New 'Complete Idiot' book covers Freemasonry

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By Natasha Clark

Reminder Assistant Editor

For anyone who thinks there has been a recent surge in religious-themed books, films and other media: they're right.

Many have said "The Matrix" trilogy has a Gnostic Gospel theme. There are countless web sites dedicated to decoding the film's message.

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" banked $83.8 million in its opening weekend in 2004.

In April, the National Geographic Society announced that they found the Gospel of Judas, a 26-paged text made around A.D. 300.

Sony Pictures' film version of Dan Brown's book, "The Da Vinci Code," was released last Friday. A fictional work about a murder inside the Louvre a famous art museum in Paris and clues in Da Vinci's paintings lead to the discovery of a religious mystery protected by a secret society for two thousand years; the book has sold more than 40 million copies world wide. Publishing sales of religious books (which includes many self-help texts) grew 5.6 percent in 2004 totalling $1.33 billion, according to the American Association of Publishers.

In an April 2000 article, Catholic World News said, "In the US news media, at the national level, the volume of coverage devoted to religion doubled during the 1990s."

The survey was conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs and it examined the media's treatment of religious news over the past 30 years. Some of their findings include:

"The proportion of major media journalists who regularly attended religious services more than doubled rising from 14 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 1995.

There was little coverage of theology or spirituality in religious news. Only one story in 14 (7 percent) mentioned any religious beliefs or doctrines.

By contrast, the media emphasized the political dimension of religion. Churches and denominations made news most frequently when they were involved in public policy debates, or when conflicts arose over the authority of church leaders."

Alpha, a division of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. hopes to join in the recent popularity of these topics by releasing this month's "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry."

The book takes the reader through the basic organization and its origin, associations and affiliations (including those for women and youth), their philanthropies, misunderstandings and myths about the Masons, and a guide to Masonic symbols and jewelry.

"There has been, over the last several years [an increase in the sales of religious books]," said Dawn Werk, Director of Marketing at Alpha Books. "Certainly since Sept. 11, [2001] and since the religious fiction craze.

"But the religion category has slowed down recently. Again, initially it was Sept. 11 [2001], but the country as a whole seems to be on a more conservative slant, which has helped sell books."

Werk said people are also becoming more and more interested in religions outside their own beliefs.

"There has also been a trend where people are combining religious thinking," she said. "[For example], a Christian who wants to incorporate Buddhist philosophy into his life."

Werk said sales have spiked on other guides available through Alpha such as "The Gnostic Gospels" and "Mary Magdalene," due to hot topics like "The Da Vinci Code."

A lawsuit citing copyright infringement was brought against "The Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown by authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. Brown makes mention of their book in "The Da Vinci Code." A judge dismissed the suit in April.

The book and film also revolve around the existence of the secret society Priory of Sion and the Gnostic Gospels.

"I think the media is responding to the public's thirst or interest in these topics," Werk added. "Because 'The Da Vinci Code' is so huge, questions about the book and the controversies/questions that have come about because of the book, and now the movie, make for juicy discussions.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to's intention is to provide facts and data in layman's terms, Werk explained. Even the title of the series is supposed to be in good fun.

"We recognize that people are busy and want to learn things. They just need a solid, comprehensive book that is easy to understand," Werk explained. "A person may be incredibly smart about everything. Our readers have a sense of humor about themselves and understand this: a person who is a brilliant lawyer may be a 'complete idiot' about investing in stocks or training a new dog, and wants or needs some easy-to-access information. Our books are for this person."