Is Masonry a religion?

Discussion in 'Philosophy, Religion and Spirituality' started by jonesvilletexas, Mar 12, 2010.

  1. PeterLT

    PeterLT Premium Member

    85
    1
    6
    Freemasonry has no set dogma on this. We concentrate on man's place and conduct towards his fellow creatures within the universe. The creation of the universe is up to an individual's religion to define.

    Our devotional observances are not specific to Freemasonry. They are specific to the religion of the Brethren.

    Our system of morality is not based on any specific religious belief but could be said to apply to all morally upright religions. Therefore Freemasonry has no innate morals but takes those from the common good and teaches them symbolically. We simplify what is already a given and present it unspoiled by religious dogma and politics.


    Peter
     
  2. Ronald D. Martin

    Ronald D. Martin Registered User

    36
    0
    6
    Brother Peter,

    As usual in life <s> there is much more behind the quotes I earlier provided, however I will offer this as a bit more clarification according to Albert Pike "Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief, falsifies and denaturalizes it. The Brahmin, the Jew, the Mahometan, the Catholic, the Protestant, each professing his peculiar religion, sanctioned by the laws, by time, and by climate, must needs retain it, and cannot have two religions; for the social and sacred laws adapted to the usages, manners, and prejudices of particular countries, are the work of men.†(M&D p. 161).
     
  3. PeterLT

    PeterLT Premium Member

    85
    1
    6
    I agree with Bro. Pike. And yes, quotes are often misquoted or incomplete. Thanks for enlightening me on that.
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Registered User

    57
    0
    0
    Please allow me to respond to your statement point by point.

    3. I politely disagree with this statement. As pointed out earlier in the thread, to even use the concept of salvation as part of the definition of religion is to already judge the world through a Christian lens. A full 2 billion people in Asia adhere to religions that posit reincarnation over an Abrahamic-style afterlife, and that have little trouble conceiving of other religions as reaching towards God in the same way they are. Even in Protestant America, a full 70% of Christians believe that many religions can lead to salvation, according to the Pew Forum on Religion.

    Either way, Masonry *is* religiously exclusive. If you petition a lodge in Texas, you will be required to state a belief in a Supreme Being, some fashion of divinely-inspired writings, and some form of immortality. With that, Masonry has made a judgment call on certain beliefs, and has set itself a certain dogma. If you include the landmarks, and the fact that recognition of lodges and grand lodges is dependent upon shared orthodoxy in belief and practice, then Masonry begins to look as dogmatic and schismatic as any Christian denomination, and the break between English and French Masonry starts to resemble the Great Schism of 1054.

    4. I'm not sure the ignorance of other people or their attacks on our institution are a good basis for policy decisions, though I agree it would be a headache we neither need nor deserve.

    5. I know of very few religions that have such a thing. Many religions don't seek doctrinal regularity, or it is imposed by community consensus, not any sort of episcopal authority. Most Christian denominations don't even have a central authority, much less a central source of dogma. However, the lodge and it's officers do provide most of the services of a church and it's staff.

    I would say that religious leaders fall into the following categories:

    1. Priests.
    2. Monks.
    3. Pastors.
    4. Legal scholars.
    5. Ritual leaders.

    Priests are charged with treating with God or the gods on the behalf of the community, either by dint of unique authority to do so, or special training. Monks are held up as exemplars of the ethical and practical teachings of the faith, and are thus considered a source of wisdom and instruction. Pastors administer communal property and offer counseling and comfort to the community. In religions with heavy legal systems, community leaders are those best trained to instruct the community in how to follow the laws and regulations of their religions. In extremely egalitarian religious communities or those with little structure, persons familiar with communal rites may be called upon to lead the rites, though they have no special authority to do so.

    I would charge that lodge officers fall into all of these categories, except the first. Those who put on degrees certainly qualify as ritual leaders, and the lodge officers very much qualify as pastors, as they govern the disposition of the lodge property, visit sick members, and mediate disputes. To some degree, they are also called upon to exhibit the ethical teachings of the Order like a monk, and rule on questions of ritual and procedure like a legal scholar. They also invoke Deity in all the proceedings of the lodge, but I don't think that's enough to really qualify as priests, as they don't perform divine services.

    I think Masonry, with a couple tweaks, could most certainly stand on its own as a religion. I think it's helpful to look at religion from an anthropological perspective, as Bro. Martin has pointed out. What does a religion provide to its adherents?

    With the caveat that I was not an anthropology or psychology major in college, and that books about this subject have been written extolling all of these with better precision and more detail, in my own opinion I see that it offers mainly the following things:

    1. A common worldview and way of thinking about and perceiving the world.
    2. A code of ethics.
    3. A story or myth (in the literary sense of the word) serving as a common foundation for the worldview and code of ethics.
    4. A set of basic beliefs and a sense of orthodoxy. (This can include seemingly inclusive beliefs. If a foundation of your religion is "all religions are true", this is still an exclusive belief because it keeps out of the community any who say their path is the only truth, or the only way to God.)
    5. A sense of meaning for the events of life.
    6. An opportunity for communal devotion or practice.

    Again, I would say Masonry has all but number 5. We certainly have a unifying story, a code of ethics, and certain views of the world ("brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God"). I would argue our entrance requirements qualify as basic beliefs. No one says one's theology has to be detailed or complicated in order to qualify as a religion. I also think our degrees are opportunities for communal religious practice, even if it doesn't include theistic devotion. With the addition of meaningful life event rituals and divine service, it would be ready to roll. Although, with Masonic funerals, DeMolay initiations for adolescents, and some Masonic wedding and baptism rituals I've seen on this forum and on the Net, perhaps it already has the life event bit down...
     
  5. PeterLT

    PeterLT Premium Member

    85
    1
    6
    I thought this might be a good way to respond, hope it doesn't get too long.

    3. I politely disagree with this statement. As pointed out earlier in the thread, to even use the concept of salvation as part of the definition of religion is to already judge the world through a Christian lens.


    One must take into account that the origins and the basis for Freemasonry are Christian. If it had sprung from India I would submit that the Craft would be entirely different. That said, regardless of religious beliefs on the afterlife, heaven, hell or anything else spiritual or philosophical; Freemasonry does not concern itself with these matters, it is the concern of the individual Mason. Masonry, as practiced (or forbidden) in different lands, is very much influenced by the dominant religion of the locale.


    A full 2 billion people in Asia adhere to religions that posit reincarnation over an Abrahamic-style afterlife, and that have little trouble conceiving of other religions as reaching towards God in the same way they are. Even in Protestant America, a full 70% of Christians believe that many religions can lead to salvation, according to the Pew Forum on Religion.

    Either way, Masonry *is* religiously exclusive. If you petition a lodge in Texas, you will be required to state a belief in a Supreme Being, some fashion of divinely-inspired writings, and some form of immortality.
    And in my jurisdiction, the only requirement is that you believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, period. Be careful not to confuse the Craft itself with the governance of the Craft.
    With that, Masonry has made a judgment call on certain beliefs, and has set itself a certain dogma. If you include the landmarks, and the fact that recognition of lodges and grand lodges is dependent upon shared orthodoxy in belief and practice, then Masonry begins to look as dogmatic and schismatic as any Christian denomination, and the break between English and French Masonry starts to resemble the Great Schism of 1054.


    Again, any differences are largely a matter of governance in different jurisdictions largely influenced by the religious beliefs and social mores of the locale. While there may be some historical parallels between Freemasonry and Christianity, the same could be said about virtually any fraternal group, organization or even governments in history.

    4. I'm not sure the ignorance of other people or their attacks on our institution are a good basis for policy decisions, though I agree it would be a headache we neither need nor deserve.


    The traditional silence of the Craft in meeting it’s detractors head on has been a self inflicted wound for far too long.

    5. I know of very few religions that have such a thing. Many religions don't seek doctrinal regularity, or it is imposed by community consensus, not any sort of episcopal authority. Most Christian denominations don't even have a central authority, much less a central source of dogma. However, the lodge and it's officers do provide most of the services of a church and it's staff.


    It’s not fair to the discussion to draw such a conclusion and apply it to Freemasonry as faith by consensus is a relatively new phenomena. Regardless on which view of Masonic origins one feels comfortable with, it can be safely said that the Craft predates our modern view of religion and what is or is not one. Freemasonry is from a time when there was in fact doctrinal authority that governed all to smallest degree. The officers do not, or at least should not, provide any services of a church. Even the Chaplain’s position is not a clerical per se and can be done by any one in the lodge. Other officers are not there to promote religious faith or adherence to any particular faith but to administer the lodge only following jurisdictionally accepted methods.

    I would say that religious leaders fall into the following categories:

    1. Priests.
    2. Monks.
    3. Pastors.
    4. Legal scholars.
    5. Ritual leaders.

    Priests are charged with treating with God or the gods on the behalf of the community, either by dint of unique authority to do so, or special training. Monks are held up as exemplars of the ethical and practical teachings of the faith, and are thus considered a source of wisdom and instruction. Pastors administer communal property and offer counselling and comfort to the community. In religions with heavy legal systems, community leaders are those best trained to instruct the community in how to follow the laws and regulations of their religions. In extremely egalitarian religious communities or those with little structure, persons familiar with communal rites may be called upon to lead the rites, though they have no special authority to do so.

    I would charge that lodge officers fall into all of these categories, except the first. Those who put on degrees certainly qualify as ritual leaders, and the lodge officers very much qualify as pastors, as they govern the disposition of the lodge property, visit sick members, and mediate disputes. To some degree, they are also called upon to exhibit the ethical teachings of the Order like a monk, and rule on questions of ritual and procedure like a legal scholar. They also invoke Deity in all the proceedings of the lodge, but I don't think that's enough to really qualify as priests, as they don't perform divine services.


    I do agree that there are those among the Brethren that are good at ritual and in that sense could be called leaders. The Worshipful Master could be said to be a scholar of sorts although I’ve met a few that would put that definition to the test. Again, four legs do not make a horse a table. The same contention that lodge officers are monk-like or pastor-like or scholar-like does not make the Craft a religion any more that the Master being the head of his lodge make him the same as the President.

    I think Masonry, with a couple tweaks, could most certainly stand on its own as a religion. I think it's helpful to look at religion from an anthropological perspective, as Bro. Martin has pointed out. What does a religion provide to its adherents?

    With the caveat that I was not an anthropology or psychology major in college, and that books about this subject have been written extolling all of these with better precision and more detail, in my own opinion I see that it offers mainly the following things:

    1. A common worldview and way of thinking about and perceiving the world.
    2. A code of ethics.
    3. A story or myth (in the literary sense of the word) serving as a common foundation for the worldview and code of ethics.
    4. A set of basic beliefs and a sense of orthodoxy. (This can include seemingly inclusive beliefs. If a foundation of your religion is "all religions are true", this is still an exclusive belief because it keeps out of the community any who say their path is the only truth, or the only way to God.)
    5. A sense of meaning for the events of life.
    6. An opportunity for communal devotion or practice.


    All the above points could be attributed to the United States, it’s history, it’s communal beliefs, it’s Constitution and even it’s money (In God We Trust). Is the United States a religion? Well, the answer to that is much along the lines of ,”Is Freemasonry a religion”….it depends on who you ask. But the fundamental truth about the craft that sets it apart from religion is the universality which binds men from across the spectrum in a way that religion does not and, dare I say, does not want to.

    Again, I would say Masonry has all but number 5. We certainly have a unifying story, a code of ethics, and certain views of the world ("brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God"). I would argue our entrance requirements qualify as basic beliefs. No one says one's theology has to be detailed or complicated in order to qualify as a religion.


    “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty for God and my country and to obey the Scout laws…” by your reasoning, the Boy Scouts of America are a religion.


    I also think our degrees are opportunities for communal religious practice, even if it doesn't include theistic devotion.


    Degrees are not religious practice. They are moral lessons imparted through legend. That they are universal reflects on the fundamental basics of the lesson imparted not the faith of the individual.


    With the addition of meaningful life event rituals and divine service, it would be ready to roll. Although, with Masonic funerals, DeMolay initiations for adolescents, and some Masonic wedding and baptism rituals I've seen on this forum and on the Net, perhaps it already has the life event bit down...


    While the Craft does share many of the aspects one would encounter in a religious setting, it is not a religion. Now I may be a bit out of touch on some things but as I recall, a Masonic funeral I attended still had the last rites administered by a Minister and not the Worshipful Master. True, there were prayers said by the Brethren and the Chaplain did lead us in a few of them but the conduct of the Masonic side of the funeral was a formal way of acknowledging and recognizing our departed brother’s service to the Craft. This might not be the way it’s done in your jurisdiction or in India or in Ghana or South Africa but that is not a matter of Freemasonry being a religion, it is a matter of jurisdiction. The Craft fundamentally remains as it was in the beginning, a system of morality, veiled in allegory, illustrated by symbols. This system is universal in nature and can be found in virtually all religions. Freemasonry is applicable to all but specific to none. Any differences from place to place are not indicative of the Craft but to those who administer it in a particular locality. Again, my contention remains that while some may practice our gentle Craft “religiously”, it is not a religion.


    In closing, Christopher you make a great presentation! Very thoughtful and well presented, I'm glad to count you as one of my Brothers.:SNC:
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2010

Share My Freemasonry