Vol. XLV No. 1 — January 1967

In the Beginning, GOD

Louis L. Williams

This Short Talk is a condensation of the address given before the Grand Lodge of Illinois on October 8, 1966, by Grand Orator Louis L. Williams, 33°, who is also deputy for Illinois, A.A.S.R., Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. His gracious consent to this abridgement and publication is deeply appreciated. Brother Williams’ original title was “For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth.”

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Today — no less than yesterday, no less than a hundred years ago — has its troubled, its uncertain moments. We live on the crest of a wave of revolution sweeping over our world, a revolution that threatens to engulf our social order as well as our theories of government. Our age is a sophisticated one, whose scientific achievements go forward so rapidly that ordinary intelligence cannot keep abreast.

It is the Hydrogen Age, the Space Age, the Computer Age. All but the basic rules are being swept away by the avalanche of progress that marches inexorably forward. We are living in the midst of a depression of morals, in an age of selfishness, corruption, greed, and total indifference to the rights of honest, respectable, law-abiding citizens. From these destructive forces, which tend to disrupt and even destroy the fabric of our lives, Freemasonry is not exempt.

In 1899, Joseph Robbins, in addressing this grand lodge, said, “The great central truth — the alpha of Masonry — is that God lives and governs the world.” Why was Masonry founded upon a belief in God as its great central truth, its foundation stone, its Holy Royal Arch?

When man first began to think in logical terms, he knew there were vast natural powers outside his immediate knowledge, which controlled the seasons, the weather, the growth of animate life. He sought to appease the wrath of these unknown powers and to curry their favor by ritualistic ceremonies and by sacrifices, oft times human. As knowledge increased, he worshipped the Sun, Moon and Stars; the Wind and Rain; Rivers and Seas; and the Earth that brought forth so much of his food. Gradually a whole series of superhuman powers, or deities, came into being, and a series of gods were believed to control every phase of human activities. This system of many gods, or polytheism, worshipped by all tribes and all nations, had attained its highest development in the Babylonian-Assyrian-Egyptian area.

But man’s thirst for knowledge was as unquenchable then as it is today, and one small tribe of men, fed up with the frustrations of trying to appease many gods, and searching for a destiny and a belief as yet unknown, set out from Babylonia and traveled westward, seeking the Promised Land. They were led by a man we know as Abraham. They were the children of Israel, completely unique in their belief in one God Jahveh, or Jehovah, a stern but just Father of all, upon whose omnipotence and all-goodness they staked their lives and the future of their race.

Back in Mesopotamia and the Babylon they had abandoned, there was a curious folklore tale, the Creation Epic. It told how the world came into being. It must have been known to the various authors of the book of Genesis, for the first chapter is almost an exact transcript. How beautiful its conception, and with what powerful imagery it is written. Its words, known to every Mason, never fail to invoke the highest spiritual feeling!

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light! (Genesis 1:1-3)

What genius of inspiration must have moved the man who first penned the immortal words, “In the beginning, God.”

Thus, a flight from Babylon was the humble beginning of three of the world’s great religions: the Jewish, which began then and there; the Christian, which came 2000 years later; and the Muslim, or Mohammedan, which waited another 600 years for its great prophet.

Speculative Masonry had already existed for a hundred years or more when four lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in London to form the first grand lodge. There the first leaders, led by Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, made a truly inspired decision that was to forever set the course of true Masonry. The great aim of our Founders was to unite all men of all time in a worldwide fraternity.

How could this be done? By uniting all men in a belief in one God, through Whom, as His children, all men could join in a simple, common belief. This idea, so clear to us, was magnificent in conception, and almost world-shattering in its results. The doctrine spread through the then civilized world like wildfire, and it became literally true, as we say in one of our lectures, “Masonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion, and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.”

Those who founded our first grand lodge were religious men, and probably all Christians. A fair proportion of them were Catholics, although England was then going through a period of intense anti-Catholic sentiment, and Catholics were even excluded from equal justice before the law. Nevertheless, Masonry welcomed them and in 1729 elected a Catholic, Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, as grand master. Jews were likewise welcomed, but most of the early Jewish Masons became members of continental lodges in France and Germany.

The operative masons of the Middle Ages had the unique privilege of serving God with hand, heart and mind, for most of them were employed in the construction of the great European cathedrals between A.D. 1200 and 1700. It never occurred to them that in or out of Masonry they could do aught else but worship God. True, the Roman Catholic Church, throughout that period, had persecuted and punished heretics, both before and after Martin Luther; but to the Church heresy was more a matter of questioning the power and authority of the Church, than of questioning the existence of, or a belief in, God. So it would never have occurred to the Speculative Masons of 1717 to have any other idea but that God should be the foundation stone upon which all Masonry is founded. Amazingly, they did not require a belief in Christianity. What they wanted to forge, and did create, was a fraternity, worldwide in scope, which had simple belief in the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. Thus, belief in God was the first landmark of Masonry.

Although each Mason must assert his belief in God, no Mason is required to define his understanding of God. The Jews had many names for God, each one indicating an attribute with which they defined the character of God: Jahveh, eternal God; Jehovah, the God who is; Elohim, Divine Being; El Shaddai, God Almighty; Eloah, God in man; Adonai, the Master of Life; and others. Every Mason interprets his understanding of God in his own way. As was said in the first charge, “Concerning God and Religion,” in the 1723 edition of Anderson’s Constitutions:

Though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.

The third great tenet of a Mason’s profession is truth, which is a divine attribute, and the foundation of every virtue. Yet truth is as difficult to define as is God. From that momentous occasion when Pilate inquired of Jesus, “What is truth?” the question has been forever left unanswered. Modern man is prone to question any and everything in his undying quest for what is true. But just as there are true prophets like Galileo, so there are also false prophets, who proclaim their doctrines for a day, and then lapse into the obscurity of time, which ultimately overwhelms all falsehood.

If God is the foundation stone of Masonry, then it logically follows that any successful attack upon God would destroy Masonry. No serious attack on God was mounted, in the philosophical or theological sense, until the brilliant German philosopher Nietzsche published Thus Spake Zarathustra in 1883. Based on a doctrine that condemns Christian morality as a code fit only for slavish masses, he preached that the intelligence of man should create a race of supermen, who, being above good and evil, would destroy democracy and rule as they might desire. He first proclaimed the battle cry, “God is dead.” Six years later he became hopelessly insane, and most people were wont to dismiss his ideas as the ravings of a madman. Nevertheless, they were seized upon by another madman, Adolph Hitler, and made the political and religious tenets of the Nazi party, with the result that we all know. If the doctrines of Untruth can throw the whole world into such a cataclysm as World War II, they cannot be lightly brushed aside.

Radical Theology and the Death of God (1966) was written by two theologians, Altizer and Hamilton, professors of religion in Emory University, Georgia, and Colgate Rochester Divinity School, respectively. That year Altizer published a second book called The Gospel of Christian Atheism. These men are not deluded fanatics; they claim to be in the forefront of a movement that they say is shared by hundreds of followers, particularly in the highly educated groups.

These beliefs have not developed within Catholicism, where they would not be tolerated, but within Protestantism, where they have found much encouragement in Christian periodicals and among younger students and ministers. That “the death of God” is a radical approach they candidly admit. They claim it has the following meanings, among others:

  1. That there is no God and that there never has been. This is traditional atheism, and is inconsistent with the claim that God has died in our time. So they pass on to the next position as their true stand.
  2. That there was once a God to whom worship was necessary, but now there is no such God. It is atheistic, but with a difference. If there was a God, and now there is not, it should be possible to tell why and when Gods death occurred, and who is responsible for it.
  3. That a completely new treatment of the idea of God is needed and the word God itself should be completely re-defined.
  4. That classical church ritual and theology need a thorough revision.
  5. That the Christian gospel no longer performs its traditional function of salvation or redemption.
  6. That the ordinary concept of God as omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent must be destroyed.
  7. That men today do not experience God.
  8. That in a mystical sense God must die if he is to be reborn in us.
  9. Lastly, (and with this all of us can agree) that our understanding of God and our language about God are inadequate and imperfect.

In the history of our Masonic tradition, as it has come down from Asia Minor through Greece, Rome and Europe, we find three great religious revolutions, each being the product of the culture from which it sprang, and through which it was transmitted. The first was the great Hebrew religion of the exodus from Mesopotamia to Judea, accomplished over a period of several hundred years, having no great central explosive event, but evolving from pantheism into monotheism in a slow but logical progression. Next came Christianity, based certainly on the birth of Jesus, the Christ, but tempered and molded by the Hellenic tradition of Greece. Jesus was not accepted in his own day and age, except by a handful of followers, and three hundred years passed before the new religion that he founded gained a secure foothold in the Roman world, which in turn remolded and passed it on.

Then came the third great religious revolution of interest to us, triggered by Martin Luther in 1517, when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. That we are now and here, in the year 1966, in the midst of another great religious ferment, there can be no doubt. At what position we stand only the historian of a century or more hence will be able to determine. Both the Catholic and Protestant churches are re-examining theological positions they have held fast for centuries. If we are to believe “the death of God” theologians, the ecumenical movement is too late, for they are already calling this the post-Christian era.

“What has all this to do with Masonry?” you may ask. Just this: Freemasonry was the creation of religious men, founded on a belief in God and in the immortality of the soul. If God is dead, then Freemasonry is a hollow mockery, and we are going through motions that will lead us nowhere. Let us interpret this battle cry of Nietzsche, this rallying point of the radical theologians, as a call to arms for Masons! In our security, in our smugness, we have taken Masonry too much for granted. We make far too many Masons who are never taught the true meaning of Masonry, who never catch the vision of Masonry, “for lack of which,” as Isaiah has said, “the people perish.”

What is the purpose for which Masonry exists? Its ultimate goal is the perfection of humanity. Mankind is still in a period of youth. We are only now beginning to acquire a consciousness of the social aim of civilization, which is man’s perfection. Such perfection can never end with just physical perfection, which is only a means to the end of spiritual perfection.

Can atheism aid us in this search? Atheism is completely negative. It is a denial of belief. As the Reverend Dr. Charles M. Houser has so aptly said, “Atheism has never composed a symphony; never healed a disease; never given peace of mind; never established a philanthropy; never explained the mystery of the universe; never built a great and enduring civilization; never given meaning to man’s life on earth.” But if we look at the record of the past, mortal man, inspired by God, has done all of these things, and still fights on for what is just and good. How has he done these things? By reaching out beyond himself for help from those spiritual forces that God has made available to those who place their fives in harmony with His divine plan.

With our incomplete knowledge we attempt to reason out God’s will but we judge with human powers only. On September 4, 1966, in his final sermon as Bishop of California, Episcopalian Bishop James C. Pike denied the omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God as improvable by human experience; “for if this were true,” says Bishop Pike, “why is the world in such a sorry mess?” What else would he expect? God works through natural laws that He has laid down for the operations of our Universe. He has established a system that brought order out of the chaos of creation. Therefore we have earthquakes, floods, births, deaths; they are simply the workings of these natural laws. If you jump off a tall building, you will fall to the ground. Should we expect God to suspend the law of gravity for one individual, or change the natural course of a hurricane to avoid human suffering? Those who would thus reason have no conception of God’s plan for a Universe. Just as God works through the mechanical laws that govern matter, and time, and space, so also He works through laws that are even more difficult of understanding — the laws that govern the workings of our hearts, our minds, and our souls — where wisdom and knowledge, where compassion and sympathy, where truth and love have their dwelling.

In a world that seems hurtling toward its own destruction, in a day when moral bankruptcy threatens our social institutions, in an hour when radical religious leaders proclaim that God is dead, those of us who are vitally concerned with the future of mankind need a foundation stone that is absolute. Throughout all time and throughout all the Universe there is but one absolute, and no other is or will be needed. “In the beginning, God.” There is the Absolute, on which all of life is eternally founded.

Do you need further proof of His omnipresence, His omnipotence? Then look beneath you at the earth and its miracles; look above you at the sun, moon and stars obeying the Divine plan; and look around you into the hearts of your brother Masons, and find all the proof you need.

Let us go forth animated by one desire — to make the principles and ideals of Masonry live in our own lives, and in the lives of our brethren. Let us resolve to love God and keep His commandments. Let us prove to the profane world that God is very much alive, in our hearts, in the work of our hands, in the lives that we lead. Let us dedicate to the service of Masonry that which our forefathers in Masonry dedicated to this nation when they brought it into being, “Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America