For: historical revisionism, relativism and moral confusion, strong promotion of freemasonry, and some socialism
National Treasure takes good things like American history, high-tech spy gear and the distinction between right and wrong, and, like the main character, corrupts them for its own end. Historical revisionism is still historical revisionism when it takes a patriotic rather than politically correct spin. Noble ends do not always justify illegal means, and personal dreams of finding lost treasure never do. Freemasonry is completely at odds with biblical Christianity. And, given those facts, National Treasure is, too.
The ultimate historical message communicated in National Treasure is that American history is exciting, but it’s even better when it’s lied about, misrepresented and misapplied.
National Treasure claims that the Knights Templar (who rediscovered the titular treasure) went on to become the Freemasons, a secret society which later included patriots like George Washington and Charles Carroll, the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence. These men, and other Freemason founding fathers, it is claimed, protected the location of the treasure from the British and preserved the Masonic clues in the Great Seal of the United States depicted on the one-dollar bill: the unfinished temple and the all-seeing eye.
According to true history, however, the Knights Templar have no connection to the Freemasons whatsoever.1
George Washington was, indeed, a Freemason, but contrary to his representation in the movie, his interest in Masonic endeavors was minimal, his involvement in them even less significant, and he sometimes went as long as twenty-four years between Lodge meetings.2
Charles Carroll wasn’t a Mason at all, and, as a Roman Catholic, could not have become one if he wanted to.3
Freemasons were, and still are, an international organization, with their headquarters in Great Britain, which means that, contrary to the movie’s claims, if the American Masons had hidden a treasure from the British, it would have been strictly out of national rivalry, not for any Masonic motives. Incidentally, other famous (and more faithful) Freemasons of that same period who escaped mention in National Treasure include Major John Andre, a British army officer hanged as a spy in 1780 under George Washington’s direction, and Benedict Arnold, the notorious traitor who plotted to betray the Americans, deserted from the American Continental Army, and went on to lead British forces against the Americans.
The unfinished temple and the all-seeing eye, despite National Treasure’s claims, are not even Masonic symbols at all.4
The movie also randomly claims that Solomon’s temple had a winding staircase, even though it did not.
Relativism and Moral Confusion
National Treasure is built on a moral system where justice is arbitrary and illegal activity, even without good motives behind it, is cool.
Smuggling, sabotage, breaking and entering, grand theft, impersonation, trespassing and evading arrest are all portrayed as inherently cool. While those crimes are committed under the gray, murky ethics of protecting a valuable object from damage, main character Ben and his friends later commit numerous other crimes for the sake of personal gain, including continued evasion of arrest, grand theft, more trespassing on government property, escape from federal custody, defacing a government building, and being accessory to crimes committed by the villain.
Even assuming the legitimacy of temporarily stealing the Declaration to protect it from being destroyed, once Ben had taken the document, all he would have had to do to protect it from the villain would have been to return it to the authorities. Guards, FBI agents and the media would have been more than enough to prevent any bad guy getting a hold of it. Ben, however, does not give up the Declaration; he goes on the run and starts committing new unnecessary crimes, not to protect the document, but to find the treasure. From that point, doing “what they knew was right” subtly shifts from meaning “protect the Declaration of Independence from destruction” to “find the treasure before the next guy does.” National Treasure ends, in fact, sanctioning illegal activity for the sake of personal gain as if it was the noble and patriotic endeavor envisioned at the beginning.
Ben displays a (positively-portrayed) religious awe of and devotion to American historical artifacts throughout the film, out of all proportion to other relationships and responsibilities, and bordering on history-worship. He is perfectly willing to bribe the FBI with money, but hands the Declaration of Independence over to them freely, rather than let it be used as a “bargaining chip”. His obsession with American relics leads to the point where a copy of the Declaration of Independence is viewed as worth dying over.
The bad guy is arrested for “kidnapping, attempted murder and trespassing on government property,” while Ben gets to go free, without even a token arrest and hearing, despite being equally if not more guilty of trespassing on government property (among numerous other felonies and misdemeanors). The “trespassing on government property” is supposed to sound witty, but in reality it is a mockery of justice.
Ben uses his money to “bribe” a positively-portrayed FBI officer and bargain for the freedom of other felons. The officer states emphatically that “someone’s got to go to prison,” but it is clear that this is just a formality, and that he doesn’t care who goes to prison, or how many deserve to, as long as he can say that someone was arrested in connection with the crime.
Strong Promotion of Freemasonry
The teachings of Freemasonry are not really gone into—at all—in National Treasure, but a positive view of the organization is strongly promoted throughout the movie, to the point where the word “Freemason” is used as a representation of the highest ideals of American patriotism.
A sampling of the severe moral problems with central Freemason teachings includes:
1) The belief that all religions worship the same God, and all Masons are led through symbolism, prayer and good deeds closer to this God, and to heaven, regardless of what religion they individually espouse.5
2) The belief in the spiritual “darkness” of non-initiates and those who “miss” the significance of Masonic symbolism, and the “light” only of those who have been initiated, again, regardless of what religion they individually profess.6
3) The teaching of the universal Fatherhood of God, and the universal Brotherhood of man.7
4) The teaching that admission to heaven is gained by “purity of life and rectitude of conduct,” as well as by symbolically ascending the rounds of Jacob’s ladder, which represent primarily faith, hope and charity.8
5) The “universality” of Freemasonry makes it inappropriate to reference any specific Deity (including Jesus Christ) in prayer during any gathering of Freemasons.9
6) The instruction that the initiation rite of Freemasonry should be approached “in the same spirit that would actuate you if you were being baptized in your church.”10
7) The teaching that the highest degree of Masonry “represents a man saved from the grave of iniquity and raised to the faith of salvation,” again, regardless of the religion espoused by the individual.11
8) The position that any “book held holy” by a Mason is to be considered the Volume of the Sacred Law (or VSL), an “unerring standard of Truth and Justice” containing “Divine precepts,” regardless of what that book is.12
National Treasure on multiple occasions presents the view that assets which an individual has not earned all on his own do not really belong to him and should be distributed among the people of the world.13
The treasure is repeatedly claimed to be “too great for one man,” with strong moral, not practical, overtones.
Ben’s decision to take the treasure he has discovered and “give it to the people” because “it belongs to the world, and everybody in it,” is portrayed as the only morally viable decision he could have made.
Ben’s father donates a valuable collection of early American documents, not because they belonged to him and he wished to give them away, but because, having found them “by sheer happenstance,” he did not feel that they belonged to him at all.
1 See http://www.masonicinfo.com/nationaltreasure.htm
2 See http://bessel.org/gwfmy.htm, for example.
3 See http://www.freemasoninformation.com/2009/05/the-catholic-church-and-freemasons/
4 See http://www.masonicinfo.com/nationaltreasure.htm
5 Freemasonry: A Way of Life (The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1983), p. 6, http://www.ephesians5-11.org/pdf/rites.pdf
“…the Christian, the Hebrew, the Moslem, the Brahmin, the followers of Confucius and Zoroaster, can assemble as brethren and unite in prayer to the one God who is above all the Baalim.”
Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, p. 226, http://www.emfj.org/quickly.htm
6 The Grand Lodge of Nevada’s Officers’ Manual of Lodge Organization and Operation, page 95, http://www.emfj.org/dbr.htm
Official Cipher (1960; reprint, New Hampshire: Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, F. & A.M., 1975), p. 26, http://www.ephesians5-11.org/pdf/rites.pdf
7 Freemasonry: A Way of Life (The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1983), p. 6, http://www.ephesians5-11.org/pdf/rites.pdf
8 Emulation Ritual (London: Lewis Masonic Publishers, 1986), pp. 243-244,
http://www.ephesians5-11.org/pdf/rites.pdf (footnote 62)
the Heirloom Masonic Bible, p. 33,
9 Indiana “Mentor’s Manual”, pp. 75,76
10 Taking the First Step (Grand Lodge of Virginia)
11 The Lodge Manual of North Carolina, p. 52,
12 Viscount Valentia, Ritus Oxoniensis: Being the Ritual of Craft Freemasonry as Antiently Practised in the Province of Oxfordshire and Elsewhere (London: Lewis Masonic, 1988), pp. 55-56, http://www.ephesians5-11.org/pdf/rites.pdf
The Masonic Information Center, http://www.msana.com/religion.asp
13 See Proverbs 13:22, as just one example of the biblical view of unearned wealth.