Sunday, October 04, 2009

Dan Brown and Mormonism

Author Dan Brown has confused and scandalized Christians with some of his work. His most ferocious attacks have been against the Roman Catholic Church, with special emphasis on the exploits of the little known Opus Dia order. Critics describe his writings as clumsy, filled with poor grammar and overused cliches, and lacking historical accuracy. Despite all this, his books are best sellers and two were made into Hollywood movies. Another side of the success is that what scandalizes Christians resonates with Mormon fans.

Brigham Young University is going to release a seven-part documentary about the life of Jesus Christ. "Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God" was produced in response to a PBS documentary that explored the "historical" Jesus. It may not have any ties to Dan Brown, but BYU professor of church history and doctrine Richard Holzapfel said in the 15 minute preview that interest in Mormon views about Christ increased after the author's publications became popular. Before that, he said, revealing you were a Mormon would shut down any discussions.

The reason for this change in attitudes and Mormon interest in Dan Brown's writings is the ideas he presents. When his first book "The Da Vinci Code" came out, it talked about how Jesus was married and had children. For a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this wasn't unheard of. One of the most outspoken early leaders of the LDS Church, Apostle Orson Hyde, insisted, "Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error." Elder Hyde said at another time, "Before the Savior died, he looked upon his own natural children, as we look upon ours; he saw his seed, and immediately afterwards he was cut off from the earth; but who shall declare his generation? They had no father to hold them in honorable remembrance; they passed into the shades of obscurity, never to be exposed to mortal eye as the seed of the blessed one." Other early LDS leaders known to have expressed these beliefs include Pres. Joseph F. Smith, Apostle Heber C. Kimball, Apostle Jedediah M. Grant, and Apostle Orson Pratt.

The highly regarded book "Jesus the Christ" by Apostle James E. Talmage and other LDS Apostles since have not made these conclusions. Following generations have almost forgotten the teachings of a few in earlier days. The marriage and family of Jesus has become Mormon folklore doctrines.

At first Mormons were worried that Dan Brown's latest book would feature the LDS Church in a bad light, much like he did the Roman Catholic Church. Mostly this was because he visited Salt Lake City and was going to write about Free Masonry. LDS history and temple ritual have ties to Free Masonry that some critics find worthy of contempt. There was relief when "The Lost Symbol" turned out to hardly mention Mormonism other than in a few minor paragraphs.

More intriguing was once again Dan Brown had touched on subject matters closer to Mormonism than traditional Christianity. Bryce Haymond of the blog "Temple Study" wrote about the different subjects in the book that Mormons could relate to as part of their own beliefs. These include spirits as "intelligence," spirit matter, ancient mystery initiations, and the plurality of God. The central theme of the book is theosis, or the potential of men to become god-like. The painting The Apotheosis of Washington is used as a point of reference. Haymond states, "Theosis, or deification, has always been a sticking point with critics of the LDS Church. To these seemingly erudite scholars, a belief in theosis is likely the most heretical and blasphemous doctrine Mormonism could have possibly come up with – the idea that fallen and sinful man could rise to the stature of our God in heaven."

A few Mormons have questioned if he got some of his ideas while in Salt Lake City. How closely "The Lost Symbol" touches on Mormon theology could make for an intellectual conspiracy theory. Blog respondent Clark, in a post at Mormon Mentality said, "It does make one wonder what he was researching in the Church archives if Mormonism is so minor." Maybe it is time for Mormonism to once again focus on its unique characteristics; all courtesy of a second rate writer with a popular following.


Unknown said...

I've always been a fan of Dan Brown, although I didn't enjoy his newest book as much as Angels & Demons or the Da Vinci Code. I did enjoy his theme of deification in the new novel, though, and of course noticed the similarities that it had to LDS doctrine as well the concept of the spirit having mass (and by implication being matter, as Joseph Smith taught).

Tigersue said...

I enjoy Dan Brown, I of course read him as I would many of my other favorite authors of fiction as what interesting thoughts or ideas can I walk away with.

I have to admit this book made me think, think about what intelligence is. Since I am a daughter of a scientist (geologist) I am always looking for ways in which science brings me closer to God. If nothing else his books makes me think about what do I really believe and think. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem comes in when people base their testimony on a work of fiction, whether it be by Dan Brown, or a historical work of fiction by Gerald Lund. We need to base our testimonies on the living Word. Everything else that leads us to truth is just icing. Sweet fluff that has no long term substance, just interesting ideas to ponder.

Jettboy said...

I haven't read any more than one chapter of his books. His poor writing completely turned me off. Much like I feel about Stephanie Meyer's work, I have to wonder where the professional editors went. However, I have been fascinated by the ideas he has explored. What is interesting is that none of the critics of those ideas have expressed much more than his history is off (and they are correct). They haven't explored the philosophical or religious points he brings up. Mormons are the exception to this.

Anonymous said...

Between Dan Brown's new book and the Twilight Saga, it seems that the peculiar LDS doctine of Exaltation is having a ridiculously good year in massive, global pop culture.