Freemasonry and Religion

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Oct 8, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    David Brownback

    Many people in the "outside world," or the world apart from Freemasonry, are curious about what goes on inside those Lodge meetings. Actually, many books have been written on this subject, both by Masons and non-Masons, and anyone who is really interested can go to any good library and get a comprehensive, factual understanding of what our Fraternity is all about.

    In spite of all the information available, there is a significant number of people who persist in thinking of our Craft as a religion or some kind of religious cult. Let's take a look at what constitutes a religion, what Masonry is, and finally, how Masonry and religion interact with each other.

    One of the first things that a newly initiated brother learns is that "Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols." He also learns that Truth is at its center, and that it was founded on the principles of Morality. Brotherly Love and Charity. The new brother also sees an open Bible, square and compasses resting on an Altar, illuminated by three large candles surrounding it. Topping it all off is the fact that the meeting place of a Masonic Lodge is usually referred to as a "Temple." This could very easily lead one to conclude that the candidate for Freemasonry is joining some kind of "sect" that is involved in a particular kind of religious worship.

    However, a "religion" is a system of worship of a particular god or gods. Defining the word "religion" is difficult to do, but most scholars in this area agree that all religions consist of three basic elements. The first can be called the "ideals," or the values held by the group. The second is the "cult," or set of practices, rituals or ceremonies, practiced by the group. Finally, all religions have a "theology," or set of doctrines or beliefs supporting their views on man, the universe, and the hereafter.

    Masonry, on the other hand, defines itself as "a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols." By morality, we are referring to the criteria we use to distinguish between right and wrong. This definition, therefore, indicated that Freemasonry has a particular set of values that it strives to inculcate in its members, and that these values are taught through the use of symbols and pageantry or allegory.

    That part that is absent is any reference to a theology. A belief in a Supreme Being is required of all Masons, but the Fraternity lacks any specific set of beliefs as to how that Being is to be worshiped.

    There is a common thread of ethical standards that forms a common bond between the great religions of the world. These general beliefs include such qualities as honesty, love of fellow man, charity, generosity, and so forth. Probably, the best summation of this set of values is the "Golden Rule," which states "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In various forms, this tenet is found in the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian traditions.

    Instead of being a "religious cult," Masonry might better be referred to as an ethical society. Ethical values such as "brotherly love, relief, and truth" are taught through the use of ritual and myth. These teachings are reinforced by the use of the numerous symbols found in Masonic Lodges and in Masonic teachings. Many of these symbols, such as the square, level, and plumb, were taken from the building trades.

    At the focal point in a Masonic Lodge is the Altar, which is located at its center with an open Bible (the inestimable gift of G-d to man), square, and compasses.

    Altars are normally found in places of religious worship. Why, then, would a Masonic Lodge have an Altar in its center? If a god or gods, or the "Great Architect of the Universe" is worshiped here, doesn't this make Freemasonry a religion?

    It is easy to mistake the complex rituals and beautiful symbolism of Freemasonry with those of an established religion. They are not. The only religious involvement in Masonry is that a Mason must profess his belief in a Supreme Being. Other than that, a mason's religious convictions are kept within the temple of his own heart and are his private business.

    The open Bible, which represents the Judeo-Christian heritage, is found on the Masonic Altar. Does this mean that other revelations of the word of G-d are not welcome?

    Not so. The Bible should be regarded symbolically, as the "word of G-d", with the identity of G-d being left to the conscience of the individual Mason. In this way, the Bible becomes a symbol for G-d and a reminder that G-d speaks to man. Masonry is a world-wide fraternity and other scriptures, such as the Torah and the Koran are found on Masonic Altars in other parts of the world (see Editor's Note below).

    The Mason refers to G-d as "The Great Architect of the Universe" and prayer is an important part of Masonic ritual. However, while respecting all religions, great care is taken at all times to show preference to none. The Craft wants its Brethren to be religious men, but considers that the particular religion is an individual choice. By doing this, religious tolerance is encouraged and Masonry has a rich multi-cultural and religious heritage within its ranks.

    Freemasonry is neither an enemy nor a substitute for established religion. Instead of undermining traditional religious beliefs, Masonry, through its rituals, teachings, and symbolism, contributes to reinforce those values of "friendship, morality and brotherly love" that are the foundations of religious movements around the world.

    Editor's Note: The Grand Lodge in Israel, for example, places three volumes of the Sacred Law on its Altars: the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), the New Testament, and the Koran.

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