Friday, September 25, 2009

The Apotheosis of Washington

I've just finished reading Dan Brown's latest thriller, The Lost Symbol . I'll try not to be a spoiler if you like total surprises, but the themes of the book, particularly at the end were more than satisfying to me -- they confirmed resoundingly that the Prophet Joseph Smith got it right way back in the early 1800s. 

The book features, once again, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks in the movie adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons).  The new novel will no doubt become an instant boost to tourism in Washington D.C., since the nation's capitol is the setting in a fast-paced rescue mission that weaves in history and the ancient symbols associated with Freemasonry.  Few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at this writing will grasp the symbiotic interplay between the Church and Freemasonry, but it is well-documented elsewhere and can be gleaned with even a slight modicum of research.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young started the Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo, for instance.  At his death in Carthage Jail, Joseph shouted out the Masonic distress signal to his tormentors among the black-faced mob, many of whom were Masons.

It was immediately apparent to me after reading the book that central to this book's themes is the transcendent and central doctrine of the Restoration that man may become like God one day in the eternal realms that lie ahead after this life.  Brown introduces us to a new discipline known as "noetic science" that merges science with the ancient religious mysteries, while discussing Masonry symbols as only he can do.  And beware -- it's a page turner you won't want to put down once you begin.

There was much worldwide discussion that ensued after he published Angels & Demons, which explored the relationship between science and religion.  The Da Vinci Code was controversial as it asserted the nature of the historical versus the divine Jesus. Now in this latest novel, The Lost Symbol delves into the relationship between God and mankind.  If you're like me you'll be resonating by the end.  It may be a startling conclusion to the general reader, but the Latter-day Saint will find it harmonic and consistent with every hope and particle of faith one possesses.

Robert Langdon early in the rolicking good ride in The Lost Symbol looks up from inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, and sees the 1865 painting by Constantino Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington. The ancient Greek word "apotheosis" has no common single-word equivalent in English; it indicates the event of a human being becoming a god. (Brown fleshes it all out for you in the last page of Chapter 20, and all of Chapter 21, in The Lost Symbol).

Throughout the novel, one of the subplots is that the leading female character in this story, Dr. Katherine Solomon, is engaged in research involving a field called "noetic science." I confess this was a new introduction for me, something I've never heard about.  You can learn more here and here.  In the novel, we learn that she has uncovered a variety of paranormal, even godlike capacities in the human mind -- capacities that can be developed even in this world.  It smacks of some New Age psycobabble at first blush, but there are some very interesting experiments described in the book, including measuring the tangible weight of the spirit at death (see pp. 394-5). 

New Age or not, Joseph Smith received this revelation in 1843, which was pretty radical thinking for his day and time:  "There is no such thing as immaterial matter.  All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter."  (D&C 131:7-8).

Here are some samples of the words Brown puts into the mouths of his characters:

"Meaning. . . if enough people begin thinking the same thing, then the gravitational force of that thought becomes tangible. . . and it exerts actual force."  Katherine winked.  "And it can have a measurable effect in our physical world."  (p. 76).

Even more exciting, her character asserts:  "God is plural, because the minds of man are plural.  What I am saying is this. . . two heads are bettrer than one. . . and yet two heads are not twice better, they are many, many times better.  Multiple minds working in unison magnify a thought's effect. . . exponentially.  This is the inherent power of prayer groups, healing circles, singing in unison, and worshipping en masse.  The idea of universal consciousness is no ethereal New Age concept.  It is hard-core scientific reality. . . and harnessing it has the potential to transform our world.  This is the underlying discovery of Noetic Science."  (See Chapter 133, 504-505, italics original).

"Clearly.  And much, much more.  There are symbols all over this room [the Capitol Rotunda] that reflect a belief in the Ancient Mysteries."
"Secret wisdom,"Sato said with more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice.  "Knowledge that lets men acquire godlike powers?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"That hardly fits with the Christian underpinnings of this country."
"So it would seem, but it's true.  This transformation of man into God is called apotheosis.  Whether or not you're aware of it, this theme -- transforming man into god -- is the core element in this Rotunda's symbolism. . . "
"Ma'am," Langdon said, "the largest painting in this building is called The Apotheosis of Washington.  And it clearly depicts George Washington being transformed into a god."  (p. 84, italics original).

"Even the Bible concurs," Bellamy said.  "If we accept, as Genesis tells us, that 'God created man in his own image,' then we also must accept what this implies -- that mankind was not created inferior to God.  In Luke 17:20 we are told, 'The kingdom of God is within you.'"
"I'm sorry, but I don't know any Christians who consider themselves God's equal."
"Of course not," Bellamy said, his tone hardening.  "Because most Christians want it both ways.  They want to be able to proudly declare they are believers in the Bible and yet simply ignore those parts they find too difficult or too inconvienent to believe."  (p. 194, italics original).

"I've learned never to close my mind to an idea simply because it seems miraculous."  (p. 211, italics original).

Langdon knew the dean was correct.  The famous Hermetic aphorism -- Know ye not that ye are gods? -- was one of the pillars of the Ancient Mysteries.  As above, so below. . . Man created in God's image. . . Apotheosis.  This persistent message of man's own divinity -- of his hidden potential -- was the recurring theme in the ancient texts of countless traditions.  Even the Holy Bible cried out in Psalms 82:6:  Ye are gods!
"Professor," the old man said, "I realize that you, like many educated people, live trapped between two worlds -- one foot in the spiritual, one foot in the physical.  Your heart yearns to believe. . . but your intellect refuses to permit it.  As an academic, you would be wise to learn from the great minds of history."  He paused and cleared his throat.  "If I'm remembering correctly, one of the greatest minds ever to live proclaimed: "That which is impenetrable to us really exists.  Behind the secrets of nature remains something sublte, intangible, and inexplicable.  Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.'"
"Who said that?" Langdon said.  "Gandhi?"
"No," Katherine interjected.  "Albert Einstein."  (p. 308, italics original).

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. Here's a sample of their 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.  (p. 501).

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." (p. 505, italics original).

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" (here's the spoiler -- look away) is that the potential to become a God is a symbol for the highest potential of mankind.

To a Latter-day Saint the doctrine of exaltation has a familiar ring.  The making and the keeping of sacred temple covenants lead us along a path culminating in exaltation:

"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." (D&C 132:20).

Families are perpetuated into the eternities when sealed by authoritative priesthood keys held by men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here on earth.  As gods someday, the heirs of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom will create and populate worlds for themselves. To so obtain is to have the realization of the highest potential within us -- to literally become as God is, and to live the kind of life He lives. It is to have the literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Abraham 2:8-13).

Of course, one cannot expect that Dan Brown would get it absolutely right.  For instance, Brown's characters have the notion that humanity made in the image of God is figurative ("it's our minds" that resemble God, as Dr. Solomon says).  However, we know from the Restoration scriptures that humans resemble God both mentally and physically -- God the Father and God the Son have corporeal bodies of glorified flesh and bone in whose image we are made.

What is potentially very exciting for Latter-day Saints who are anxious to engage their fellow beings, however, is that the doctrine of exaltation is now being reflected in a novel that is almost guaranteed to be a global best seller.  If you love missionary work and the tantalizing delight to separate fact from fiction, this new book posits a golden opportunity to teach correct principles.  Everyone you know is a likely reader of The Lost Symbol.

What really caught my eye in reading the book however, was Joseph Smith's declarative teachings about the plurality of gods.  That Robert Langdon's insight as a fictional character in a blockbuster novel could capture it so well was exhilarating to me.  Joseph Smith said it this way in a sermon in the grove east of the Nauvoo Temple on June 16, 1844, only eleven days before he was martyred:

"Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many; and that makes a plurality of Gods, in spite of the whims of all men. . . I have it from God, and get over it if you can. . . I will show from the Hebrew Bible that I am correct, and the first word shows a plurality of Gods. . .  An unlearned boy must give you a little Hebrew. Berosheit baurau Eloheim ait aushamayeen vehau auraits, 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. It [that is, Genesis 1:1] read first, 'In the beginning the head of the Gods brought forth the Gods,' or, as others have translated it, 'The head of the Gods called the Gods together'. . . In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation." (TPJS, 371-372, italics original).

Further, Joseph Smith taught boldly and publicly in the last three months of his life this pearl of wisdom in what later came to called "The King Follett Discourse" (April 7, 1844):

"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,--I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form--like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man. . . These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. (TPJS, 345-6, italics original).

Was it inadvertant or purposeful that Dan Brown incorporated the Restoration exaltation doctrine into his latest book?

KSL-TV reported that Dan Brown visited Temple Square in 2004 and again in 2006.  During his 2004 visit, Brown was specifically interested in what seemed to him the Masonic-like symbols on the Salt Lake 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. . ."  (No secret here -- the LDS temples are part and parcel of the doctrine of exaltation).  In 2006, as reported on TV, Brown was granted access to parts of the Church's historical archives.

So, purposeful or accidental, like it or not, the doctrine of exaltation will now be front and center in millions of future conversations with avid Brown readers.  This doctrine is as old as the Garden of Eden story, and we assert that Adam and Eve were the first couple sealed by priesthood authority with a covenant and a promise that they could someday become as the Gods (see Abraham 5:7-19; Moses 3:15-25).  Every couple since the Garden of Eden, living or dead, because of restored priesthood keys of authority in these last days has that same godlike potentiality.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been announcing to the world since April 6, 1830, that this hidden knowledge -- this ancient mystery of man's potential to be as God is -- was once lost and is now restored to honest truth seekers the world over. The so-called "Lost Symbol" in Brown's novel has been found and is universally available to all.

Despite our missionary exertions, however, the vast majority of Christian churches are shocked and abhorred by the very whiff of the doctrine of exaltation. Our Church is routinely condemned as a cult, or dismissed as non-Christian heretics by many detractors.

Now, Dan Brown, whether knowingly or unwittingly hands us an unexpected and much-welcomed opportunity.

The Lost Symbol will open a non-threatening dialogue between the members of the Church and their friends about the doctrine of exaltation.  It's a fictional novel that will give members of the Church everywhere an entree into questions like, "What if God really does intend to exalt all His children?" "What if our highest collective expression of human achievement really might be to become as God is?" "What if our becoming gods isn't really so far-fetched?" Public discourse about this revealed doctrine so central to Mormonism could be very exciting if we are well-prepared to seize these opportunities, much as the Mitt Romney 2008 presidential candidacy provided unsolicited conversations.

Some readers may remember the big fuss that Brown's earlier novel, The Da Vinci Code, caused. The back story in The Da Vinci Code was the unimaginable and (to some) reprehensible notion that Jesus might have married Mary Magdalene and had descendants.  Once again, Joseph Smith hinted as much when he declared: "If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord."  (TPJS, 308, emphasis mine).

It seems, in every particular, that Joseph Smith got there long before Dan Brown did. Brown has made millions in profits and shaken the very foundations, it would seem, of modern Christianity, while Joseph Smith who was God's prophet and suffered a martyr's death for his assertions of revealed truth died a pauper. The obvious word play with prophets and profits needs no further illumination.

In the aftermath of The Da Vinci Code there were many books, articles and symposia mounted to refute his seemingly contrarian views. However, I'll just bet there were some readers who may have concluded, "Jesus was married? Well, why not? Works for me." I'll bet there were even members of the Church who had never entertained the thought of Christ's marriage before the book came out, and have concluded since that the idea is at least consistent with the principles of exaltation.

We are now perched on the possibility that "a great awakening" may be in the offing.  Some shudder at the word "apocalypse," associating with it end of the world scenarios that are scary.  Actually, "apocalypse" literally means "lifting of the veil," or "revelation."  There are many in my experience outside our Church who are very anxious to discuss religion freely and openly, having cast aside many false ideas they once embraced.  They are looking for the very truths Joseph Smith had revealed to him.  They just don't know it yet.

Joseph learned and wrote from the wintry depths of his Lberty Jail prison temple:

"For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it -- Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven -- These should then be attended to with great earnestness.  Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things.  You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.  Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." (D&C 123:12-17).

Between Liberty and Carthage Jails, Joseph was exuberant and confident of who he was and what he was all about (see D&C 128:22-25):

Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free.
Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!
Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.
Brethren, I have many things to say to you on the subject; but shall now close for the present, and continue the subject another time. I am, as ever, your humble servant and never deviating friend,

JOSEPH SMITH (letter dated at Nauvoo, Illinois, September 6, 1842).

I'm not trying to sell books -- Brown doesn't need my help -- but I have an idea that Joseph Smith might have embraced such fictional accounts of true doctrine. Why? Because he would have known members of the Church endowed with the gift of the Holy Ghost could open doors with this tool of a worldwide best-seller that will spark gospel conversations. Can we do less? If George Washington could be considered as a candidate for apotheosis, then why not you, and why not everyone you come in contact with? Open your mouths when the opportunities present themselves, as they surely will. You know how to separate truth from fiction. Carpe diem!!

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