This started with a Christian I know who has considered joining the Freemasons. He was particularly struck by the way that Freemasonry might promote community in our disconnected society, as Tamie mentioned previously.
What I want to explore here is the crossover between Christianity and Freemasonry. I’ve heard it said that Christianity and Freemasonry are on about the same thing. What do they have in common? What differences are there? Can a Christian be a Freemason and vice versa?
Let me make a few things clear to begin with. Firstly, let’s take Freemasonry as the Masonic lodges present it. I’m not interested in labelling Freemasonry as a religion if Freemasons do not believe it is. I’m not going to speculate about occult rituals and I’m not going to suggest that Freemasonry is a dangerous, diabolical conspiracy. I also want to affirm that many Freemasons are genuine philanthropists and do-gooders.
Secondly, let’s recognise that Freemasonry is diverse. Different Masonic lodges and orders do things differently, and all of them insist upon the flexible interpretation of Masonic symbols and principles according to individual freedom. I don’t want to tar all Freemasons with the same brush.
Thirdly, let’s be upfront about Freemasonry’s long history of interaction with Christianity. A number of Protestant denominations have often accepted Freemasonry. For its part, Freemasonry is chock full of biblical references and Christian jargon. Christians can’t simply dismiss Freemasonry out of hand.
All this being said, I hope I can highlight some of the things that do unify Freemasonry — the things that make Freemasonry what it is. Here’s what seems to be a good definition:
Freemasonry is an esoteric society based on a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
While Freemasonry may not be a religion, it does involve claims of a religious or spiritual nature. Take Freemasonry’s Landmarks, most obviously the prescribed commitment to the Supreme Being (the Great Architect of the Universe). The requirement that each Mason interpret the Supreme Being as he sees fit, along with the requirement that Masons do not discuss religion within a Lodge, both have religious implications. Freemasonry also claims to offer what we might call spiritual supplements: lodges make claims about things like the status of the soul or the proper understanding of the Bible.
So what overlap is there regarding God? Of course both Freemasonry and Christianity are expressions of theism. But while Christianity is a form of theism in an abstract sense, Christian people only exist as Christians. The idea of solidarity between ‘theists’ may actually be quite meaningless.
Let’s explore this a bit further. It’s worth noting that the Masonic idea of the Supreme Being resembles early modern deism. We see this in Freemasonry’s insistence that the Supreme Being be individually interpreted, along with the requirement that religious matters stay outside the lodge. This sounds like deism: God is the great watchmaker who can be privately discovered through reason. God according to deism is a god that stands behind the Universe yet largely remains a distant Other — a god with expectations, perhaps, but a god that is not really present or personal.
For one thing, whether or not the Supreme Being does imply deism, it’s hard to see how the concept of the Supreme Being is a neutral, value-free container that can accommodate any religious belief.
For their part, Christians believe in a God with a name, a God who speaks and wants to be spoken of, a God who is deeply involved in the Universe, a God who even makes himself known in history as a human person. This is a God who is knowable because he personally reveals himself in Jesus.
So the Christian emphasis is overwhelmingly on God’s initiative over against human initiative. Christianity is about divine self-revelation rather than our own private speculation. In other words, Christian belief does not really have a place for our own personalised interpretations of God. God has subverted all our ideas because God turned up. “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.”
Now, perhaps there is some kind of legitimately Christian interpretation of the Supreme Being. Christian Freemasons have obviously thought so, and I’d certainly be interested to hear their reflections on this. But it seems to me that a Christian’s commitment to Jesus subverts the very idea of the Supreme Being.
Categories: Uncategorized Written by Arthur
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.
I agree with your suspicion of the solidarity between “theists”. I reckon that the category of “theism” as a catch-all for all belief in “god” is a bit like the English word “snow”: it really only works the less you know about the subject. Eskimo language has many more words for snow for they see the differentiations and these are significant, so that the various things which we lump together as snow can’t possibly be seen as similar to those who know and live with the reality. So too, those who know the God who has made Himself known in Christ.
Do yourself a favour and buy a dictionary. Look up ‘Religion.’
Hi Sam, and welcome.
Being a non-super-powered person, I don’t think I can even guess what you’re getting at. :) Care to flesh it out?
@Sam: 4chan? I see you trollin’ :)
@Arthur: I think your connection of Freemasonry with Deism makes a lot of sense, as both came to prominence (in Europe, anyway) roughly the same time.
Some other haphazard questions:
* Do Pastafarians classify themselves as theists?
* Does Christianity have any room for esoteria, “theist” or otherwise?
* What about non-esoteric fraternal organisations, like the IOOF?
Andy — I guess your questions about esoteric and fraternal orgs need to be weighed up case by case. One of the big questions is how much unity a Christian can have with outsiders (2 Cor 6:14ff). I don’t plan to finish parts 2 and 3 (and 4?) for a while, but stay tuned. :)
I just live in hope of a Pastafarian reformation, in which Pastafarians unite with Rastafarians and start playing reggae. :D
On the subject of a god, be it a supreme being or the Great Architect of the Universe, and religion the Rev. Anderson, in his work The Constitutions of the Free-masons from 1723, writes: ‘…yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves…’ I take this to be a very far-reaching statement, and probably well ahead of its time. For me it implies that each should be allowed to reach out to that Supreme Being which works best for him, which fits in with his individual needs and beliefs, rather than a set, dogmatic Being prayed to by rote which cannot be interpreted. It allows members of all religions access to Freemasony.
Religion and politics certainly do have their place in a Lodge and may most certainly be openly discussed. Anderson again, on the limitations: ‘Therefore no private Piques or Quarrels must be brought within the Door of the Lodge, far less any Quarrels about Religion, or Nations, or State Policy…’ Here he is clearly stating not that the discussion of Religion is banned from within Lodge, but only those aspects, such as Party Politics or specific forms of Religion set one against another, have no place.
Freemasonry is certainly not a Religion, nor is it a substitute for one. There are many aspects of Freemasonry which might be termed religious – such as the acceptance of the Great Architect of the Universe – and there is much which might be termed spiritual; we are, after all, working our way through life towards whatever may follow and, again as Anderson states: ‘…to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished…’.
That there is a cleft between the Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry can only be lamented. There have been many attempts on the part of Freemasons to address the perceived differences, many moves towards the Roman Catholic Church and offers of dialogue. That the Church fathers decline these approaches and fall back on decrets dating from the eighteenth century is saddening. Other religious denominations have long accepted that Freemasonry is not a threat to their existence, that it was never intended to supplant what they wish to offer. Both can work hand in hand to achieve similar aims, once both sides have accepted that there are differences in method, but not necessarily differences in the results we wish to achieve.
De Animorum Immortalitate: A Personal Perspective,
Hi Adam, thanks for writing! :)
My question is less about whether Freemasonry supplants Christianity, more about whether Freemasonry can provide a supplement for a Christian person — the extent to which Freemasonry and Christianity can find common ground. Freemasonry may claim to be universal and inclusive, but my question is whether this holds water for a Christian.
Thanks for your clarification about “no discussion of religion”. I based this comment on references like this and this. I guess this is another instance of Masonic diversity?
In any event, Christianity seems to set itself up as a totalising and exclusive form of religion — not least by identifying the Great Architect with the man Jesus! Hence the distinctions I’ve been making.
Anderson’s reference to being ‘good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty’ is something I’ll pick up on later in this series.
I’m afraid I must disagree with your interpretation from the first reference, above. Wkipedia, which is changed by both anti-Masons and Masons on a regular basis, says: Thus, reference to the Supreme Being will mean the Christian Trinity to a Christian Mason, Allah to a Muslim Mason, Para Brahman to a Hindu Mason, etc. And while most Freemasons would take the view that the term Supreme Being equates to God, others may hold a more complex or philosophical interpretation of the term. This is not a claim that the Great Architect of the Universed is Jesus Christ, but merely one interpretation that Masons may use in order to follow their beliefs and also the Masonic ideals. The entry on no discussion of religion and politcs is incomplete in Wikipedia; the practice is as I have outlined it, with no outright forbidden themes whatsoever, just the care that each Mason must have towards the belefs and opinions of others, whether they be Masons or otherwise.
Not all Christian denominations set themselves up as totalising, some are open to the influences and practices of others, even if it doesn’t influence alter their dogma or methods. Probably the only exceptions are Mormanism – which took must from Freemasonry rather than the other way around – the Roman Catholic Church – which sets itself against Freemasonry in all its forms – and smaller sect-like religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientology. Naturally all denominations wish to be seen as the be all and end all of religion, and that their form of worship is the only, exclusive path to be taken; this is obviously not true of those who practice the religion as such, and who have the freedom and right, without fear of retribution, to become Freemasons.
Of course, in the Islamic world things are completely different. In Saudi Arabia, for example, Freemasonry is banned and may be punished with the death penalty, which is why the Grand Lodge of Saudi Arabian Freemasons is managed in Germany and that of Iran in the United States of America.
There are literally thousands of literary works on Freemasonry, even publishers which specialise in nothing else. To gain a complete overview of all the differing opinions and interpretations is as impossible as gaining a god and conclusive opinion from each person in any one country on any theme you care to mention.
De Animorum Immortalitate: A Personal Perspective,
As you’ve indicated, Freemasonry is kind of chameleonic — hence my inadequate broad brush strokes! :)
Thank you for your contributions about defining Freemasonry — although, as I see it, they’re fleshing out rather than at odds with what I’m saying.
To clarify further — I write as a Christian interested in articulating Christian living/theology. When I refer to ‘Christianity’ I’m not speaking of institutional Christianity but of Christian belief. What I’m exploring, quite apart from the positions taken by this or that denomination, are the ways in which ‘basic Christianity’ is totalising and exclusive…
Of course, and I look forward to your further explorations.
De Animorum Immortalitate: A Personal Perspective
This is not always a good debate, but I like how you’re going about it. I guess I’m the walking mush pot being a Christian freemason. I’ve read tons on why believers in Christ shouldn’t become freemasons and how one would throw their soul into the pit of hell as soon as they took any masonic obligations. I can’t disagree more with these ideas that Christians cannot be freemasons w/out losing their soul.
I find that my masonic walk accentuates my faith quite a bit and vice versa.
I’ve had my share of debates with my fellow believers in Christ about this masonic/christian mesh. As opposed to heated discussions I’d rather keep the dialogue open and build politely about it, but then again this is faith, religion, history, eternity and symbolism all tied up into one conversation. It tends to be a big deal.
Being that most “common” christians get their anti-masonic info from mis-informed sources (2nd hand internet babble, or pure speculation) I would say no matter what common ground I prove freemasonry and Christianity share, it’s so hardwired into the fabric of this faith to not “compromise” even a bit that I don’t think any valid points would be accepted. There’s no room for Christ and tolerance in some people’s minds, but yet these same people have no issue with their own hypocrisies i.e. tobacco use, intoxication, personal addictions, gluttony, jealousy, gossiping, un-forgiveness and so on. I mean, you talk about easy targets. It’s a scary thought to think some are that blatantly ignorant to their own shortcomings, but yet go hardcore to champion God’s plight and standards which at the same time convicts them as aggressors as well. #catch22
One thing I’ve learned being a freemason over the years is that it’s not about perfection, but direction. People are so concerned with the afterlife that they forget about the life they’re living right now. Then they let these impossible standards govern their lives, all the while wearing a mask throughout life and inside their own congregation. It’s sad when faith can deter us from being human beings, open minded and fair. I guess people like to use faith as a weapon rather than a gift to share.
Thank you for the words and space on your blog, brother.
Peace and light.