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IS FRENCH MASONRY ATHEISTIC?
THE AMERICAN FREEMASON - MARCH 1912
The following article is written by one who prefers to sign himself "One of the Fraternity." His information is derived from original sources, and is to he relied upon. In forming any judgment it is far better to first secure evidence of a trustworthy nature, than to take the unsupported statements of those who are led to their making by ignorance and prejudice - EDITOR FREEMASON.
It is to the everlasting credit of Freemasonry in this country that the Grand Orient of France has never been recognized by any of its Grand Lodges, until the recent action of the Grand Lodge of Texas, which for some unnaccountable reason has seen fit to acknowledge this spurious body that has removed the Bible from its altars.
"We sincerely hope that the thinking and reflecting brethren who constitute the Grand Lodge of Texas will not long let this act of recognition remain unrepealed.
"All good and consistent Masons believe in the Grand Architect of the Universe. Atheistic France does not believe in this, and we cannot believe that the rank and file of the brethren in Texas uphold this infidelity."
The above statement in the February number of the Masonic Tidings is only a repetition of many similar statements that have been made and repeated so often that most of the American Masons firmly believe that French Masonry is atheistic and all French Masons atheists.
No doubt words of protest now will have no more effect than words of protest in the past, but nevertheless I will take the trouble of writing a few lines on the subject, hoping at least to make the French situation clear to all who are open to conviction.
If Texas has seen fit to recognise the Grand Orient of France more honor and power to Texas, and here is hoping that many more may follow its example.
No, it is not correct to say that the Grand Orient of France in expunging from its Constitution the necessity of subscribing to a belief in God and the immortality of the soul, so acted in the desire of proclaiming, in place of deism the doctrines of materialism, of positivism, or of atheism and of substituting a negation for an affirmation.
You ask for proofs? Here they are:
The Masonic convention of 1876 had, upon the proposal of a Lodge in the department of the Rhone, appointed a committee to consider the question of suppressing the second paragraph of the first article of the Constitution.
This commission recommended that the proposition should be postponed and here are some of the statements of Bro. Maricault the reporter of that Committee.
"Your Commission has recognized that bad faith alone could interpret the suppression demanded as a denial of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul; human solidarity and freedom of conscience which would be henceforth the exclusive basis of Freemasonry imply quite as strongly belief in, God and in an immortal soul as they do materialism, positivism or any other philosophic doctrine."
Here are some parts of the eloquent speech made by Bro. Andre Roussell in opposition to the recommendation made by the Committee to postpone action on the proposed measure:
"I am anxious to recognize with our Brother, the reporter of the Commission that Free Masonry is neither deistic, atheistic or even positivist. In so far as it is an institution affirming and practicing human solidarity it is a stranger to every religious dogma and to every religious order. . . Its only principle is an absolute respect for freedom of conscience. In matters of faith it affirms nothing and it denies nothing. It respects in an equal degree all sincere convictions and beliefs. Thus the doors of our Temples open to admit catholics as well as protestants, to admit the atheist as well as the deist, provided they are conscientious and honorable. After the debate in which we are at present taking part, no intelligent and honorable man will be able to seriously state that the Grand Orient of France has acted from a desire to banish from its Lodges belief in God and in the immortality of the soul, but on the contrary that in the name of absolute freedom of conscience it proclaims solemnly its respect for the convictions, teachings and beliefs of our ancestors. . . We refrain. moreover as much from denying as from affirming any dogma in order that we may remain faithful to our principles and practice of human solidarity ... If it should please the Grand Orients of other lands to distort and misrepresent our words and sentiments they are at liberty to do so. Public opinion will judge them and sooner or later the truth will become manifest."
And here follows a few words on the same subject by Bro. Minot:
"The Constitution of 1865 had realised a transitory progress. The work must be completed and purified by suppressing dogma and by rendering Masonry once again universal by the proclamation of the principle of absolute freedom of conscience. Let no one be mistaken in this. It is not our aim to serve the interest of any philosophic conception in particular by our action in laying aside all distinction between doctrines. We have in view only one thing: Freedom for each and respect for all."
In the convention of 1877, when, after a year's study by the Lodges, the question had been discussed and settled by an almost unanimous vote, the Reporter of the Committee said:
"Who is not aware, at this moment, that in advocating this suppression, no one among us understands himself as making a profession of atheism and materialism. In regard to this matter every misunderstanding must disappear from our minds. And, if in any lodge, there should yet remain any doubt in reference to this point, let them know that the commission declares without reservation that by acceding to the wish of Lodge No. 9 it sets before it no other object than the proclamation of absolute liberty of conscience."
When the proposition of the Committee had been adopted by the General Assembly, the President proposed, as an amendment, the insertion of these words: "Masonry excludes no one on account of his beliefs." Many regarded this as superfluous, but the president was insistent in order that it may be clearly established in the eyes of all that Masonry is a neutral territory in which all beliefs are admitted and treated with equal respect. The Commission accepted the amendment which was put to a vote and definitely adopted.
After such numerous and explicit declarations from the principal speakers in the Conventions of the Grand Orient it should not be necessary to insist at greater length in order to convince fair minded Masons of the lofty and generous sentiments which actuated French Masons in embodying in its Constitution this important reform.
No, French Masonry has not, as repeatedly asserted, been impel led by a desire to dethrone God, and it is not correct to state that the Grand Orient of France has repudiated deism and has replaced it officially by a new doctrine.
On the contrary, its sole desire in changing the Constitution was to destroy every despotic barrier raised at the entrance of the Lodges, to afford admittance to all noble minds who might be desirous of sharing in the labors of our free institution; in a word, to permit all conscientious and disinterested searchers after truth to knock at the doors of the Temple which would be henceforth the assured asylum of tolerance and liberty.
Much more could be said on this subject, but I have only tried to give the words and opinions of those responsible for the change in the Constitution so that there may be no room for misunderstandings.
In conclusion I will simply add: French Masonry has never been and is not now atheistic. The number of atheists in French Masonry is no greater than in American Masonry, the only difference between continental and American Masonry in regard to religion is that over there the Masons do not pretend to believe in the Bible but try to practice its teachings, while here Masons pretend to believe but do not try to practice.
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