A Calmer Look at Freemasonry

S. Brent Morris, Ph.D.

As a Christian and Mason I read with interest and then increasing sadness Ron Campbell's article, "Unearthing the Mysteries of Freemasonry," Charisma, Nov. 1997. I do not expect my fellow Christians to agree with me in all aspects of living a Christian life — we humans are like that, but I did expect more attention to accuracy than I found in Mr. Campbell's article.

Christians disagree and have disagreed on many issues of theology — the exact nature and number of the sacraments, marriage and divorce, premillennialism and postmillennialism, to name just a few. I do not have any desire to challenge Mr. Campbell's theology, but many of his innuendoes and factual statements demand clarification and correction.

Mr. Campbell does not give a single reference in his article, so it is impossible for readers to check his statements. It appears that he has based his impression of the Masonic fraternity on the writings of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Masonic historians whose enthusiasm for Freemasonry was greater than their understanding of history. This would be much like getting an impression of modern Christianity from the nineteenth century writings of pro-slavery preachers.

Albert Mackey (1807-1881) and Albert Pike (1809 1891) are quoted by Mr. Campbell as if their interpretations of Masonic symbols are somehow dogmatic for Masons. The two Alberts were brilliant men, and at one time their scholarship was among the best. It was eclipsed, however, by the birth of the "authentic school" of Masonic history. While the writings of Mackey and Pike are interesting, sometimes insightful, and often stimulating, they have no more influence over the thinking of today's Masons than nineteenth-century pro-slavery arguments have over today's Christians. In his most widely distributed book, Morals and Dogma, Albert Pike said, "Every one is entirely free to reject and dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him to be untrue or unsound."[1]

Charles Finney, the great nineteenth-century preacher, opposed Freemasonry. Rev. Finney was also a postmillennialist, opposing the doctrines of premillennialism.[2] Must Christians abandon their God-given abilities to reason and fall into lock step with his teachings? Must premillennialists abandon their beliefs because Rev. Finney didn't accept that doctrine? While I admire Rev. Finney's zeal in spreading the gospel, I most respectfully disagree with his conclusions about Freemasonry. I am joined in disagreeing with Rev. Finney by many Christian Masons today. Rev. Dr. Forrest D. Haggard, 33°, Interim General Secretary of the World Office of the Churches of Christ; Senator Jesse Helms, 33°; Bishop Carl J. Sanders, 33°, United Methodist Church, Senator Trent Lott, 33°.

But the question of Freemasonry should not become one of competing experts ("I'll see your two pastors and raise you one bishop.") Rather it is a matter of personal conscience. Freemasonry is a fraternity that expects its members to enter with a mature understanding of their faith. The fraternity (like Scouting) encourages its members to participate faithfully in their religion.

"Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion: (a) It has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce religious orthodoxy; (b) It offers no sacraments; (c) It does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation. "Freemasonry is far from indifferent toward religion. Without interfering in religious practice, it expects each member to follow his own faith and to place his Duty to God above all other duties."[3]

Freemasonry does offer its members the opportunity to work together in the community and to be of service to their fellow citizens. In 1995, American Freemasons gave $750 million dollars to charity — over $2 million a day.[4]

Mr. Campbell's article opens with a sense of foreboding and gloom as we read a description of the headquarters of the Scottish Rite Supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction of the U.S. I'm not sure what Mr. Campbell's point is. The building is patterned after the mausoleum in Helicarnassus, which was one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, and hence much of its decoration is appropriate to that architectural theme. If Mr. Campbell had visited the headquarters of the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction he would have found an American colonial building. And if he had journeyed across the Potomac to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, he would have found differing architectural treatments on each floor. Just beneath the observation platform of the Memorial is a small Christian Chapel with a gothic design, decorated with stained glass windows depicting the Sermon on the Mount, Christ healing the blind, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The design of the Supreme Council's building in Washington is no more sinister than the Colonial simplicity of St. John's Church on Lafayette square, the Byzantine charm of Sts. Helen and Constantine Church on 16th St., or the gothic magnificence of the Washington National Cathedral.

"Unearthing the Mysteries" declares the pyramid and obelisk to be Masonic emblems, but that is not so, at least not in York and Scottish Rite Masonry as practiced in the United States. The emblems may be used occasionally as a decorative motif, but not as a sign of anything else. Early attempts to determine the origins of the fraternity looked to Egypt and the Middle East. This theory was popular for a while. Even Thomas Paine, the revolutionary pamphleteer, promoted this plus the idea that Celtic Druids also originated in Egypt.[5] Modern scholars do not agree on the origins of the fraternity, but they are universal is relegating the Egyptian theory to well-deserved obscurity.[6]

"So far as anyone knows, Egypt neither had nor has any connection with or influence on Freemasonry, except whatever influence flowed from the imaginative writings of Masonic Egyptologists and a few charlatans such as Cagliostro with his Egyptian Rite."[7]

Many Masons, more enthusiastic than discerning, willingly accept exotic theories of their fraternity's origins. Many more anti-Masons eagerly grasp at these eighteenth- and nineteenth century theories as some sort of evidence of occult or pagan origins. However, the most widely (though not universally) accepted theory is that the fraternity evolved from medieval cathedral-building gilds — early trade unions.[8]

The uncompleted pyramid on the obverse of the Great Seal originated with the 1778 design of a $50 colonial note by Francis Hopkinson (not a Mason), not as some mystic mark of approval by the Masons. "The misinterpretation of the seal as a Masonic emblem may have been first introduced a century later in 1884. Harvard Professor Eliot Norton wrote that the reverse was 'practically incapable of effective treatment; it can hardly, (however artistically treated by the designer), look otherwise than as a dull emblem of a Masonic fraternity."[9]

Pierre L'Efant is not known to have been a Mason.[10] If he was one, then Mr. Campbell should be able to give us the name of his lodge, or of a lodge whose register he signed. Perhaps Mr. Campbell can point us to a letter of someone who attended lodge with Mr. L'Efant or of some other documentation of Mr. L'Enfant's participation in the fraternity. L'Enfant's city design has withstood the centuries well. The broad boulevards and tree lined public spaces are beautiful. However, the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials were not on L'Enfant's original design. In fact, the land on which the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials sit was recovered from swamp after L'Enfant's death.

Freemasons did lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793,but not with any dedication "to a pagan god." A transcript of the ceremony and following oration was preserved in the September 25, 1793, issue of The Columbia Mirror and Alexandria Gazette. Anyone can read it and decide for themselves.[11]

Mr. Campbell confuses the degree structure of Freemasonry. The most important degree — in fact the all-powerful and governing degree — is the Third Degree, that of Master Mason. The Thirty — third Degree of the Scottish Rite is not the "highest level," except of the Scottish Rite. After becoming a Master Mason, a member may join many other "appendant" or "concordant" bodies: the Royal Arch Masons (conferring four degrees), the Royal and Select Masters (conferring three degrees), the Knights Templar (conferring three degrees); the Scottish Rite (conferring thirty degrees), the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine (conferring three degrees); the Allied Masonic Degrees (conferring ten degrees); and many, many more.

The legend of Hiram Abif does not involve the resurrection of a "hero-god." Hiram Abif is indeed viewed as a hero faithful to his promises even unto death, but he is no god. According to the old guild legend, his body was taken from a hasty grave and reburied in a more suitable location. Reburial is a far cry from resurrection.[12]

The square and compasses do not represent "ancient pagan solar deities", their explanation has been simple and straight forward for centuries. The square reminds us to square "our actions by the square of virtue," while the compasses teach us "to circumscribe [our] desires and keep [our] passions within due bounds.[13] Some Masons may think that solar deity symbolism is appropriate, but it is not the symbolism used by any American Masonic Grand Lodge.

Albert Pike did teach that the Holy Bible, square, and compasses are the three great lights in Masonry. He was simply repeating Masonic symbolism propounded by the London Grand Lodge of Ancients about 1760.

There is no "Masonic god" known as "The Great Architect of the Universe"; it is simply a way of referring to the Creator. This phrase was first used by John Calvin, the Protestant reformer whose teachings form the core of Presbyterianism, "Calvin repeatedly calls God 'the Architect of the Universe,' and refers to his works in nature as 'Architecture of the Universe' ten times in the Institutes of the Christian Religion alone."[14] James Anderson, a Presbyterian minister, edited the Grand Lodge constitutions in 1723 and incorporated this phrase. It has been used ever since to celebrate the creative and constructive powers of God. Following the logic of Mr. Campbell, Boy Scouts are guilty of worshiping the "scouting god" when they offer their prayers in the name of "The Great Scoutmaster."

Many Masons are indeed buried east to west — about as many at are buried north to south. This is a new charge to me, apparently original with Mr. Campbell. If, however, Masons really must be buried east to west then this information should be well known to funeral directors and can be easily verified by a visit to any cemetery.

No "symbol of the sun always appears" over the Master's seat in the symbolic east of the lodge. There is a letter "G" which stands for "geometry" — central to the guild of cathedral builders — and "God" — central to the life of all members of the Masonic fraternity.

It is clear that Mr. Campbell and I do not agree on the question of Freemasonry, and I suspect there are issues of theology on which we also disagree. However, if we must disagree, let us base our differences on substantiated facts that readers can confirm. The readers of Charisma deserve nothing less than accurate, up-to-date references they can confirm for themselves. I do believe clearly, however, that Mr. Campbell and I are in complete agreement on the saving grace offered humankind by Jesus' vicarious atonement.