I'll be honest right up front: I've never been a fan of Dowd. So it came as no cardiac-inducing shock to my system to read in her snarky review of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol today that she seems to have a chip on her shoulder about Freemasons:
It’s not so much the barbarous machinations of the villain, another one-dimensional, self-mortifying hulk, that sends chills down your spine. Or the plot, which is an Oedipal MacGuffin.
No, the terrifying thing about “The Lost Symbol” is that Brown — who did not flinch when the Vatican both condemned the (sic) “The Da Vinci Code” and curtailed the filming of “Angels & Demons” in Rome — clearly got spooked by that other powerful, secretive ancient sect, the Masons.
His book is a desperate attempt to ingratiate himself with the Masons, rather than to interpret the bizarre Masonic rites and symbols that illuminate — as in Illuminati! — how the ultimate elite private boys’ club has conspired to shape the nation’s capital and Western civilization ever since George Washington laid the cornerstone for the Capitol building in a Masonic ritual wearing full Masonic regalia, including a darling little fringed satin apron. If the Masons are more intimidating than the Vatican, if Brown has now become part of their semiotic smoke screen, then all I can say is, God help us all.
Of course, who can blame him? How can you not be frightened by a brotherhood that includes Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny; Buzz Aldrin; and Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s? During the five years he researched this book, did Brown begin to believe those sensational stories about how, if you expose the secrets of the Masons, they will slit your throat? Did he discover that the Masons are not merely a bunch of old guys dressed up in funny costumes enjoying a harmless night away from the wives? Could they really be, as a recent Discovery Channel documentary on the ancient order wondered, “Godless conspirators bound to a death pledge who infiltrate institutions and run the world”?
Her largish and rambling column savages Brown's writing style, and in that I suppose, the Emperor finds himself stark naked and swimming in a barrel being shot at like a fish. The success of Brown has not been predicated on his construction of lavishly embellished, award-winning prose. And certainly, any time a writer finds himself describing a bald-headed criminal genius admiring his genitals and the esoteric tattoos covering every inch of his nude body while standing in front of a mirror, he runs the hazard of drifting into the unintentionally yclept.
Brown cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered subtle.
But where Dowd seems to have a personal irk is with the Masons. Her old men remark should come as a surprise to the waves of men in their 20s and 30s who have been joining the fraternity over the last decade and moving rapidly into leadership positions.
My dad always said in his day that the Masons were not welcoming to Catholics. The Catholic Church once considered the Masons so anti- Catholic, Catholics who joined were threatened with excommunication. Now the church hierarchy merely disapproves. (They like secret rites, blood rituals and the exclusion of women only when they do it.) But Langdon suggests to his Harvard students that the Masons are “refreshingly open-minded” and do not “discriminate in any way.” To a student protesting that Masonry sounds like a “freaky cult,” Langdon counters that it’s “a system of morality.” He notes, “The Masons are not a secret society . . . they are a society with secrets.”
Dowd has never impressed me with any ability to actually research a topic she was writing on, so this jumble of misinformation doesn't surprise me much. I was raised a Catholic myself, and since "Watchy" over at Freemasonry Watch has officially labeled me a "Catholic Freemason Apologist," I'll take up that mantle long enough to remind Dowd that the Freemasons have not had an unwelcoming attitude toward Catholic members. A man's personal religious beliefs have always been considered to be between him and his Maker, and none of the lodge's business. No Mason would have stopped Maureen's dad from petitioning a lodge. Indeed, today there are thousands of Catholic Masons in lodges all over the world, privately going about their business, without anyone making a caterwaul over it.
The Church has held a grudge for a long time over the Masons' welcoming of members of all religious faiths, incorrectly labeling such tolerance and acceptance as "syncretism," the notion that the Lodge equates all religions as equal. Quite the contrary: Masonry is silent on the subject. A man's faith is sacred to him, and the lodge is not the place for a man to evangelize or witness to his Brother. Masonry encourages each man to have a greater faith in his own religion, not less. There is no specifically "Masonic god." We simply refer to the Grand Architect of the Universe in our prayers as a non-denominational term for God which does not favor one man's religious beliefs or ecclesiastical nomenclature over another, so that a Baptist, a Jew, a Muslim and a Catholic can sit alongside each other without prejudice. I, for one, think that's a pretty damned admirable concept.
Meanwhile, her smack at the Church's "secret rites, blood rituals and the exclusion of women" sheds light on her own objections to the Vatican's rules. So perhaps she and I (along with my other Catholic brethren) sit in not dissimilar sides of the confessional when it comes to the personal interpretation and application of canon law in our daily lives.
In interviews, Brown has said he was tempted to join the Masons, calling their philosophy a “beautiful blueprint for human spirituality.” In the next opus, Langdon will probably be wearing a red Shriner’s fez with his Burberry turtleneck and Harris tweed.
Another puling swipe. The Masonic philosophy of religious and political tolerance forged in the age of Enlightenment couldn't possibly be a “beautiful blueprint for human spirituality” to Dowd. It must just be silly. (Note to Maureen: All Shriners are Masons, but all Masons are not Shriners. Not that there's anything wrong with running 23 hospitals for burned and handicapped children at no cost to their families. I guess that's just silly, too.)
In this book, Langdon helps stop the villain from releasing a video to YouTube that he has surreptitiously taped during his Masonic initiation rites. The blind folded initiate drinks blood-red wine out of a human skull and has a dagger pressed to his bare chest; he has to take part in an enactment of his own brutal murder — “there were simulated blows to his head, including one with a Mason’s stone maul” — and hear a biblical reference to human sacrifice, “the submission of Abraham to the Supreme Being by proffering Isaac, his firstborn son.” These are meant partly as warnings about what can befall anyone who leaks the order’s secrets — warnings Dan Brown clearly took to heart.
“Langdon could already tell that the video was an unfair piece of propaganda,” Brown writes, adding that the symbologist thought to himself, “the truth will be twisted . . . as it always is with the Masons.” Brown skitters away from giving us the book we expected: one that might have clued us in on which present-day politicians are still Masons and what mumbo jumbo they’re up to.
Dowd once asserted that, "Men are simply not biologically suited to hold higher office." ("Fashioning Deadly Fiascos," NYT, Nov 5, 2005), so I guess the idea that men outnumber women in the halls of government just burns her biscuits. But what's worse is that we mean old Masons who don't let wimmin join our lodges might secretly be in control of the whole turkey shoot.
So, having first sneered at 3 million Freemasons as doddering old men in costumes and darling aprons, she winds up propounding the notion that Masons are really scary practitioners of "mumbo jumbo," and that Dan Brown, the writer of fiction, let the world down by not exposing all of the real-life Masonic politicians who are doing sinister stuff behind closed doors.