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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(8)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(8)
Author: Dan Brown

"Same thing," someone muttered.

"Is it?" Langdon challenged. "Would you consider Coca-Cola a secret society?"

"Of course not," the student said.

"Well, what if you knocked on the door of corporate headquarters and asked for the recipe for Classic Coke?"

"They'd never tell you."

"Exactly. In order to learn Coca-Cola's deepest secret, you would need to join the company, work for many years, prove you were trustworthy, and eventually rise to the upper echelons of the company, where that information might be shared with you. Then you would be sworn to secrecy." "So you're saying Freemasonry is like a corporation?" "Only insofar as they have a strict hierarchy and they take secrecy very seriously."

"My uncle is a Mason," a young woman piped up. "And my aunt hates it because he won't talk about it with her. She says Masonry is some kind of strange religion."

"A common misperception."

"It's not a religion?"

"Give it the litmus test," Langdon said. "Who here has taken Professor Witherspoon's comparative religion course?"

Several hands went up.

"Good. So tell me, what are the three prerequisites for an ideology to be considered a religion?"

"ABC," one woman offered. "Assure, Believe, Convert."

"Correct," Langdon said. "Religions assure salvation; religions believe in a precise theology; and religions convert nonbelievers." He paused. "Masonry, however, is batting zero for three. Masons make no promises of salvation; they have no specific theology; and they do not seek to convert you. In fact, within Masonic lodges, discussions of religion are prohibited."

"So . . . Masonry is anti religious?"

"On the contrary. One of the prerequisites for becoming a Mason is that you must believe in a higher power. The difference between Masonic spirituality and organized religion is that the Masons do not impose a specific definition or name on a higher power. Rather than definitive theological identities like God, Allah, Buddha, or Jesus, the Masons use more general terms like Supreme Being or Great Architect of the Universe. This enables Masons of different faiths to gather together."

"Sounds a little far-out," someone said.

"Or, perhaps, refreshingly open-minded?" Langdon offered. "In this age when different cultures are killing each other over whose definition of God is better, one could say the Masonic tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness is commendable." Langdon paced the stage. "Moreover, Masonry is open to men of all races, colors, and creeds, and provides a spiritual fraternity that does not discriminate in any way."

"Doesn't discriminate?" A member of the university's Women's Center stood up. "How many women are permitted to be Masons, Professor Langdon?"

Langdon showed his palms in surrender. "A fair point. Freemasonry had its roots, traditionally, in the stone masons' guilds of Europe and was therefore a man's organization. Several hundred years ago, some say as early as 1703, a women's branch called Eastern Star was founded. They have more than a million members."

"Nonetheless," the woman said, "Masonry is a powerful organization from which women are excluded."

Langdon was not sure how powerful the Masons really were anymore, and he was not going to go down that road; perceptions of the modern Masons ranged from their being a group of harmless old men who liked to play dress-up . . . all the way to an underground cabal of power brokers who ran the world. The truth, no doubt, was somewhere in the middle.

"Professor Langdon," called a young man with curly hair in the back row, "if Masonry is not a secret society, not a corporation, and not a religion, then what is it?"

"Well, if you were to ask a Mason, he would offer the following definition: Masonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."

"Sounds to me like a euphemism for `freaky cult.' "

"Freaky, you say?"

"Hell yes!" the kid said, standing up. "I heard what they do inside those secret buildings! Weird candlelight rituals with coffins, and nooses, and drinking wine out of skulls. Now that's freaky!"

Langdon scanned the class. "Does that sound freaky to anyone else?"

"Yes!" they all chimed in.

Langdon feigned a sad sigh. "Too bad. If that's too freaky for you, then I know you'll never want to join my cult."

Silence settled over the room. The student from the Women's Center looked uneasy. "You're in a cult?"

Langdon nodded and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Don't tell anyone, but on the pagan day of the sun god Ra, I kneel at the foot of an ancient instrument of torture and consume ritualistic symbols of blood and flesh."

The class looked horrified.

Langdon shrugged. "And if any of you care to join me, come to the Harvard chapel on Sunday, kneel beneath the crucifix, and take Holy Communion."

The classroom remained silent. Langdon winked. "Open your minds, my friends. We all fear what we do not understand."

The tolling of a clock began echoing through the Capitol corridors.

Seven o'clock.

Robert Langdon was now running. Talk about a dramatic entrance. Passing through the House Connecting Corridor, he spotted the entrance to the National Statuary Hall and headed straight for it.

As he neared the door, he slowed to a nonchalant stroll and took several deep breaths. Buttoning his jacket, he lifted his chin ever so slightly and turned the corner just as the final chime sounded.

Showtime.

As Professor Robert Langdon strode into the National Statuary Hall, he raised his eyes and smiled warmly. An instant later, his smile evaporated. He stopped dead in his tracks.

Something was very, very wrong.

CHAPTER 7

Katherine Solomon hurried across the parking lot through the cold rain, wishing she had worn more than jeans and a cashmere sweater. As she neared the building's main entrance, the roar of the giant air purifiers got louder. She barely heard them, her ears still ringing from the phone call she'd just received.

That which your brother believes is hidden in D.C. . . . it can be found.

Katherine found the notion almost impossible to believe. She and the caller still had much to discuss and had agreed to do so later that evening.

Reaching the main doors, she felt the same sense of excitement she always felt upon entering the gargantuan building. Nobody knows this place is here.

The sign on the door announced:

SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM SUPPORT CENTER

(SMSC)

The Smithsonian Institution, despite having more than a dozen massive museums on the National Mall, had a collection so huge that only 2 percent of it could be on display at any one time. The other 98 percent of the collection had to be stored somewhere. And that somewhere . . . was here.

Not surprisingly, this building was home to an astonishingly diverse array of artifacts--giant Buddhas, handwritten codices, poisoned darts from New Guinea, jewel-encrusted knives, a kayak made of baleen. Equally mind-boggling were the building's natural treasures--plesiosaur skeletons, a priceless meteorite collection, a giant squid, even a collection of elephant skulls brought back from an African safari by Teddy Roosevelt.

But none of this was why the Smithsonian secretary, Peter Solomon, had introduced his sister to the SMSC three years ago. He had brought her to this place not to behold scientific marvels, but rather to create them. And that was exactly what Katherine had been doing.

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