Is Freemasonry a
by Aphonse Cerza
The following comes from:
Alphonse Cerza, Anti-Masonry: Light on the Past and Present Opponents of Freemasonry (Fulton, MO: Ovid Bell Press, 1962; 410p.), chapter 3, 128-142, & 187-192. The page numbers reference the page above the number. The block quotes have been placed into darker maroon. All of the capital and italic emphases are his.
Cerza was a law teacher and past master of a lodge. The following is clipped from chapter 3, “Analysis of Points Used Against Freemasonry”; first on the list is the too-often forced religion status of Freemasonry, a dire need for the best anti-Masons. This is a classic piece these days, and written by a lawyer with the usual lineage of facts and precedents needed to make a clear case, and like so many pieces like, totally ignored by the anti-Masonry literature.
for more and the book—
Character Counts: Freemasonry U.S.A.’s National Treasure and
Source of Our Founding Fathers’ Original Intent
by Alphonse Cerza
THE OPPONENTS of Freemasonry repeat certain reasons for their opposition. The accusations used most frequently are that Freemasonry:
—Between 2 & 17—Here are the other Section Titles of Chapter 3
3. Is Anti-Christian.
4. Is a “Secret Society.”
5. Has an Improper “Oath.”
6. Inflicts Horrible Penalties.
7. Encourages Violations of the Law.
8. Teaches the Separation of Church & State.
9. Is a Political Party.
10. Believes in Democracy.
11. Believes in the Public School System.
12. Limits its Charity to Masons.
13. Boasts of its Charitable Work.
14. Teaches Naturalism.
15. Has Ceremonies and Titles which Are Childish.
16. Encourages its Members to Prefer Masons in Business Transactions.
The purpose of this chapter is to examine each of these points and give sincere answers to these unjust accusations.
1. IS FREEMASONRY A RELIGION? — Top
Many opponents of Freemasonry base their main objection on the ground that the Craft is a religion. They call attention to the fact that a Masonic lodge has a ritual, uses a Holy Book, is opened
and closed with prayer, has an altar, and certain officers have “religious titles.” They also quote from certain Masonic books in which enthusiastic members have expressed personal opinions as to the serious nature of Freemasonry and stressed its religious characteristics. These statements are usually made in connection with an explanation that Freemasonry is devoted to a love and respect of the Deity.
This objection can be answered very briefly by quoting from an article written some years ago by Brother John A. Mirt, of Chicago, Illinois in which he said:
“Freemasonry is religious, but it is not a religion, nor is it intended to replace the church in devotion to Deity. It does not teach religion, but joins with religion for the moral betterment of mankind.
“Freemasonry possesses the grand characteristics of tolerance. It pre-scribes no sectarian views for anyone and dictates to him no partisan opinions. It requires faith in God, teaches that the Bible is the guide of faith and practice, demands the fulfillment of moral and philanthropic obligations and commands loyalty to government.
“There it stops. No lodge can be used to express an opinion as to the merits or demerits of a particular faith. The fathers of Freemasonry, when they set up the Old Charges, held that its devotees must leave ‘their particular opinions to themselves.’”
But we cannot leave the subject at this point.
What Is a Religion? The answer to this question depends on one’s definition of the word “religion” as well as one’s personal point of view on the subject. The word has both a general and a specific meaning. To some it means any degree of respect for God, a belief in a Supreme Being, with a minimum of formal observance. Love in one’s heart with a good and blameless treatment of all men is considered by some as all that is needed to be truly “religious” and belonging to a religion. This general definition is supported by the following language in the Catholic Encyclopedia (Volume 12, page 739):
“Religion, broadly speaking, means voluntary subjection of oneself to God. . . . It implies first of all the recognition of a Divine personality in and behind the forces of nature, the Lord and Ruler of the world, God.”
William Ernest Hocking, in Living Religions and a World Faith defines the word as follows (page 26):
“… religion is a passion for righteousness, and for the spread of righteousness, conceived as a cosmic demand.”
The word when used in a narrow sense, however, means a formal adherence to certain dogma, beliefs, and practices. Too often the two meanings are confused. In Davis v. Beason, 133 U. S. 333, the United States Supreme Court said (page 342):
“The term ‘religion’ has reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will. It is often confounded with the cultus or form of worship of a particular sect, but is distinguishable from the latter.”
In the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Volume 13, page 228, appears the following:
“Most definitions of religion are advanced from the point of view of some particular religious creed.”
The strongest evidence that Freemasonry is not a religion, as that term is ordinarily used by the average person, is that clergymen of various denominations have been members of the Craft, have associated together as Masons, have taken part in Masonic ceremonies, and have found no conflict in their loyalties. Furthermore, most Freemasons are members of a church of their own choice. Surely, one would not be an adherent of two religions. If Masonry were a religion these clergymen and these church members would not be interested in the Craft, and especially not active and devoted members. Some of our most popular and influential clergymen have been active Masons.
The difficulty in trying to narrow the meaning of such a word is set forth in James Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume 10, page 662, as follows:
“The term ‘religion,’ whatever its best definition, clearly refers to certain characteristic types of data (beliefs, practices, feelings, moods, attitudes, etc.). Its use presupposes criteria, and therefore some preliminary conception of what does and what does not come under the category. But it soon appears that there is no absolute gulf between religion and what, in some one respect or other, closely approximates it (e.g., art, morality). Different people draw the line differently.”
Another brother, the Reverend Joseph Fort Newton, in The Religion of Masonry, asks the question (page 11) “Is Masonry a religion?” and then proceeds to answer as follows:
“The leaders and students of the Craft, as well as the rank and mass of its members, in English-speaking lands at least, do not regard Masonry as
a religion—though, as has been said, it has certain features which, in the strict technical sense, might lead those to regard it as such who wish, from whatever motive, so to regard it. As some of us prefer to put it, Masonry is not a religion but Religion—not a church but a worship, in which men of all religions may unite, unless they insist that all who worship with them must think exactly and in detail as they think about all things in the heaven above and in the earth beneath. It is not the rival of any religion, but the friend of all, laying emphasis upon those truths which under-lie all religions and are the basis and consecration of each. Masonry is not a religion, but it is religious.”
And on page 17 of the same book he says:
“Masonry is a system of moral mysticism, expressing faith in God and the eternal life in old and simple symbols of the building art, awakening the better angels in the nature of man and teaching the brotherly life. Its aim is to aid its sons to win a clearer conception of their duty to God and man, to develop their spiritual faculties, to refine and exalt their lives in fellowship and service, leaving each one to add to its profound and simple faith such elaborations and embellishments as may seem to him to be true and beautiful and good, with due respect for and appreciation of the thought and faith and dream of his Brothers and Fellows.”
A distinguished Mason, the late Melvin M. Johnson, in the Fore-word of Gould’s History of Freemasonry Throughout the World, said:
“Masonry is not a religion; it is the handmaiden of religion.”
* * *
“The sole dogma (i.e., arbitrary dictum) of Freemasonry is the Land-mark of Belief in God. No neophyte ever has been, or ever will be, permitted participation in the mysteries of legitimate and recognized Free-masonry until he has asserted his trust in God. Beyond that, we inquire and require nothing of sectarianism or religious belief.
“Freemasonry’s idea of God is universal. Each may interpret that idea in the terms of his own creed. The requirement is solely a belief in one Supreme Being whom we call the Great Architect of the Universe. Upon this, the enlightened religions of all ages have been able to agree. It is pro-claimed not only in the New Testament of the Christian, but in the Pentateuch of the Hebrew, in the Koran of the Islamite, in the Avesta of the Magians of Persia, in the Book of Kings of the Chinese, in the Sutras of the Buddhist, and even in the Vedas of the Hundu.”
What Is the “Religion of Freemasonry”? Occasionally enthusiastic Masons talk of the “religion of Freemasonry.” They are so thrilled by the ceremonies and lessons of the degrees that they receive divine inspiration. These experiences are not restricted to religious ceremonies. A feeling of awe and closeness to the infinite power of God
seems to enfold one who silently contemplates the vastness and beauty of the Grand Canyon. Yet, not even the most ardent anti-Mason would say that the Grand Canyon is a religion.
That Freemasonry is religious may at times tend to inspire a nonchurch-affiliated Mason to derive more feeling from the ceremonies of Freemasonry than is intended. If such is the case, this is not a fault but should be considered a credit. For here is an association that is doing something for a man, which he needs and is not receiving from any other group with which he associates. Very often such experiences lead one to join a church. When this happens one becomes a better Mason and a better church member. The reason for this is that each organization complements the other.
In the year 1921 the Supreme Court of Nebraska, in the case of Scottish Rite Building Co. vs. Lancaster County (106 Neb. 95), had under consideration whether a Scottish Rite building was used for religious purposes and therefore exempt from taxation. The court held it was not exempt. The following language used by the court is significant (pages 102-106):
“… There remains to be discussed that element of the appellant’s theory which depends upon the proposition that the building should be exempted because it was used for religious purposes. No judicial precedent is cited for so holding. The religious phase of the appellant’s contention is founded upon the fact that the Scottish Rite degrees are conferred in great solemnity; that prayers are said and the candidate is taught and required to believe in God or a Supreme Being, to who he owes reverence, loyalty, service, and honor; that he is taught that the soul is immortal and that he is accountable to the Supreme Being after death; that God is the Father and we are brethren who owe a mutual duty to each other, and that the purpose of the order is to make men better.
“The theory that these facts with regard to the Scottish Rite ritual stamp it as a religious, as distinguished from a secular, organization indicates a misconception of the tenets and polity of the order which, with respect to the so-called religious features mentioned, are shown by the record to be the same as those of Masonry generally. The evidence shows that belief in and reverence for a Supreme Being are required of each and every member; that it makes no difference whether that Supreme Being is ‘God’ or ‘Allah’; that belief in Christianity is not exacted, and that people may belong who do not believe in the divinity of Christ. The fact that belief in the doctrines or deity of no particular religion is required, of itself, refutes the theory that the Masonic ritual embodies a religion, or that its teachings are religious. Is it conceivable that the Scottish Rite bodies, or the Masonic order generally, set themselves up as exponents of a new religion? For if they belong to none of the old established religions, and yet assume to preach or expound religion, they must be embarking upon a new theology and setting up a religion of their own.
“The true interpretation of the Masonic attitude in that respect is that no religious test at all is applied as a condition of membership. The guiding thought is not religion but religious toleration. The order simply ex-acts of its members that they shall not be atheists and deny the existence of any God or Supreme Being. Each member is encouraged to pay due reverence to his own God, the Deity prescribed by his own religion, and to obey those precepts of human conduct, which, while taught by all religions prevalent in civilized society, do not appertain to the mysteries or doctrines of any religion, as such, but are common to all. The Masonic fraternity, in other words, refrains from intruding into the field of religion and confines itself to the teachings of morality and duty to one’s fellow men, which make better men and better citizens.
“The distinction is clear between such ethical teachings and the doctrines of religion. One cannot espouse a religion without belief and faith in its peculiar doctrines. If a Christian, for instance, one must believe in the divine mission and revelation of the Saviour, with all that is implied and included therein; if a Mohammedan, one must believe in the revelation of the doctrine of that religion through the Koran, of which Mohammed was the prophet. A fraternity, however, broad enough to take in and cover with its mantle Christian, Moslem, and Jew, without requiring either to renounce his religion, is not a religious organization, although its members may join in prayer which, in the case of each, is a petition addressed to his own Deity. Neither can belief in the immortality of the soul be de-nominated religious, in the sense that it is typical of any religion, of any race, or of any age. It constitutes, to be sure, one of the most beautiful and consolatory features of our own religion, but it is equally to be found in almost every other. It is so universal and spontaneous that it is not so much a belief or dogma as it is an instinct of the human soul. Neither does it imply or require adherence to any system of religious worship; many pagan and infidel philosophers have asserted it. It is so generally subscribed to by everybody that it does not run counter to any one’s religious belief, and, as in the case of belief in the Supreme Being, the profession of belief in the immortality of the soul does not create any religious division among the members of the Masonic order.
“It cannot but occur to the thoughtful mind that in putting forward the resemblance of its ceremonies to the observances of religious worship, and in claiming the right to exemption for its property from taxation upon that ground, counsel have assumed a position which, when carried to its final analysis, would, if sustained, go farther than the order itself has clearly contemplated, and would lead to results alike harmful and impracticable. For the Scottish Rite bodies to be pronounced by law, or court decision, religious organizations would mean that their meetings must be construed to be the equivalent of divine worship, and their officiating officers to be clergymen or ministers—of what gospel, it is impossible to say. Owing to the perfect liberty of conscience which people of every religious faith enjoy under our institutions, it has become a marked characteristic of religious worship in this country that it should be held in public and with open doors. It would be an anomaly, to say the least, if it should be-come the practice to give religious sanction to the meetings of secret so-
cieties and to rites and services carried on in the guise of religious worship to which the public would be denied admittance.
“The fact that they display in their ceremonies a becoming reverence for the Deity and strive to inculcate the principles of morality does not change the essentially temporal or secular character of the Scottish Rite bodies, or clothe them with the spiritual or sacred attributes of a religious or ecclesiastical institution, any more than the custom of family prayers, or of religious or moral instruction in the home, would have that result. St. Louis Lodge, B. P. O. E. v. Koeln, 262 Mo. 444. The evidence will not bear out the assumption that the ceremonies in question are religious rites or services….”
A basic law of Freemasonry is that one must believe in God be-fore he can become a Mason. Anderson, in his famous Constitutions, states that a Mason is obliged to believe in “that religion in which all men agree.” This does not mean that there is a religious test for membership. This merely recognizes that all religions have certain basic beliefs upon which there is general agreement. The troubles that have occurred between various religious groups in the past have been on matters that go beyond these fundamentals. Generally speaking, it will be noted that the churches which are totalitarian in organization and those who take a narrow view of interpreting the Holy Bible are anti-Masonic.
For example in the Catholic periodical, The Ecclesiastical Review (October, 1943), said:
“The only religion that has a genuine right to exist is the Catholic religion that God revealed and made obligatory on all men.”
In a pamphlet entitled Freedom of Worship; the Catholic Position, by Rev. Francis J. Connell, he states:
“As far as God’s law is concerned, no one has a real right to accept any religion save the Catholic religion, or to be a member of any church save the Catholic Church, or to practice any form of divine worship save that commanded or sanction by the Catholic Church. At first sight, this claim may seem arrogant.
“The Catholic, convinced as he is that the Catholic religion is the only true religion, is intolerant toward other creeds.”
The more modern and liberal-minded churches are not opposed to Freemasonry. That the Fraternity is non-sectarian is not only disclosed by its laws and its practices, but by the clear expressions made by many ministers who have been Masons.
The spirit of Freemasonry has within it a fundamental dream. It
is so well expressed by Brother Joseph Fort Newton, in The Religion of Freemasonry, on pages 94-95:
“But whether it be the Gospel of the Christian, the Book of the Law of the Hebrew, the Koran of the Mussulman, or the Vedas of the Hindu, it everywhere Masonically symbolizes the Will of God revealed to man, expressing such faith and vision as he found in the fellowship of the seekers and the servants of God. Such a fact, such a spirit, helps us see what the Religion of Masonry really is, prophesying an order of fraternity not yet attained, a spirit of fellowship not yet realized; a distant but slowly dawning day when man will discover that humanity is one in nature, in need, in faith and duty and destiny, and that God is the Father of us all. Not in our day, not in many days, perhaps, but as surely as suns rise and set this vision will grow and abide; and it means that we can see it, however remote it may be. It glows in the Bible, it lives in our hearts.”
Dr. William R. White, president of Baylor University, of Waco, Texas has compared Freemasonry with a church as follows:
“Masonry is neither a church nor a substitute for a church. It can be made into a substitute, but this would be a perversion. It does embrace several great beliefs, but it is not a dogma. It in no sense has a system of theology. It is set against bigotry and intolerance.
“It is a fellowship but not an ecclesiastical system. It is a Fraternity with vast ramifications, but it has no hierarchy. Its ties of brotherhood are strong. Its obligated devotions are solemn and severely binding.
“Its symbolism is ritualistic but not sacramental. Some of its ritual is similar but not the same as practiced by the church. One rite of Masonry is distinctly Christian, but it is not sectarian. All men who are true Christians in faith and life can belong.
“The other rite is inclusive of all monotheists or those believing in one God. Yes, it includes devout Christians, for they believe in the unity of Deity. This rite, while reflecting in its lectures and pageantry the philosophies and insights of all high thinking people among all religions, does not purpose to be either a synthesis of all beliefs or a world religion. These philosophies and insights are presented for our enlightenment and reflection. We are under no pressure to accept them. Only the obligations are mandatory. These obligations are in no sense religious tenets. They are fraternal commitments to loyalties that do no violation to conscience.
“Masonry, like church, stands for charity of a broad nature. However, its motivations and objectives do not stem from the same sources as it is true of the church. The Masonic objectives and motivations are wholly humanitarian. In the church they spring from a love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and are both manward and Godward.
“Masonry is a bulwark for religious liberty. It does not propose to make bad men good, but to make good men better. It is a friend and supporter of the basic objectives of religion. The churches and Masonic bodies
should be cordial allies. They are not identical, but have so many interests in common.
“Masonry is not to permit the Mason to replace church, but to rein-force it. It does not supplant, but supplement. It does not subvert, but support.” (Royal Arch Mason, Fall, 1961.)
Our late brother, Harry L. Haywood, in The Great Teachings of Masonry, has summarized the matter as follows (pages 99-100):
“But while it is true that Freemasonry cannot be claimed by any one religion—no intelligent Freemason will make such a claim, however devout he may be in his own faith—it has a religious foundation that is all its own. Believing that there is under all the creeds one universal religion, which may be described as a belief in one God as the Father of all, in the immortality of the soul, and in the brotherhood of man, it demands of all its initiates adhesion to these root truths. What other things they may choose to believe, and how they may interpret or elaborate these fundamentals, is left wholly to their own private judgment. It is as if the Fraternity said to its children, ‘Here is the great substructure, the mother rock under your feet, on which you must each one build your own house of religion; what manner of temples you build, and in what style, and where, and how high, that I shall leave to you individually; but on the substructure of belief in God, in brotherhood, and in immortality, you must build, else you do not belong to me.’ “
The Religion in Which All Men Agree. There are certain general and fundamental principles on which all religions agree. Freemasonry seeks to join all men in a universal Brotherhood of harmony and understanding. Because of this aim its sole religious test is that its applicants for membership believe in God. Such a belief impliedly carries with it the basic principles of all religions, because only sectarian religious discussion is forbidden in a lodge.
Alfred W. Martin, in The World’s Great Religions and the Religion of the Future, on pages 190-191 said:
“(1) All of the great religions face toward a particular ideal, a mental picture of what is supremely desirable that man should be. (2) All ask the same fundamental vital question, what is the chief end of man?, and the differing answers express the distinctive note in each religion. (3) All inculcate the same general moral precepts and religious sentiments. None has a monopoly on moral or religious truth, rather are they like different languages in which one spirit of humanity is expressed. (4) All are one because rooted in universal human nature, i.e., they are expressions of man’s effort to perfect himself in all his relations and such effort is the essence of religion. (5) All are different because of their various local origins and their special claims made by each but shared by no other. In other words, each of the great religions has a universal and special element, indicative of oneness and by difference, respectively.”
Here are some phrases that show the oneness of all religions.
“Heaven is a palace with many doors and each may enter in his own way.” Hindu.
“Whatever road I take joins the highway that leads to thee.” Zoroastrian.
“He who is beloved of God honors every form of faith.” Buddhist.
“Are we not all children of one Father.” Christian.
Each religion preaches the Golden Rule, though stated in a different way. Here are some illustrations:
“The true rule is to guard and do by the things of others as you do by your own.” Hindu.
“One should seek for others the happiness one desires for him-self.” Buddhist.
“Do as you would be done by.” Zoroastrian.
“What you do not want done to yourself, do not unto others.” Confucian.
“Let none of you treat your brother in a way he himself would dislike to be treated.” Mohammedan.
“Whatever you do not wish your neighbor to do to you, do not unto him.” Jew.
“All things whatsoever ye would that men do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” Christian.
Robert Ernest Hume, in his book entitled Treasure House of the Living Religions, published by Scribner’s in 1932, collected 3,074 passages from various holy writs and arranged them under subject matter, so they could be compared. It does not take much reading to be convinced of the similarity in basic beliefs of all religions.
The Religious Elements in Freemasonry. The opponents of Free-masonry have singled out certain aspects of the Craft and used them as the “evidence” that Freemasonry is a religion. Let us now ex-amine these elements.
a. Lodges Meet in Temples. In many places the buildings where the lodges meet are called Masonic temples. Some bodies whose members are Masons call the buildings where they meet “cathedrals.” The Shrine calls the buildings where it holds its meetings mosques.” Because these words are used, the opponents say, Free-masonry is a religion.
One definition of the word “temple” is “An edifice dedicated to the worship of God:” But it is not the only definition; Webster’s Dictionary gives also the additional meaning: “A local lodge of
various fraternal orders or the building housing it; a building housing labor organizations; a building devoted to a particular purpose or focusing an activity of a special kind.”
The word “cathedral” merely describes a large structure with certain majestic architectural characteristics. There is no connotation that those who meet there are doing so as a religious group.
The word “mosque” is used by the Shrine because its ritual, ceremonies, and architectural form is based on the “Arabian motif.”
Furthermore, there are enough religious fundamentals connected with the Fraternity, as discussed above, to justify the use of such terms.
It is to be noted that the churches do not have a monopoly on the use of words which may describe a serious endeavor which shows its devotion to God. These words are general, have many shades of meaning, and the average person does not associate these words exclusively with religion.
b. Use of an Altar. In every lodge there is a piece of furniture which is called an “altar.” It is thus called because on this object is placed the Holy Book of the lodge. What would be a more appropriate name?
But the opponents of Freemasonry reason from the use of this word that the members come to lodge to worship God and to seek salvation. While it is true that the word “altar” carries with it the connotation that the object is used for worship, it can be stated that the ceremonies of Freemasonry and the prayers recited show respect for God, seek his Divine Guidance, but are not designed as an act of worship.
On this subject the Reverend Joseph Fort Newton, in Short Talks on Masonry, had this to say (page 19):
“The Altar of Masonry is an Altar of Freedom—not freedom from faith, but freedom of faith. Beyond the fact of the reality of God it does not go, allowing every man to think of God according to his experience of life and his vision of truth. It does not define God, much less dogmatically determine how and what men shall think or believe about God. There dispute and division begin.”
The same brother, in his The Religion of Masonry, said on page 92:
“At the Altar of Masonry they learn not only toleration, but appreciation. In its kindly air of fellowship they discover that the things they have in common are greater than the things that divide. It is the glory of Masonry that it teaches Unity in essentials; Liberty in details, and Charity in all things; and by this sign its spirit must at last prevail. Its purpose is
to bring men together, man to man, to remove the hoodwinks of prejudice and intolerance so that they may know each other and work together in the doing of good.”
c. The Use of Prayer at Meetings. It is a universal custom that all meetings of Masons be opened and closed with prayer. This practice prevails not only at formal lodge meetings but also at in-formal gatherings, dinners, and other affairs. This does not make the organization a religion. Legislative bodies are opened with a prayer. Many families recite prayers at dinner. This does not make the family a religion. The nature of the prayers are of more significance in this regard. What are their purpose, is the question? Prayers at Masonic meetings ask for Divine Guidance and thanksgiving to God for his manifold blessings. They are not in the nature of prayers of worship.
At the opening of a lodge meeting this is a type of prayer in use:
“Supreme Ruler of the Universe, we would most reverently invoke Thy blessing at this time. Wilt Thou be pleased to grant that this meeting thus begun in order may be conducted in peace and closed in harmony.”
At the closing of a lodge meeting this is the type of prayer in use:
“And now may the blessing of God rest upon us and all regular Masons, may brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue cement us.”
A Masonic journal in recent years has placed this prayer over its obituary column. The prayer was written by our brother, the Reverend Stanley B. Crosland, minister of the First Congregational Church of Beloit, Wisconsin:
“To you, who mourn the loss of loved ones, let there come the comfort of the hope that, though the dust returns to the earth as it was, the spirit returns to God who gave it. Death is not the end.
“Our dear ones, whom we now remember, have entered into the peace of life eternal. They still live on earth in the acts of goodness they per-formed and in the hearts of those who cherish their memory. May the beauty of their lives abide among us as a loving benediction.
“May the Father of peace send peace to all who mourn, and comfort all the bereaved among us.”
In The Philalethes Magazine, December, 1951 issue, there was published the following prayer which the author wrote under the title “A Masonic Prayer for Peace”:
“Supreme Ruler of the Universe, we most reverently invoke Thy blessing in these troubled times. All about us we see evidences of men abandon‑
ing the basic faith of fathers; we see new gods placed in the temples of everyday life; we see a discarding of the moral principles that have proven their worth throughout the ages. About us everywhere we see people living in fear, shackled with tension and cringing from frayed nerves. Thy children are searching for peace of mind and serenity of soul, but find neither in the market place, the palaces of pleasure, or the ways of godlessness.
“Grant that all men may again plant in their hearts the cardinal virtues of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. May men everywhere follow the precepts of Freemasonry and have the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to do Thy Divine Will; to meet upon the level of equality; to live by the plumb-line of virtue, and act always on the square. Grant, Oh Lord, that liberty and equal opportunity may exist in all lands and that the dignity of the individual be recognized everywhere. May the temples of Freemasonry throughout the world ever be open to give unto all men the spiritual strength to meet the vital problems of the hour, to the betterment of all men and the glory of Thy Holy Name.
“Almighty Father, Thou who understandest our thoughts afar off, knowest that individual Masons belong to various creeds, yet each and every-one believes in Thee; that all believe in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man; that Holy Script is the rule and guide of their con-duct; that though Masons hold various political beliefs, yet they believe in equal treatment for all before the law, and Thou knowest that these fundamental beliefs make for complete harmony.
“Inspire us, therefore, Gracious Father, to instill these gentle precepts of Freemasonry in the hearts of all men, so that Brotherly Love may prevail throughout the world. Cast Thou the Light of Thy Wisdom on our labors in the quarries of the Craft, that we may the better shape the stones of Faith, Hope, and Charity for the erection of that house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.
“So mote it be.”
These are good illustrations of Masonic prayers. They show respect for God, and ask for help and guidance, but are not prayers of worship or the type of prayers used at church services.
d. Belief in Immortality. One of the comments made most frequently to prove that Freemasonry is a religion, is that its members are taught that by living good lives they are assured of immortality. Because this happens to be one of the basic concepts of every religion, Masonry’s detractors maintain that the part it plays in the ritual places the organization in the category of a religion.
While this concept does have a place in the ritual, it is used chiefly to emphasize the importance of everyday living, that a Ma-son’s life must be exemplary at all times, in public as well as in private, in the market place as in the home. Not the goal but the ideal is stressed, in its bearing upon the lives of the members. Even though there can be no more worthy aim, the advocation of this moral concept does not make the lodge a church.
e. The Worship of God. Some opponents state that Masons go to lodge to worship God. They argue, if not so, why have a Holy Book, an altar, and a promise of immortality? The answer is that the Masonic ceremony has no creed, no dogma, no religious precepts which are deigned to be what is commonly understood as a religious service or act of worship.
In 1952, Thomas S. Roy, D.D., then grand master of Massachusetts, in addressing his grand lodge, said:
“We have no creed, and no confession of faith in doctrinal statement. We have no theology. We have no ritual of worship. We have no symbols that are religious in the sense of the symbols found in church or synagogue.
“Our symbols are related to the development of the character of the relationship of man to man. They are working tools to be used in the building of a life.
“Our purpose is not that of a religion. We are not primarily interested in the redemption of man. We seek no converts. We solicit no members. We raise no money for religious purposes. By any definition of religion accepted by our critics, we cannot qualify as a religion. . . . And there is nothing in Freemasonry that is opposed to the religion he brings with him into the lodge.”
f. Some Religious Titles Are Given the Officers. The opponents sometimes find fault with the titles of some of the officers of Masonic organizations. They say that the lodge has an officer who is called the “chaplain.” He is the one who recites the prayers. What more appropriate title could you give the officer? Another example is that the presiding officer is called the “worshipful master,” thus indicating that he presides over an act of worship, which is usually done at a church. The word “worshipful” is an old English word meaning “worthy of respect”; it is remotely related to the word “worship,” and only to the extent that it describes something distinguished or of the best quality.
One of the appendant bodies of Freemasonry has a presiding officer who is called the “high priest.” The title is used in a symbolical sense because the ceremonial vehicle used in the ceremonies of that body is based on the building of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and the part played in that project by the clergymen. Is it not appropriate that the presiding officer be called, symbolically, the high priest? The title is not used in the sense that the officer is functioning as a minister or religious leader.
g. Use of a Holy Book. In the churches the Holy Book of the group is used to teach religious lessons, answer questions concerning religious beliefs, and to be the guide of one’s faith. In the lodge
the Holy Book is used as a symbol of sincerity and to show the serious purpose of the organization. It is not an instrument of worship.
h. Ritualistic Ceremony. Some opponents state their objection in this manner. Churches have a ritual; Freemasonry has a ritual; therefore, Freemasonry is a religion. The complete answer to this point is that the ritualistic work of Freemasonry is solely for the purpose of impressing on the mind of the members certain basic moral truths.
None of these elements that are pointed out by the opponents of Freemasonry as evidence that the Craft is a religion support the charge, either taken alone or as a unit.
It has been shown that Freemasonry is not a “religion” or church. The question then arises whether the Craft from its nature is op-posed to any church or religion.
Freemasonry is non-sectarian, but bases its membership on a belief in God. Thus it seeks to join men of all creeds in one great bond of brotherhood so that they can live in harmony and under-standing. Sectarian disputes have no place in a lodge; tolerance of the beliefs of another is a cardinal virtue of Freemasonry.
When Freemasonry is attacked on the ground that its mere existence must by necessity make it an opponent of the churches, one can smile. These churches assume that they are the sole repositories of morality, that they represent the one true God, and that all others are heretics. In this enlightened age we must recognize that there are many roads that lead to God. We must also recognize that the churches do not have a monopoly on moral teaching. No harm can be done by the numerous non-ecclesiastical agencies which constantly and repeatedly urge men by precept and example to obey the moral law. The churches, the fraternal orders, the schools, families, books, and friends all play an important part in the morality of a community. None have a monopoly in making men good; all are helping and doing their part.
Brother Leon V. Stone, staff writer of the Christian Science Monitor, has eloquently said:
“Masonry stands for the values that are supreme in the life of the church and we are sure that he who is true to the principles he learns in Freemasonry will be a better church member because of it.”
Or to state it a bit differently: A church member is a better Ma-
son than one who is not; and a Mason is a better Mason if he be-longs to a church. One is the handmaiden of the other.
The Rev. Joseph Fort Newton, famous Protestant minister, in The Religion of Masonry, said (page vii):
“To me Masonry is one of the great poetries of the world, if indeed we may say that it is the keeper of holy faith, a high tradition, as simple as it is profound, upon which the highest life of our race rests; and he is unwise who leaves it out of account in reckoning the spiritual possessions of humanity.”
Could he have said this if Freemasonry were against any church?
The landmarks of Freemasonry prevent the discussion of religion in the lodge or any Masonic meeting. This is to maintain the non-sectarian characteristic of the Craft. The New York Times, of September 22, 1960, reported that Judge George E. Bushnell, head of the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, had stated emphatically that politics and religion cannot be discussed at meetings of Scottish Rite Masons. If this is so, how can the Craft be against any church?
On June 27, 1915, the Reverend Elijah Alfred Coil, at Marietta, Ohio delivered a talk entitled “The Church and the Lodge.” He demonstrated how they can help each other in their work.
In the year 1952, Thomas S. Roy, a Baptist minister, and at that time grand master, addressed the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts saying, in part:
“We are not a religion, and we are not anti-religious. We are a completely tolerant organization. We stand for the values that are supreme in the life of the church, and we are sure that he who is true to the principles he learns in Freemasonry will be a better church member because of it. Indeed, just the other day I heard the rector of the largest Episcopal Church in another city say that he was a better Christian and a better rector because of his Freemasonry. Freemasonry rightfully conceived and practiced will enhance every worthy loyalty in a man’s life. It will not weaken a man’s loyalty to his church, but will strengthen it by the in-creased sense of responsibility to God and dependence on God taught in our ritual.
“It will not drain his strength from the service of the church, but in-crease his strength for the service of the church. It will not draw him away from the doctrines of his church, but stimulate his interest in the values of religion that enrich and ennoble the life of man.”
In the year 1901, the Rt. Rev. Henry C. Potter, bishop of New York in the Episcopal Church, and an active Freemason, said:
be self sufficient. This was done by the Mormons to avoid further persecution; it was done in a limited way by the Reverend Alexander Dowie with his industries in Zion, Illinois.
In the business world there are other factors that control where one shall do business: location, convenience, availability, quality, price, and personal friendship. There is also the element of dealing with someone with whom you might expect reciprocal business. Masonry may offer an opportunity for making friendships that will fulfill some of these requirements but certainly not all of them. And if it should appear that in a certain community there are two businessmen of equal standing who sell their wares at the same price, would it not be natural for one to patronize a fellow-member, be he Mason or an Elk or a Moose or a Knight of Columbus?
It is apparent that there can be no serious weight given to this criticism of Masons.
Between 2 & 17—Here are the other Section Titles
3. Is Anti-Christian.
4. Is a “Secret Society.”
5. Has an Improper “Oath.”
6. Inflicts Horrible Penalties.
7. Encourages Violations of the Law.
8. Teaches the Separation of Church and State.
9. Is a Political Party.
10. Believes in Democracy.
11. Believes in the Public School System.
12. Limits its Charity to Masons.
13. Boasts of its Charitable Work.
14. Teaches Naturalism.
15. Has Ceremonies and Titles which Are Childish.
16. Encourages its Members to Prefer Masons in Business Transactions.
This objection was made by Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Humanum Genus, in which he says:
“For domestic society the doctrine of almost all naturalists is that marriage is only a civil contract, and may be lawfully broken by the will of the contracting parties; the State has power over the matrimonial bond....
.. In many countries which are professedly Catholic, marriages not celebrated in the civil form are considered null; elsewhere laws allow divorce. In other places everything is done in order to have it permitted. So the nature of marriage will be soon changed and reduced to a temporary union, which can be done and undone at pleasure.”
Insofar as the institution of marriage is concerned, Freemasonry has never had any occasion to express itself officially on this subject. There is nothing in the laws or ceremonies of the Craft that would cast any light on the subject. However, under the general rule which enjoins each member to be faithful to his country and to obey its laws, he would be required as regards marriage to conform to the laws of the place where he resides.
In English speaking countries this subject presents no problem, because both civil and religious ceremonies are permitted. But the Roman Catholic Church, in accordance with its pronouncement that it is the sole true religion, and its ruling that marriage is a sacrament, takes the position that marriages performed by this church are the only legal and binding ones. Considerable difficulty
has been encountered in Spain, where the Roman Catholic Church is the official religion of the country and the laws are such that non-Roman Catholics, or former Roman Catholics, find difficulty becoming legally married. This matter is discussed in detail by Paul Blanshard in his Freedom and Catholic Power in Spain and Portugal (1962), pages 95-98.
The opponents of Freemasonry have raised a number of minor objections that will be discussed briefly.
It is sometimes stated that Freemasonry places women in an inferior position because they are excluded from membership. The Craft was formed hundreds of years ago when it was firmly believed that the “woman’s place is in the home.” The immediate ancestors of the modern Craft are the building guilds of the middle ages; the work done by the guild was hard physical labor for which women were not suited. Today with the existence of organizations such as the Eastern Star, the Amaranthe and White Shrine which have women members, this complaint is seldom heard. This criticism of Freemasonry seems first to have been encountered in a play called The Free-Masons Accusation and Defence, and a number of other early skits; but the charge has never been a serious one.
Some years ago the Craft was charged with being an international conspiracy to overthrow legally established government. The sensational nature of the attack and its clear fabrication caused the accusation to be abandoned. One seldom sees mention of it in recently published literature.
Occasionally one encounters the indictment that Freemasonry is a form of devil worship. The source of this cavil are the works of Leo Taxil, and the charge cannot be taken seriously. Some years ago the author came across an anti-Masonic tract with the picture of a devil on the front cover, thereby graphically making the accusation; however, this was not the subject discussed in the booklet.
An old trick of the anti-Masons is to pick up an unpopular group and to associate it with the Craft. Hitler and his cohorts always made accusations against the “Jews and the Masons.” In recent years in Spain and Portugal the accusation has been against the “Jews, the Communists and the Freemasons.” Thus by association the current “goat” is added to the list.
In recent years much has been made of the charge that Freemasonry is prejudiced against the Negro. This unfounded charge ig-
nores the fact that lodges with charters from England, Ireland, and Scotland throughout the world have Negroes as members. For example, Rudyard Kipling joined a lodge in India whose members were of various nationalities with a variety of religions. In the United States we have an unusual situation because of the historical development of the doctrine of “exclusive jurisdiction.” Under this doctrine (which exists only under the American system) only one grand lodge issues charters to lodges within the boundary of a state; consequently, only one grand lodge exists there, and other lodges formed within the borders cannot be recognized. Furthermore, the Prince Hall fraternity, which functions on the same high standards as the white organization, having developed side by side with it, has only negro members and would not want to be amalgamated and lose its identity. It would have too much to lose. Alpha Lodge, of New Jersey, is a lodge consisting of negro members working under the Grand Lodge of New Jersey and is recognized throughout the world as a regular lodge.
Some of the fundamentalist Christian churches have made the charge that belonging to Freemasonry is a waste of time. They cite the amount of effort devoted to learning the ceremonies, attending lodge meetings, etc. They fail to recognize that while this is going on the member is engaging in social intercourse with good men having things in common; that the memory work required is a mental discipline; that serving on committees teaches one to be an organizer, and that being an officer is one of the best ways of becoming a public speaker. These accomplishments give one a feeling of belonging and of being important and needed, as well as a glow of satisfaction as the task is perfected. All these gratifications modern psychologists deem necessary to the well-rounded personality. The accusation of wasted time is basically founded on the fear of competition; the churches would prefer that the time be spared for their organization rather than spent on Freemasonry.
One minor objection is that the Craft makes deceptive claims to antiquity. The rituals of the various Masonic organizations are symbolical only and are not intended to be historical in nature. Unfortunately, some members in their enthusiasm are carried away with the ceremonies and claim them to be historical; they are so enthralled by the moral beliefs and lessons taught that they become over-enthusiastic and imaginative. We also have Masonic authors who have advanced some fantastic theories, specifically, for instance, that Shakespeare or even Sir Francis Bacon originated the Craft!
This would seem to be the price we must pay for having no censor-ship and being free to express original ideas.
One minor inconsequential point sometimes made is that historians, biographers, and autobiographers think so little of Masonry that they say nothing about it in connection with their subject. As proof, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is usually cited as an example; and also some biographies of George Washington. Histories are notoriously silent on the subject of fraternal bodies, their activities, and membership therein by famous men. Whether this is from custom or because it is believed that the average reader is not interested or that other matters are of greater importance is not apparent. As to George Washington, the recent definitive biography by Freeman tells of Washington’s membership. In this connection it is interesting to note that the Christian Cynosure of May 25, 1876, had an editorial on page 8 reviewing the autobiography of Finney (a staunch anti-Mason, whose book is still being sold by the National Christian Association). The writer bemoans the fact that Finney did not say one word about Masonry or secret societies in his book, “though Mr. Finney abjured and abhorred the lodge.” This is a matter that would ordinarily require no comment; after all, one cannot put everything in one’s autobiography. But this is particularly worthy of note because Finney was an ardent anti-Mason and spent much time writing and speaking on the subject. For many years he was considered a leading advocate of anti-Masonry.
The modern opponents of Freemasonry have learned a lesson from their predecessors. The older verbiage was blunt, outspoken, and abusive, but the printed material that has been circulated in recent years has a clever and subtle approach. Most of it is presented in sugar-coated form and in a most disarming manner. The presentation usually is as follows: the average Mason is a fine person, like-able, charitable, and a leader in his community, but he usually knows nothing about Freemasonry’s secret aims, secret activities, and secret motives; the member likes the sociable aspects of the lodge and the friendly attitude of his brother members, but it must be kept in mind that the organization is to be distinguished from its members. Or the writer may state that he is against the organization and not the individual members, following which he may give partial quotations from Albert Pike, Mackey, Ward, Wilmshurst,
Waite or one Le Plongeon. From these quotations a subtle argument is developed on the assumption that these quoted words are from the “voice of authority.”
In rebuttal, we state first that Freemasonry has no official voice. Each member is free to speak and think for himself. Secondly, it is members that make an organization; and while it is true that the members and the organization are separate, an organization can be judged by a majority of its members.
The subject cannot be concluded without a positive statement as to what Freemasonry is. This book has been devoted primarily to a study of its opponents. The reader is entitled to know something about the nature of Freemasonry in order to understand fully what has preceded.
The non-Mason may ask: What is Freemasonry? There is no short complete definition of the word because there are so many facets of the organization that each definition, when attempted, lacks something essential. A classical definition is: “A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” But these words tell only a part of the picture. At best any simple definition can be merely a guide to the subject. A complete understanding of Freemasonry can be had only from a study of its philosophy, its aims, its organization, and its accomplishments. A fairly adequate definition for our present purpose is: “An organization of men based on the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, using builders’ tools as symbols to teach basic moral truths, thereby impressing upon the minds of the members the cardinal virtues of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth which they should apply to everyday activities.”
The Reverend Joseph Fort Newton concludes his book The Builders with the following paragraph:
“When is a man a Mason? When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage—which is the root of every virtue. When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellow-man. When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins—knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself. When he loves flowers, can hunt the birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child. When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner
drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees, and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of the faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow-mortal and see something beyond sin. When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with him-self, with his fellow-man, with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song—glad to live, but not afraid to die! Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which he is trying to give to the world.”
Freemasonry has certain essential characteristics. It is a voluntary association in that there is never any solicitation of member-ship. One who desires to join must voluntarily seek information on how to become a member. This method prevents the Fraternity from becoming an exclusive society, or one having a selected group of members. In this respect it is unlike many fraternities. Freemasonry is open to all good men who are desirous of becoming better men and of being of service to their fellows. Because men must seek membership they, by necessity, must have formed a good opinion of the organization. This tends to upgrade the membership placing Freemasonry on a higher plane than many other associations.
The basic qualification for membership is a belief in God. But there is no religious test of any kind.
Freemasonry is a fraternity in every sense of the word, except that it does not invite persons to join and it does not have the horse-play that is the characteristic of many fraternities.
Freemasonry is like a school in that the members are taught to cultivate the liberal arts and sciences and to improve themselves. The public school system has been encouraged by the Craft; in many places the Masons were the ones to start and support the first public schools; Texas is a good example of this.
Joining Freemasonry means that the member will learn many new things. If he becomes active and learns the ritual he develops his memory. In taking part in the ceremonies of the lodge he improves his speaking abilities. By becoming an officer of the lodge he develops qualities of leadership that are valuable in his everyday activities.
There are many things in Freemasonry that escape definition and
analysis for they are the things of the spirit. How can one explain the racing of one’s pulse, the emotional ecstasy which comes from watching a familiar drama, the mental and spiritual uplifting as one realizes self-identification with a great ideal, which, working through the consciousness of the group, teaches each member to do his part in making this a better world in which to live?
The philosophy of Freemasonry can be stated briefly as follows: “God is our Father; we are all Brothers; the Golden Rule shall be the rule and guide of all our dealings with our fellow man.” Above all else Freemasonry glorifies the worth of the individual and seeks to promote freedom of thought, of conscience and of expression. That there is need of an organization such as Freemasonry in this faltering world must be apparent to all fair-minded men. The fact that Freemasonry has existed these hundreds of years and has attracted to its fold many famous men, attests to its worth and basic necessity.
In the year 1939, Rev. Joseph Fort Newton, in writing the fore-word to What Masonry Means, by William E. Hammond, stated well the need for Masonry in this changing world with the following stirring paragraph:
“In a day when the brotherhood of the world is broken, and ruthless ideologies shatter so much that is true and lovely, making our gentle Craft a target of attack, it behoves us to conserve and strengthen what has cost so much and means so much. In days to come, as in days agone, Masonry will be needed if we are to rebuild the temple of liberty, culture, beauty and kindness which evil hands seek to tear down and leave a broken, smoking ruin.”
These words must speak an eternal truth, for they are as applicable today as when they were first written.
May God in His infinite wisdom preserve throughout the ages this instrument dedicated to His glory and to the service of all men.
for more and the book—
Character Counts: Freemasonry U.S.A.’s National Treasure and
Source of Our Founding Fathers’