The Religion of Freemasonry
Arguably, the most controversial issue that Freemasonry has ever faced is the question of whether or not it is a religion. In the process of proving that it is, we would like to start by approaching the issue from a broader context at 30,000 feet. Later, we then want to zoom back in on this issue more specifically to demonstrate that Freemasonry is, undeniably a religion.
To illustrate our points from the broader perspective, we will use excerpts from a dissertation entitled, "The Church in the Public Square in a Pluralistic Society" by David L. Adams1 for two reasons:
- Although the theses we are about to present do not address Freemasonry specifically, they serve as an excellent means for establishing a conceptual framework, which will lead to a better understanding of the religion of Freemasonry.
- They also serve well to demonstrate the striking parallel of the Masonic worldview when juxtaposed to the prevailing national religious ideology that has evolved in our country since its inception.
Before proceeding however, please note that this information is not intended to put forth any specific Christian denominational view, but rather to stress some very critical doctrinal implications that apply to all Christians that adhere to those doctrines that have been derived from the Bible and confirmed through the ancient ecumenical creeds, as outlined in the O.F.F. Statement of Faith. So, from a Christian perspective it is important to view this information from the context of biblical doctrine.
Additionally, please note that, any parallels and/or implications as to how Adams' premise relates to the problems with the Masonic worldview will be noted in red, and are not part of his dissertation, which will be identified by quotation marks. For our purposes here, we have taken the liberty to renumber Dr. Adams' theses since we are only using three, rather than all eight that are contained in his original paper.
Adams' Thesis 1: American Civil Religion is the state religion of the United States of America.
"If asked, most Americans would say that we have no state religion, even that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits it. While this may be technically, legally, and constitutionally correct, it ignores that fact that here in America we have developed a national religious ideology that performs every function for our society that a formally-recognized state religion serves in other nations.2
Specifically, American Civil Religion supplies the "god" element of the traditional American trinity of "god, mother, and apple pie." It defines that "god" in whom our money trusts and to whom we appeal in song and slogan to "bless America." And as we saw so powerfully demonstrated last September (9/11/01), American Civil Religion serves the interests of the state by providing our nation with a socially-unifying rallying point in times of national crisis and a presumed least common denominator for our national social discourse.
American Civil Religion differs from other state religions in only two significant respects: first, that it is not vested in an external institution and, second, that it lacks a formal clergy, canon, and corpus doctrinae. Each of these shortcomings is, in fact, an essential element of our national religious faith. It is a part of the genius of American Civil Religion that it is not vested in an institution.
Institutions provide definition and control. American Civil Religion operates on consensus and social pressure rather than institutional power, and is all the more forceful because of it. Moreover, one may oppose institutions on the grounds of conscience. Opposing American Civil Religion is rather like shadow-boxing: you can take your best shot, but you can never quite make contact. Similarly, the lack of a formal clergy, canon, and body of doctrine are essential elements of our national faith.
The clergy of American Civil Religion are rather like the judges of the Old Testament; they are charismatic leaders (usually in our case politicians or entertainers) who arise in time of national crisis and serve pro tempore before returning to their "day jobs" when the crisis is past. And just as our Constitution says whatever the nine justices of the Supreme Court say that it says in any given moment, so the canons and doctrines of American Civil Religion are defined afresh moment-by-moment in the councils of our public consciousness: at one moment Christian, at another deistic, at yet another new-age personal spirituality, always becoming whatever it needs to be to maintain its function as our socially-unifying rallying point in times of national crisis, and a presumed least-common-denominator for our national social discourse."
Considering Adams' description, in many respects the religion of Freemasonry is a micro-cosmism of American Civil Religion, yet with its own religious dogma notwithstanding.
Just as American Civil Religion is not vested in an external institution and lacks a formal clergy, canon, and corpus doctrinae; Freemasonry is not vested in any specific religion or faith. Freemasonry has no formal clergy, yet "its ministers are the Masons who comprehend it," and it is not bonded to any one canon, but will freely accept any "Volume of Sacred Law" (not necessarily the Holy Bible) as "indispensable furniture of every lodge." Freemasonry claims it has no doctrine, yet its religious dogma is an integral part of its very being, "secured to it by its ancient Landmarks." Yet, like the genius of American Civil Religion is not being vested in an institution, it is the genius of Freemasonry that it is not vested in any particular world religion.
Dr. Adams' framework of American Civil Religion makes it synonymous with America's national religious ideology. Since Freemasonry, by its religious teachings, is a micro-cosmism of this ideology, it can be argued then, that Masonic Temples serve as the churches of American Civil Religion and its membership serve as its congregation.
When the need arises to defend the legitimacy of the Craft and its unbiblical worldview, Freemasonry leverages the fact that its philosophy is in line with the ideals of the pluralistic society in which we live. She (Freemasonry) often leverages her ministers, many of whom are the clergy Adams describes of American Civil Religion; they are the charismatic leaders, doctors, lawyers, politicians, entertainers or other celebrities who have been enticed and, in their own way, encouraged to take part in the congregation of American Civil Religion found in the fellowship within its church or temple called – the Masonic Lodge.
In some cases, these ministers often serve as silent icons used to tell the world and would be candidates that, Freemasonry is an all right place to be. In other cases, during her quest to justify who and what she is, Freemasonry puts forth the opinion of Masonry from its celebrity members, as long as their opinion puts Freemasonry in a positive light. If not, whatever is said by a member of the Craft about Freemasonry and its teachings "is just their opinion." For example, Freemasonry will be quick to publish, in its defense, statements made about it by famous Masons, such as Benjamin Franklin:
"Freemasonry has tenets peculiar to itself. They serve as testimonials of character and qualifications, which are only conferred after due course of instruction and examination. These are of no small value; they speak a universal language, and act as a passport to the attentions and support of the initiated in all parts of the world. They cannot be lost as long as memory retains its power. Let the possessor of them be expatriated, shipwrecked or imprisoned, let him be stripped of everything he has got in the world, still those credentials remain, and are available for use as circumstances require. The good effects they have produced are established by the most incontestable facts of history. They have stayed the uplifted hand of the destroyer; they have softened the asperities of the tyrant; they have mitigated the horrors of captivity; they have subdued the rancor of malevolence; and broken down the barriers of political animosity and sectarian alienation. On the field of battle, in the solitudes of the uncultivated forest, or in the busy haunts of the crowded city, they have made men of the most hostile feelings, the most distant regions, and diversified conditions, rush to the aid of each other, and feel a special joy and satisfaction that they have been able to afford relief to a Brother Mason."
Positive affirmations and imagery serves as an ingenuous testimony that, if she (Freemasonry) was good enough for likes of George Washington, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, and Bob Dole, just to name a few, than what could possibly be so wrong with her? Yet, whenever a Mason makes controversial statements regarding Freemasonry, Masons dismiss it as being merely the author's personal opinion, as in the following example:
"Therefore Masonry teaches that redemption and salvation are both the power and the responsibility of the individual Mason. Saviors like Hiram Abiff can and do show the way, but men must always follow and demonstrate, each for himself, his power to save himself, to build his own spiritual fabric in his own time and way. Every man in essence is his own savior and redeemer; for if he does not save himself, he will not be saved. The reader who succeeds in getting back to the real teachings of the masters, including Jesus of Nazareth, will find unanimity of thinking on this matter."
The Meaning of Masonry, Lynn Perkins, page 95
Despite such comments, Freemasonry can ease the conscious of the Christian Mason by summonsing, at a moment's notice, an example of a prominent Mason that is also a member of, or even a clergyman within virtually any denomination from which the Christian Mason may be affiliated. If he's not a Christian, Freemasonry will always satisfy any other deistic choice, or provide an example of some new-age personality. Freemasonry is forever ready to become whatever she needs to be to maintain her function as a socially-unifying model of the "American Civil Congregation" within American Civil Religion. So that, once more, the Masonic Temple can be viewed in this context as, an "American Civil Church," a presumed least-common-denominator or place for our national religious discourse.
"Every Mason must believe in God and in the immortality of the soul. The Volume of Sacred Law must be open on every Lodge Altar. A candidate takes his Obligations upon his knees. Before engaging in any important undertaking a Mason seeks aid and guidance through prayer from the Sovereign Grand Architect of the Universe. This is religion, but it is not a religion. It is faith, but it is not a faith confined to any one creed. It is worship, but it is not a worship chained to any one Altar. In the great words of the First Book of Constitutions it is the religion in which all good men agree. It is the ground which underlies all religions, all churches, all creeds..."
(Lodge System of Masonic Education, Booklet 1, pg. 11)
Adams' next thesis is an interesting one, because it plays perfectly into an important Masonic concept of its religion: the principle of religious inclusion.
Adams' Thesis 2: American Civil Religion is now irreducibly polytheistic.
"As America has become more culturally diverse, more pluralistic, American Civil Religion has in turn become increasingly polytheistic. Today and in the future, barring some tidal shift that would make America more culturally uniform, American Civil Religion is and will continue to be increasingly polytheistic to the point that we must recognize that the "god" in whom our money trusts and to whom we appeal to "bless America" will be defined by each speaker and heard by each listener in his own way."
In the same way, Freemasonry will always ask of its initiates, before the great undertaking of becoming a Mason and without specificity, "In whom do you put your trust?" Naturally, being programmed by the ideology of American Civil Religion, the candidate responds likewise without being specific, "in god" to which he is told, "your trust being in god, your faith is well founded, rise follow your conductor and fear no danger."
"This stands in stark contrast to the scandal of particularity that shapes the historic Christian confession. Historic Christianity, with its insistence that there is but one God and one way, through Jesus Christ alone, that a fallen humanity may be restored to God, is out of sync with American Civil Religion, and will be increasingly so. We ignore this fact at the peril of our witness to the divine truth. Only the most utterly naive Christian can invoke god in the public square with the assumption that everyone else means the same thing by that term that we do.
Indeed, we must go one further step and recognize that in American Civil Religion today the same is virtually true of the name Jesus also. At the risk of seeming impious, we must recognize that even the Doobie Brothers can confess that "Jesus is just alright with me." When we use the term god and the name Jesus, we invest those terms with all the proper historic Biblical content. Those around us in our culture do not. We are foolish if we believe that we are giving a Christian witness just because we use the terms god and Jesus in an orthodox way. When speaking in the public square we must explicitly express the particularity of the Gospel message in such a way that it continues to scandalize American Civil Religion."
The founding fathers of these United States of America, some of whom were Masons, established this country on Christian principles. By the same token, Freemasonry began in this country with a rather Christian facade. Yet, as America has become more culturally diverse, more pluralistic, Freemasonry has too become increasingly polytheistic.
Indeed, many Masons profess to be Christian, however they have lost sight of the Jesus of the Bible and who He really is or, in some cases, have drifted into a false perception about Him. In other cases, they have an entirely non-biblical worldview of the nature of God, as depicted by the following example from a statement obtained from a recent posting on an Internet Masonic discussion board. As a courtesy, the name of the author, who is a Mason, is not revealed in order to protect his identity:
"Re: Christos or Jesus the Christ?"
"I believe in the Trinity in that I believe that there are three fundamental aspects of the One True God. There is the aspect of God that is omnipotent, all knowing and omnipresent. To me, this aspect is what the Gnostics were referring to in the concept of "Gnosis". To know God, even incompletely and thus imperfectly, is to have understanding of God's Nature. This is not to be confused with rational, intellectual pondering and theories based on human perspectives and projections. I believe that this aspect is the aspect that is commonly referred to as God, the Father."
"I believe that there is an aspect of God that is active, creative and responsible for the physical universe. To me, this is the "Logos". The Logos that was at the beginning has ever tended to its creation. When there was the need for "Divine Intervention" it was this aspect of the Deity that did so. Divine Intervention implies, to my mind, the aspect of the Christos. Thus, to me, Logos = Christos. I believe that this aspect is the aspect that is commonly referred to as God, the Son."
"I believe that there is an aspect of God that is passive, not stagnate but 'fixed.' It is the aspect that binds together all that exists. It is this, which is the idea or expression of the 'Law.' It is this that governs 'Karma', or the Idea of 'reaping that which you have sown.' It is the Love of God (This may seem contradictory in this age of permissiveness and lack of discipline). It is what I believe is referred to by the concept of 'Agape.' I believe that this aspect is the aspect that is commonly referred to as God, the Holy Spirit."
"I believe that Jesus was the Christos for our era. I believe that the Christos was there at the beginning as the Logos. I believe that the Christos was sent to bring understanding, Love (Agape), Mercy and balance (The Law in balance with Mercy). I believe that Gnosis brings understanding of the Christos who frees us from the imbalance of the severity of the Law without Mercy. This is what was being alluded to in the words "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life".
"What do you think?"
Adams' Thesis 3: American Civil Religious events bridge the gap between worship and civic events.
"Between the worship service (which we recognize by the elements of invocation, confession and absolution, proclamation, celebration, intercession, and benediction) and the civic event (the inauguration of a president, the meeting of a school board, and so forth) there stands another kind of event, a civil religious event. The civil religious event is neither fish nor fowl. It has some aspects of a worship service and other aspects of a civic event. Perhaps it will be useful to compare these types of events on the basis of the following criteria: the community that participates in the event, the substance of the event (i.e. what actually takes place there), the goal of the event (i.e. what is the intention or expectation of either the organizers or the majority of the participants of the event) and realm into which this belongs."
Civil Religious Event
|Confessing Body||The Public||The Public|
|Prayer, Praise, Adoration, etc.||Discourse from, to, or about God||Community Business|
|Receive Divine Gifts, Proclaim the Gospel, etc.||Advancing the Community Good||Advancing the Community Good|
|The Church||Civil Religion||The State|
"The civil religious event is, like the civic event, aimed at the entire community. In some communities, this entire community may be predominantly Christian, even predominantly members of a single denomination or church, but the event itself is consciously defined as an event for the whole community rather than for any particular religious community that is a part of the whole."
Although there are certain restrictions, Freemasonry opens its doors of membership to the entire community. There are certain denominations that have traditionally become more prone over time to be more "sympathetic" to the Masonic Order, and as a result are flooded with Masons. Masons will contend, however, that irregardless of ones religious persuasion, a man is welcome to petition to a lodge provided he meets the "necessary qualifications." Therefore, while there are lodges where Masons may be of one religious affiliation more than others, there is really no such thing, for example, as a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim lodge.
Furthermore, Masons will argue that what takes place behind the closed doors of Masonic Temples is not a worship service at all, yet while they meet in secret, they are more similar to a civic event where business is conducted to advance the community good while sharing in "the perpetuation of each others friendship and each others love." This may be true to the extent to which lodge business is directed toward its philanthropy. However, to the extent that the business of the lodge is directed toward its ritual, the discourse that takes place is much more inclined to that of a worship service at worse, and a civil religious event at best. And, for that matter, prominent Mason J. R. Martin 32° would argue that the ritual is the primary business of the lodge.3
"The substance of the civil religious event is any form of discourse from, to, or about the gods. Such events are commonly promoted as memorial services, prayer services, and thanksgiving services. They lack the more formal structure associated with traditional worship services and may blend elements from a variety of religious traditions. American Civil Religious events are not, strictly speaking worship services. Nor are they, strictly speaking, civic events. They are clearly religious events, for they deal with the divine realm, even if from a civil perspective. Whenever people gather in the public square for the purpose of discourse with or about God, there is a civil religious event, and not simply a civic event."
For example, in the context of Freemasonry, the substance of its Masonic Memorial Services would indicate that, by virtue of his practicing Masonic principles during his lifetime, the dearly departed brother has the assurance of a glorious immortality:
"So, in the bright morning of the world's resurrection, your mortal frame, now laid in the dust, shall again spring into newness of life, and expand in immortal beauty in realms beyond the skies."
Kentucky Masonic Monitor, page 180
"He [deceased] has passed out of the love of human hearts to a higher, better love; out of the dim lights of the lodge on earth to the brighter, glorious Lodge above."
Louisiana Masonic Monitor, pages 177 -178
"As we mourn the departure of our Brother from the circle of our Fraternity, we believe that he has entered into a higher Brotherhood, to find rest from earthly labors and refreshment from earthly cares."
Texas Monitor of the Lodge, page 217
"...we have the assurance that Thou hast taken to Thyself his soul...Masons believe sincerely that when life on earth comes to a close, the soul is transplanted from the imperfections of this mortal sphere to that all-perfect glorious and Celestial Lodge above."
Maine Masonic Text-Book, 1992, pages 104-105
"We firmly believe our Brother has but heard the invitation - 'Come thou blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you."
Official Monitor and Ceremonies of New Mexico, page 212 (Also found in the monitor for the state of Oregon)
"Our brother _____ became a Free and Accepted Mason on _____ in _____ Lodge No ____.
(Here insert his Masonic record if desired.)
He left our earthly family to unite with the Heavenly familv on _____. While we mourn his loss, we rejoice that we are citizens of two worlds.
He has preceded us and has joined our host of brethren in that other world where God who is the Father and Master of us all awaits his coming."
New York, Masonic Monitor of Work, pages 105 & 106
"The Master Mason learns that true Freemasonry gives to a man a well-spent life and assurance of a glorious immortality"
Carl Claudy (Masonic Author) Foreign Countries, page 11
"The goal of a civil religious event is to advance the community good, however the community good is defined by the community. Most often this takes the form of promoting corporate unity... The question of the realm of the civil religious event is particularly problematic."
So, if the goal of civil religious activity is to advance the community good, and such good is defined by the community, in the case of Masonic philanthropy it can be argued that the community of Masons have defined such good as "looking out for each other" (Masons), rather than the general public, as Freemasonry would have you believe. This pledge is demonstrated in the obligation (or oath) of Master Mason (third degree), as well as what is evident from their financial reports 4:
"...Furthermore: I do promise and swear that I will help, aid, and assist all poor and distressed Master Masons, their widows and orphans..."
Master Mason Degree Ritual as practiced in Nevada, circa 1986
Now, let's take a moment to examine the striking comparison, stimulated by the following quote from Albert Pike, as we juxtapose just a few elements of Freemasonry with that of a typical Christian church:
"Every Masonic Lodge is a temple of religion; and its teachings are instructions in religion...This is the true religion revealed to the ancient patriarchs; which Masonry has taught for many centuries, and which it will continue to teach as long as time endures...It is the universal, eternal, immutable religion, such as God planted in the heart of universal humanity." ... "The ministers of this religion are all Masons who comprehend it;"
Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, pages 213-219
A typical Christian church
» Members meet in Temples
» Provides religious instruction
» Has an altar
» Contains essential Masonic doctrine
» Has a Volume of Sacred Law on its altar, not necessarily a Bible
» Conducts Prayer in the lodge
» Worships a God (G.A.O.T.U.)
» Has ministers of the lodge
» "Worshipful" Master (not clergy)
» Wardens & Deacons
» Performs a Masonic baptism
» Believes in the immortality of the soul
» Has a plan of salvation by works
» Members meet in Churches
» Provides religious instruction
» Has an altar
» Contains essential Christian doctrine
» Has the Holy Bible on its
» Conducts Prayer in the church
» Worships the God of the Bible
» Has ministers of the church
» "Reverend" or Pastor (clergy)
» Elders & Deacons
» Performs a Christian baptism
» Believes in the immortality of the soul
» Has the biblical plan of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone
1Copyright David L. Adams, 2002. All rights reserved. This document may be reproduced and distributed free of charge for all educational and/or religious non-commercial purposes provided that the text is not altered and that this copyright notice is included. Other permissions may be secured from the author by contacting him by e-mail or by post at Concordia Seminary, 801 DeMun Ave. St. Louis, Mo. 63105. This paper was originally prepared for presentation at a meeting of the Council of Presidents and the faculties of the two seminaries of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod on 1 March 2002. (back to article)
2Historically, these functions are four-fold:
- to secure the blessings of god for the state and/or society;
- to contribute to the coherence of the society by establishing a fundamental aspect of the identity that connects the individual to the community;
- to provide the society with a unifying rallying point in times of national crisis; and
- to provide a least-common denominator for the national ideological and moral discourse.
Of these four, American Civil Religion performs the first two only to a limited degree and the second two rather more fully. The frequent quotation of II Chronicles 7:14 by evangelical Christians is a clear reflection of the first of these goals in the minds of that group, but probably does not reflect the common expectation within American Civil Religion generally. A rather clearer example of the first function is reflected by the impulse to sing of "God Bless America" in response to civil crises. (back to article)
3Knowing Our True Purpose Can Save Us, by J. R. Martin 32° Published in The Scottish Rite Journal, August 2000, pages 30-32. (back to article)
4Most of the Grand Lodge tax reports show very little philanthropy that is not directed to other Masons. When Masons discuss charity, they are quick to point out the 'millions per day' quote, not really knowing that most of that is the Shrine hospitals as well as Shrine hospital funding which comes from investments, not from Masons. Except for the Shrine and Scottish Rite charities, it seems that the Grand Lodges (Blue Lodge Masonry) are missing in action in charitable efforts beyond helping other Masons (e.g. Masonic homes). Masonry By The Numbers, T.N. Sampson, Cornerstone Ministries, P.O. Box 2413, Valrico, FL 33595-2413. (back to article)
Statement on Freemasonry and Religion
Prepared by the Masonic Information Center
Basic Principles. Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. It requires of its members a belief in God as part of the obligation of every responsible adult, but advocates no sectarian faith or practice. Masonic ceremonies include prayers, both traditional and extempore, to reaffirm each individual's dependence on God and to seek divine guidance. Freemasonry is open to men of any faith, but religion may not be discussed at Masonic meetings.
The Supreme Being. Masons believe that there is one God and that people employ many different ways to seek, and to express what they know of God. Masonry primarily uses the appellation, "Grand Architect of the Universe," and other non-sectarian titles, to address the Deity. In this way, persons of different faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on God, rather than differences among themselves. Masonry believes in religious freedom and that the relationship between the individual and God is personal, private, and sacred.
Volume of the Sacred Law. An open volume of the Sacred Law, "the rule and guide of life," is an essential part of every Masonic meeting. The Volume of the Sacred Law in the Judeo/Christian tradition is the Bible; to Freemasons of other faiths, it is the book held holy by them.
The Oath of Freemasonry. The obligations taken by Freemasons are sworn on the Volume of the Sacred Law. They are undertakings to follow the principles of Freemasonry and to keep confidential a Freemason's means of recognition. The much discussed "penalties," judicial remnants from an earlier era, are symbolic, not literal. They refer only to the pain any honest man should feel at the thought of violating his word.
Freemasonry Compared with Religion. Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion: (a) It has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce religious orthodoxy. (b) It offers no sacraments. (c) It does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation.
Freemasonry Supports Religion. Freemasonry is far from indifferent toward religion. Without interfering in religious practice, it expects each member to follow his own faith and to place his Duty to God above all other duties. Its moral teachings are acceptable to all religions.
Prepared by the Masonic Information Center(12/93)