This is an extraordinary piece and derives from:
E. R. Johnston and
A. C. Monette, editors, Masonry Defined: A Liberal Masonic Education:
Information Every Mason Should Have (Shreveport, LA: National Masonic
Press, 1930; appendix & dictionary, 1939; 935p., answering 1,025 questions;
compiled from the writings of Albert G. Mackey and many other authorities):
I have only edited
it here with respect to a few formatting items. I start with how it is
presented in the book itself, by the question’s number, which reflects how the
book was laid out in alphabetical form (here on religion). And I placed
in bold the references to the definitions of religion. I wish that the language
had been smoother and easier to read.
787—In what sense, if any, is Masonry a religion?
of Masonry. There has been a needless expenditure of ingenuity and talent,
by a large number of Masonic orators and essayists, in the endeavor to prove
that Masonry is not a religion. This has undoubtedly arisen from a
well-intended but erroneous view that has been taken of the connection between
religion and Masonry, and from a fear that if the complete disseverance of the
two was not made manifest, the opponents of Masonry would be enabled
successfully to establish a theory which they have been fond of advancing, that
the Masons were disposed to substitute the teachings of their Order for the
truths of Christianity.
Now I have never for a moment believed that any
such unwarrantable assumption as that Masonry is intended to be a substitute
for Christianity, could ever obtain admission into any well-regulated mind,
and, therefore, I am not disposed to yield, on the subject of the religious
character of Masonry, quite so much as has been yielded by more timid brethren.
On the contrary, I contend, without any sort of hesitation, that Masonry is, in
every sense of the word, except one, and that its least philosophical, an
eminently religious institution—that it is indebted solely to the religious
element which it contains for its origin and for its continued existence, and
that without this religious element it would scarcely be worthy of cultivation
by the wise and good.
But, that I may be truly understood, it will be
well first to agree upon the true definition of religion. There is nothing more
illogical than to reason upon undefined terms. Webster has given four distinct
definitions of religion :
in a comprehensive sense, includes, he says, a belief in the being and
perfections of God—in the revelation of his will to man—in man’s obligation to
obey his commands in a state of reward and punishment, and in man's
accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the
practice of all moral duties.
2. His second
definition is, that religion, as distinct from theology, is godliness or real
piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and
our fellowmen, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law.
3. Again, he
says that religion, as distinct from virtue or morality, consists in the
performance of the duties we owe directly to God, from a principle of obedience
to his will.
4. And lastly,
he defines religion to be any system of faith or worship ; and in this sense,
he says, religion comprehends the belief and worship of Pagans and Mohammedans
as well as of Christians—any religion consisting in the belief of a superior
power, or powers, governing the world, and in the worship of such power or
powers. And it is in this sense that we speak of the Turkish religion, or the
Jewish religion, as well as of the Christian.
Now, it is plain
that, in either of the first three senses in which we may take the word
religion (and they do not very materially differ from each other)
[On the first
definition] Masonry may rightfully claim to be called a religious
institution. Closely and accurately examined, it will be found to answer to any
one of the requirements of either of these three definitions. So much does it “include
a belief in the being and perfections of God,” that the public profession of
such a faith is essentially necessary to gain admission into the Order. No
disbeliever in the existence of a God can be made a Mason. The “revelation of
his will to man” is technically called the “spiritual, moral, and Masonic
trestle-board” of every Mason, according to the rules and designs of which he
is to erect the spiritual edifice of his eternal life. A “state of reward and
punishment” is necessarily included in the very idea of an obligation, which,
without the belief in such a state, could be of no binding force or efficacy.
And “true godliness or piety of life” is inculcated as the invariable duty of
every Mason, from the inception of the first to the end of the very last degree
that he takes.
So, again, in reference to the second and third definitions,
all this practical piety and performance of the duties we owe to God and to our
fellow-men arise from and are founded on a principle of obedience to the divine
will. Whence else, or from what other will, could they have arisen? It is the
voice of the G. A. O. T. U. [Great Architect of the Universe] symbolized to us
in every ceremony of our ritual and from every portion of the furniture of our
lodge, that speaks to the true Mason, commanding him to fear God and to love
It is idle to say that the Mason does good simply
in obedience to the statutes of the Order. These very statutes owe their
sanction to the Masonic idea of the nature and perfections of God, which idea
has come down to us from the earliest history of the Institution, and the
promulgation of which idea was the very object and design of its origin.
But it must be confessed that the fourth definition does not appear to be strictly
applicable to Masonry. It has no pretension to assume a place among the
religions of the world as a sectarian “system of faith and worship,” in the
sense in which we distinguish Christianity from Judaism, or Judaism from
Mohammedanism. In this meaning of the word we do not and cannot speak of the
Masonic religion, nor say of a man that he is not a Christian, but a Mason.
Here [in the fourth
definition] it is that the opponents of Freemasonry have assumed
mistaken ground, in confounding the idea of a religious institution with that
of the Christian religion as a peculiar form of worship, and in supposing,
because Masonry teaches religious truth, that it is offered as a substitute for
Christian truth and Christian obligation. Its warmest and most enlightened
friends have never advanced nor supported such a claim.
Freemasonry is not Christianity, nor a substitute
for it. It is not intended to supersede it nor any other form of worship or
system of faith. It does not meddle with sectarian creeds or doctrines, but
teaches fundamental religious truth—not enough to do away with the necessity of
a Christian scheme of salvation, but more than enough to show, to demonstrate,
that it is, in every philosophical sense of the word, a religious institution,
and one, too, in which the true Christian Mason will find, if he earnestly
seeks for them. abundant types and shadows of his own exalted and divinely
The tendency of all true Masonry is towards
religion. If it makes any progress, its progress is to that holy end. Look at
its ancient landmarks, its sublime ceremonies, its profound symbols and
allegories,—all inculcating religious doctrine,
commanding religious observance and teaching religious truth, and who can deny
that it is eminently a religious institution?
But, besides, Masonry is, in all its forms,
thoroughly tinctured with a true devotional spirit. We open and close our
lodges with prayer; we invoke the blessings of the Most High upon all our
labors; we demand of our neophytes a profession of trusting belief in the
existence and the superintending care of God; and we teach them to bow with
humility and reverence at His awful name, while His holy law is widely opened
upon our altars. Freemasonry is thus identified with religion; and although a
man may be eminently religious without being a Mason, it is impossible that a
Mason can be “true and trusty” to his Order unless he is a respecter of
religion and an observer of religious principle.
But the religion of Masonry is not sectarian. It
admits men of every creed within its hospitable bosom, rejecting none and
approving none for his peculiar faith. It is not Judaism, though there is
nothing in it to offend a Jew; it is not Christianity, but there is nothing in
it repugnant to the faith of a Christian. Its religion is that general one of
nature and primitive revelation—handed down to us from some ancient and
patriarchal priesthood—in which all men may agree and in which no men can
differ. It inculcates the practice of virtue, but it supplies no scheme of
redemption for sin. It points its disciples to the path of righteousness, but
it does not claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” In so far,
therefore, it cannot become a substitute for Christianity, but its tendency is
thitherward; and, as the handmaid of religion, it may, and often does, act as
the porch that introduces its votaries into the temple of divine truth.
Masonry, then, is, indeed, a religious
institution; and on this ground mainly, if not alone, should the religious
Mason defend it.
 The operative word here is inculcating
which means to “teach and impress by frequent repetition or admonitions” (Webster’s
Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1989). A
vast distinction must to be made for the late 20th and 21st century evangelical
and most especially in the light of some modern-day anti-mason efforts. A
non-theologian may use the term doctrine to refer to any decidedly religious
teaching, like God being the Great Architect of the Universe and
like brother love being biblical. But a theologian would use doctrine more
formally to refer to a specific religions unique belief structure. Freemasonry
inculcates religious teaching on God in general, but not God specifically,
leaving the Freemason room. Freemasonry inculcates not a set of doctrine on,
say, the Holy Spirit or the nature of Jesus Christ, but does inculcate the
moral values and ethical code and essential sovereignty of God over human
affairs. That is why there is no theology of Freemasonry, and in part
why some have confused Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma with a theology.
Times have changed, and Pike’s use of dogma did not mean he was teaching
Freemasonry theological dogma any more than the computer giant Hewlett
Packard was teaching theological dogma to reference to its operating and
human resource philosophy in use of management dogma.