Freemasonry and Religion
An Excerpt from Coil's A Comprehensive View of Freemasonry
Published in 1952
Freemasonry is not a religion. Nothing
in Ancient craft masonry characterizes it as such. It has no creed, no dogma, and no
theology. It save no souls and it does
not compete with any organized religion.
It accepts good men regardless of their religious beliefs in an effort
to make them better men.
Just as the members of a denomination, or sect, may not have exactly the
same concept of its creed, so Masons may differ in their understanding of Freemasonry. They do, however,
in concert, perform certain religious demonstrations formalized in the
ritual, manifesting belief in a spiritual power on whom the Mason is
dependent and to whom he is responsible.
Freemasonry has been
attacked on two fronts-
political and religious by bigots who see the Fraternity as a competitor and
rival for time energy, and
money of their adherents. One group, the Christian Ministries, criticizes and
say Freemasonry is not compatible with Christianity
and that Masons are therefore "unbelievers." Anti-Masonic critics are,
in most cases critics because the Masons
are non-members of the critics' own particular group.
But there are thousands of different religious sects, each expounding that they have "the truth."
Freemasonry promotes the right of the individual to think for himself and to make his own choices. It should be remembered that in
the early 1700s practically the only
writers were the Catholic scriveners, or monks, who were accustomed to beginning, ending and interspersing
religious phrases in all documents - a practice carried out even today in many
documents which are not religious. We find many such phrases in Masonic documents.
Freemasonry came into
being out of the craft and science of the builders as well
as from the deep divinely given instincts of man to rise above the material and
to deal with the mystical and spiritual portion of existence.
Freemasonry and religion
are linked by the factors of their heritage and the nature of man. All Masons
believe in the Deity without reserve as to how a member thinks of the Great
Architect. Freemasonry is a supplement to good living with
faith in God. It is supportive of morality and virtue. It teaches that it is important for every man to have a religion
of his own and to be faithful to it through thought and action. It is very likely that Masonry was not in tended in its beginning to be religious. It was basically architectural or scientific, though
the ancient Charges almost invariably began with a Trinitarian invocation and charged the Masons to be "true men of God and Holy Church." In the exposes of the ritual, which began to be published in 1723, we find religious symbolism.
For example in the Grand Mystery of Free-Masons Discover'd we find:"What Lodge are you of? The Lodge of
St. John."How many lights? Three:
a Right East,
South and West. "What do they represent? The Three Persons,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost."How many Pillars? Two, Iachin and
Boaz."What do they represent? A Strength and Stability of the
Church in all Ages."The Grand Lodge of 1717
seems to have submerged the religious motif and employed more the
architectural or scientific. Charge
I, as adopted in 1723, was entitled, "Concerning God and Religion,"
but the name of God does not appear in the text of that or any other Charge.
Charge I reads as follows:"CONCERNING GOD AND RELIGION.''A Mason is
oblig'd by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law;
and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor
an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg'd
in every Country
to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation,
whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient to oblige them to that
Religion in which all Men agree, leaving
their particular Opinions
to them selves: that is, to
be good Men and true, or Men of Honor and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they
may be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and
the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd
at a perpetual Distance."
This did not mean that
the founders of the Grand Lodge were irreligious, for two of the principal
actors, Desaguliers and Anderson, were Christian ministers. It merely means that they did not view the Society
as a religious body, but
rather chose to leave that matter to the church. On the other hand, the Grand
Lodge regularly held its Annual Communications on St. John the Baptist's Day
and one of its Quarterly Communications on St. John the Evangelist's Day. In a
Christian nation, especially one having an established church, it is hardly to
be expected that religion can be excluded from a society inculcating morality as Masonry did. Accordingly, we find that
of some 22 Masonic addresses delivered between 1730 and 1787, 16 mention reverence for God and 6 are
silent on the subject; 5 refer to immortality of the soul and 17 do not; 8
contain Christian doctrine while 14 do not; and none of them indicates that any
religious requirement was made of the candidate. This suggests that there was a
period of about fifty years during which there seems to have been
considerable doubt as to the religious
content of Freemasonry. Toward the end of that period, in 1772, William
Preston became very
influential by reason
of his lectures and his authorship of Illustrations of
Masonry. He definitely promoted the religious movement in the Society, saying,
among other things:"Religion is the only tie which can
bind men, and that where there is no religion, there can be no Masonry ...
Hence the doctrine of a God, the creator and preserver of the universe, has
been their firm belief in every age."
He was, however, vague
as to whether the doctrine of the Craft was Christian, averring that, where it
was the religion of a country, Masons acquiesced in it, and his whole discussion
was rhetorical rather than specific. The statement, repeated many times, that
Preston persuaded the Grand Lodge in 1760 to adopt the Bible as a Great Light
is false, for he was not then a Mason, and, after becoming such sufficient
influence to accomplish any such purpose.
William Hutchinson, in
1775, with the approval of the officers of the Grand Lodge, published his Spirit of Masonry, the first book to
present the philosophical aspect of Freemasonry. His theme was that Masonry and
Christianity had both developed out of the patriarchal religion and that the
Society, in its "third stage," was of Christian faith.
In America, Webb's Monitor, first published
in 1797, contained this statement:"and the Blazing Star, in the
center, is commemorative of the star which appeared to guide the wise men of
the East to the place of our Savior's nativity."
That clause was
disapproved by the Baltimore Convention of 1843 but remained in re prints of
the Monitor as late as 1869. Dr. George
Oliver, one of the most productive of
Masonic writers, who published some two dozen
Masonic books over a period
of about forty years, positively and repeatedly
insisted that the doctrine of Masonry was Christian. This theme is particularly
evident in his Symbol of Glory (1850) and The Revelations of a Square (1855).
So for some years the
issue seemed to be monotheistic. The
three Grand Lodges of Prussia and those
of Norway, Sweden,
and Denmark have always been
Christian. At the Union of 1813 between the two Grand
Lodges of England, all Christian references were
stricken from the ritual and provision was made for the dedication of lodges to Moses and Solomon instead
of the two Saints John. In 1815, Charge I of 1723 was amended to require
the candidate to "believe in the glorious architect of heaven and earth and
practice the sacred duties of morality."
Orient of France,
in 1849, departed from the English position
of that time
by amending its constitution to provide that
"Freemasonry has for its principles the existence of Deity and the
immortality of the soul." In 1877 this was again amended to read:
"Masonry has for its principles mutual tolerance, respect
for others and
for itself, and absolute liberty of conscience." Two years later
the Grand Orient
made the display
of the Bible optional with the lodges.
This aroused some resentment in England and America, though it is not true, as so often
stated, that it caused many American Grand
Lodges to sever
fraternal relations with the Grand Orient, for the reason that most of them had done so some
years previously for an entirely different cause, the invasion
of American jurisdictions.
authorities give different interpretations of the Deity. Mackey said that the
candidate must believe
in "God or the
Great Architect of the
Universe." Some jurisdictions in this country require belief in a
"Supreme Being or T.G.A.O.T.U."; "God the Father"; "a
Supreme Being"; "God, the Creator, Author, and Architect of the
Universe, Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent" and merely "Monotheism."
Immortality. Mackey said that
belief in immortality was included in the
requirements simply as subsidiary to belief in God, meaning apparently that one who believes in God must believe in immortality, but that is not necessarily so. There is considerable difference among Masonic authorities on the subject of a future life. Some are satisfied with mere immortality of the soul but others require
"Resurrection to a Future
Life" or "Resurrection of the Body."
relation of the Bible to Freemasonry is treated in a variety of ways, and even the ritual is not clear
on this point, for it is there referred to both as a part of the
furniture of the lodge and also as one of the Great Lights. The Bible was first
referred to as a part of the furniture of the lodge about 1730. A little later we find the Bible, Square, and Compasses
described as Pillars of the Lodge. The first known
reference to Great Lights is found in France in 1745 but this meant what are
now called the Lesser Lights. The Ancient Grand Lodge of England made the first
use of the Bible, Square, and Compasses as the Three Great
Lights in 1760, which example was followed by the Moderns in 1762. While
Preston's Illustrations of Masonry did not call the Bible part of the furniture, his lectures seemed to
indicate that it was, but Preston never referred to the Bible, Square, and
Compasses as the Three Great Lights. In 1929 representatives of the Grand
Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland agreed that the Great Lights consisted
of the Volume of Sacred Law, Square, and
Compasses, though, in 1938,
they seemed to consider the Bible and Volume of Sacred Law the same thing.
Often the Bible is called "the Great Light," thus separating it from and elevating it
above the Square and Compasses.
If the Bible is the
Great Light in Masonry, obviously many Freemasons in the world
do not have Masonic light
and the universality of Masonry is destroyed. To avoid this dilemma, some say that, in countries where other
religions prevail, the Koran, the Rig Veda, or some other
sacred writings may be applied.
But no one has gone so far as to say that such other books are Great
Lights even in those other lands. The better
view would seem to be that some Volume
of Sacred Law is necessary in the lodge
as a symbol of Divine revelation, but without any requirement that
it be believed or constitute a Great Light.It is difficult to see
how the Bible can be the Great Light of Masonry unless Masons believe its
contents. But Jews do not believe the New Testament and many Christians do not
accept most of the Old. If Masonry is non-Christian, how can the New Testament
shed light upon it? Mackey said that the V. S. L. should be that which by the religion of the
country was believed to contain
the revealed word of the Great
Architect. What is meant by the "religion of the country" where a number
of diverse religions are believed? Does it mean that the majority rules and that
the minorities must be satisfied with what they do not accept as revealed word?
The various concepts of
a Supreme Being, a Future Life, and a V. S. L. may be arranged in many combinations, and, hence, the official doctrines of the many Grand Lodges
present danger of discord
if their relative
merits are debated. Perhaps it would be best not to
discuss such matters with too great
particularity, but enthusiastic and careless writers keep the issue alive by
urging their several religious concepts.
For example in the Grand Mystery of Free-Masons Discover'd we find:
If you would like to read more, you can purchase the book here: A Comprehensive View of Freemasonry by Henry Coil.