The Age Old Question: Is Freemasonry A Religion?

 

Yes, Freemasonry Is Religion, And It’s Incompatible With Some Christian Beliefs. Here’s Why.

Matt Gallagher
July 21, 2014

I’ve been a Freemason for only about four years, but I’ve already done a lot of changing in my views. One view I used to have, which I think most first years have is that Freemasonry and Christianity are totally compatible.

Oh the many internet arguments we enter, arguing “no, we don’t have a problem with Catholics, but the Catholic Church has a problem with us,” and “Evangelical Christianity is perfectly compatible with Freemasonry.” These kind of skirmishes happen all the time. And then there’s the biggest trope in all of Masondom: Freemasonry is not a religion.

This is all, of course, entirely from our point of view. We are an open, welcoming, tolerant fraternity, and we search for the connections that bind each other together, and not the dividers that keep us apart. Tolerance is a cornerstone of freemasonry, so it’s naturally abhorrent to us to be dragged into any argument that certain sects should be excluded. And I think this is entirely true, but that is from my point of view; the point of view of a guy who thinks he’s totally right.

In all fairness, though, whether freemasonry is compatible with certain religions isn’t only up to us. Many practitioners of those religions make great points. I’ve even got some favorites.

Freemasonry distracts you from God, taking time away from your family, and your worship, and that is Satan’s work.

There are certainly men who have utterly lost themselves in Freemasonry, and it hurts their families. One only knows what it does to the man’s personal relationship with his creator. But then the same thing is easily said about any activity. People lose themselves in hobbies when they seek distractions. I’ve even seen people lose themselves in their church; so focused on the inner workings, the politics, jazzing up the service, being on the lighting committee, etc, and they eventually wonder where God went in all is this. This is not a problem with freemasonry. It’s a problem with people, and one freemasonry actually attempts to remedy in its earliest instruction to new brethren. We come right out and say: divide your time correctly, keeping time for God, family, work, etc. And that freemasonry never comes first. Ever.

The things you do in lodge are things you should be doing in church.

Well, woulda, coulda, shoulda. And feel free to, if you like. Nothing says you can’t flip hotcakes for your lodge on Saturday and waffles for your church on Sunday. And nothing says you can’t focus on being a better man in lodge and in church. A little double coverage never hurt anyone.

The teachings don’t contradict, and should you find a contradiction, masonry insists you side with the obligations to God, family, and to yourself before you ever consider your lodge.

Masons seek light, but the Bible tells us that Jesus is the light and the way.

Right, but in freemasonry, spoiler alert, the light is the Volume of Sacred Law, which, if you’re a Christian, is the Bible. It will be sitting there, open, on the altar. And I’m personally not a Christian, but I’m pretty sure Jesus is in there. Somewhere in the back, I believe.

Now, that’s all well and good, but these are not things I can dictate. If you, as a Christian, or are of some other faith, and you don’t find these explanations convincing, that just fine. I would say that you are in the minority of your faith, but that you have a point of view, and you have legitimate practical concerns about freemasonry. Compatibility is, I suppose, a matter of educated opinion. I would not say your faith is incompatible with freemasonry.

Unless…

There are some views that are completely incompatible with freemasonry. I will let the Christians argue among themselves whether these views are legitimately Christian, but there is some grist we just won’t grind.

If you have a problem with the tolerance off freemasonry, then there’s a legitimate problem here. I got into a discussion recently with a Christian whose argument against freemasonry was that his religion taught him he was not to pray with those who practice idolatry, but run from them. In a nutshell, because masons come from all different faiths, but will pray together in lodge, a good Christian can’t be a part of that.

6536972213_e8898ba21c_mThis never happens.

Now I’ve heard probably the most common Christian argument against Freemasonry, mainly given by Catholics; there is one true way to Heaven and that is by accepting Jesus; Masonry essentially teaches that your goodness can get you to Heaven; ergo Masonry is incompatible with Christianity. I could answer that by saying that Masonry doesn’t propose any particular way to get anywhere, and that even if that were the case, one needn’t accept such a premise to join or participate in a lodge. But this prayer thing is something that I’ve never, ever run into before.

I asked this gentleman if he would apply the same standard to a non-denominational public prayer, like at a graduation commencement or some kind of national moment of prayer after a disaster. He would. And…my brain just broke a bit. I realized, not for the first time in my life, that some people–perfectly nice people–are just completely different. And not just in a “same goals but different paths” way. Just. Completely. Different.

Obviously there are only a relative minority of Christians with this notion. But I do, basically, get the idea. I see how the thought can be derived from scripture. It’s a Christian belief, though not a widely held one. And it’s not a belief I’d assign only to Christians. Many faiths have an extremely orthodox element that is utterly intolerant of certain ideas. For instance, the idea that regardless of what gets you into Heaven, and your religion may have very specific requirements, God still wants you to be a good, peaceful, generous person. That’s the kind of wild idea that some religious practitioners reject out of hand.

I really don’t think you can be a freemason and not think that.

If you believe you should run from people practicing different faiths, rather than stand with them as you each pray to Deity for peace and harmony, then no, I really don’t think that is compatible with freemasonry.

Worse yet, I don’t think that’s compatible with the American Way, because much like the masons, America is founded on the idea of tolerance, and from many–one. If this is a closely-held belief you espouse, then you have to admit to yourself that America, in its very founding principles, is doing it wrong.

Religion is a lot of things to a lot of people, and I’m not going to define it for you, but it’s certainly easy to see why so many non-freemasons see it as a religion. There is an awful lot of crossover, here. Masonry doesn’t tell you what god to pray to, it doesn’t teach you how to get to Heaven, but it does teach you that being a good, honest, just person is morally and spiritually valuable, and it does teach you how to be that. And that altar in the middle of the lodge room floor is the Altar of God. And I’m hardly the only mason who has said this. There’s a beautiful passage in a Masonic play, A Rose Upon the Altar.

Freemasonry, my brother, is, truly, not religion. But it is religion–religion in its truest, purest sense. We don’t worship a God here–we worship the Great Architect. We have His word for it–inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it to me. At this Altar…good men and true worship their Creator. At this Altar the sore distressed find comfort. Around this Altar glows the Shekinah, the heavenly light from Him to whom it is erected, for those who have eyes to see. The Divine Presence is here! This Altar is as much a holy of holies as a church. If you want comfort, kneel here and ask for it. If you want aid, here you shall find it. Here is the Book in which the promise is made…come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…This Altar is God’s.

And there it is. I mean, argue if you want. You don’t have to agree. You may even be right. I’m sure I’ll get flack from masons and Christians alike. A Masonic lodge is no substitute for your church or house of worship, and I’d never claim it is. But neither is in, nor any of these, an adequate substitute for the world God has made, or the people he put in it, and religion exists everywhere among us. And it can be practiced everywhere.

And yes, some religious practices just don’t mix.

Multi Faith Prayer Room

 

Attribution:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multifaith_space

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usembpak/6536972213/

___

I wish more young Masons would put their thoughts on paper. It is vital to us all, especially Freemasons, to know the thoughts and contemplations of those who will follow us.

In today’s article Brother Gallagher seems a bit torn between Masonry as a religion and Masonry as not a religion. That is totally understandable given the history of the Craft and the practice of Freemasonry since the formation of this great nation.

Freemasonry’s biggest problem is that it is so tolerant that it will allow Brothers to remake and transform the Fraternity into the mores and customs of their particular region. That’s how you end up with the Grand Master of Florida expelling two Brothers for not being Christians.

Dr. Fels in the video is equally confused as he tries to walk a tightrope whereby everybody is right and nobody is wrong.

So let us start by looking back at the formation of modern speculative Freemasonry.

Anderson wrote in his Book of Constitutions in 1723:

A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the Moral Law, and if he rightly understand the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves, that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatsoever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished.

The key phrase here is “that religion in which all men agree.” What Anderson is saying here is that Freemasonry agrees with and accepts the tenets that all religions have in common. So it is the tenets that all religions have in common that Freemasonry adopts but not the specific paths of practicing them. This is what Dr. Fels misses.

Freemasonry has:

  • No specific Holy Book
  • No sacraments
  • No ordained clergy
  • No definition of Deity
  • No dogma, no creed – that is no ideological doctrine
  • No means to salvation

The problem enters as to the question of Freemasonry as a religion because there are many religious people in Freemasonry. The Lodge offers prayers but so does my book club, my household at mealtime and Congress before it convenes. Prayer does not make a group a church. Neither does scriptural lessons.

And because Freemasonry accepts the basic tenets of all religions that does not make us some sort of new super amalgamated religion.

If we look at the most widely accepted definition of Freemasonry we can see where we are going wrong.

Masonry is said to be,

a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

The key words here are, SYSTEM OF MORALITY. Freemasonry is a system of morality and when it says that it borrows the religion in which all men agree it is saying that it accepts the same morality that is found over and over again in most religions.

Your religion deals with your relationship with God. Freemasonry deals with your relationship with your fellow human beings.

It is more than coincidental that those who declare that Freemasonry is a religion are those who are not Freemasons. They say they know more about the Craft than those of us who practice Freemasonry.

Once you remove the argument that Freemasonry is a religion and convince those that are criticizing it from a religious viewpoint that it is merely a society then you remove all possibility of a religious objection to it. If Freemasonry is not a religion than it cannot be criticized as one. And that stops the bitter resentment and ridiculous attacks on the Craft. Well not quite. You still have to prove that Freemasonry does not want to take over the world.

Truth be known, Freemasonry makes no ruling about religion. FREEMASONRY MAKES NO RULING ABOUT RELIGION. It’s not for any sectarian religions and it is not against any sectarian religions. FREEMASONRY IS NEUTRAL. It makes no religious rulings nor declares any means to salvation. FREEMASONRY IS NEUTRAL. It is a society of friends devoted to the Brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God.

As one site put it:

Freemasonry is kindness in the home; honesty in business; courtesy toward others; dependability in one’s work; compassion for the unfortunate; resistance to evil; help for the weak; concern for good government; support for public education; and above all, a life-practicing reverence for God and love of fellow man.

Does that sound like a religion?

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About Fred Milliken

Fred is a Past Master of Plymouth Lodge, Plymouth Massachusetts, and Past Master of Paul Revere Lodge, Brockton, Massachusetts. Presently, he is a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135, Prince Hall Texas, where is he is also a Prince Hall Knight Templar . Fred is a Fellow of the Phylaxis Society and former Executive Director of the Phoenix Masonry website and museum.

Comments

  1. I agree with all, but you don’t focus on a subjet: Religion is for the mass (a lot of peoples without to know if they are efectively good); Freemasonry is for groups we known good Man yet, isn’t? But in dictionary I can see freemasonry is like a Religion.

  2. Jack Harley says:

    Every one is entirely free to dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him untrue or unsound. It is only required of him that he shall weigh what is taught, and give it fair hearing and unprejudiced judgement.

    Albert Pike
    (preface) Morals and Dogma of the
    Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry

  3. Hope I’m not splitting hairs too much here, Fred, but your arguments (which I accept as valid) lead me to a different conclusion. It’s not that Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity, but rather that the beliefs and practices of some who claim to be Christians are incompatible with Freemasonry!

    Your conclusion that Freemasonry is a religion makes that an entirely legitimate position. The argument that the fraternity has traditionally made (that the Craft is NOT a religion) works not nearly so well in this context: placing the Lodge in the position of almost having to apologize for apparent conflicts of belief. But, with Freemasonry defined as a religion in the sense you do so, that problem virtually disappears. We may, on that more equal footing with other systems of belief, say to a man, “We believe and practice this in the Lodge. If you have beliefs and practices that are at odds with this, as you ask to enter our door, then this needs resolution before you are made a Mason.

  4. Freemasonry is a fellowship of men who help each other get through life a little easier. Nothing more noting less.

  5. I should correct one thing here. At one point, the article stated that if you are a Christian, the Great Light in Masonry is the Holy Bible. Actually, according to the United Grand Lodge of England, “the Great Light in Masonry” is the Holy Bible, whether you are a Christian or not. That is because the legend of Solomon’s Temple, which is central to our ceremonies, is found in that book. As such, it is required to be open before the Wor. Master in any regular lodge. Now, I know that some regular and recognized grand lodges, unaware of the position taken by the U.G.L.E. many years ago, have made divergent rulings, but let’s not get distracted by colloquial anomalies. All that having been said, if you are not a Christian, you may take your obligation, your oath, on the book of your faith, but that act doesn’t make that other book “the Great Light in Masonry.” During your initiation, the Great Light (the Holy Bible) remains open, in front of the Wor. Master, throughout the meeting.

    As for whether or not Freemasonry is a religion – I would say that any organization that has no creed and no plan for salvation cannot be called a religion, as those are the primary identifying characteristics of any religion. I think the real problem is that, in today’s secular society, people have become so accustomed to organizations with absolutely no mention of religious or biblical themes and legends (the Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, Little League Baseball, etc.), that when they find one, like Freemasonry, they don’t know how to “classify” it, other than to label it a religion. Were these uninformed 21st-century critics familiar with European history, they would be familiar with the many medieval guilds and orders of knighthood in Europe. It is from this same period of time that Freemasonry came. So, it is not surprising that Freemasonry has many of the same biblical and religious themes found during that time period. In fact, in medieval Europe, secular organizations like the Kiwanis Club, or Rotary Club, were unheard of. But, think about how strange you would have been regarded by a 16th-century craftsman or member of the nobility if you had accused his craft guild or order of knighthood of being a “religion.” He would have looked at you as if you were some kind of religious nut-case, and he would have been right – then as now.

  6. Wonderful comment Peter. So glad you stopped by to educate us. Thanks so much.

  7. A good christian that I’ve learned a lot from once told me, ” We are all spiritual beings living a human existence”. I fell in love w/ that saying. I may not be a true christian by definition, but i say i’m esoteric in my beliefs. There is a huge difference between religion and spirituality. I feel Free Masonry is a spiritual journey, not a religious one.

  8. Great job in a concise form. Since the Pope has announced that an Atheist can go to heaven if he is of good character and the church has acknowledged alien life probably exist and that being so does not negate God. Folks who have died and gone to Heaven and returned report no church, no synagog, no temple and no mosque. You can have them there is you want them but they are not on the main level near the empty throne of God and hall of Akashic Records. When asked why, the answer is, God did not make any religion, man did. My great grandfather was a master mason in the Boston Lodge from the Civil War until 1912. From what I have read, the Masonic lodge is about love, tolerance and forgiveness. Except where I live (the south), blacks are not allowed in any white lodge. Seems those brethren and many northern brethren do not think blacks figure into their lodge. The masonic viewpoint is that we should all get along regardless of religion. The lodge is supposed to be composed of men who have moved past all of the morals and dogma of this lie strewn world and love each other despite what religion a man holds dear; hell, they cannot even get past the color of a mans skin! If we want to solve the black and white problem, how is going to happen if the brightest of men cannot even cross their arms across the bloody chasm inside the lodge?

  9. William La Valley, Jr. says:

    Fascinating lecture. Very, very good. So is the response of Brother Gallagher, who is undoubtedly, a talented writer.

    My belief is that Freemasonry is not a religion in the modern sense of the word, but as pointed out in the lecture, it does have some characteristics of more ancient religions that existed before there was a concept of individual salvation. True Christianity before there was Christianity. How profound!

    I have heard Freemasonry described as being closer to Hinduism in its tolerance of many beliefs than it is to classic monotheism. It also seems to strongly suggest by its practices that behind all religions is the same Great Architect of the Universe. One God, many faces. And that is a concept which, beautiful and noble as it sounds to my ears, might inhibit some Christians (or very devout members of other faiths) from entering our ranks.

  10. Let us steer away, at least for the moment, from the question of whether Freemasonry is a religion, as that is merely a semantic discussion. Let us address the question of whether Freemasonry teaches that faithful Masonic membership and practice provide a path to salvation. Many of us would answer that with: “Of course not.”

    Others would point to that part in the ritual of SOME, but not all, grand lodges, where the white apron is presented to the new member, and he is told that, if he keeps his life and actions as pure and spotless as the surface of the white apron, that it will one day be his portion to stand before the throne of God and hear from Him who sits thereon, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Creator.”

    Of course, this is not a universal part of Masonic ritual the world over, but is an anomalous innovation that was added to some early American rituals to embellish the apron presentation to new members. But, that addition was ill-conceived, as it puts the lodge in the position of telling its members that they can be saved by good works.

    Salvation by good works, rather than by faith, is the basis for what had for about 1500 years been known as “the Pelagian Heresy.” The Pelagian Heresy originated with a monk named Pelagius, who, disgusted with the worldly and immoral lives of some church dignitaries (Bishops and Cardinals) in Rome, wrote that, even though they were believers, they could not go to heaven because of their lifestyles. In other words, Pelagius taught salvation by good works, and not by faith. In Christian tradition, that was and has always been considered heresy!

    Christianity has always taught that it is faith in God that leads to salvation, and by faith in God, a believer will strive to live by God’s commandments. However, unsuccessful he may be, he always has the ability to repent, promise to sin no more, and make a fresh start. But, ultimately, it is his faith that saves him, not his good works.

    However, this part of Masonic ritual, practiced by some misguided grand lodges, promising the new Mason salvation by good works, places Freemasonry in pretty awkward position. In this discussion, members of those grand lodges cannot say that Freemasonry is not a religion, because their grand lodge DOES INDEED claim to provide a path to salvation.

    Sorry ’bout that.

  11. William La Valley, Jr. says:

    I think it should be pointed out that salvation is mostly, if not exclusively, a Christian concept which applies to those who accept the Doctrine of Original Sin. Masonry admits members of religions whose doctrines do not promote individual salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. If a non-Christian is given the above-mentioned lecture in Lodge, his interpretation of what that means would surely be different than that of a Christian. He might think of it as some vague reference to an afterlife, but not necessarily in terms of salvation. So, that being the case, it may be reasoned that the reference to an afterlife is not necessarily an advocacy of any plan of salvation, since the brother hearing it may not adhere to any such doctrine. It is therefore, a metaphorical statement presented as part of the ritual, but necessarily a doctrine or teaching of Freemasonry.

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