Monday, September 21, 2009

Review by JD – The Masonic Myth by Jay Kinney

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Book Stats:

  • Paperback: 288 pages

  • Publisher: Harper One (September 8, 2009)

  • Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 0060822562

  • ISBN-13: 978-0060822569

  • Note - Refer to Preview for basic book details author and purchasing info.

    A week ago Dan Brown released his much-hyped new novel, The Lost Symbol, which will no doubt jump to the top of the best sellers list. It is a follow-up to The Da Vinci Code, but this time focused on Freemasonry, Masonic secrets, hidden history and arcane Masonic-related symbols. It will no doubt cause a big spike in interest in Freemasonry, so this should provide a boost to Kinney’s book, released just three weeks ago.

    Freemasons have been the target of suspicion, wild speculation and accusations for some three hundred years now, with supposed links to the occult, satanic rites, The Knights Templar, the American and French revolutions, a shadowy network of elite power brokers and so much more. It’s a movement which is clouded in secrecy and this has helped to fuel the fires of the conspiracy theorists. Kinney’s book is subtitled “Unlocking the Truth About the Symbols, the Secret Rites, and the History of Freemasonry”, and it aims to set the record straight about Freemasons.

    Does it achieve that? Well, maybe, kind of, but not really.

    One trouble is that Kinney is himself a practicing Freemason. That gives him direct access to a wealth of historic material and documents and rites that others cannot see, so it can be argued that what you get from him is the real story. But if you are a conspiracy theorist or someone with grave doubts about the purpose and methods of the movement, then you are very likely to discount everything he says. Why believe a member of a secretive society when he claims he’s telling you the truth about that secret society? There’s something wrong with that picture.

    Personally, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I have no reason to doubt Freemasonry and I am just a little bit curious about them. So I decided to read the book and I think I approached it with a free mind. But here’s the next problem. According to Kinney much of the history of the movement is lost in the mists of time. No-one is quite sure where they came from, how they started, what influenced them, what led to the complex rites and ceremonies, where the complex symbology came from, how it ought to be interpreted, and why they are so secretive. This is exacerbated by a code of secrecy which means that many things are not written down and can only be passed on verbally. Paradoxically, it is further exacerbated by the fact that a huge amount has been written about the Freemasons, most of it apparently highly speculative, poorly researched, guesswork, or flat out deceptive. Much of this “history” is of course contradictory, and it seems that whatever accusation you want to throw at Freemasonry, there are likely documents you can point to that appear to support your views.

    Here Kinney does a good job of debunking a lot of the outrageous claims and theories. He provides context and logical arguments that serve to show how silly many of the claims are, and throughout he undermines the silly claims by pointing to a total lack of evidence supporting them. The trouble is that when he comes to laying out his own beliefs about the organization and its history, he can’t point to much evidence either. So what he writes comes across as eminently plausible, but ultimately it seems like it’s just his view which is based on his personal logic and his interpretation of a mess of documents and possible alternative “histories”. This wasn’t very satisfactory for me. I feel like he’s effectively chopped out a lot of the outrageous stuff, but we’re still left with a wide range of possibilities and what he postulates is credible but still just one possible viewpoint.

    Moving on from the history and the whacky claims, what do Masons actually do and how are they organized? Here the book is informative, although some of it was tough to fathom and other bits were just a bit difficult to accept. What was the book like to read? The jacket claims “the excitement of a thriller with the benefit of being factual”. I’m not sure which thrillers the writer of that sentence reads, but I hope I don’t have to read them! Thrilling is one thing this book is not. I started going a bit glassy eyed about a third of the way through, but I stuck with it and got through to the end. It was kind of interesting though. I’d give it two stars.

    12 comments:

    Jm Diaz said...

    Great blog.. I'm so glad I stumbled across it.... The books seem like something right up my alley, thought to be frank, I'll probably wait to get Dan Brown's latest form the used bookstore.

    John D said...

    Hi Jm,
    Thanks for the kind words. Regarding Dan Brown's latest, I suspect you won't have too long to wait until used bookstores have stacks of them. Then you can go back to The Masonic Myth and learn the truth (or not!) about the Masons.

    logankstewart said...

    Nice review. As I mentioned on the Preview, my uncle is a practicing Mason, and has been for many years. I remember as a curious teen sneaking into his Masonic stuff and reading a few bits and pieces in the few Lodge books he had, but none of it meant anything to me. Instead, I've found myself asking him about his involvement and what all he does. He's been quite open and honest, and I definitely trust him. He said that his lodge does a lot of good in the community, by helping and working with folks in need. Furthermore, many people in the churches I've gone to have been Masons, and I really doubt they're satanists.

    By the way, the new layout looks great.

    John D said...

    Hi Logan,

    Thanks for the comment. It did seem to be clear from the book that Masons do a lot of good work for their local communities. And while some church authorities have felt uncomfortable (and sometimes antagonistic) towards Freemasonry, Masons do by definition believe in a "Supreme Being", and many of them are very active members of churches or religous bodies.

    The whole satan thing that some people have thrown at Masons seems to be pure hogwash.

    TheChicGeek said...

    Oh, I hate that when you have to force yourself to the end. Thanks for the honest review! I'd like to know more about their history but doesn't sound like this is the book to do it.

    Nice to visit, Shellie :D Hope all is well in Arizona :D

    John D said...

    Hi ChicGeek,

    The trouble is I'm not sure you'll ever find an interesting or "light" book about their history. Its kind of arcane and almost inevitably a bit dry. Perhaps now is the time to put all pretense at reality to one side and resort to Dan Brown!

    P.S. Shellie says "hi" too

    9uy said...

    You already bought me with your introduction "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel"

    I believe this quote will apply to me as well, one of these days...great blogging!

    John D said...

    Hi 9uy,
    Thanks for the nice words and welcome to the site.

    Charlie said...

    I agree that your review is quite good.

    It seems, though, that Kinney is caught in a Catch-22. Since he is a member of a secret society, he must be sworn to secrecy to not reveal the secret society's secrets to non-members.

    John D said...

    Hi Charlie,

    A Catch-22 indeed. I'm not really sure to what extent that constrained him or marred the book. He claims that the movement is becoming somewhat less secretive, and he said or inferred on several occassions that the stuff they cant talk about really isn't that big of a deal. It may be that the secrecy issue harms the public perception of the book much more than it harms the book contents.

    For me, I didn't really want any more details on the ceremonies and the rites and the obligations. What I really missed was more clarity on the origins and the history, and what has shaped Freemasonry over the years.

    Book pusher said...

    A curious subject, the secrecy just lends itself to conspiracy theories and I am sure will make Dan Brown and future thriller writers rich people. Great review.
    I really like the idea of a shared blog.

    John D said...

    Hi Book pusher,

    Thanks for the nice words.

    The Mason's are their own worst enemy on that score - they really have no-one but themselves to blame for becoming the targets for all sorts of crazy ideas and speculation. As for Dan Brown, he's probably a pretty happy guy right now.

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