The Masonic Religion
Masonry Encompasses All Elements of a Religion of Naturalism
The basic Christian objection to Freemasonry is that the Craft constitutes a religious sect in opposition to the revealed truths of the Gospel. Whatever the religious doctrines of the Masonic sect it is plain that they do not embrace the central Christian doctrines of the Trinity, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Atonement. To the lodge these essential Christian beliefs are completely irrelevant. No one need accept the Christian revelation, acknowledge Jesus Christ as God and Man, or receive baptism in order to attain salvation and enjoy the eternal happiness promised by the lodge.
Not all the religious systems in the world are exclusive; Christianity is. A Chinese may combine elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism and a Japanese may successfully blend Shintoism and Buddhism. A Christian owes complete loyalty to Jesus Christ, God made man; he may not divide his allegiance among other gods.
Most Masons who deny that Masonry is a religion confuse religion with the Christian religion. They know Masonry is not Christian since if it were their Jewish and Moslem brethren would object. Since it is not Christian they assume that it is not religious. Or their views of Christianity as primarily a system of character building and as synonymous with the decent. kindly. and gentlemanly coincide with their appraisal of the lodge and they see no conflict between the two institutions. The fact is, however, that the lodge is essentially religious and possesses all the elements of a religion of naturalism.
Masons themselves have testified again and again to the religious nature of the lodge while denying that Masonry should be classified as "sectarian" religion. By this they mean that the various religious faiths represent on a lower plane that pure and undefiled universal religion of mankind represented by Freemasonry. For example, Pike states:
Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief falsifies and denaturalizes it. The Brahmin, the Jew, the Mohometan, the Catholic, the Protestant, each professing his peculiar religion, sanctioned by the laws, by time, and by climate, must needs retain it, and cannot have two religions; for the social and sacred laws adapted to the usages, manners, and prejudices of particular countries are the work of man.1
Masonry is willing to humor those brethren who go along with the local and tribal cults so long as they realize that the sectarian doctrines of these cults are simply necessary evils. Pike explains:
But Masonry teaches, and has preserved in their purity, the cardinal tenets of the old primitive faith, which underlie and are the foundation of all religion. All that ever existed have had a basis of truth; and all have overlaid that truth with errors . . . Masonry is the universal morality which is suitable to the inhabitants of every clime, to the man of every creed.2
He adds, "Religion, to obtain currency and influence with the great mass of mankind, must needs be alloyed with such an amount of error as to place it far below the standard attainable by the higher human capacities."3 Masonry, however, strips sectarian religion of these encrusted errors and reveals itself as the universal religion. While religion gathers the barnacles of superstition and error, Masonry remains pure and undefiled. It becomes Christianity without Christ, Judaism without the Law, Islam without the Prophet.
Some Masonic partisans seem to believe that Masonry could not qualify as a religion because it lacks the complex dogmatic systems of the denominations in their hometown. The lodge demands only belief in a Supreme Architect and in the immortality of the soul. As Mackey states: "The religion of Masonry is pure theism." He boasts, "The truth is that Masonry is undoubtedly a religious institution . . . which, handed down through a long succession of ages from that ancient priesthood who first taught it, embraces the great tenets of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul."4 In his Encyclopedia he restates this: "The Religious Doctrines of Freemasonry are very simple and self evident. They are darkened by no perplexities of sectarian theology but stand out in broad light, intelligible and acceptable by all minds, for they ask only for a belief in God and in the immortality of the soul."5
Although Freemasonry is not a dogmatic theology, and is tolerant in the admission of men of every religious faith, it would be wrong to suppose that it is without a creed. On the contrary, it has a creed the assent to which it rigidly enforces, and the denial of which is absolutely incompatible with membership in the Order. This creed consists of two articles: First, a belief in God, the Creator of all things, who is therefore recognized as the Grand Architect of the Universe; and secondly, a belief in the eternal life, to which this present life is but a preparatory and probationary state.6
Simply because Masonry reduces its theological statement to these two propositions we may not deduce that it does not constitute a religion. This bare minimum compared to the dogmatic structure of Christianity is nevertheless more than is asked of many religionists: Unitarians, Reform Jews, Buddhists. A Unitarian in good standing may doubt the existence of a personal God and flatly deny the immortality of the soul; his Unitarianism nevertheless constitutes a religion.
Like Unitarianism the Masonic sect denies the need to accept the Christian gospel but allows its initiates to entertain their own peculiar theological views outside the lodge room. Human reason becomes the only guide to religious belief and the gospel of Christ stands on a par with the scriptures of Hinduism, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon.
The lodge unwittingly confirmed the religious nature of Masonry in a court case in 1903. A certain Robert Kopp, who had been expelled from the fraternity, appealed against his former brethren in the civil courts. He lost his case but the counsel for the Grand Lodge of New York presented the following statement in his "Briefs and Points":
The right to membership in the Masonic fraternity is very much like the right to membership in a church. Each requires a candidate for admission to subscribe to certain articles of religious belief as an essential prerequisite to membership. Each requires a member to conduct himself thereafter in accordance with certain religious principles. Each requires its members to adhere to certain doctrines of belief and action. The precepts contained in the "Landmarks and the Charges of a Freemason" formulate a creed so thoroughly religious in character that it may well be compared with the formally expressed doctrine of many a denominational church. The Masonic fraternity may, therefore, be quite properly regarded as a religious society, and the long line of decisions, holding that a religious society shall have sole and exclusive jurisdiction to determine matters of membership, should be deemed applicable to the Masonic fraternity.
Look at its ancient landmarks, its sublime ceremonies, its profound symbols and allegories-all inculcating religious observance, and teaching religious truth, and who can deny that it is eminently a religious institution? . . . Masonry, then, is indeed a religious institution; and on this ground mainly, if not alone, should the religious Mason defend it.7
We should not be disturbed by the frequent denials of the religious character of the lodge offered by ordinary members. They either do not understand Masonry or they do not know what constitutes a religion. Many other cults are as insistent on denying their religious nature. Jehovah's Witnesses have railed against "religion" for decades and flatly deny that their eschatological sect resembles religion in any form. A faith healing cult such as the Unity School of Christianity and an occult mail order sect such as the Rosicrucians also have their reasons for rejecting the name "religion" although they must be so classified by anyone working in the field of religious sociology or comparative religion. If Freemasonry were to acknowledge its religious status, it would compromise the position of thousands of Christian Masons and Protestant ministers who wear the apron.
The Masonic strategy is simple enough. First deny that Masonry is a religion and then proceed to prove that it is. For example, the same Pike who told us "Masonry is not a religion" also tells us, "Every Masonic Lodge is a temple of religion; and its teachings are instruction in religion."8 What religion? Not Christianity or Judaism or Islam. Rather Freemasonry is a religion which simply demands belief in God and immortality and inculcates a natural morality of salvation by character.
Masonry, around whose altars 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 Baalim, must needs leave to each of its Initiates to look for the foundation of his faith and hope to the written scriptures of his own religion. For itself it finds those truths definite enough, which are written by the finger of God upon the heart of man and on the pages of the book of nature.9
In other words "for itself" Masonry considers the doctrines of Christianity quite peripheral and quite unnecessary but if her initiates must look for other sources of religious authority the lodge will not object. At no time, however, does the lodge ever suggest that the religion and morality of the lodge be supplemented by the Church nor does it direct its initiates to the Church. In fact, those who wish to bypass the Church and find their spiritual sustenance in Masonry alone are welcome to do so and, to be candid about it, are much wiser than their brethren who accept the dross and barnacles of Christianity. For many indeed the lodge is church enough and they may testify that they find Freemasonry a completely satisfying spiritual home. Those who desert the Christian church for the lodge would receive the commendation of the Masonic writer Sir John Cockburn who said, "Creeds arise, have their day and pass, but Masonry remains. It is built on the rock of truth, not on the shifting sands of superstition." Obviously those who have chosen the solid truth of the lodge over the superstition and sectarian dogmas of the Church have chosen the better part.
Would the searcher for a religious home find all the elements of a religion in the Masonic lodge? Unquestionably, he would.
He would worship the Grand Architect of the Universe in a Temple whose lodge room features two chief articles of worship, an altar and a Volume of Sacred Law, usually but not necessarily the Holy Bible. Surely, if Masonry were nothing but a mutual benefit society, it would have no need for an altar. We find no altars in the board room of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company or in the lobby of the American Red Cross headquarters. Mackey tells us:
From all this we see that the altar in Masonry is not merely a convenient article of furniture, intended, like a table, to hold a Bible. It is a sacred utensil of religion, intended, like the altars of the ancient temples, for religious uses, and thus identifying Masonry, by its necessary existence in our Lodges, as a religious institution. Its presence should also lead the contemplative Mason to view the ceremonies in which it is employed with solemn reverence, as being part of a really religious worship.10
Like most other paraphernalia in the lodge room the Bible assumes a symbolic meaning, in this case the scriptures of the majority of the brethren. It is clear that the Craft recognizes no particular inspiration of the Bible and places it on a par with the scriptures of all other religions. Pike explains:
The Bible is an indispensable part of the furniture of a Christian lodge, only because it is the sacred book of the Christian religion. The Hebrew Pentateuch in a Hebrew lodge, and the Koran in a Mohammedan one, belong on the Altar; and one of these, and the Square and Compass, properly understood, are the Great Lights by which a Mason must walk and work.11
George Wingate Chase is even more explicit:
The Jews, the Chinese, the Turks, each reject, either the New Testament or the Old, or both, and yet we see no good reason why they should not be made Masons. In fact Blue Lodge Masonry has nothing whatever to do with the Bible; it is not founded upon the Bible. If it was it would not be Masonry; it would be something else.12
The Bible in the lodge room is not a standard of religious belief but a symbol of a religious attitude toward life. The central allegory of Freemasonry, the assassination of Hiram Abiff, is nowhere recorded in the Bible. The lodge usually picks passages from the Bible for its liturgy which do not mention Christ lest His name scandalize non-Christian Masons.
Our religious inquirer would know that each candidate for the lodge' in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions, must affirm belief in a Supreme Architect and in immortality. The shock of entrance of the first degree serves as his Masonic baptism or rebirth as he moves from self-acknowledged darkness and helplessness into the light of Masonic teaching. Mackey describes the shock of entrance in the following words:
There he stands without our portals, on the threshhold of this new Masonic life, in darkness, helplessness, and ignorance. Having been wandering amid the errors and covered over with the pollutions of the outer and profane world, he comes inquiringly to our doors seeking the new birth, and asking a withdrawal of the veil which conceals divine truth from his uninitiated sight.... There is to be not simply a change for the future, but also an extinction of the past, for initiation is, as it were, a death to the world and a resurrection to a new life.... The world is left behind-the chains of error and ignorance which had previously restrained the candidate in moral and intellectual captivity are broken-the portals of the Temple have been thrown widely open, and Masonry stands before the neophyte in all the glory of its form and beauty, to be fully revealed to him, however, only when the new birth has been completely accomplished.13
Masonry makes no references to that baptism which makes the Christian a participant in God's own life, to the sacraments of the Church, to the revealed truths of the gospel. All men alike come to the portals of the Masonic Temple ignorant of divine truths and aimless wanderers.
The Masonic initiate knows that:
A Lodge is said to be opened in the name of God and the Holy Saints John, as a declaration of the sacred and religious purposes of our meetings, of our profound reverence for that Divine Being whose name and attributes should be the constant theme of our contemplation, and of our respect for those ancient patrons whom the traditions of Masonry have so intimately connected with the history of the institution.14
During the degree workings the initiate has bound himself by solemn oaths taken on the V.S.L. and asked God Himself to witness his resolve to keep the secrets of the order and to enter into specific relationships with his new brethren. All the ritual, prayers, hymns, candles, and vestments of a liturgical church are his in the Temple.
The Craft also furnishes him with a moral code which makes no reference to other religions or to models of conduct except those of the Masonic hero: Hiram Abiff. At no time is the Christian Mason encouraged to pattern his life after his Savior or to cultivate the specifically Christian virtues. This Masonic morality is selective. In regulating his sex life he may remember his Masonic oath: "I promise and swear that I will not violate the chastity of a Mason's wife, his mother, sister or daughter, knowing them to be such." Presumably all others are fair game and such seductions and rapes in no way violate his obligation. We need not speculate on the public reaction to such a moral code if publicly advanced by a Christian denomination.
His Masonic mentors assure him that fidelity to the principles of the lodge will win him entry to "Thy lodge on high." In explaining the term "Acacian" Mackey explains that this refers to "A Mason who by living in strict accord with his obligations is free from sin."15 The Mason wins salvation not through the passion and death of Jesus Christ but through the mythical assassination of Hiram Abiff.
He knows that when he dies he will be clothed in the Masonic apron and buried by his brethren. They will assure his survivors that if he has lived according to Masonic principles he will enjoy the bliss of heaven. After the religious services, if any, the lodge takes charge of the graveside ceremony. The assembled brethren sing the following funeral dirge written in 1816:
Solemn strikes the funeral chime,
Notes of our departing time;
As we journey here below
Through a pilgrimage of woe.
Mortals, now indulge a tear,
For mortality is here!
See how wide her trophies wave
O'er the slumbers of the grave.
Here another guest we bring!
Seraphs of celestial wing,
To our fun'ral altar come,
Waft a friend and brother home.
Lord of all, below, above,
Fill our souls with truth and love;
As dissolves our earthly tie,
Take us to Thy lodge on high.
Perhaps during his lifetime he had the opportunity to witness the consecrating and constituting of a new lodge. This ceremony with its obvious religious character is described by the English Masonic historian Jones:
The Consecrating Officer, acting on behalf of the Grand Master, opens a lodge in three degrees, and, to the accompaniment of suitable prayers, scripture readings, and addresses, uncovers the lodge board and scatters corn (the symbol of plenty), pours wine (the symbol of joy and cheerfulness), pours oil (the symbol of peace and unanimity) and sprinkles salt (the symbol of fidelity and friendship). He then dedicates the lodge, and the Chaplain takes the censer three times round the lodge and offers the prayer of dedication. The Consecrating Officer then officially consecrates the lodge, and there generally follows the installation of the first Master, the election and appointment of officers, the approval of bylaws, etc., etc. In the old rites, still followed under some of the American jurisdictions, there is placed upon a table in front of the Consecrating Officer an emblem known as the "lodge" an oblong box of white fabric, to hold the warrant and the constitutions-and round it are placed three candles and the vessels containing the consecrating elements.16
Masonry meets all the essential requirements of a religion. It is not Christianity but it is
religion. Mackey states:
Speculative Masonry, now known as Freemasonry, is, therefore, the scientific application and the religious consecration of the rules and principles, the technical language and the implements and materials, of operative Masonry to the worship of God as the Grand Architect of the Universe, and to the purification of the heart and the inculcation of the dogmas of a religious philosophy.17
Man arrives at an understanding of this religious philosophy through reason alone, says Masonry. Consequently, this religion of naturalism never rises above the level of any of the non-Christian "higher" religions. For some a blending of Masonry and their own religion may be a possibility; such a course is not open to the Christian.
Nowhere in Masonry is it suggested that a man be born again in baptism, that God became man in Jesus Christ, that He died for man's sins, that He founded a Church with authority to teach what is necessary for salvation. These become secondary, supplementary, and "sectarian" dogmas in the eyes of the lodge. Under no circumstances should they violate Masonic etiquette by dragging these dogmas into the lodge or mention the name of Jesus Christ aloud among their brethren. This is the real apostasy of the Christian Mason. Here is where the Christian Mason assumes the role of Peter on the night of the crucifixion. While he stands in the lodge among those who deny and ignore Christ and participates in worship and prayer from which his Redeemer's name is carefully excluded he is testifying before men: "I know not the man."
The lodge has tried to eliminate the slightest reference to Christianity in its rituals and monitors. Mackey remarks:
The Blazing Star is said, by Webb, to be "commemorative of the star which appeared to guide the wise men of the East to the place of our Savior's nativity." This, which is one of the ancient interpretations of the symbols, being considered too sectarian in its character, and unsuitable to the universal religion of Masonry, has been omitted since the meeting of Grand Lecturers at Baltimore, in 1842.18
Christ has told the Christian Mason "No man cometh to the Father, but by me," but the Mason supports the lodge which promises eternal happiness to all who live by Masonic principles. He stands at the grave of an unbaptized brother and answers "So mote it be" to the Worshipful Master's assurance that the deceased has attained "Thy lodge on high." He knows he has been commanded by Christ to go and teach all nations and yet he submits to a gag on religious discussion in a religious organization dedicated to the worship of God.
This dilemma does not face the Catholic since he knows that his Church has exposed the religious pretensions of the lodge for more than two centuries. Many Protestants and Eastern Orthodox also belong to denominations which forbid any compromise with the lodge. Furthermore, this choice between Church and lodge does not face modernist Protestants, Unitarians, and Jews who deny the exclusive claims of the Christian faith, doubt or deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, dismiss the inspiration of the Bible.
The problem of dual membership in lodge and Church weighs heaviest on those evangelical Protestants, particularly ministers, who attempt to combine the religious tenets of Christianity with those of Masonic naturalism, who try to serve Hiram Abiff and Jesus Christ on alternate evenings. As the Lutheran writer, the Rev. Theodore Graebner, put it: "The difficulty for a Christian remaining a Freemason, then, consists in this, that Christ is not satisfied to share His homage with Allah and with Buddha."19
In practically every respect Masonry resembles the mystery religions and as such represents not Christianity but a return to paganism. Mackey points out that Masonry "is not Christianity, but there is nothing repugnant to the faith of a Christian."20 But this is the point: Masonry is admittedly and obviously religious but it is not Christianity and this in itself is repugnant to the faith of a Christian.
1 Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, p. 161.
3 Ibid., p. 224.
4 Albert G. Mackey, Textbook of Masonic Jurisprudence, p. 95
5 Albert G. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, p. 731.
6 Ibid., p. 192.
7 Ibid., p. 619.
8 Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, p. 213.
9 Ibid., p. 226.
10 Albert G. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, p. 60.
11 Albert Pike Morals and Dogma, p. 11.
12 George Wingate Chase, Digest of Masonic Law, p. 207
13 Albert G. Mackey, Masonic Ritualist, p. 23.
14 Ibid., p. 14.
15 Albert G. Mackey, Masonic Lexicon, p. 16.
16 Bernard E. Jones, Freemasons' Guide and Compendium, p. 347.
17 Albert G. Mackey, Masonic Ritualist, p. 75.
18 Ibid., p. 56.
19 Theodore Graebner, Is Masonry a Religion?, p. 60.
20 Albert G. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, p. 641.
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