A Conversation with a Friend

The Lodge Program that Can Only Be Delivered Once in a Regular Lodge

J. David Tamayo

Brethren, today I guarantee you a program you will only see delivered once in a lifetime by a Worshipful Master and one that you will not easily forget. First, I’ll start with a disclaimer: This presentation only represents my personal views and not those of my Brothers, friends, neighbors, or family. Also, when you leave today, there will be copies of this presentation that you can take with you for future thought. My e-mail address is also at the bottom, in case you may want to ask me questions about it.

Today, I am going to talk about history, philosophy, knowledge, reason, Freemasonry, love, loyalty to the Craft, truth, enlightenment and integrity. You may hear some citations of the undesired topics of “politics” or “religion,” but they are only mentioned in a historical context to bring forth my point. I will also present some things that initially may look disjointed, but I promise to bring them all together at the end.

First, let me start by giving you, brethren, a quick history of my journey in Freemasonry and how I’ve learned to love and respect this fraternity as well as each one of you. Over 10 years ago, I noticed that one of the people I supervised at work had a gold ring with some symbols on it. After I inquired, he explained what Masonry was all about, and I became very interested. I investigated further and found out that many well-respected historical men, including my all-time hero Benjamin Franklin, had been members of the Fraternity. In the process, I also found out that my Church, the Catholic Church, prohibited me from becoming a Freemason under the penalty of excommunication and eternal damnation. In fact, through the anonymity of the Internet, I spoke with a priest in Alexandria who explained to me that the Church was against Masonic oaths and Freemasonry’s secrecy; and that, furthermore, I was not to question the Church’s wisdom on this matter. So after a long discussion, I told the priest that I was still going to join the Craft because I couldn’t obey a Church rule without logical and clear reasons. He warned me that if he ever found out who I was, he would make sure that I would be excommunicated by Rome. I assured him that I would leave Freemasonry if I ever saw in it anything of anti-moral or anti-Catholic character. Well, in the decade I’ve been a member, I have never seen anything but good will and great friendship from every brother in this and every lodge; I’ve also had the honor and privilege to twice serve as Worshipful Master of this lodge.

To give you an idea of the seriousness of my decision to join the Masons, a decision I’ve never regretted, I quote from several encyclopedias that explain Masonic history in the 18th century: For instance, from historical writings I quote “The church maintained that divine inspiration and revelation were sufficient to lead the kind of life desired for man by God, pope, and king and thus no need for Freemasonry. One’s time on earth was allotted only for preparation in dying and being reborn in a supernatural kingdom”. By the end of the 1700s, the stigma attached to Freemasonry by clerical and civil authorities had taken hold. Pope Clement XII issued his infamous papal bull, In Eminenti, banning Masonry and forbidding lodge membership for all Catholics under any king. He wrongly and unjustly declared: “For the sake of the peace and safety of civil governments, and spiritual safety of souls, and to prevent these men from plundering the House like thieves, laying waste the Vineyard like wolves, perverting the minds of the incautious and shooting down innocent people from their hiding places.... no Catholic is to be a Freemason”. Eleven other popes would condemn Freemasonry in the most vitriolic language possible. As for progress, the hierarchical arrangement of God in heaven, and kings and popes on earth as His "lawful representatives" demanded conformity, stability, and obedience, instead of development, experimentation, and, in their words, blasphemy, which were considered products of Freemasonry during the enlightenment years.

It has been said that Europe conceptualized the Enlightenment, whereas America, with the establishment of an "enlightened republic", realized it. As such, Freemasonry came to colonial America on or about 1730, and the bulk of the evidence suggests that most lodges were politically neutral "in the English tradition," although "...outstanding individuals... made a definite link between Freemasonry, the new political ideas, and the struggle for independence” all this according to our history books. In 1737, Louis XV ordered that loyal subjects could not belong to the Masonic order. The mere secrecy of the society, with its lore and awesome symbolism, was considered fertile soil for imaginative criticism.

No one represented these enlightenment ideals better than Bro. Benjamin Franklin who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, an early opponent of slavery, an advocate of the philosophy of progress, and a founder of the American Philosophical Society. He was a deist who did not like structured religion and, in fact, in 1758 Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac, "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."

Bro. George Washington became Charter Master of the Alexandria lodge, the first president of the United States, and a vociferous advocate of fundamental Enlightenment ideas, including separation of church and state.

Thomas Jefferson was not a Mason and as our 3rd president is a man I greatly admire. Amidst the hysteria that swept Europe and America concerning Freemasonry and the Order of the Illuminati, he publically defended, on several occasions, the Order and its founder, Adam Weishaupt. Jefferson was also a deist who despised organized religion. In a letter to Alexander von Humboldt in 1813, Jefferson wrote, "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes." As you can imagine, this statement, when it came to light, did not sit well with men of the cloth of all denominations.

Patriot Thomas Paine, often thought to be a Freemason (although he wasn’t), was the pamphleteer of the American Revolution and an associate of many radical European Freemasons, including Nicholas Bonneville. Bonneville was a radical republican and head of a neo- Masonic group known as "Friends of Truth," which were very active during the French Revolution. Paine’s booklet, “Common Sense,” published in January 1776, echoed the Masonic notion that "we have it in our power to begin the world over again...." through reason and truth.

So, this brings us to truth. Since the days of the Greek philosophers, much has been said and pondered about truth. Henry David Thoreau said, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth” and, although I strongly agree with that statement, I agree even more with Stopford Brooke when he said, “If a thousand old beliefs were ruined in our march to truth, we must still march on.” So, how important is truth to each one of us? Again, in the words of Thomas Paine, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest” and, one of my favorite notes from Eugene V. Debs’ 1918 speech, “Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on Earth.” So, in light of this, what would any of us be willing to risk for truth? Would you risk losing a child’s respect by telling the truth about Santa Claus’s existence? Would you tell the truth even if it meant losing your job? Isn’t it our moral duty to tell the truth to those we love and especially to one’s self? The famous physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, who is one of my favorite living heroes, said, “The Greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” Illusion, in this case, is a deception and not the truth. I’ll come back to the topic of truth in a few minutes.

Throughout history, Freemasonry has been a bastion of new ideas and tolerance. This tolerance is practiced through lessons on prudence, justice, and temperance as well as brotherly love. But, a few months ago, a friend of mine who has long been interested in Masonry pointed out to me that there is great Masonic intolerance for whoever doesn’t believe in a deity. My friend said, “David, considering that the U.S. Constitution was created with the collaboration of many freemasons, and considering that it does not mention any deity anywhere – not even once, how can Freemasonry reject a good man just because he does not believe in the supernatural?” So, to answer him, I consulted the Short Talk Bulletin - Vol. X No. 4 from April 1932 titled “The Stupid Atheist.”

The bulletin says, “No atheist can be made a Mason, far less from lack of binding power of the obligation taken by such a disbeliever, than from Freemasonry’s knowledge that an atheist can never be a Mason ‘in his heart’… A disbeliever in the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man founded on that fatherhood, and the immortality of the soul in a life to come could by no possible chance be happy or content in our organization.” My friend strongly objected saying, “David, there is no way for a Freemason, who, by definition, cannot be an atheist, to know what an atheist would feel, think, or want in life.”

Ah, but being near a computer, I investigated further. The Ancient charges, including the words “stupid atheist,” were written into Masonry before Darwin’s time. In this day and age, in general, we certainly don’t think that atheists are stupid people – if fact, we tend to admire them when they invent a new medicine or a new space probe, but over 93% of the scientists at the National Academy of Sciences do not believe in a deity, and they are certainly not stupid.

I continued reading the Bulletin aloud to my friend: “An atheist may be an honest man, a good husband and father, a law abiding, charitable, and upstanding citizen. If so, his whole life contradicts what his lips say.” My friend replied, “Hmmm. So does this mean that since my lips contradict what I say, it’s OK for the Masons to accept me in the Fraternity because, according to the pamphlet, I am not really an atheist?” He laughed and replied to his own question, “I don’t think so.” Referring to this part of the Bulletin, my friend told me that this statement showed a lack of understanding and knowledge of what non-theist people think and believe. “As a humanist”, he said, “I don’t believe in any deities because there is no independent and verifiable evidence for any of the thousands upon thousands of gods that have been claimed throughout human history.” I then asked, “Well, so does that mean you don’t believe in anything?” To which he replied, “I believe in everything you believe in, minus the supernatural stuff. I believe in reason, science, moral excellence, art, research, discovery, justice, peace, love, liberty, order, honesty, and integrity.”

My conversation with my friend was really unexpected, and I was caught a bit off-guard. He said, “Don’t Freemasons agree with Thomas Jefferson when he said: Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear?.” Although I couldn’t personally contradict someone like Thomas Jefferson, I did respond by quoting Scottish Rite Bro. J. Howard Duncan from Kansas who wrote, “Acceptance of an atheist as a Mason is a different matter. Not different because the atheist is de facto a bad person, but because, with an atheist, there is no basis of trust. While we cannot welcome them into our ancient Fraternity, our dealings with atheists must be as honorable as with all others. We owe them no less because they cannot accept God. Honesty and fairness must be our guides both in and beyond the boundaries of our Brotherhood”. My friend then reminded me that similar sentiments of “equal but separate” were expressed in that ugly part of our national history when water fountains were labeled “white” and “colored.”

With strong feelings and, a bit flustered, I reminded my friend that Freemasonry is several hundreds years old and its tenets have served humanity at many levels for centuries. Faith in a deity gives us morals and gives us unquestionable standards. But, he replied, “You know, David, in 1623 Galileo was put on trial by the Catholic Church for saying that the earth went around the sun and not the sun around the earth. Galileo told his heresy accusers, “I do not think it is necessary to believe that the same God who has given us our senses, reason, and intelligence wished us to abandon their use, giving us, by some other means, the information that we could gain through them.”

The “bottom line”, my friend continued, “is that any organization that doesn’t change with the times is doomed to disappear.” He mentioned that “in England, where less than 30% of the people believe in a deity, many good men cannot join the fraternity and the Craft there is in real trouble because of it. Masonry needs to evolve or risk extinction.”

To say the least, my friend gave me a lot to think about, and I’ve done a great deal of reading, studying, and research. Among the things I’ve read, there was a passage from an unknown author which read, “When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either quit being mistaken, or cease to be honest.” I found this to be very thought-provoking. Can something be true to one person and false to another and can both be right? I’ve always thought of truth as being immutable and absolute. In the 1945 book A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell says, “Science tells us what we know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know, we become insensitive to many things of great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales."… So, is this a truth not to be misunderstood?

I asked my friend, “Why don’t you just believe in God. That way, in case God really exists, you will be able to enjoy the afterlife, but, most important, you will be able to enjoy today the benefits and fellowship of Freemasonry?” After thinking for a few seconds, he replied, “David, can one really choose to believe or not believe in something? Really choose? If I tell you that this paper is red when you clearly see that it is white, can you force yourself to believe, really believe, that it’s red? And, if I pretend to believe, would I really be fooling the Deity? Even if I did, I would just be deceiving all the people in the lodge and that would mean that I have no integrity, and I don’t think Freemasons wants men without integrity, do they? There are many people who believe in ‘belief,’ but I am not one of them.” My friend continued, “David, let me get this straight: are you saying Freemasonry would rather have as a brother a man who believes that a cow or a macaque is a god (as many people in India do) instead of someone like Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Warren Buffet or Bill Gates who were or are all atheists?”

I was taken aback a bit, but recuperated and, I told my friend, “Look, you can’t really prove that there is no God,” and to my surprise my friend agreed! He responded, “Listen David, we cannot prove a negative, but we define the existence of things based on evidence for their existence, not on our lack of evidence. Thus, it is reasonable to say that, until there is evidence for something, the default is no existence, and I haven’t seen good independent and reliable evidence to believe otherwise.” For instance, you cannot prove that unicorns, fairies, leprechauns and Zeus do not exist. He continued, “The best thing is to always continue to study and learn. I still search for truth and evidence concerning a Deity just as many philosophers have done from time immemorial. For example as far back as 341 BC, the Greek philosopher Epicurus asked some tough questions that even today we cannot answer.”

My dear brethren, I now would like to put some things together. Earlier, I asked how important truth is. For me, truth is more important than anything. Truth, to myself first and those I love, is important because it is a measure of integrity. But, truth and integrity are not free; truth and integrity have a very high cost, one that I am almost always willing to pay. So, considering how important truth and integrity are for me, it pains me deeply, more than you’ll ever imagine, to tell you a significant truth today knowing very well the price for this truth. Because I love you all very much, with a very heavy heart, I hereby declare, as my last order as Worshipful Master of Kemper Macon Ware Lodge #64, that the Secretary of this lodge accept this letter and speech as my official request to demit from this lodge that I love so much, and to the District Deputy Grand Master, I request that I be demitted from regular Masonry as a whole.

You see, my brethren, the truth is that the friend who I’ve been talking about all this time is me! For some months now, I’ve stopped believing in a god and in all supernatural things, but it is because I love this fraternity so much and because I respect and love each one of you so much that I cannot, that I will not, deceive any of you by pretending I believe in something that I clearly do not believe in. I hope you understand and appreciate my situation.

Most Sincerely and Fraternally,

J. David Tamayo

As of Now, Former Worshipful Master and a Former Regular Freemason

Notes by David Tamayo

I cannot consciously choose to believe or not believe in a Deity. So if a God exists, obviously he has not chosen to give me enough evidence to believe in his existence. Some of you may be offended that I question God’s existence, but men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe things, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt them. It is questioning everything that moves us forward in knowledge and wisdom.

Some of you may think we cannot judge the supernatural because we cannot “see” beyond the five senses. But we can only use the tools we have, which are intellect, reason and logic. For example, for me it is not logical or reasonable to believe that a snake talked to Eve. Also, who did Adam and Eve’s children have sex with to create Adam and Eve’s grandchildren and descendents? Incest? I find that lack of logic in many similar religious beliefs to be unreasonable, and it is only believed because a book written over 2,000 years ago by unknown desert nomads says so. Yes, we can pick and choose, when convenient, what should be interpreted versus what should be literal – which for me is more “proof” of the non-existence of a deity.

I am not interested in changing anyone’s mind about belief. However, it is a requirement for regular Masonry, and I love this fraternity too much to insult it by lying about the number one requirement. Some friends have said to me, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Well, absence of evidence is not proof of existence either, and as Dr. Carl Sagan often said, “Great claims require great proofs.” Some claims can be believed because they are small and not important, but others require big proof. For example, if I say that a space alien just came to my house and gave me a 35-pound diamond, you’d want to see that diamond before you believed me. But if I tell you that 1 hour ago I ate a bag of potato chips, you probably would believe me without the need for much proof.

To be a regular Mason, one must believe in a Deity, but I am an atheist now (not by choice) although I wasn’t when I first joined Kemper Macon-Ware #64 about 10 years ago. Since the Supreme Architect of the Universe is supernatural (supernatural = not natural, not part of nature, not of this world, mind without body, etc.) and I no longer qualify to be a regular Mason, I am going to do the next best thing, which is to join an “irregular” lodge such as the Grand Orient of France (where Franklin and Voltaire were members at some point). They accept freethinkers such as myself and have been doing so for well over 100 years. Their ranks are rapidly growing, while the ranks of “regular” Freemasonry have been declining fast. Maybe this is one of the reasons…

Some friends criticize me because I will take science over dogma every time. They say “science always changes its theories, and religion does not,” but that is the beauty of it: science is self-correcting while religion is not. Most religions, even when proven wrong, will not correct their dogmas. That is why science can predict things far better than any prophecy. Would you rather fly in an airplane created by someone who has tested and retested the plane and has evidence through the scientific method that the plane flies, or in an airplane checked by someone who just has faith that it will fly? Pardon the simplistic argument, but I’d rather rely on science than blind faith for everyday living.

I guess if, in the future, I start believing in a God again, I am sure regular Masonry would be happy to have me back. We should always question things – all things – in order to progress as a society. So, in reference to the Craft, as brothers we pride ourselves on having religious tolerance, but why do you personally (not the party line) believe non-theists such as me should be rejected and discriminated against in Masonry? Do you realize that regular Freemasonry automatically excludes the majority of the scientists in the National Science Foundation? In 1998, the magazine Nature did a study in the U.S. and concluded the following "The latest survey involved 517 members of the National Academy of Sciences; half replied. When queried about belief in a personal god, only 7% responded in the affirmative, while 72.2% expressed personal disbelief, and 20.8% expressed agnosticism." You can find other surveys by Scientific American and other publications here: [Note: Original link no longer valid]

Something to think about: Selecting members for Masonry based on their personal and private religious (or lack of) views will exclude many good men who would otherwise add excellent value to the Craft. In fact, after doing some research, I found that this “rule” was written into Masonry long before Charles Darwin had come up with the theory of Natural Selection and Evolution. So, we should ask ourselves these questions:

  1. Should Freemasonry evolve as our knowledge about the world increases over the centuries?
  2. How has Freemasonry changed as society has changed over the past 100, 200, or 300 years? Not much if at all!
  3. Do you believe regular Masonry should accept/keep active good members who no longer believe in a Deity instead of rejecting them outright “just because those are the rules?”
  4. Should Freemasons ever be allowed to question and improve the tenets of Freemasonry? How can Freemasonry be improved if we won’t allow reviews of its tenets?

Kemper Macon-Ware Lodge No. 64, Falls Church, Virginia