Sunday, January 24, 2010
"The Lost Symbol" and Mormonism
For the past five months the Best Sellers list in the United States has been dominated by “The Lost Symbol’—Dan Brown’s long awaited sequel to his 2003 best selling novel, “The Da Vinci Code.
As in its widely heralded predecessor, “The Lost Symbol” centers on the character of Robert Langdon—scholar and world-renowned expert on religious symbolism. Called to Washington D.C. to deliver a lecture on the city’s symbolism, Langdon soon finds himself embroiled with Federal Authorities who are trying to discover the whereabouts of Peter Solomon—a prominent Mason, philanthropist and Langdon’s long-time mentor—who has been mysteriously kidnapped. After examining a bloody clue found in the rotunda of the U.S. Capital building, Langdon finds himself plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic, historical and religious secrets that have been hidden in plain view in the popular art and architecture of America’s founding period.
The story of “The Lost Symbol” is based on an intriguing supposition: despite the fact that most traditionalists, religious leaders and politicians insist that the United States is a “Christian Nation” founded on so-called “Biblical principles,” an unbiased and in depth study of the nation’s founding decades reveals that this is not the case at all; that the Founding Fathers (many of whom were Masons and Enlightenment philosophers) rejected orthodox Christian concepts of God and human nature. As Langdon states early on:
“America has a hidden past…America’s intended destiny has been lost to history.” (“The Lost Symbol,” pg. 82)
As the story unfolds that “hidden past” and “intended destiny” are revealed, along with a concept of God and human nature that may seem startling and revolutionary to readers of “The Lost Symbol”—that is, unless those readers are familiar with the later teachings of Joseph Smith, the First Mormon—the man whom Leo Tolstoy called “The American Prophet.”
THE APOTHEOSIS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
One of the first scenes of “The Lost Symbol” is set in the rotunda of the U.S. Capital building beneath the great painting that has dominated the rotunda’s ceiling since the 19th century. Each year thousands of site-seers pass under the ceiling, look up at the painting and have no idea what they are seeing.
The painting (above)shows George Washington reigning in heaven in the company of Gods and Goddesses. The painting is entitled “The Apotheosis of George Washington.” If the average person studies the painting at length, he or she would probably be unsure of what to make of it considering that the United States is usually thought of as a “Christian Nation.”
But as bizarre as “The Apotheosis of George Washington” may seem to most people, it is nothing compared to the statute (pictured below) that once dominated the room.
Early in the story, Langdon familiarizes Sato (a Federal official) with the statue:
Langdon said, “This Rotunda was once dominated by a massive sculpture of a bare-chested George Washington….depicted as a god. He sat in the same exact pose as Zeus in the Pantheon, bare chest exposed, left hand holding a sword, right hand raised with the thumb and finger extended.”
Sato had apparently found an online image, because Anderson was starting at her Blackberry in shock. “Hold on, that’s George Washington?”
“Yes,” Langdon said. “Depicted as Zeus.”
Langdon goes on to explain the meaning of symbolism found in the art of the Capital’s Rotunda:
“…There are symbols all over this room that reflect a belief in the Ancient Mysteries.”
“Secret wisdom,” Sato said with more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. "Knowledge lets men acquire godlike powers?"
"That hardly fits with the Christian underpinning of this country."
"So it would seem, but it's true. The transformation of man int God is called apotheosis. Whether or not you're aware of it, this theme--transforming man into god--is the core element of this Rotunda's symbolism...The word apotheosis literally means 'divine transformation'--that of man becoming God. It's from the ancient Greek: apo--'to become'--theos--'god.'...the largest painting in this building is called The Apotheosis of George Washington. And it clearly depicts George Washington being transformed into a god." (pg. 84)
A GOSPEL OF APOTHEOSIS
The concept of humans becoming Gods is, of course, blasphemous not only in orthodox Christianity but in all monotheistic religions (religions which believe in the existence of only one God).
However, there was one American religious leader who late in his life rejected monotheism altogether and taught his followers:
“…you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me.”
The American religious leader who taught this was Joseph Smith— (pictured below)the founder of a religion that has grown into a wide variety of very different denominations and sects which together constitute the religion popularly referred to as “Mormonism.”
In the early 1840’s during the last years of his life, Joseph Smith became deeply immersed in Freemasonry. Influenced by the Enlightenment principles he encountered in Masonry and elsewhere, Joseph Smith began what he referred to as a “reformation” of Mormonism—a reformation which was cut short by his murder by a lynch mob at the age of thirty-eight.
Central to Joseph Smith’s new theology was the concept of apotheosis. Years later a prominent Utah Mormon, Lorenzo Snow, summed up Joseph’s new theology with this statement:
“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”
Most denominations of Mormonism have either rejected or denied Joseph’s revolutionary new theology, or they watered it down to make it more palpable to traditional Christians.
Reform Mormons are the only denomination within Mormonism who fully embrace Joseph Smith’s theology of apotheosis and continue to build upon it as their foundation.
Joseph Smith’s theology of apotheosis is identical to the religious world view that the character of Robert Langdon uncovers in the novel “The Lost Symbol.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Langdon explains how the most influential of the Founding Fathers embraced a very positive view of human nature and human potential. He says:
"Knowledge is power, and the right knowledge lets man perform miraculous, almost godlike tasks." (pg. 86)
Joseph Smith also taught that knowledge was power. "Knowledge is what saves a man," he taught in his famous 1844 sermon, "The King Follett Discourse." Earlier he taught: "if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come." (Doctrine & Covenants 130:19)
Concerning man’s relationship with God, Joseph Smith taught:
“The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence…” (“The King Follett Discourse”)
Compare the above with the religious concepts that the character of Langdon discusses with another character—Katharine Solomon—toward the end of “The Lost Symbol”:
"All around the world, we are gazing skyward, waiting for God...never realizing that God is waiting for us." Katherine paused, letting her words soak in. "We are the creators, and yet we naively play the role of 'the created.' We see ourselves as helpless sheep buffeted around by the God who made us. We kneel like frightened children, begging for help, for forgiveness, for good luck. But once 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 realize this fact, the door will burst wide open for human potential."
Langdon recalled a passage that had always stuck with him from the work of philosopher Manly P. Hall: If the infinite had not desired man to be wise, he would not have bestowed upon him the faculty of knowing. Langdon gazed up again at the image of The Apotheosis of George Washington--the symbolic ascent of man to deity. The created...becoming the Creator.
"The most amazing part," Katherine said, "is that as soon as we humans begin to harness our true power, we will have enormous control over our world. We will be able to design reality rather than merely react to it." (pg. 501)
Those who adhere to traditional religion concepts may likely have a problem with the idea of apotheosis because it undermines the foundational concept of all monotheist religions—the concept that there is but one all-powerful, all-knowing God or Power at work in the universe; that all of existence is the creation of that one all-knowing God or Power.
Joseph Smith realized this. While embracing the concept of many Gods, he advised others to examine the Bible in light of the Hebrew language in which the book was originally written:
“I will preach on the plurality of Gods….I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods…’Berosheit baurau Eloheim ait aushamayeen vehau auraitis,’ rendered by King James’ translators, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’….’Eloheim’ is from the word ‘Eloi,’ God, in the singular number; and by adding the word ‘heim,’ it renders it Gods….In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation. The world ‘Eloheim’ ought to be in the plural all the way through—Gods.” (Joseph Smith, June 16, 1844)
Compare the reasoning of Joseph Smith with that found in the following discussion between the characters of Langdon and Katherine in “The Lost Symbol”:
God is found in the collection of Many...rather than in the One.
"Elohim," Langdon said suddenly, his eyes flying open 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 Genesis refered 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." (pgs. 504--505)
“God is plural because the minds of men are plural.” This idea resonates with Joseph Smith’s teachings on the nature of the human mind:
“The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself...”
The radical theology uncovered by character of Langdon in “The Lost Symbol”—a theology built upon a positive view of human nature and humanity’s god-like potential—is the same theology that Joseph Smith taught during his unfinished reformation of Mormonism in 1844.
This is also the theology of Reform Mormonism—a startlingly new religious paradigm against which Reform Mormons view the universe and humanity’s place in it.
In the following months, this blog will publish a series of short lessons—each of them exploring the basic philosophic concepts that Joseph Smith taught as the basis of his unfinished religious reformation.
Because of these concepts Reform Mormonism is a religion that embraces rational thought and intellectual freedom; the arts, sciences and technology; individualism, equality and human progress. It is a religion suited for modern men and women.
The character of Robert Langdon could easily have been thinking of Joseph Smith when, towards the end of “The Lost Symbol”….
...he thought of the words of a great prophet who boldly declared: Nothing is hidden that will not be made known; nothing is secret that will not come to light. (pg.508)
For more information visit: www.reformmormonism.org