Freemasonry and Organized Religion

Wallace McLeod

I thought I would talk to you a bit today about a problem that is becoming increasingly urgent for Masons. I am a member of ————— Chapter, No ——, Royal Arch Masons. Now in general terms I am hostile to the notion of mentioning my brethren by name when there is any chance that unsympathetic conclusions may be drawn about them. But in this instance, for reasons that I shall make clear, I must make an exception. When I joined the chapter, one of the senior active members was a brother and companion named Eric ————— who had served as First Principal in 1976, and was a Past Grand Chapter Officer. Actually he was a member of ————— Lodge, No ——, and is listed in the Grand Lodge Proceedings for 1962 as Worshipful Master. I can attest that he was an active member of the Chapter, and participated regularly in conferring the degrees; indeed, there were certain parts of the ritual that nobody but he could do. A few years ago, Eric became associated with a new religious group that brought him considerable joy and kindled his enthusiasm. I did not enquire into the details, but his pastor seems to have told him that it was not appropriate, or even acceptable, for a member of the congregation to be a Freemason. Eric felt that he had no alternative but to agree, and accordingly he took his demit from his Chapter, and his Lodge.

Let me just say a word in my own defence, in case any of you may think that I am behaving unmasonically. We often hear it said that all topics of religious and political discussion are forbidden in a Masonic context. That is not quite correct. It arises from a misunderstanding of one of the Charges in Anderson's Constitutions of 1723, which appears in our Constitution in the following words: "No private piques or quarrels must be brought within the door of the lodge, far less any quarrels about religion, or nations, or state policy" (VI.2). That is to say, we are not to debate religion or politics, or try to win brethren over to our political or religious belief. There is no barrier against discussing topics of a religious or political nature.

I continue then with my discussion. Now my friend Eric ———— is not unique, and his religious advisor is not the only one to act in this strange way. I was myself raised as a Presbyterian. Both my parents sang in the Church choir, as did I in earlier days; my father was an elder in the Church, and Superintendent of the Sunday School; my children were all baptized in the Church. For one reason or another, I have not been as active as my parents. I still am prepared to argue that the Calvinist doctrine of predestination is the only rational belief for anyone who believes in an omnipotent deity, but let that go. In December of 1986 the Presbyterian Record, the authorized national magazine of the Church in Canada, published a couple of articles that could be regarded only as attacks on Freemasonry. They stated that it is a non-Christian religion. A spirited correspondence ensued over the next six months. Among the points at issue was the appellation "the Great Architect Of The Universe;" one of the original contributors had said that it "makes God seem like an abstract being;" the other stated that this was the name of the false god "that the Masons worship at their altar." This is an interesting question, and in due course I was able to write in and point out that this particular phrase, "Architect of the Universe," was introduced into Freemasonry by Rev. Dr James Anderson, a Presbyterian minister, who edited the first Book of Constitutions of the Masons, which was printed in 1723. He did not invent the phrase, but took it over from John Calvin, the founder of Calvinist Presbyterianism, who uses it in his Biblical Commentaries and in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is bizarre that writers in the national publication of The Presbyterian Church in Canada should suddenly find fault with words that have been a part of Calvinism for four hundred years. That is to say, the specific particular criticism that had been levelled against Freemasonry by these members of the church was unjustified, ill-informed, and based on false premises.

Now for my part, I have a fair bit of trouble, in any sphere of activity, in accepting dishonesty and incompetence; and in the area of religion, perhaps I have more difficulty, because I believe that the deity is not only omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, but supremely good. And so those who are called to do the Lord's work, though only mortal and therefore fallible, should strive to know what they are talking about, and to be straightforward and honest.

Now let me broaden the scope of our discussion a little bit. For years various religious groups have found reason to criticise Freemasonry. First were The Roman Catholics. In 1738 Pope Clement XII issued a Papal Bull which ran in part like this: "By virtue of the Holy Obedience, we strictly enjoin the Faithful in Christ, all and singular, ... that no one, under any pretext or excuse whatsoever, venture or presume to enter into the ... Societies known by the name of Liberi Muratora or Francs Macons, ... under penalty of Excommunication, to be incurred automatically without proclamation." This was 1738. Probably there were several reasons for the ban: that in Freemasonry believers would be associating with heretics; and that Freemasonry came from a land of radicals and heretics. We can see that perhaps at the time the Church thought the ban to be justified. One might have thought that things would change in the next 250 years. But no; on 26 November 1983, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Teaching of the Faith, issued a declaration: "The Church's negative opinion about Masonic lodges continues unchanged.... Enrolment in them remains prohibited by the Church. The Faithful in Christ who give their names to Masonic Lodges are in a state of grave sin and cannot attend Holy Communion."

But the Catholic Church does not stand alone in looking askance at the Craft. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, has condemned Masonry since the time of Brigham Young. And one might want to enlarge on the reasons for that. According to my understanding there are certain parts of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony — which all Mormons must swear to keep secret — that bear a striking resemblance to the Masonic Initiation. Now the Mormons say that this is because both are descended from the ancient mysteries; Freemasonry preserves the ceremonies in a corrupted form; but the ancient purified form was revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni in the 1820s. I am certainly not in a position to criticize any religion in matters of faith and divine revelation. But I can say that ample historical evidence demonstrates conclusively that the Masonic ritual evolved in the eighteenth century, and did not descend from ancient times. But at least the Mormons believe they have a reason for rejecting Freemasonry.

Let us return to our catalogue. In 1925 General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, denounced the Craft. So did the Free Church of Scotland in 1927; the Assembly of Bishops of the Church of Greece in 1933, and again in 1970; and a special Commission of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa in November 1940. Masonry was denounced by the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church in June 1950, and repeatedly by the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists, and in general all fundamentalist evangelical Christian denominations. In recent years the attacks seem to have intensified and accelerated. Let me give a few examples.

In 1980 a book was published by a man named Salem Kirban, and distributed by Morris Cerullo World Evangelism; its title is Satan's Angels Exposed. And there the author says that "The basic ideologies of Masonry ... make it incompatible with Christianity." "Albert Pike ... writes, 'The Masonic religion should be ... maintained in the purity of the Luciferin doctrine.' ... Lucifer is God... The Christian God ... is the God of Evil."

Now the written word often seems to carry a lot of weight, and we may well believe that there is no smoke without fire, and that therefore there may be some truth in what this author says. We now know that this last passage tat is assigned to Albert Pike, "Lucifer is God," is not by Pike at all, but was forged, and falsely assigned to him by the author of a French anti-Masonic tract of 1894. The alleged quotation, that is to say, is a lie. Let us look at some of the other statements that the author Salem Kirban makes in his book. He says that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who helped to design the Great Seal of the United States, were both Masons (155). This is untrue, and the truth has been readily available since 1965 in Ronald Heaton's book The Masonic Membership of the Founding Fathers. The same author, Salem Kirban, professes to translate the two mottoes on the Great Seal of the United States (annuit coeptis, novus ordo saeclorum), and to make them say "Announcing the Birth of a new Secular Order" (154). This is an utterly impossible rendering of the Latin. All of this suggests to me that Salem Kirban is incompetent in his researches, and that (whatever else may be his aim) he is not engaged in the quest for truth.

Time is too short to let us discuss all the attacks on Freemasonry that have been made in the past few years, let alone to demonstrate that their charges are ill-founded. But let us refer briefly to a few of them. 1984 saw the publication of a book by Charles G. Finney, called The Antichrist or the Masonic Society. It first came out in 1868, but was reissued in 1984 with a new foreword by Donald Huffman. It says that Freemasonry is a false religion, that its oaths and obligations are unlawful and void, that its boasted benevolence is a great sham. In the new preface the editor, fortified by liberal quotation from the book of Revelation, argues "that the Antichrist will rise to power out of the Masonic Society."

In April 1985, John Ankerberg, a television evangelist operating out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, began a series, broadcast all across the United States, under the title "Christianity and the Masonic Lodge: Are they compatible?" The obvious answer that he came up with was "No." And several years later he actually published a book on the same subject, The Secret Teachings of The Masonic Lodge: A Christian Perspective.

In July 1986, Rev. Victor Morris actually appeared before the Richmond (Virginia) Chapter of The Philalethes Society (an American Masonic research body), and explained "Why a Christian should not be a Freemason." His address is available on videotape, and, through the courtesy of Al Roberts, I have a copy. He gives seven reasons why Masonry is unacceptable. Let me share them with you. First, it is pluralistic; that is, it accepts more than one God as real and legitimate. Second, it is religious. Third, it has been subject to occult influence. Fourth, it is influenced by paganism. Fifth, it offers a false hope of salvation. Sixth, it has a false view of God. Seventh, it offers a false view of Jesus. Those of us who have been around for a while will be aware that all of these charges are either false, or totally misconceived. But that is what Mr Morris says.

The Philalethes magazine for February 1987, as a matter of Masonic information, reprinted an article entitled "Mixing Oil with Water," the Rev. Harmon R. Taylor, at one time Grand Chaplain in New York, but now billing himself as having "resigned" from Freemasonry. In it he argues that Freemasonry was incompatible with Christianity.

Early in 1988 vandals broke into the main Masonic Hall in Des Moines, Iowa, and affixed religious and-masonic tracts to the walls and doors.

In 1988 the United Church Observer published a series of letters on Freemasonry. In one of them an ordained minister wrote that "John Wesley and John Knox condemned" Freemasonry. This is an outright lie.

In January 1986, Pastor Ron Carlson of Milwaukee preached a sermon at The People's Church in Toronto, which has a marvellous reputation for good works, for magnificent fellowship, for splendid faith, and for superb devotion. He spoke on the subject of "Freemasonry;" tapes are available, and through the courtesy of Bro. Al Mahood I have one. He has given the same sermon in various places, and (thanks to Bro. Don Lamont) I also have a tape of an address that he gave late last year or early this year in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As a matter of fact, I have a friend, Donald ————— who is a Past Grand Warden, and he has a son who is an ordained minister. This son heard the tape, and found it quite persuasive; he began working on his father to get him out of this evil order of non-Christians. And so my friend asked me for my reaction; I listened to the tape fairly carefully, so I was able to send him quite a long letter pointing out shortcomings in the presentation.

Now Pastor Carlson quotes extensively from the Masonic classics, particularly Albert Pike's great Morals and Dogma. He says that Freemasonry is a religion, that it embraces all religions, that it regards revelation as unnecessary, that it preaches salvation by good works, that every Mason hopes to become a god himself as a reward for his good deeds, that Masonry is a natural religion, that it is a survival of the ancient mystery religions, that it worships nature as God, that the specific God it worships is the generative principle, in fact, the male sexual organ, that the square and compasses in fact are symbolic representations of sexual intercourse, and that no Christian could be a member with a clear conscience. I bet you hadn't realized that! But if you listen to his sermon in detail, you will find that it contains a great many false statements. Let me play you just a tiny excerpt from the tape of Pastor Carlson's talk in Toronto in 1986. He is talking about the way in which Masonry has a secret agenda, which is not revealed to the new initiates, but only to those who have had a chance to be indoctrinated, that is to say, those who have risen high in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

[Pike, p. 359: "All persons were initiated into the lesser mysteries; but few attained the greater, in which the true spirit of them, and most of their secret doctrines were hidden. The veil of secrecy was impenetrable, sealed by [blood] oaths and penalties the most tremendous and appalling."] Now if you're a Mason here tonight, I'm going to reveal from the leading authorities what Masonry is really teaching. What's interesting is that many Masons will come up to me afterwards and they'll say, Well, I don't believe that, I was never taught that. Well, you need to understand that the leading authorities of Masonry are telling you that they are consciously lying and deceiving to you — deceiving you — so that you don't understand what is going on. And then they call themselves Brethren. Well, what is it that is really going on in Freemasonry? What are these secrets? On page five hundred and forty five Albert Pike says, quote, "All the mystery should be kept concealed, guarded by faithful silence.... He sins against God, who divulges to the unworthy the mysteries confided to him. The danger is not merely in violating truth, but in telling truth...... The Masons say it's a sin to divulge the secrets of Masonry. Not only that, it's a sin to divulge the truth. Well, how different this is from Christianity and what Jesus Christ says....

Got that? Pastor Carlson quotes from Albert Pike, to show that Masons say, "it's a sin to divulge the truth." All very persuasive until you check the source. On page 545 of Morals and Dogma Albert Pike says, and I quote, "St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, who was born in 340, and died in 393, says in his work De Mysteriis, 'All the mystery should be kept concealed, guarded by faithful silence....' And in another work [he says]: 'He sins against God, who divulges to the unworthy the mysteries confided to him. The danger is not merely in violating truth, but in telling truth....... (End of quotation.) What Pastor Carlson quotes with such enthusiasm is not Masonic doctrine, written by Albert Pike, but advice for Christians, written by a respected and beloved father of the Church. I ask you, in this little excerpt from the sermon, which one is the liar, the Mason Albert Pike or the evangelist Ron Carlson?

Two years ago an issue of the Proceedings of the Heritage Lodge, our research lodge in Ontario, had an article by my friend R.W.Bro. (the Reverend) William Fairley, Past Grand Chaplain, under the title, "Masonry and Religion." In it he talks about "an ongoing problem that is fought within the religious community and masonry." He says there is "confrontation rather than dialogue and mutual understanding," and he continues by saying, "I think is extremely important that there be dialogue rather than challenging one another, or accusing one another, with counter challenges coming from one side or the other." It sounds like an ideal way of proceeding. Except that I have heard a tape of people trying to carry out dialogue with Pastor Ron Carlson, and it doesn't work. I have heard another tape of people trying to discuss Masonry with John Ankerberg, and that doesn't work either. Pastor Carlson and John Ankerberg are so convinced they are right that they are not prepared to listen to a single note of dissent! I conclude that Bro. Fairley is operating from a theoretical standpoint rather than a realistic one. I think if somebody is telling lies about Freemasonry, and is at the same time masquerading as a spokesman of the will of God, I am under an obligation to set the record straight, and say loudly and clearly that this person is either wrong or a liar.

And the attacks continue. There is a comic book, by Chick Publications, which is (believe it or not) a publishing house that specializes in evangelical propaganda. This comic book that was sent to me about six months ago, attacks Freemasonry through the medium of a tear-jerking sort of story. It tells about an adolescent boy who is seriously hurt, and is in hospital, and doesn't have the will to get better, because he knows that his father is a Mason, a man who worships a pagan idol called Baphomet (that has the head of a goat). And it is only after Father abandons the Masons, and returns to the true faith, that the boy regains the will to live and gets better And quite recently, only about two months ago, the American Pat Robertson, a notable evangelist who ran for President of the United States four years ago, and who says that he stopped a hurricane from coming to land off the coast of Virginia by means of his prayers, has written a book called The New Order or something like that. I have not seen it, but I gather from my friend Al Roberts that it just has the same old familiar lies.

My problem with all these people is that they profess to found their teachings on the words in the Bible. If a person claims that he bases all his actions upon the Volume of the Sacred Law, and he condemns me on those grounds, I guess there's not much I can say in my own defense. I mean, the Bible is quite explicit on the matter of oaths. Jesus says in Matthew 5:34-37: "I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne; Neither by the earth; for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the Great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatever is more than these cometh of evil." That certainly sounds as if the Masons are wrong to require oaths! The one thing I want to be sure of is that we are not being discriminated against, and that the people who condemn us on scriptural grounds are equally punctilious about obeying all the other injunctions in the Bible. So I would ask such people a number of questions, something like this.

Do you believe that murderers should pay their debt to society with long prison terms? The Bible says, at Deuteronomy 21:23-24: "... Thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot...... What about clerical celibacy? Is the Catholic Church right? 1 Timothy 3:2; 4:1-3: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour.... In the latter times some shall depart from the faith, ... Speaking lies in hypocrisy, ... Forbidding to marry." I have known many good Jews and good Moslems and good Buddhists. What will happen to them when they die? Mark 16:15,16: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." What about women's liberation, and the equality of the sexes? Ephesians 5:22-23: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, ... For the husband is the head of the wife......" Should women be ordained as ministers, or get an education? 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak.... And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home." Do you see the nature of my problem? I am prepared to believe that the Bible is a wise, great, and good book, which in many ways reflects the will of God. But the God of Love in which I believe could not be in favour of the cruel intolerant discriminatory quotations that I have quoted. I conclude that the Bible, as a whole, was written about 2000 years ago, and that it reflected, nay, gave instruction in, what was accepted as good behaviour for those days. Even if we are not Women's Liberation radicals, most of us now admit that women are in fact human, and should have the same educational and occupational opportunities as men. And even the respected World Council of Churches now holds dialogue with religions that are not Christian.

Of course some people are understandably upset when religious leaders whom they respect attack the Craft. It's awfully hard to know which way to turn when one of your spiritual guides says harsh things about an institution that you know, respect, and love. I think the first thing to remember is that, no matter how much research some outsider has carried out, anybody who has been a Mason for a while understands the Craft far better than anybody who is not. If one wanted to pursue the subject further, there are some good books by Masons that one can consult. I think in particular of two that are especially helpful: Rev. Forrest D. Haggard, The Clergy and the Craft (Missouri Lodge of Research, 1970), and Christopher Haffner, Workman Unashamed (Shepperton, 1989) — both by devout and well-respected churchmen, both arguing that there is no possible conflict between the Church and the Gentle Craft.

We do have our friends outside the Craft. Let me mention one. John J. Robinson is not himself a Freemason, but has written a book about it, and is very well informed. Last July he appeared on a radio talk show in Chicago, and debated the nature of Freemasonry with the fundamentalist evangelical John Ankerberg, who makes a habit of attacking Masonry. I may say that Robinson made Ankerberg look pretty bad. Here's an excerpt from the tape, which I obtained through the kindness of Bro. Brent Morris. We begin with Ankerberg talking about Freemasonry's so-called plan of salvation, by good works. And then Mr Robinson interrupts him.

["For example, if you look at the very certificate that you got from the Shrine, you have a little verse from the Koran printed up in the left hand corner.] And so the question that we wanted to ask was, if the authorities of Masonry document the fact that Freemasonry is a religion, then everybody needs to ask the question, 'Am I actually participating in two religions?' And the questions become, 'What kind of plan of salvation does the Masonic lodge teach?' We found that it had a very clear path in instructing men on the hope that they would have of getting into the Celestial Lodge Above." "I'd like to respond to that, Ken...... "Go ahead!" "Well, I don't find that Freemasonry has a plan of salvation. I mean, Freemasons are very well aware of the fact that they've been criticized all over the place by certain denominations [for] saying, 'Salvation is not achieved through good works alone. You can run your hospitals and your orphanages, and help the hungry and everything else, and that is not a pathway to salvation; salvation comes only through accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour.' And the Masonic answer to that would be, 'Well that's fine, because if that's what the Freemason believes, then Freemasonry provides him a way to establish his belief;' because there's some concern that a lot of belief is just belief, and belief is supposed to impose a way of life. In other words, you can't jump up and down and say, 'I believe! I believe in law and order,' and spend Saturday Nights holding up liquor stores. I mean, you should, if you're going to accept Christ as your Saviour, you should then live your entire life, your every waking moment, your spare time, your work time, in accordance with His desires; and they feel that Freemasonry provides an opportunity to do that, because it provides its members with an opportunity to contribute to charity and help the poor. " [Ken interrupts: "So the two then in that view can exist side by side......"]

The problem about much of this persecution of Freemasonry by religious groups is that they treat it as if it were a religion. I should have thought that the Masonic ritual would be enough to refute this misconception. if you want, you can find all sorts of Masonic authorities to cite in this connection. As long ago as 1815, an American Past Master, Henry Fowle, wrote some wise words about the relationship between the Craft and Religion. He said:

It must be obvious to a mind capable of the least reflection that were Masonry to prescribe particular tenets and opinions in Religion for her votaries, it would be utterly incompatible with the Universality of the Order. For this and other reasons ..., she has wisely avoided an explicit patronage of any particular Theological creed.... An Atheist can find no admission within the walls of a lodge. She ... adopts a principle in which the wise and virtuous of all Countries, Nations and Languages agree.... Masonry therefore opens her arms to the followers of all systems of religions: the Jew, the Mahometan, the Christian, and the Deist, throwing aside the madness of religious hatred, meet together under her protection as friends and Brothers.... [Masonry still declares] to her votaries: "I regard not to what particular sect you attach yourselves, venerate the popular religion of your respective countries, follow the light of your own understanding.... Adore the Supreme Architect of the Universe, acknowledge the immortality of the Soul, and look forward to a state of retribution where the wise and good of all religions and countries shall meet together and enjoy never fading bliss, in those realms of light and Love where Faith shall be lost in sight, Hope in fruition, and Charity become expanded, as Almighty Love. (The Autobiography of Henry Fowle of Boston (1766 - 1837), with notes and appendices by David H. Kilmer (Bowie, Maryland, 1991), 186)

In 1947 the great Harry L. Haywood wrote about Freemasonry and its relationship to religion. He said, in part, that:

[Freemasonry] has no theology of its own, is not a house of worship, has neither priests nor pastors, its Lodges are not ecclesiastical circles, its Lodge Communications are not religious services, it imposes no theological tests upon its Candidates, and permits no discussion of religion, theology, sect, or creed in its Lodge assemblies; it is neither for nor against any religion, but works in a field of its own to which theology is irrelevant. It opens and closes its Communications with prayer and keeps a Volume of the Sacred Law open upon its altars, but so also do courts, the army, the navy, colleges, and many other organizations and societies which believe that religion belongs to men everywhere and is free for them to use and practice.

That's about as clear and as honest a statement as you will find anywhere. Freemasonry is not a religion, and it is not in competition with religion. Without being vociferous about it, Masonry constantly reminds its members that they belong to a beautiful system of morality, and that they are ever to bear in mind the ideal of the Brotherhood of men under the Fatherhood of God. By this means, without in any way interfering with the work of the church, or the synagogue, or the mosque, or the temple, Freemasonry unobtrusively does its bit to support and reinforce some of the teachings of organized religion. Don't ever let anyone tell you anything different.