QUESTION #1 Is Freemasonry a Religion
Generally, the Freemason will inform anyone who asks, that his organization is not a religion. Thus, there would be no problem with any church affiliations, because joining the Masons is not joining “another church.”
Recently many newspapers carried an insert entitled, Freemasonry – A Way of Life. The insert stated, “Masonry is NOT a religion in any sense of the word, yet it is religious. Church membership is not a requirement, yet membership in ANY church is no bar to admission. There is nothing in the requirements of Masonry to prevent a Catholic, a Mohammedan, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Protestant, a Mormon, or any member of any religion from becoming a member.” (The Question of Freemasonry, Computers for Christ). Dr. Richard Thorn, a 32 degree Mason writes, “Masonry says that it is not a religion. An honest interpretation of the teachings of Freemasonry will show that instead of teaching men what to believe, men are simply asked to put the religion they already have, when they become a Mason, into everyday practice” (“Fundamentalist & Freemason,” The Northern Light, Vol. 25 No. 3 August, 1994, p. 9). Many similar statements are given by those involved in Freemasonry, and likely many believe it. But are they correct in their conclusion that Freemasonry is not a religion? Let’s investigate and see what we uncover.
- The Definition of “religion”
To begin with, we need to define the word “religion.” Webster defines it as “…a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of people or sects…” (Webster’s College Dictionary, Random House 1991 ed., p. 1138). To be sure this definition could be expanded to include much more, but this basic definition is sufficient for the purpose of this report.
Let’s apply the key words and phrases from this definition of religion to Freemasonry. First, Masons have “…a specific fundamental set…” That is, they have set parameters, or guidelines, they operate by. Second, Freemasons hold to a system of common “beliefs” that form the foundation of their organization and which are agreed upon by their members. Finally, it encourages “practices,” which require a written standard from which to formulate them. Among their teachings are volumes of written materials explaining their doctrines, beliefs and goals. It is clear, Freemasonry fits the dictionary definition of a religion.
- The Teachings of Freemasonry
Albert G. Mackey and Charles T. McClenachan wrote the 2 volume set titled Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. This set is a standard reference for the “beliefs and practices” of Freemasonry. Note the following statement concerning Freemasonry and religion: “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… 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” (Vol. 2, p. 618).
Clearly, according to this statement, it is legitimate to speak of the “Religion of Freemasonry.” The above statement speaks of the “religious element,” which would indicate some form of doctrine. It uses the term “cultivation,” which seems to imply its practices. Mackey and McClenachan continue: “The tendency of all true Masonry is toward 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?… Masonry, then, is, indeed, a religious institution; and on this ground mainly, if not alone, should the religious Mason defend it” (Vol. 2, pp. 618-619).
It is obvious in the view of these Freemasonry writers that Freemasonry is a religion when they declare, “…who can deny that it is eminently a religious institution?”
- Other Indicators of The Religious Nature of Freemasons
There are other indicators that clearly verify the religious nature of Freemasonry including their ancient landmarks, ceremonies, symbols, allegories and teachings. One example is the meeting place, the Masonic Lodge. “Every lodge is a Temple, and as a whole, and in its details symbolic… A ‘lodge’ is defined to be ‘an assemblage of Freemasons, duly congregated, having the sacred writings, square, and compass, and a charter, or warrant of constitution, authorizing them to work'” (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, 1917 ed., p. 7).
The ranks of Freemasonry also suggest a religious order. Note the titles included in the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry — Perfect Master; Prince of Jerusalem; Chief of Tabernacle; Prince of Tabernacle; Knight of the Brazen Serpent; Prince of Mercy and Commander of the Temple. These titles are immersed in religious meaning and symbolism.
There is a great deal of symbolism involved in Freemasonry. “Freemasonry is a system of morality developed and inculcated by the science of symbolism… Withdraw from Freemasonry its Symbolism, and you take from the body its soul, leaving behind nothing but a lifeless mass of effete matter, fitted only for a rapid decay” (Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Vol. 2, p. 754). “Masonry uses many symbols. They’re our primary way of teaching, just as they were in ancient times” (Questions and Answers, The Northern Light, February 1993, p. 19).
Though there is much more that could be stated, it should be apparent that Freemasonry is a religion. It is seen through the writings of the Masonic Order, the terms used in various activities, the titles of the hierarchy and the symbolism that is involved.
- Why The Denial?
Why do many Masons deny that their organization is a religion? Why would a friend or relative neglect to be honest about their organization? There may be various reasons for the uncertainty of their answers.
To begin with, there are people who become involved in organizations in a superficial manner. I am convinced that many join Masonic organizations without a full understanding of the teachings the organization holds. They join simply for the companionship or for social contact or social standing. Their involvement is limited to the initiatory status without their knowing the history, doctrines or practices of the organization.
In reality, Freemasonry does not reveal its teachings to every Mason. One of their own publications admits that. “Masonry, like all the Religions… conceals (italics his) its secrets from all except the Adepts and Sages, or the Elect, and uses false explanations and misinterpretations of its symbols to mislead those who deserve only to be misled; to conceal the Truth, which it calls Light, from them, and to draw them away from it. Truth is not for those who are unworthy or unable to receive it, or would pervert it” (Morals and Dogma, p. 105).
Clearly Freemasonry allows intentional deception within its ranks when it desires to do so. In any event, it appears that not all Masons understand what is involved in the beliefs and practices of the Masonic Order.
Finally, the Mason is sworn to secrecy through oaths throughout the 33 degrees. For example, the Entered Apprentice of the first degree swears, ” …binding myself under no less penalty than that of having my throat cut from ear to ear, my tongue torn out by its roots, and buried in the sands of the sea, at low water mark, where the tide ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours, should I, in the least, knowingly or wittingly violate or transgress this my Entered Apprentice obligation. So help me God, and keep me steadfast” (Ralph P. Lester, ed. Look to the East! A Ritual of the First Three Degrees of Masonry. Charles T. Powner Co., 1982, p. 31). Could it be that the denial is due to the oaths taken, and the penalty for disclosing any secrets? I believe the answer is “YES!”
- Is Freemasonry a Religion?
Though the arguments stated above are certainly nowhere near exhaustive, they are sufficient to establish the fact that Freemasonry is a religion. It fits an acceptable definition of a religion, and has its own order and system of doctrine.