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Religion And Freemasonry
Richard h. sands
AMONG KNOWLEDGEABLE Masons, Freemasonry is regarded as being the “handmaiden” of Religion. The reason for this is multifold: From time immemorial, every man who has been accepted into its ranks has professed a belief in deity. Furthermore, Deity is placed at the center of Freemasonry. A Volume of the Sacred Law is open on its altars during every meeting, and a Mason is taught that “no man enters upon any great and important undertaking without first invoking the blessing of Deity.” Every meeting is opened and closed with prayer. However, these prayers are non-sectarian in character so that every man may pray conscientiously to his God without fear of being proselytized.. Freemasonry only requires a belief in Deity; it does not specify the nature of that Deity – this choice is left up to the individual Mason.
This latter feature is the cause of a great deal of concern to some extremist religions whose members misinterpret the biblical passage in Matthew 12:30, “He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad.” They claim that, since Masonry does not require its members to be Christian, it is actively anti-Christian. Nothing could be further from the truth. The teachings of Freemasonry strongly reinforce the teachings of Christ and the Christian Church as well as those of the majority of the world’s religions. Furthermore, Freemasonry urges its members to be active in their respective churches, synagogues or mosques..
If one bothers to read the entire passage in Matthew, one sees quickly that Jesus was answering the Pharisees who were criticizing Him; it is not a passage which relates to this matter at all. Some fundamentalist religions even go so far as to urge their members to boycott any business that is not owned by a Christian. If this reasoning were to be carried to its obvious conclusion, its members should not be citizens of the United States because the latter does not require its citizens to be Christian. If they are to conscientiously follow the teachings of their religion they should renounce their citizenship.
Separation of Church and State
The Separation of Church and State is grossly misunderstood by a large number of judiciary as well as ordinary citizens. Secularists have succeeded in using this concept to outlaw prayer in the public schools, creches and crosses from downtown Christmas and Easter displays, invocations and benedictions from high school graduations and even the wearing of necklaces with the Star of David or a cross by children in our public schools. This is a gross misuse of the concept. To understand the true meaning of separation of church and state, one must go back to John Locke, a well-known English philosopher, who in 1689 published “ A Letter Concerning Toleration” in which he stated that “(t)he magistrate has no power to enforce by law either in his own church, or much less in another, the use of any rites or forms of worship by the force of his laws.” This was the meaning of separation between church and state as understood by our forefathers when they drafted the Bill of Rights. George Washington in his inaugural address said “…No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” Woe unto us if we permit the secularists to prevail. Likewise, we cannot permit the Fundamentalists to prevail.
Prior to 1700, Freemasons were urged to be of the religion of that country in which they resided, which meant that in many countries they should be Catholic. However, when the Grand Lodge was formed in 1723 it was deemed more expedient to require that a Mason be of the religion of his choice. The reason for this is that Freemasonry is not a religion, it is a fraternity, and for the purposes of a fraternity what is important is morality. Freemasonry requires a belief in a Supreme Being because the avowed purpose of Freemasonry is “to take a good man and help him to be a better man,” so he needs to believe in something greater than himself. Furthermore, for the obligations to be binding upon him, he must take them on a Volume of the Sacred Law, sacred to him.
Not a Religion
Freemasonry is not a religion. This fact is commonly misunderstood even by its members. It has none of the trappings of a religion: no creed, no form of worship, no form of salvation, and no theology. These matters are left up to the individual in choosing his own religion. Freemasonry is a fellowship in which men of all religions may unite.
Relationship with Religion
Albert Pike in his Morals and Dogma, Chapter X, states, “Masonry is not a religion …. But Masonry teaches and has preserved in their purity, the cardinal tenets of the old primitive faith, which underlie and are the foundations of all religions. Masonry is the universal morality.”
Masonry teaches and requires belief in God, love of one’s fellowman, and the immortality of the soul. In Masonry we are continuously taught that no one should enter upon any great and important undertaking without prayer to God for guidance. However, our prayers are directed to the “Grand Architect of the Universe” or Supreme Grand Master” or other universal synonyms and are usually closed with a simple “Amen” or (if the one offering the prayer is more comfortable) “In thy Holy Name we Pray,” so that men of all religions may pray conscientiously to their own God.
Freemasonry and Roman Catholicism
Originally Freemasonry had both Roman Catholic clergy and laymen in its membership in every country where it was established. For example, in 1730 Thomas Howard, the Eighth Duke of Norfolk, a Roman Catholic, was Grand Master and during his term presented to the Grand Lodge its Sword of State, which is still in use. However, Papal bulls were issued by Clement XII in 1738 and by Benedict XIV in 1751 denouncing Freemasonry and instructing the Roman Catholics to withdraw from the Craft. The issue was primarily one of secrecy. Nevertheless, in 1776 Lord Petre, who was considered to be the leading layman in the Roman Catholic community in England was the Grand Master of Masons and he presided over the erection of the first Freemason’s Hall in London. However, after the papal bulls were issued, Roman Catholics gradually withdrew from Masonry. Beginning in 1821 a number of edicts were issued and the result was nearly a complete separation of the Roman Catholic Church from the Freemasonry. In 1935, the Catholic Truth Society issued a pamphlet which clearly set forth the basis of difference. The pamphlet admits that Freemasonry is “beneficial to the country or, at any rate, quite harmless” but that the great objection is that Freemasons are placed under a solemn oath of secrecy and that Freemasonry “tends to undermine belief in Catholic Christianity by substituting for it what is practically a rival religion based on deistic or natural principles.”
The historical objections of the Catholic Church to Freemasonry were both theological and ethical in nature. To wit, the theological objections were that Freemasonry is:
1) Deistic – Deists rely on reason to prove the existence of God. They conclude this from observations of nature. The Revelation of God through a person, such as Jesus, is not necessary.
2) Naturalistic – This theology believes that the world can get along all right by itself by obedience to the natural law. God may have created the world but once it was set in motion there is no further need for Divine intervention. Thus there is no need to acknowledge that God once intervened by sending his Son as the Savior of the World.
3) Gnostic –This heresy claims that truth is revealed by God to selected individuals by means of secret rites and
4) Ceremonies. So the uninformed conclude that the ceremony of initiation confers on the initiate a special type of knowledge. The appearance of Jesus in human form is not necessary in the gnostic view.
Let us examine these theological objections. The Christian church objects because these theologies exclude the need of Jesus Christ as Savior of the World. However, the objection to Masonic membership by Christians has no basis. Before a man is admitted into Freemasonry, he must profess a belief in God. Hence, a Christian who applies for membership must confess to a belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Hence his Freemasonry cannot be deistic, naturalistic or gnostic. It is true that Freemasonry enriches a member’s belief in God by instructing him in the moral law and in the hidden secrets of nature and science, but this instruction is by symbols and by allegory so it speaks to each man according to his own interpretation, which for a Christian is a further understanding of the nature of the God as revealed in Jesus Christ in whom he already believes. Hence Freemasonry is not anti-Christian, nor is it anti-any religion.
Let us now turn to the ethical objections. It is true that Freemasons meet behind closed doors. As a fraternity, only members are admitted and we keep the verbatim ritual to ourselves. This, coupled with the obligations, permits a close fellowship to develop among its members. This latter point was recognized by Rev. C. E. Douglas of the Methodist Church when, after an investigation of Freemasonry by that organization in England, he stated, “You cannot understand Freemasonry except in a lodge. Its real secret is fellowship.” Any organization which meets behind closed doors invites the criticism of being a secret society; however, as was discussed at the end of Chapter I, Freemasonry is not a “secret society” but rather “a society with secrets.” There is a big difference.
In recent years there has been a mellowing by the Catholic church in this country, and Catholics are joining Freemasonry again. This movement began in the late nineteen forties and Reverend Father John A. O’Brien, Research Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, reflected this changed attitude in his invited paper to the Indiana Freemason, Volume 43, No. 7, December 1965. You are urged to read this paper which is reproduced in its entirety in Forrest Haggard’s The Clergy and the Craft, pages113-116. See below.“
Worshipful” means “Respectful”
Another matter often confusing to nonMasons is our use of some Old English words in our ritual. We do this in acknowledgement of our origins. In Old English, “worchypful” meant “worthy of respect,” so when we call the Master of the Lodge, Worshipful Master we mean Respectful Master or Worthy Master. He is not worshiped in any religious sense.
The Clergy and the Craft
If you are having trouble with your minister with regard to Freemasonry, we suggest that you get a copy of Forrest A. Haggard’s The Clergy and the Craft, Missouri Lodge of Research, 1970, and present this to him. This is available in paperback from the Grand Lodge Office (1-800-632-8764). Forrest Haggard is a nationally recognized Protestant minister and a distinguished member of the Craft (a past President of the Philalethes Society, the premier Masonic research society in this country).. This book is not intended to be a rebuttal to our critics, but rather to document the present situation between the Church and Freemasonry. If you want a rebuttal, we suggest that you obtain a copy of Jim Tresner’s Conscience and the Craft. See below.
Conscience and the Craft
This is a booklet commissioned by the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma to speak directly to many objections and questions voiced by the Fundamentalists. The author is Jim Tresner, Ph.D., a member of a Disciples of Christ Church and the Director of the Masonic Learning Institute of the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma. A copy of this booklet can be obtained by writing to the Grand Secretary, Grand Lodge A.F.&A.M. of Oklahoma, P.O.Box 1019, 102 S. Broad, Guthrie, OK 73044. The easiest way to get a copy of the text of this booklet is to ask your Master or Secretary to photocopy Chapter XXXI of the Michigan Masonic Manual. Every lodge has six copies of this Manual.
Fundamentalism and Freemasonry
Another excellent book to get the Fundamentalists to look at themselves is Gary Leazer’s book, Fundamentalism and Freemasonry, This should be required reading for all Masons because Freemasonry is under frequent attack by the Fundamentalists and you should know who is attacking you and why. Copies of this book can be obtained by calling the Grand Lodge Office (1-800-632-8764)
Masonic Information Center
The Masonic Information Center, 8120 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD 20910-4785 (Tel:301-588-4010, Fax: 301-608-3457) was formed to provide a national voice to respond to critics of Freemasonry. It publishes a series of pamphlets which can be of use to Masons in dealing with critics and the public in general:
1. A Response to Critics of Freemasonry.
2. Facts About Freemasonry.
3. There is no sin in Symbols.
4. What’s a Mason?
5. Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? This booklet speaks directly to some intentional lies about Freemasonry by certain fundamentalist groups. The true facts are made clear.
6. Who Are Masons? A generic brochure for use by Blue Lodges and all other Masonic bodies as an attractive handout to prospective members.
The Center also puts out a series of Fact Sheets covering such topics as The Organization of Freemasonry, Freemasonry and Brotherhood, The History of Freemasonry, Freemasonry and Secrecy and Freemasonry and Religion.
The Center also will assemble “Kits” of information including copies of Short Talk Bulletins based upon specific need.
A Pilgrim’s Path
John Robinson”s book, A Pilgrim’s Path - Freemasonry and the Religious Right, contains among other matters of interest to Masons, the best reply yet written to the falsehoods propagated by the religious extremists. It is available in paperback from the Grand Lodge Office (1-800-632-8764). It should be considered required reading for all Freemasons desiring “more light in Masonry.”
Freemasonry and Religion
Another outstanding source for use in refuting the attacks of the Religious Extremists is a special issue of The Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, A.A.S.R., USA, February 1993. This is available by writing to The Supreme Council 33o, 1733 Sixteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20009-3199. Tel: (202) 232-3579, Fax: (202)387-1843. This issue contains several articles by ministers and Bishops who are members of the Craft and proud of their membership. It also contains the contents of Jim Tresner’s Conscience and the Craft (see above).
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Last modified: March 22, 2014