This is your preacceptance to the law school of your choice.
—Judge Litten Mandrake, The Skulls (2000)
Immediately on entering Bones the neophyte’s name is changed.
—Anthony Sutton, America’s Secret Establishment (1986)
Luke McNamara is a working class kid in an Ivy League university. He dreams of Harvard Law School, but it’s far beyond his means. His only ticket there might be his skill with a varsity oar — if only that skill can draw the interest of a mysterious university society called the Skulls.
The Skulls are a secret fraternity more than 200 years old. They enroll nine seniors a year. These they promote and advance in the outside world: their membership is a who’s who of the Eastern Establishment. But their membership, procedures and rules are a complete secret to outsiders. And with good reason.
When Luke wins the Ivy Championship for his school for the fourth year in a row, the Skulls are sufficiently impressed. They extend the invitation.
Luke finds the society to be all he hoped for: Beautiful call girls. A fully restored ’63 T-Bird convertible. An acceptance letter to the university of his choice with tuition paid in full. Wealthy and influential patrons. A sense of belonging. The Skulls appeal to all of Luke’s lusts and dreams. But he finds, perhaps too late, that the price tag includes his friends, his identity and his very soul.
This is the premise and opening of The Skulls (2000). The film’s storyline centers on an imaginative version of Yale’s 180-year-old secret society, Skull and Bones — or as insiders know it, The Order. Like its fictional counterpart, the Yale society is extremely secretive. Its members won’t speak of it or acknowledge their own connection to it. But judging from its membership lists alone, we can say it enjoys a staggering influence in America’s political and financial life.
What the Order promises or gives its young members we have no way of knowing. But certainly prominence, position and power wait for them beyond the ivy-covered walls of Yale. Of course, nothing here is new.
Daniel before the Lion’s Den
When Jerusalem surrendered to the Chaldeans, Nebuchadnezzar exported to Babylon a large number of young men, the sons of nobles and princes. Most were still in their teens. They were Jerusalem’s best and brightest.
These young men weren’t tortured or treated as slaves. They were welcomed and embraced. No religious demands were placed upon them. They weren’t asked to violate their consciences. In fact, they were encouraged, cared for, even pampered. They were given the best food, the best clothes, and the best education available. True, their course of study included magic and divination as well as mathematics and statecraft. But if they excelled in their studies, they would become rising stars in the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Power, wealth, and influence would be theirs. They could have it all. The pressure and temptations would have been enormous.
One of these young men was Daniel, the Daniel of the lion’s den. Daniel had three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. We usually remember them as Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego. These were the new names their Chaldean overseer gave them, names that reflected the culture and religion of Babylon. Daniel was given a new name, too: Belteshazzar. It was all part of the assimilation process.
Daniel and his three friends approached their new lives with meekness and submission. They attended their assigned classes, wore their new clothes, and even used their new names, at least publicly. They accepted their situation as the judgment of God upon their people. But one thing they refused. Daniel and his friends refused to eat the food that came from the king’s table. They asked instead for pulse — a concoction of seeds — and water.
Dinner with Hitler?
Why did Daniel and his friends draw the line here? Some have suggested that the king’s food was ceremonially unclean. Some of it no doubt was, but it’s hard to believe they were offered no beef or venison, let alone fruit and vegetables. Others have said that the food would have been offered to idols. Probably. But foods offered to idols — to demons — aren’t forbidden to a strong believer unless those foods are actually being served in a communion feast (see 1 Corinthians 10:19-33). The only thing the text actually says about the food is that it was the king’s. Daniel and his friends did not want to share a meal with the king.
This may seem odd to us. “Where’s the harm?” we wonder. But throughout Scripture — and for that matter, throughout the ancient world — sharing a meal was understood as an act of communion and fellowship. And Daniel and his friends were not ready for communion with Nebuchadnezzar, the man who had subjugated their city and torn them from their families, the man who was Babylon incarnate. Think dinner with Adolf Hitler or lunch with the Antichrist.
But these four godly young men approached the problem humbly. They didn’t begin a food strike. They made a humble appeal. They believed they should not eat, but what was God’s sentence in the matter? Had He wholly abandoned them already? Or would He honor their faith and intervene with an unusual providence, even a miracle? Their overseer agreed to a short test: 10 days of pulse and water.
God not only blessed the young men’s health and comeliness: He also blessed their studies. They graduated at the top of their class. When they finally stood before king Nebuchadnezzar, he found them 10 times better than all the magicians and astrologers in his realm (Daniel 1:20). Their Scripture-based rationality made more sense out of the world than the ramblings of demon-worshipping magicians and sorcerers who believed in the ultimacy of chaos and flux.
We hear nothing more of the other young nobles from Judah. Apparently, they accepted everything Babylon had to offer. They may have chided Daniel as a pietist and snubbed him as a legalist. There was nothing in Scripture against eating with unbelievers; there was nothing that condemned accepting status and gifts. And how could Daniel hope to influence and reform Babylonian culture if he isolated himself from the king and his court right at the beginning?
Of course, in the end it was Daniel whom God used to shape the course of Babylon’s history. It was Daniel who would become the king’s right hand man when Jerusalem finally fell. It was Daniel who predicted in broad panorama and stunning detail the course of Western history for the next 500 years.
Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus of Persia (Daniel 1:21). In other words, Daniel outlasted the Babylonian Empire. But he had to wait 70 years.
Jesus asked the penetrating question, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). Daniel served his God in exile, captivity, deprivation, and, finally, in the lion’s den. He gained heaven and changed the world. Except for his three closest friends, his fellow students sold their souls for a mess of pottage, for the king’s meat. Their names are lost to history; their souls were presumably lost as well. Christ and the world both have their suppers. Which one we attend is of incalculable importance.