father, son and holy spirit...

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  21. Mark: Glad that you got the Durer reference before I managed to get back here. You could almost trace the metamorphosis of research and writing ideas with Dan Brown though - learning about Smith, then talismans, then the magic square, and then converting the idea behind sigil creation into one of the major 'code-breaking' exercises in the book.

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  22. I too was fascinated by the connections between Dan Brown's new book and LDS theology. In fact, there are many connections in addition to theosis. I wrote my impressions here - http://www.templestudy.com/2009/09/18/mormon-impressions-dan-browns-the-lost-symbol/.

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  23. An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Thanks,
    Karim - Positive thinking

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  24. Very thoughtfull post on belief .It should be very much helpfull.

    Thanks,
    Karim - Creating Power

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  25. Karim: Thank you for your kind words. I hope that my posts are indeed helpful.

    Machine.Elves: I can follow your line of reasoning here. But it begs the question: If LDS belief and history were a major inspiration for Dan Brown in writing The Lost Symbol, why would he cover his tracks so thoroughly? After all, it would further his own literary purposes to mention, or at least hint at, the fascinating chain of connection that you mention. Or is there some further purpose served by covering up his tracks here?

    Bryce Haymond: I have bookmarked your site for more thorough reading. Apotheosis is definitely the sticking point for many non-LDS theologians--and yet it is the heart of the Restored Gospel. That is not a coincidence: of course what is of greatest importance will most offend the world.

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  26. "of course what is of greatest importance will most offend the world"

    Well said and much appreciated. Once again Mark, I am pleased to have taken the time to read your writing. Of course I don't agree with it all, but much makes sense and I am glad to understand these details.

    Now comes the question of how apotheosis actually occurs, which is what the ancients that preceded the Egyptians and Hebrew sages encoded within the symbology they left for us to decode. Perhaps you won't be too offended by some of the things that I'll be presenting very shortly. I'll make sure you get an early copy of my upcoming book(s). They are designed to "offend most of the world" into opening their eyes and grasping past mistakes. It is my hope that Freemasons won't be quite as offended as others.

    Peace and WIsdom...

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  27. Having read a great deal of the "ancient wisdom" as spoken of in the book, certain spiritual texts ranging from Judaic Esotericism like the Zohar, or Sepher Yetzirah, to Greek Mystery teachings, to Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, and many others, I would not say that the ideas espoused upon conclusion of The Lost Symbol are unique necessarily to the Church of LDS. While I'm familiar with LDS texts and philosophy to a degree (I am by no means an expert when it comes to the LDS), but I must say that these ideas or concepts are in one way or another shared with almost all religions in the world. Although there might be different ways of explaining these processes or ideas, in the end, the goal is pretty much the same. Elevation of the human soul and consciousness to God like proportions. As Genesis says, if read closely, Adam (Hebrew for Man) was made twice. Once, the pure Adam Kadmon, or primordial man who would have been the ideal man, spiritually, mentally, physically. Then God created man again from dust this time. I hope you understand this is just my perception anyhow, and I'm only submitting this to show that a little bit more about Apotheosis is spread out quite far across the spiritual traditions of the world.

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  28. Please tell me your kidding, I came on this site to read more about the Lost Symbol. If i wanted to learn about mormons i would answer the door when people came to my house on bicicles. But at least now I know they are gods... I think you missed the plot, the idea, the reason dan brown sent us a message though text... A miss-translation through text, isnt that what the book was talking about? People reading a text and turning it into a one sided battle for influence (the bible)
    PS: I cant believe half the comments were not "LMFAO yourt an idiot"

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  29. Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

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  30. I know this! you can find it at Rome in catholic church.

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