I think Brown will fish heavily from Manly P. Hall's pond. My guess, based on the covers and a growing list of online clues being released by his publisher on a daily basis (we'll see how I do come September) is that Brown will tell a story of some secret brotherhood (possibly the "Knights of the Golden Helmet"), formed by Francis Bacon. The group discovered America, then sailed back and founded the New Atlantis, a utopian experiment in government that became the United States. This brotherhood eventually became the Freemasons. Within it are the super secret group of string-pullers and evil, bald-headed, cat-stroking, super-criminals—the 33rd degree Masons of the Scottish Rite, who meet once a year in their creepy secret fortress, the House of the Temple in Washington. Murders will undoubtedly ensue, probably at all of those “Masonic” zodiac symbols David Ovason droned on and on about in The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capitol, before he admitted in the last five pages the Masons didn’t actually put them there. That 6.5 million copies is just a dribble in the bucket. Da Vinci Code eventually sold 81 million and was the sixth most popular book in the English language. Let’s say The Lost Symbol stinks on ice. Let’s say just half as many folks snap up this one—a paltry 40 million readers, not counting the Scroogy skinflints who go borrow their roommate’s copy or steal it from the library instead of actually buying it. So let’s be charitable and say another 10 million. That’s a minimum of 50 million pairs of eyeballs reading what pours forth from Mr. Brown’s brain about the Freemasons. Plus all of the tie-in books and TV shows that will add further confusion and misinformation in an attempt to cash in. So who cares about a stupid novel, anyway? Well, we Freemasons had better be caring, for one. That’s where the next wave of new members will come from. And consider this: the Baby Boomers who didn’t join in their 20s and 30s are now in their retirement years. The biggest (and richest) demographic wave of retirees in history do a lot of beach reading of books like Dan Brown’s. And the Freemasonry of their fathers and grandfathers is a dim memory from their childhood. It’s hard-wired into their collective conscience. “Didn’t grandad have a Masonic ring?” This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime chance for this fraternity. Not to go trawling in shallow waters for new members, but to educate the public and make sure men know who we are, where we are, and what we offer them. And how to knock on our doors. If we blow this, we deserve to vanish into obscurity. This is a gift that few are given, and it’s being handed to us on at least 50 million platters.
Freemasonry has to be giving the facts, setting the agenda, and most important, directing the media to the true experts. These tasks aren’t just a good idea, they’re vital. We have to be there with the truth: a world of others will be out there serving up lies. This isn’t some argument about whether Masonic billboards or NASCAR sponsorships are appropriate. 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 Da Vinci Code. This could have as much effect on the fraternity as the Morgan Affair or WWII. That is not hyperbole. Masons all over the world need to polish up their ‘elevator explanations,’ and grand lodges need to be prepared for greater interest, and lots of scrutiny. Stonewalling is not the answer. When reporters come calling attempting to get an interview for the 6 o’clock news, we must not fall victim to what we’ve always done in the past: sending a good-intentioned grand master to stand out in front of the grand lodge building to tell the world we have no secrets except a few funny handshakes, that “all” the founding fathers were Freemasons, that we give 2 or 3 million dollars a day to charity, and that we’re having a CHIPS event next week (“No, heh heh. We don’t microchip the kids. Heh heh.”). Don’t forget to mention George Washington. So that is really the next question—how do we get out in front of this juggernaut and make the preemptive strike? Our official spokesmen had better have read Brown’s book and have the answers for the tough questions, because trust me, every grand lodge and an awful lot of local lodges will be getting these calls on September 16th, and long after that on slow news days. Our people need to know what they are talking about. (“No, heh heh, I haven’t actually read Dan Brown’s book, so I don’t know what you’re asking about, but my granddaughter said it was a real page turner.”). The press isn’t necessarily out to get us. They ARE out to get ratings and sell newspapers. But the reporters themselves don’t know the first thing about who and what Freemasons are. We are an alien species. If they only do cursory Internet ‘research,’ we can appear as a bunch of grumpy old white guys, possibly racists, who can’t even get along with each other at the lodge picnic. Or we’re a bunch of cloistered world takeover plotters. The purportedly serious TV stations aren’t kind to us either. I can think of precisely one documentary on History/Discovery/National Geographic/A&E/TLC in the last ten years that was factually correct, well shot, well edited, and not compelled to put raving madmen on as “counterpoint”. It was made by a Canadian Mason, for Canadian TV, and when it ran in the US, a full hour was chopped out of it. Yet, if we don’t go on these shows, and patiently answer their questions, that crucial job will be handled by the Ralph Eppersons, the Christopher Knights, and the David Ickes, declaring us evil, anti-religious reptilian aliens. The Masonic Society is creating an Internet resource for reporters, curious Lost Symbol readers, and Freemasons alike, that will address the questions raised by Brown’s book. (The site will go live next week.) It will be in partnership with the Masonic Service Association and the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Obviously, we are all mostly in the dark until his book hits the streets on September 15th. But the Masonic Society's goal from the beginning has been to be a research society that educates and stands by the side of regular, recognized Masons, lodges and grand lodges. This is part of that mission. The waves will be coming, whether we agree with why they’re coming or not. Dan Brown’s book will have the same kind of effect on men seeking membership that Born In Blood and National Treasure did, but a thousand fold. How we handle that at the grand lodge and local lodge level will literally determine where the entire fraternity goes. For those who wring their hands and make empty comments about “guarding the West Gate,” there will be no shortage of candidates to investigate thoroughly. This is not just a grand lodge issue—they’ll be pounding on the doors of your Mother Lodge. How will you and your lodge present Freemasonry to them? Be ready. We fail to prepare at our own peril.
(This column appeared in the Summer 2009/Issue 5 of the Journal of The Masonic Society)