In his latest New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof draws attention to this year’s crop of “more thoughtful” books on religion. He mentions Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, and Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct.
All are, of course, non-fiction works. But if Kristof had wanted to pick out the most influential religious book of the year (in terms of readership, at least) he might have included The Lost Symbol, a work of fiction to be sure, but one that arguably holds to the Armstrong/Wright space on the continuum of views about religion.
As we have discussed earlier on this blog–and as we discuss in much more detail in our soon-to-be-published book–Dan Brown certainly imbues The Lost Symbol with a spiritual philosophy. Indeed, Brown’s characters in The Lost Symbol go to great pains to suggest that it is time for man to accept a more universal view of god, one that includes people of all faiths much as the Freemasons welcome Christians, Muslims and Jews in their Lodges and appreciate many aspects of mysticism and spirituality, wherever those traditions come from.
In Kristof’s column, he even highlights Psalm 82, the passage that includes the “Ye Are Gods” reference that Brown uses to bolster his New Age argument that man need look no further than within himself in his search for god. This particular phrase from this particular Psalm is referenced several times in The Lost Symbol. Interestingly, Kristof uses Psalm 82 to highlight Wright’s hypothesis that this use of the plural word “gods” stems not from an argument that man is a god, but from the beliefs circulating at the time the Psalm was written that multiple gods existed.
Mr. Wright also argues that monotheism emerged only gradually among Israelites, and that the God familiar to us may have resulted from a merger of a creator god, El, and a warrior god, Yahweh. Mr. Wright also argues that monotheism wasn’t firmly established until after the Babylonian exile, and he says that Moses’s point was that other gods shouldn’t be worshiped, not that they didn’t exist. For example, he notes the troubling references to a “divine council” and “gods” — plural — in Psalm 82.
Kristof’s piece is fascinating, and well worth reading at length, as are the nonfiction books he cites. And if you would like to explore this subject further, our book, Secrets of the Lost Symbol (due in stores in time for the holidays) includes a piece from Karen Armstrong as well as an interview with commentator Rabbi Irwin Kula, who calls Armstrong’s Case for God and Brown’s The Lost Symbol “the same book” in certain ways—one erudite and the other a pop culture novel—but both making essentially some of the same points about the kind of religion and spiritual system 21st century humankind is evolving.
The Religious Wars (Nicholas Kristoff, NYT)