For some reason, I have noticed a lot of people talking about how religion influences Freemasonry lately. Some folks have proclaimed that the foundations of Masonry are found in Kabbalah or Hermeticism. Others argue that Masonry is essentially a Christian art.
Quite frankly, I disagree with both camps and find both sides a bit annoying. I am a firm believer that Freemasonry is impartial to religion. However, I am also familiar with the old saying “those that live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
So why do I reside in a glass house? Because at one point in my life I was guilty of these very transgressions. Early in my Masonic career, I found myself expending all of my energy to prove to myself and everyone else that Freemasonry was truly Christian. The reasons for this were numerous. First, I was raised in a church which declared that its communing members could not be Freemasons. Second, I was in hot pursuit of a young girl who belonged to the aforementioned church. But most importantly, I was not comfortable being a Freemason if it wasn’t a Christian organization.
I think that trying to determine what religion Masonry is derived from is a perfectly natural thing to do. We become Freemasons to discover truth and for most of us, we are preconditioned to believe that there is one correct answer to every question. Therefore, when we become Freemasons we understand that the craft is tolerant of all religions, but we also believe that if it teaches the Great Truth that it must point to one individual religion. We want one path, one plan, and one True Religion. So we set out to compare various religious teachings to the lessons taught in the Masonic lodge to determine which religion gave birth to Freemasonry. This is where we begin to err, for the man that studies the Blue Lodge degrees would observe that Freemasonry is Jewish, the reader of Morals and Dogma may determine that Freemasonry is alchemical, and the Sir Knight would learn that the craft is indeed Christian.
The problem with this process is that the approach is entirely incorrect. Why must we automatically assume that Masonry’s truth was taken from religion? Why don’t we assume that religion learned its truth from Masonry? Or let me put it a different way: Would the introduction of religious teachings into Masonry make it perfect or would the introduction of Masonic teachings into the world’s religions make them perfect?
This is how I finally learned to approach Freemasonry. Over a number of Sundays, I would sit and listen to preachers give their sermons. The thought that kept penetrating my brain was “How much better would that lesson be if it incorporated some Masonic teachings?” No matter what the subject of the religious meditation was, I realized that Freemasonry taught more about it in less time through its symbolism than the minister could ever cover in one of his sermons. I realized that Freemasonry wasn’t teaching the truths of my religion. Instead, my religion was attempting to teach the truths of Freemasonry.
Of course, this realization didn’t happen overnight. All things change over time. I eventually left the church and the girl dumped me. I have studied several different religions trying to find the almighty truth. Yet, I keep discovering that Masonry’s lessons are more universal and all encompassing than those of any particular creed. More than ever before, I realize that Freemasonry is not partial to any religion because it teaches only truth and does not attempt to answer questions which cannot be answered. Instead, it leaves the individual Brother to discover these answers for himself.
Freemasonry’s religion is simply the teaching of truth. Its initiates may flock to any religion that they choose to find salvation, but in the Masonic lodge only truth is discussed. That is what makes Freemasonry so appealing to so many men. It is the only organization that divests itself of man-made dogma and canonical law and serves only to shine a light on the bridge that runs between man and his Creator. It is not the vessel to the realms of Deity, but instead a lamp to light the path.
That is the religion of Freemasonry.
I like to think of it as Freemasonry, the religion of not being a religion. Its when you start to compare the teachings to other traditions that I think we can start to see links, yet still, there is the gulf between them, one tradition is not another.
On the flip side of that equation, I wonder how many thought as you, men who saw the fraternity as incompatible in some spiritual way (Great architect vs. a delineated deity of their particular faith) and then sought to homogenize the craft to their particular form of worship.
reminds me of the fable about the blind men and the elephant – each of them touched a different part of the elephant and thought they were handling a palm leaf, a snake a tree trunk etc. We all project what we want onto spiritual philosophies and claim they are what we see.
I think the problem lies in definitions rather than practice. Yes, there are strands of Freemasonry more influenced by Christianity than others (the Rectified Rite comes to mind) and of course, like it or not, Cabala and other esotericisms have left their marks on Freemasonry, and in fact may have inspired certain elements of its practice. The problem is not any of these, but rather that as a result of our origins in Western society, we, society at large and not just Freemasons, have an incredibly narrow and myopic notion of what constitutes religion. Religion, broadly writ, is any practice – formal or otherwise, which seeks to bring people’s focus to rest on some aspect or understanding of the divine. A broad, and most likely healthier definition of religion then, would include everything from a Catholic mass, to a Buddhist meditation, to a quiet and spiritually focused walk in nature, and yes, although Freemasons generally become disgruntled over this, a Masonic lodge meeting. However, since most people cling to “received” definitions of religion (ie, definitions taught to them and largely accepted without question by society at large), as opposed to a more academic or considered definition, I don’t doubt the battles will continue. For myself, I believe if it works for you, do it and worry less about the definitions and the terminology.
You seem to be reading my unconscious thoughts. I’m exploring this very idea back at my old haunt on Masonic Traveler under the notion of a Hermetic Circle.