Freemasonry and the Question of Religious Universalism
By Carl Teichrib (www.forcingchange.org)
NOTE: The following is excerpted from and builds-upon the September edition of Forcing Change, which takes the reader on a journey through the Craft – from my personal exploration of a mysterious ritual site, to the texts of prominent Masonic scholars, to the documented influence of Freemasonry in the founding of America. To access this complete issue of Forcing Change, go to www.forcingchange.org, and if you are a member, sign-in and download the full edition. If you’re not yet a member, join today and receive access to all six-years of Forcing Change back issues, plus each monthly edition as it’s released.
The claims about Freemasonry are many and diverse from within the Brotherhood itself. The following “dialogue” represents an internal and longstanding debate about the nature of the Craft.
- Masonry is religious. No, it’s not religious at all, only an ethical way of living.
- It’s a “Christian” institution. No, it’s the repository of the ancient Mystery cults.
- The Craft is esoteric in nature. Impossible: there isn’t a select group in the Order who hold special spiritual knowledge.
- Masonry’s rituals are founded upon occult practices. No, the rituals are symbolic enactments with life lessons.
- Membership in the Lodge can open the gate to participation in advanced occult societies. This rings of paranoia.
- Freemasonry is meant to bring progressive spiritual enlightenment first to its members and then to society. Incorrect, it is a benevolent and philanthropic Order that does good works and makes “good men better.”
- Individualism is replaced with group identity and universal synthesis. No way: Freemasonry itself exemplifies diversity from degree to degree, through the differing Grand Lodges, branches and concordant bodies.
So which way does the hammer fall?
1. Is the Craft only a beneficial and benign society of good deeds, self-improvement, and social ethics?
2. Or is it an extension of the Mystery religions and occult schools, carrying within its core a deeper spiritual seed?
In reading their own literature and discussing the Lodge with Freemasons I have come across both lines of thought. Interestingly, the argument from the first position eventually takes a line of reasoning that goes something like this: “You can’t claim Freemasonry is [religious/spiritual] because each person interprets it differently.” Or, you can’t explain the Craft’s symbols this way – in a spiritual/religious context – because every individual sees them from a unique point of view.
In many respects this leaves the observer of Freemasonry at a loss. How will one know what the Craft is about if, after hearing opposing sides from the Brotherhood, we are told that everything is subjective?
This leads to an observation I’ve made when discussing this religious-spiritual identity problem with Freemasons: Local Masons and the public-voice of the Lodge inevitably proclaims the first position: It’s a benevolent body with no religious overtones and no deeper spiritual meaning.
Conversely, the second stance is more often admitted by men who have achieved significant stature within the institution, such as a Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, the literature of prominent Masonic historians and philosophers (often written with an internal audience in mind), those who have shaped the rituals, and Freemasons who have been personally attached to an outside esoteric order.
So in returning to the subjective nature of interpretation, that it rests upon individual observations and experiences, then it must be noted that I am obliged to accept this unwritten rule. Therefore, I choose to interpret the Craft through the second group, and not the local Mason whose experience has been channeled through a narrower framework.
Writing on this internal debate about the religious nature of Freemasonry, Arthur Edward Waite – a Masonic leader, Christian mystic, esoteric philosopher and occultist – sounded flabbergasted that this was still a point of contention.
…the Religion of Freemasonry is not only an unsettled question but one the determination of which offers grave difficulties… A very usual course is to affirm that true Masonry is neither a religion nor consisting of religious aspects and supposing religious experience. A more muddled point of view is scarcely within range of conception. In such case, why does it insist on that root of contention, faith in a Great Architect of the Universe? Why does it require an intellectual adherence to the notion of resurrection to a future life – however resurrection is to be understood?
Why are its Rites and Degrees and under all systems in reality neither more nor less than pageants of prayer and aspiration? Can the Third Degree of the Craft, apart from religion, teach a man how to die – as it claims to do? What does the lesson of the Mystical Lecture in he HOLY ROYAL ARCH, by its own claims, impress on its members concerning the ROYAL ARCH DEGREE?
The answer is (a) that it inspires its members with the most exalted ideas of Deity, and (b) leads to the practice of the purest and most devout piety. What is this but religion? And what is reverence to the incomprehensible Jehovah? Is it less of the root-matter of religion than the search for the Lost Word in the Grade of ROSE-CROIX, which Word is Christ…?
…apart from religion Masonry has no title to existence, because its much-lauded ‘system of morality’ is either a gate which leads to religion or a gate which leads nowhere.” (1)
Manly P. Hall, arguably one of the most important Masonic thinkers of the last century, put it this way,
In fact, there are actually blocs among the brethren who would divorce Masonry from both philosophy and religion at all cost. If, however, we search the writings of eminent Masons, we find a unanimity of viewpoint, namely, that Masonry is a religious and philosophical body. (2)
So what are the religious and philosophical views that need to consider when contemplating this side of the Masonic debate.
Before we examine statements tying Freemasonry with Religious Universalism, where all religious expressions are acknowledged under one Brotherhood and each man part of a unifying factor – “The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man” – we need to briefly establish a baseline for those who wish to compare the Biblical stance with the Masonic formula.
For the individual who takes seriously the words of the Bible, we find a unique and exclusive series of proclamations that run counter to Religious Universalism: That the God of Israel is the “First and the Last; there is no other God” (Isaiah 44:6)…
…there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22)
And as Jesus Christ categorically stated in the New Testament, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Then, in Revelation we find Jesus Christ affirmed as the exclusive and returning Savior, the First and the Last:
He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’ (Revelation 1:7-8)
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Revelation 22:12-13).
But this is not what the Lodge stands on. Instead, Masonic scholars, philosophers, and historians pronounce an opposing position. Consider the following quotes…
Henry C. Clausen, Clausen’s Commentaries on Morals and Dogma (The Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, USA, 1974).
…the One Supreme God has been known by many names to many races of men. The Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Medes and Persians, the Hebrew Kabalists, the Druids and Norsemen, the Brahmans, the Moslems, the Buddhists and the North American Indians all believed in God as the One Supreme Ruler and Creator of the Universe. This belief, held by the earliest guilds of operative masonry nearly six thousand years ago, is the same belief held by modern Freemasonry today. (p.161).
Melvin M. Johnson, Universality of Freemasonry (The Masonic Service Association, 1957).
Masonry is not Christian; nor is it Mohammedan nor Jewish nor to be classified by the name of any other sect. The power which has held it together, the chemical which has caused its growth, the central doctrine which makes it unique, is the opportunity it affords men of every faith, happily to kneel together at the same Altar, each in worship of the God he reveres, under the universal name of Great Architect of the Universe. (Forward)
[Regarding religious universalism] “Thus, and thus only, can we furnish to the world at large a common base upon which all civilized mankind may unite.” (p.10).
Joseph Fort Newton, The Builders: A Story and Study of Masonry (The Torch Press, 1914/1916).
It is true that Masonry is not a religion, but it is Religion, a worship in which all good men may unite, that each may share the faith of all. (p.250-251)
H.L. Haywood, The Great Teachings of Masonry (National Masonic Research Society, 1923).
…while it is truth 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 is own. Believing that there is under all 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, an in the brotherhood of man, it demands of all its initiates adhesion to these root truths. (p.99)
Albert G. Mackey, A Text Book of Masonic Jurisprudence (Redding and Company, 1859).
Masonry requires only a belief in the Supreme Architect of the universe… Masons are only expected to be of that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves… the Christian and the Jew, the Mohammedan and the Brahmin, are permitted to unite around our common altar, and Masonry becomes, in practice as well as in theory, universal. The truth is, that Masonry is undoubtedly a religious institution – its religion being of that universal kind in which all men agree, and which, handed down through a long succession of ages, from that ancient priesthood who first taught it, embraced the great tenets of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. (pp.95-96).
The Holy Bible in Freemasonry (Board of General Activities, Grand Lodge, F.& A.M., New York, 1928).
All believers in the Ever Living and True God, however various their individual conceptions of Him may be, may join hands around the altar of the Fraternity. Modernist and Fundamentalists, Christian and Jew, Hindu and Moslem, meet there upon a common plane as Brothers all. (p.6)
Allen E. Roberts, The Craft and Its Symbols: Opening the Door to Masonic Symbolism (Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, 1974).
Freemasonry calls God ‘The Great Architect of the Universe.’ This is the Freemason’s special name for God, because He is universal. He belongs to all men regardless of their religious persuasion. All wise men acknowledge His authority. In his private devotions a Mason will pray to Jehovah, Mohammed, Allah, Jesus, or the Deity of his choice. In a Masonic Lodge, however, the Mason will find the name of his Deity within the Great Architect of the Universe. (p.6).
Joseph Fort Newton, The Religion of Masonry: An Interpretation (The Masonic Service Association, 1927).
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… (p.11)
Indeed, the Religion of Masonry is Universe Religion, in which all men can unite: its principles are as wide as the world and as high as the sky. Nature and Revelation blend in its faith; its morality is rooted in the order of the world, and its roof is the blue vault above. (p.52)
Like everything else in Masonry, the Bible, so rich in symbolism, is itself a symbol – that is, a part taken for the whole… Thus, but the very honor which Masonry pays to the Bible, it teaches us to revere every Book of Faith in which man has found light and help and hope. In a Lodge consisting of Jews the Old Testament alone may be placed upon the Altar, and in a Lodge in the land of Mohammed the Koran may be used, according to the law of the mother Grand Lodge.
But whether it be the Gospel of the Christian, the Book of Law of the Hebrew, the Koran of the Mussulman, or the Vedas of the Hindu, it everywhere Masonically symbolizes the Will of God reveled to man, expressing such faith and vision as he has found in the fellowship of the seekers and servants of God. Such a fact, such a spirit, helps us to 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. (pp.93-95)
Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (The Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, A.A.S.R. USA, 1871/1944).
The Holy Bible, Square, and Compasses, are not only styled the Great Lights of Masonry, but they are also technically called the Furniture of the Lodge… The Bible is an indispensable part of the furniture of a Christian Lodge, only because it is the sacred book of the Christian religion. The Hebrew Pentateuch in a Hebrew Lodge, and the Koran in a Mohammedan one, belong on the Altar; and one of these, and the Square and Compass, properly understood, are the Great Lights by which a Mason must walk and work. (p.11).
It [Masonry] is the universal, eternal, immutable religion, such as God planted it in the heart of universal humanity. No creed has ever been long-lived that was not built on this foundation. (p.219).
Masonry, around whose altars the Christian, the Hebrew, the Moslem, the Brahmin, the followers of Confucius and Zoroaster, can assemble as brethren and unite in prayer to the one God who is above all… (p.226).
It [Masonry] reverences all the great reformers. It sees in Moses, the Lawgiver of the Jews, in Confucius and Zoroaster, in Jesus of Nazareth, and in the Arabian Iconoclast, Great Teachers of Morality, and Eminent Reformers, if no more: and allows every brother of the Order to assign to each such higher and even Divine Character as his Creed and Truth require. Thus Masonry disbelieves no truth, and teaches unbelief in no creed, except so far as such creed may lower its lofty estimate of the Deity… (p.525).
Manly P. Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry (Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, 1923/1954).
No true Mason is creed-bound. He realizes with the divine illumination of his lodge that as a Mason his religion must be universal: Christ, Buddha or Mohammed, the name means little, for he recognizes only the light and not the bearer. He worships at every shrine, bows before every altar, whether in temple, mosque or cathedral, realizing with his truer understanding the oneness of all spiritual truth… No true Mason can be narrow, for his Lodge is the divine expression of all broadness. (p.65).
Foster Bailey, The Spirit of Freemasonry (Lucis Trust, 1957/1996).
Is it not possible from a contemplation of this side of Masonic teaching that it may provide all that is necessary for the formulation of a universal religion? May it not be true, as has been said, that if all religions and Scriptures were blotted out and only Masonry were left in the world we could still recover the great plan of salvation? Most earnestly should all true Masons consider the point… The study of this position will reveal to any earnest Mason that if Masonry is ever to achieve this ideal it will be impossible for him to be against any man or any religion. He will be for all true seekers and light, no matter what their race or creed. (p.109).
In conclusion, let me leave you with a single Biblical passage demonstrating the incompatibility of this thinking with the truth of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.
1. Arthur Edward Waite, A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Volume II, p.329.
2. Manly P. Hall, Lectures on Ancient Philosophy (Philosophical Research Society, 1929/1984), p.434.