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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Masonry Beyond The Historical Perspective

Masonry Beyond The Historical Perspective Cover Until this point, this paper has dealt with Masonry from a historical perspective. Various opinions of prominent Masonic Authors from the last three centuries were discussed, and a brief history of the inclusion of God as a part of Masonic teaching has been laid out. However, none of the theory or philosophy thus far presented has gotten to the heart of the issue: why can’t Atheists be admitted to Lodges today? Answers of “that’s the way it has always been” have been proffered (see, for example, Lippincott & Johnson, p. 84). However, this excuse is on its surface weak. There was a time when only men of sound body were admitted; several Grand Lodges, including the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, have begun admitting men with physical deformities (see, for example, Hoenes, p. 6-7). Other changes have been made over time; admitting Atheists would only be a modernizing adaptation. Other answers to this question have been dealt with above. Though some may find solace in these answers, others may find them to be excuses based on prejudice and fear. The remainder of this paper will attempt to discuss, why, in the culturally accepting 21st century, there is still no room for Atheists in Masonry.

In the end, the origins of religiosity in Masonry are not as important today to the argument of admitting Atheists as the role of the Mystic Tye. The prime reason for continuing to deny Atheists admittance into our Brotherhood is the presence of God and religion throughout Masonic beliefs, as noted before. By itself, the ritual we practice has overtones of the Grand Architect. These rituals would make Atheists (a) uncomfortable given their individual beliefs and (b) unable to understand the nuances of Masonry, given the absolute importance Masons put on their faith to God. Beyond ritual, the myths and legends that make Masonry what it is today are inherently religious.

Was Freemasonry only a society of fraternity, with no religious component, such as a Moose Club, or a charity-only organization, such as Rotary International, these stringent requirements regarding an individual’s beliefs would not be as important. Our Fraternity, however, is one with religious components. One needs look no further than the Ritual presented to a Candidate during the First Degree. A candidate is asked in whom he puts his trust and is required to give an answer which acknowledges a belief in Deity. He is told that since his trust is in God, he is sound in faith in the Great Architect. In other words, to proceed past the first moments in the Lodge, one must affirm his faith in Deity.

Naturally, such a display would be difficult for someone who does not hold a belief in the Supreme Architect of the Universe. One might assume that an Atheist, not being tied to his morality, would lie (as has been suggested by some); but to what end? What would an Atheist see in an open lodge that would interest him?

As the ritual stands, an incredible number of references are made to the Volume of Sacred Law, to God, and of our submission to Him. An Atheist in such surroundings would likely feel uncomfortable.

Nor should we change our Craft and the beliefs of our Order; to do so would be to destroy the heart and soul of the Fraternity. The foundation of Masonry, that which supports us and holds us together, is the shared belief in the existence of Deity:

Other foundation there is none; upon God Masonry builds its temple of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth … God is the first Fact and the final Reality—the Truth that makes all other truth true; the corner stone of faith, the keystone of thought, the capstone of home … Everything in Masonry has reference to God, implies God, speaks of God, points and leads to God. Not a degree, not a symbol, not an obligation, not a lecture, not a charge but finds its meaning and derives its beauty from God, the Great Architect, in whose Temple all Masons are workmen. (Newton, p. 58-60)

In reality, therefore, Masonry is necessarily theistic. There is no part of Masonry which does not call upon the Great Architect, in whose presence we conduct our meetings.

If an Atheist were to join the Craft, he would find that he would be not be able to fully understand even part of the esoteric mysteries which bind Masons together. Looking no farther than the lecture and charge given to new brethren upon being initiated into our Craft, it is clear that the firm belief in God is required to understand the nuances of these lessons.[ii] Take, for example, the significance of something as simple as the white leather apron: as an “emblem of innocence,” the white leather apron’s purpose is to symbolize right and proper behavior is the path to the Celestial Temple above (Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia [hereafter GLDC], p. 179-180). Furthermore, the significance of Jacob’s Ladder, key instruments thereof being Faith, Hope, and Charity, shows that proper reverence must be given to Deity. Finally, an Atheist would likely be put off by the discussion of the perfect Ashlar and Trestle Board:

By the rough Ashlar we are reminded of our rude and imperfect state by nature; by the perfect ashlar, of that state of perfection at which we hope to arrive by a virtuous education, our own endeavors and the blessing of God; and by the Trestle Board we are also reminded that as the operative workman erects his temporal building agreeably to the rules and designs laid down by the Master on his Trestle Board, so should we, both operative and speculative, endeavor to erect our spiritual building in accordance with the rules laid down by the Supreme Architect of the Universe in the Great Books of nature and revelation, which are our spiritual, moral and Masonic Trestle Board. (p. 183)

What does it mean to “erect our spiritual building in accordance with the rules laid down by the Supreme Architect”? One interpretation is that our “spiritual buildings” are our individual souls—the essential parts of ourselves, which will inevitably be brought to the World Hereafter (what Paton called the “Future State”). We therefore instruct our new initiates to stand tall before God, marking our lives against those laws He has set down for us, in our Volumes of Sacred Law and in our hearts as Brothers formed in His image. To “erect” our souls is to stand upright and to act nobly in our lives, especially in service to Deity.

It is therefore impossible to allow Atheists to join order because they are incapable of measuring themselves against the will of God, to whom Masons all must show reverence. Though an Atheist may be a good man in the traditional sense of the word, as someone who acts nobly and charitably towards his fellow man, he is missing a vital component of Masonry: reverence to God. It is only through God that a man may be a Mason, for it is only through appropriate “reverential awe which is due from a creature to his Creator” (GLDC, p. 187) that a man can be an appropriate candidate.

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