Mormons off the hook in Brown's book

Faith and fiction » Novel notes LDS Church only twice, but major theme echoes key doctrine.
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Mormons are breathing easier after reading Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol , which many worried would cast them as the same kind of one-dimensional villains as Catholics were in his past volumes.

Worse, they thought, he would expose and possibly caricature their closed-door temple rituals.

But, it turns out, Brown mentions The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only twice in his 509-page book. The first reference mentions LDS history as an example of religious teachings that don't hold up to "scientific scrutiny." Then, late in the book, he adds the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead (which he calls "baptism of the dead") to a list of practices that could seem weird if taken out of context.

However, one of Brown's major themes -- that human beings have the potential to be gods -- echoes Mormon teachings.

"That should resonate with Latter-day Saints," says Mark Koltko-Rivera of New York City, a Mormon high priest and Master Mason. "I know this is our doctrine that causes the most trouble with other Christian churches. But it is a central belief that we should be more open about and celebrate."

It would have made fictional sense for Brown, who visited several Utah LDS and Masonic sites in 2006, to create a Mormon character as his anti-Masonic foil. After all, antagonism between the two groups goes back a long way and often was contentious, even violent.

In the 1840s, many LDS leaders, including church founder Joseph Smith and apostles Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, became Masons and organized a Nauvoo Lodge under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Illinois. It wasn't long before nearly every male Mormon in the area had joined.

At the same time, Smith introduced LDS temple rituals that included secret handshakes, signs and symbols like the all-seeing eye, the compass and square (tools of the mason's trade) along with the sun, moon and stars that paralleled Masonry.

Soon, other Masons felt that the Mormons were dominating the fraternity. The Nauvoo Lodge was suspended in 1842. Many Mormons believed that Masons contributed to the murder of their prophet June 27, 1844. Smith reportedly began to utter the Masonic distress call, "O Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow's son?" as he fell to his death from a second-story window after being shot by a mob.

In 1859, a Masonic lodge was established by Johnston's Army at Utah's Camp Floyd, but it didn't accept Mormon candidates. At the same time, Young forbade Mormons from joining and refused to allow any Mason to hold priesthood leadership positions in the church.

It wasn't until 1984 that LDS President Spencer W. Kimball removed the prohibition against Latter-day Saints becoming Freemasons. Later that year, the Grand Lodge of Utah discontinued its own ban on Mormon membership so that, in the ensuing years, many LDS men have returned to this part of their heritage. In 2006, Glen Cook became the first Mormon to serve as the state's Grand Master.

Some people suggest that Smith copied Masonic rituals for his LDS temple, but Koltko-Rivera thinks that's too simplistic. Instead, he says, it was just the trigger for Smith's divine inquiries.

"Masonry prepared Smith for a vision of the Latter-day Saint endowment," Koltko-Rivera says. "The two ceremonies are complementary. Both are fascinating but in very, very different ways."

The LDS endowment is about exaltation in the hereafter, he says. "The Masonic ritual is about being a good, good person here."