For the Good of Freemasonry
ARTICLE NO. 46
It has been my pleasure to be a member of the Philalethes Society and to receive its excellent magazine. It sets a high standard of literary excellence and provides a wealth of Masonic information not readily available through other publications. It also provides an invaluable service as a forum for the exchange of ideas among members of our Craft.
Many of the recent criticisms of Freemasonry have come from Christian religious circles.
Masons, who do not have a background in theology, have been confused by these religious attacks, and their attempts to answer our critics may have even added to the problem. Providentially, we have hundreds of outstanding Christian clergy who are also Masons, and who are proud to be identified with our fraternity. Their wise council should be sought in these difficult times.
It is regrettable that the R.W. William A. Carpenter, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, listened more to non-Masonic critics than he did to our brother Masons. In reply to a statement by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was critical of our obligations, R.W. Brother Carpenter said the Bishops were right and that Masonry was wrong and had been wrong all the time. Reacting to the Bishops' criticism, on October 16, 1985, he announced that he was removing all of the historic penalties from the first three degrees. R.W. Brother Carpenter said at that time, "But I am not a theologian and cannot argue doctrine." It is true that he is not a theologian, and Masonry suffered a disservice because he did not seek the advice of competent Masonic Christian theologians.
The Roman Catholic Bishops said with reference to our obligations:
"Either the oaths mean what they say, or they do not. If they do mean what they say, the candidate is entering into a pact consenting to his own murder by barbarous torture and mutilation should he break it. If they do not mean what they say then he is swearing high-sound schoolboy nonsense on the Bible, which verges on blasphemy."
The R.W. Brother Carpenter than said of the above: "The point is well taken." Actually, the point of the Bishops is not well taken. It is a deliberate falsehood with the intent to deceive.
Masonry, like the Bible, is filled with imagery, symbolism, parables, historical narratives and other literary forms. To interpret any passage literally when it is symbolic would distort the meaning, whether it be in the Bible or in Masonic ritual. Let us take an example from Christ's Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew 5:29-30.
"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast if from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast if from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of they members should perish, and not that they whole body should be cast into hell."
As a condition of repentance our Lord did not intend that we mutilate and destroy ourselves. But if taken literally, a good portion of the population would be blind paraplegics.
Or shall we consider the passage regarding Christ as the Bread of Life, found in the Gospel according to St. John 6:54-57.
"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me."
In the context of this passage it is noted that both the Jews and the disciples thought Christ was proposing cannibalism. And, of course, a literal interpretation of the passage could only lead to that conclusion. Actually Christ is asking that men feed upon him, that is, enter into a relationship with the Son analogous to the Son's relationship with the Father.
I have used only two examples of many, where the Bible cannot be interpreted in a strictly literal sense. Masonic ritual also deserves knowledgeable interpretation. The historic and analogous penalty passages of our obligations were never intended to be given literal meaning, nor has such meaning ever been part of Masonic life or practice. Only our enemies could have conjured such a distortion.
It should be apparent to you, my brothers, that if the Roman Catholic Bishops viewed scripture as they do our ritual, they would surely involve themselves in blasphemy. I can excuse the Bishops for their incorrect interpretation of Masonic ritual because they are not Masons, and thus are not in a position to understand Masonic teaching. I cannot excuse their impertinence in their malicious criticism of our fraternity. It should be equally clear to you, my brothers, that it was wrong to rush to change our obligations to attempt to comply with misguided criticism. Such a policy can only weaken our beloved Masonic fraternity.
Whether our critics this year are Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or Methodists; or whether they are Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons, or any other religion or group, you may be sure that they speak without any real understanding of Freemasonry, and that their arguments today, as they have been in the past, are based on falsehoods. From time to time, we have made changes in our Masonic ritual, but such changes should always grow out of our desire for excellence, and never be made in response to critics.
Finally brethren, we all know that Masonry is not a religion and not a Church. Rather it is a Brotherhood of Men under the Fatherhood of God. Masonry does not dictate how each brother shall fulfil his religious obligations or how he shall worship God. Nor does Masonry dictate the country to which he owes allegiance, nor the flag he shall salute. Masonry does encourage and support each brother in his endeavour to lead a moral and religious life, and in his duty and service to his country. To say that Masonry discourages Christian living would be as distorted as saying that Masonry discourages patriotism. If a brother is a Christian, Masonry will help him be abetter Christian; if he is an American, Masonry will help him be a better citizen.
Let us be proud of Masonry. It is historic, it is honourable, and it is dedicated to God. It has nourished many good and worthy brethren who have walked this way before us, and it challenges us every day to live a noble life int he service of God and our fellow men.