Questions on Religion and Freemasonry
Jim Tresner, Ph.D. 33°
I undertake this task with considerable diffidence. Indeed, were it not for a belief that it is sinful to be silent when misunderstandings create pain and confusion, I would probably decline. The world of Masonry is vast, complex and rich, but it is as nothing compared to the immense sweep and scope of thought, faith, history and culture contained in the word "Christianity."
As a professed and professing member of the Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church, I have never found any conflict between the lodge room and the sanctuary. and indeed, as the Reverend Doctor Norman Vincent Peale, one of the best known Christian and Masonic authors of today has remarked, there can never be a conflict between Christianity and any organization which constantly urges its members to live a moral life.
Following are some questions often asked by those who are not members of Masonry. The responsibility for the answers is my own, although I have tried to draw from the best known and most respected Masonic writers.
Is Masonry a Religion?
No, not by the definitions most people use. "Religion, as the term is commonly used, implies several things: a plan of salvation or a path by which one reaches the after-life; a theology which attempts to describe the nature of God; and the description of ways and practices by which a man or woman may seek to communicate with God.
Masonry does none of those things. We offer no plan of salvation. With the exception of saying that He is a loving Father who desires only good for His children, we make no effort to describe the nature of God. And while we open and close our meetings with prayer, and we teach that no man should ever begin any important undertaking without seeking the guidance of God, we never tell a mean how he should pray or for what he should pray.
Instead, we tell him that he must find the answers to these great questions in his own faith, his church or synagogue or other house of worship. We urge men not to neglect their spiritual development and to be faithful in the practice of their religion. As the Grand Lodge of England wrote in "Freemasonry and Religion", "Freemasonry is far from indifferent to religion. Without interfering in religious practice, it expects each member to follow his own faith, and to place above all other duties his duties to God by whatever name He is know." Masonry itself makes only a simple religious demand on a man — he must believe that he has an immortal soul and he must believe in God. No atheist can be a Mason.
Why are Masonic buildings balled "Temples"; Doesn't that suggest a religious building?
Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary provides a definition for the word "temple" which is as good an explanation as any: " a building, usually of imposing size, serving the public or and organization in some special way; as, a temple of art, a Masonic temple.
Have some Masonic writers said that Masonry is a religion?
Yes, and again, it's a matter of definition. If, as some writers have, you define religion as "man's urge to venerate the beautiful, serve the good and see God in everything," you can say that Masonry subscribes to a religion. But that, surely, is not a conflict with Christianity or any other faith.
Can a man be a Christian and a Mason at the same time?
Perhaps the best answer is that most of us are, at least in the United States. The ranks of Masonry have been and are distinguished by many of the outstanding religious leaders of America. A quick scan through the book 10,000 Famous Freemasons gives us these names from history, among many others.
- Rev. Charles T. Aikens, who served as President of the Lutheran Synod of Eastern Pennsylvania
- Bishop James Freeman, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington D.C. who first conceived and began the construction of the National Cathedral
- Bishop William F. Anderson, one of the most important leaders of the Methodist Church
- Rev. Lansing Burrows, Civil War Hero and Secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention
- Rev. James C. Baker, who created the Wesley Foundation
- William R. White, 33, who served as President of Baylor, and Secretary of the Sunday School Board, Southern Baptist Convention
- Rev. Hugh I. Evans, who served as national head of the Presbyterian Church.
It is useful, on this question, to let some America's most honored Clergy speak for themselves.
Carl J. Sanders, Bishop of the United Methodist Church and holder of the highest honor conferred by the Scottish Rite of Masonry, writes: "My Masonic activities have never interfered with my loyalty to and my love for my Church. Quite to the contrary, my loyalty to my Church has been strengthened by my Masonic ties. Good Masons are good Churchmen."
Dr. James P. Wesberry, Executive Director and Editor of the Baptist publication "Sunday" writes: " It is no secret that Masons love and revere the Bible nor is it a secret that Masonry helped to preserve it in the darkest ages of the church when infidelity sought to destroy it. The Bible meets Masons with its sacred message at every step of progress in its various degrees."
And the Reverend Louis Gant, 33° Mason and District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church writes: "Let no one say you cannot be a Christian and a Mason at the same time. I know too many who are both and proud to be both."
Does Masonry have a hidden religious agenda or practice, known only to "higher" Masons?
No. the religious position of Freemasonry is stated often and openly, and we've already mentioned it above. A Mason must believe in God, and is actively encouraged to practice his individual faith. Masonry has no "god" of its own. Some anti-Masons have said the we are not allowed to mention the name of God in Lodge. That isn't true — in fact that is one of the two meanings of the "G" in the square and compasses logo (the other meaning is "geometry"). It is true that we generally use some other term, "Gran d Architect of the Universe" is most common, to refer to God. That is done only to avoid giving religious offense to anyone whose faith prefers to refer to God by another name. But the God to whom Masons pray is the God to whom all Christians pray.
Why is it so hard to find an official statement of Masonic dogma?
Because there isn't such a thing. We've already mentioned everything Masonry has to say officially on the topic. To go further, as an official position, would be to deny a man his right to think for himself and his right to follow the dictates of his own faith. Each Mason has a right to seek in Masonry for what he wants to find, and to write about it if he chooses. But no Mason's expression of opinion is binding on other Masons or on the fraternity itself. It is his right to believe as he wishes; it is not his right to force that belief on others.
Is there such a thing as a Masonic Bible?
No. The Bibles sometimes called "Masonic Bibles" are just Bibles (usually the King James Version) to which a concordance, giving the Biblical citations on which the Masonic Ritual is based, has been added. Anyone is welcome to read one.
Is Freemasonry a secret society?
No. A secret society tries to hide the fact that it exists. Masonic Lodges are marked with signs, listed in the phone book and their meeting places and times are usually listed in the newspaper. Members identify themselves with pins and rings. The only secrets in Masonry relate to the ways we can recognize each other. The ritual of Masonry, the "Monitor" is in print and anyone can read it.
Can a Christian take the vows or obligations of a Mason?
Yes, with the exception of a very few denominations. If a Christian belongs to a denomination which forbids all vows, such as the Oath of Office of the President of the United States or the common oath of the law courts, "I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God," then he probably could not take the obligation. Any Christian whose denomination does not forbid the Presidential or the court oath or the oath taken when entering the Armed Services could take the Masonic obligations. Some anti-Masonic writers have complained about the so-called "penalties" in the Masonic obligations. Those penalties are purely symbolic and refer to the pain, despair and horror which any honest man should feel at the thought that he had violated his sworn word.
Does Masonry use symbols which are diabolical in nature?
No. Masonry uses many symbols — it's our primary way of teaching, as it has been the primary way of teaching from ancient times( just try teaching arithmetic without number symbols) — but there is nothing satanic about them. Symbols mean what the person uses them to mean. X may be a St. Andrew's Cross, ancient symbol of Scotland, or it may mean "multiply two numbers together" (or even railroad crossing). It depends on the meaning in the mind of the person using it.
It is the same with Masonic symbols. We sometimes use the five-pointed star, for example. Some people choose to see that as a symbol of witchcraft. It's their right to use it that way in their own thinking if they wish. But we use it as a symbol of man, because that is its oldest meaning. The five-pointed star, with one point downward, is used by the Order of the Eastern Star. Some anti-Masons like to see it as a symbol of a devil. But it's also known as the "Star of the Incarnation," with the downward pointing ray representing that moment when God came down from Heaven and was Incarnated by the Holy Ghost. And it is in that meaning it is used by the Eastern Star ("We have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him").
Does Freemasonry teach that man can be saved by good works?
That charge is sometimes leveled against us by anti-Masons who mistake both the nature of Masonry and the meanings of its ritual. Salvation is not a topic on which Masonry can or does pronounce. As the Reverend Christopher Haffner points out in his book, "Workman Unashamed: The Testimony of a Christian Freemason,"
"Within their Lodges, Freemasons are not concerned with salvation and conversion, but with taking men as they are and pointing them in the direction of brotherhood and moral improvement. Insofar as the Order is successful in this aim, it is content, and leaves the member to devote himself to his own religious faith to receive the grace of salvation."
Is a Masonic service a worship service?
No. Except, perhaps, in the sense that, for a Christian, EVERY act is an act of worship. Our meetings open and closed with prayer, Masons are encouraged to remember that God sees and knows everything that we do, and the Bible is always open during a Masonic meeting. But it is not a worship service in the sense that a service in a church is.
And that brings up one of the most ridiculous charges sometimes made against us — that our members are "really" worshiping a demon, only they don't know it! But you cannot worship something without knowing it. The act of worship is an act of full concentration, knowledge, and devotion — "with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind." We honor and venerate GOD, not the Adversary.
Did the Masonic scholar Albert Pike really say that all Masons were secret followers of Lucifer?
No. In many anti-Masonic books you'll see what is supposed to be a quotation from Pike, saying that all Masons of the "Higher Degrees" are secret worshipers of Lucifer. The historical fact is that those words were written in 1894, three years after Pike's death. They were written by a notorious atheist and pornographer named Gabriel Jogand-Pages, but better known by his pen name, Leo Taxil. Taxil was engaged in an elaborate hoax to discredit the Church of Rome and made up the Pike quotation out of thin air. His purpose was to show that the Church had failed to recognize the "threat" posed by Freemasonry and was, therefore, headed by fools and incompetents. Taxil publicly admitted the hoax in 1897, but it had already been published by a man named Abel Clarin de la Rive, who took Taxil's hoax at face value.
Rive's book, La Femme et l'Enfant dans la Franc-Maçonnerie Universelle, (Woman and Child in Universal Freemasonry) was quoted by Edith Starr Miller in 1933, in her book, Occult Theocrasy. She translated the "quotation" into English.
Since that time, several writers of anti-Masonic books have simply repeated the "quotation" without checking on its source or authenticity. Taxil's public confession notwithstanding, it continues to shadow the name of Pike, who was, to this death, a sincere and devoted Trinitarian Christian.
Can one learn more about Freemasonry without joining the fraternity?
Yes. The Grand Lodge of almost any state can provide information and lists books which explain Freemasonry in detail. They are the same books that Freemasons read and study to learn more about the fraternity. And I hope that this short discussion may help resolve some doubts. We have neither horns and tails nor halos. Masons are simply your neighbors, joined together in a fraternity which tries to help men become better people as it tries to help the world become a better place through its charities. It is, so to speak, a "support group" for men who are trying to practice ethics and morality in a world which does not always encourage those ideals.
Freemasonry's teachings are acceptable to all religions — upholding the values of faith in the secular world — an organization for thoughtful Christians.