Religion of Freemasonry
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 Freemasonry is not a religion. This has usually arisen from a well-intended but erroneous view that has been assumed of the connection between religion and Freemasonry, and from a fear that if the complete disseverance of the two was not made manifest, the opponents of Freemasonry would be enabled successfully to establish a theory which they have been fond of advancing, that the Freemasons were disposed to substitute the teachings of their Order for the truths of Christianity.
Now we have never for a moment believed that any such unwarrantable assumption, as that Freemasonry is intended to be a substitute for Christianity, could ever obtain admission into any well-regulated mind, and, therefore, us are not disposed to yield on the subject of the religious character of FreemasonrY, quite so much as has been yielded by more timid Brethren. On the contrary, we contend, without any sort of hesitation, that Freemasonry 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 it contains for its origin as well as its continued existence, and that without this religious element it would scarcely be worthy of cultivate on by the wise and good. But, that we may be truly understood, it will be well first to agree upon the true definition of religion. There is nothing more illogical than to reason upon undefined terms. Webster has given four distinct definitions of religion: 1. Religion, in a comprehensive sense, includes, he says a belief in the being and perfections of God--in the revelation of His will to man--in man's obligation to obey His commands--in a state of reward and punishment, and in man's accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practise of all moral duties.
2. His second definition is, that religion, as distinct from theology, is godliness or real piety in practise, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow-men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to food and His law. 3. Again, he says that religion, as distinct from virtue or morality, consists in the performance of the duties we owe directly to God, from a principle of obedience to His will.
4. Lastly, he defines religion to be any system of faith or worship and in this sense, he says, religion comprehends the belief and worship of Pagans and Mohammedans as well as of Christians--any religion consisting in the belief of a superior power, or powers, governing the world, and in the worship of such power or powers. It is in this sense that we speak of the Turkish religion, or the Jewish religion, as well as of the Christian.
Now, it is plain that, in either of the first three senses in which we may take the word religion, and they do not very materially differ from each other, Freemasonry may rightfully claim to be called a religious institution. Closely and accurately examined, it will be found to answer to any one of the requirements of either of these three definitions. So much does it "include a belief in the being and perfections of God," that the public profession of such a faith is essentially necessary to gain admission into the Order. No disbeliever in the existence of a God can be made a Freemason. The "revelation of his call to man" is technically called the "spiritual, moral, and Masonic Trestle-Board" of every Freemason, according to the rules and designs of which he is to erect the spiritual edifice of his eternal life.
A "state of reward and punishment" is necessarily included in the very idea of an obligation, which, without the belief in such a state, could be of no binding force or efficacy. And "true godliness or piety of life" is inculcated as the invariable duty of every Freemason, from the inception of the first to the end of the very last Degree that he takes. So, again, in reference to the second and third definitions, all this practical piety and performance of the duties we owe to God and to our fellow men arise from and are founded on a principle of obedience to the divine will. Else whence, or from what other will, could they have arisen?
It is the voice of the G. A. O. T. U. symbolized to us in every ceremony of our ritual and from every portion of the furniture of our Lodge, that speaks to the true Freemason, commanding him to fear God and to love the Brethren. It is idle to say that the Freemason does good simply in obedience to the Statutes of the Order. These very Statutes owe their Sanction to the Masonic idea of the nature and perfections of God, a belief that has come down to us from the earliest history of the Institution, and the promulgation of which idea was the very object and design of its origin.
But it must be confessed that the fourth definition does not appear to be strictly applicable to Freemasonry. It has no pretension to assume a place among the religions of the world as a sectarian "system of faith and worship," in the sense in which we distinguish Christianity from Judaism, or Judaism from Mohammedanism. In this meaning of the word we do not and can not speak of the Masonic religion, nor say of a man that he is not a Christian, but a Freemason. Here it is that the opponents of Freemasonry have assumed mistaken ground in confounding the idea of a religious Institution with that of the Christian religion as a peculiar form of worship, and in supposing, because Freemasonry teaches religious truth, that it is offered as a substitute for Christian truth and Christian obligation. Its warmest and most enlightened friends have never advanced nor supported such a claim. Freemasonry is not Christianity, nor a substitute for it. It is not intended to supersede it nor any other form of worship or system of faith. It does not meddle with sectarian creeds or doctrines, but teaches fundamental religious truth-- not enough to do away with the necessity of the Christian scheme of salvation, but more than enough to show, to demonstrate, that it is, in every philosophical sense of the word, a religious Institution, and one, too, in which the true Christian Freemason will find if he earnestly seeks for them, abundant types and shadows of his own exalted and divinely inspired faith.
The tendency of all true Freemasonry is toward religion. If it make any progress, its progress is to that holy end. Look at its ancient landmarks, its sublime ceremonies, its profound symbols and alle gories--all inculcating religious doctrine, commanding religious observance, and teaching religious truth, and who can deny that it is eminently a religious Institution? But, besides, Freemasonry is, in all its forms, thoroughly tinctured with a true devotional spirit. We open and close our Lodges with prayer; we invoke the blessing of the Most High upon all our labors; we demand of our neophytes a profession of trusting belief in the existence and the superintending eare of God; and we teach them to bow with humility and reverence at His awful name, while His Holy Law is widely opened upon our altars. Freemasonry is thus identified with religion; and although a man may be eminently religious without being a Freemason, it is impossible that a Freemason can be "true and trusty" to his Order unless he is a respecter of religion and an observer of religious principle.
But the religion of Freemasonry is not sectarian It admits men of every creed within its hospitable bosom, rejecting none and approving none for his peculiar faith. It is not Judaism, though there is nothing in it to offend a Jew; it is not Christianity, but there is nothing in it repugnant to the faith of a Christian. Its religion is that general one of nature and primitive revelation--handed down to us from some ancient and Patriarchal Priesthood--in which all men may agree and in which no men can differ. It inculcates the practise of virtue, but it supplies no scheme of redemption for sin. It points its disciples to the path of righteousness, but it does not claim to be "the way, the truth, and the life." In so far, therefore, it cannot become a substitute for Christianity, but its tendency is thitherward; and, as the handmaid of religion, it may, and often does, act as the porch that introduces its votaries into the temple of divine truth. Freemasonry, then, is indeed a religious institution; and on this ground mainly, if not alone, should the religious Freemason defend it.
To the above observations by Doctor Mackey we may add that the religion of Freemasonry was examined at. some length in a book bearing that title by Brother Josiah Whymper, Past Deputy District Grand Master, Punjab, India. Brother Whymper's purpose was to draw the attention of Freemasons to the circumstance that the original religious principles of Freemasonry were based on Christian Catholicity. He believed that in a well-meant but, in his judgment, mistaken effort to let Freemasonry be all things to all men this principle had been forgotten. In fact, he had found that some Freemasons denied it altogether, asserting that all distinct profession of Christianity was abandoned in 1717 when the Grand Lodge was founded. Colonel J. J. Boswell raised a question in the Masonic Record of India, 1878, under what authority the Koran was used in Lodges working under the English Constitution. Soon thereafter Brother J. J. Davies, the Worshipful Master of Lodge Ravee at Lahore, in the Punjab, addressed the following letter (see Religion of Freemasonry, page 1) to the Grand Secretary of that District: Allow me to invite your attention to a correspondence which very lately appeared in a Masonic Journal, the Record of Western India, regarding the alleged practice in some Lodges of obligating persons on other than the Sacred Seriptures of the Christian Dispensation. From the correspondence you may observe that opinion on the subject is divided: one Brother who signs himself "P. M. 1215" alleging that the practise is in accordance with the spirit of Masonic law, whilst another Brother, a "W. M." on the contrary, considers that it is in direct violation of Masonic law: in letter, in spirit, and the practice of antiquity.
As it has hitherto been the practise of Lodge Ravee 1215, English Constitution, to obligate Mohammedan and Hindu candidates respectively on the " Koran" and " Shastrass," and Christians on the " Bible," I beg to refer the question and should feel greatly obliged if you would kindly obtain the opinion of the Right Worshipful the District Grand Master, whether, or not, in this respect the conduct of Lodge Ravee is consistent with Masonic principles and Masonic law. In intuiting your attention to the subject, I would respectfully mention that in my opinion the meaning of the words, "Volume of the Saered Law," is not confined to the Saered Law of the Christian Dispensation; but have a bearing fuller and deeper: a meaning as broad as Masonry itself. As Masonry is universal, and combines persons of every clime and creed, the "Volume of the Sacred Law" should be adapted to the different nations, and be the law held sacred by them, subject to the ancient landmarks of the Order: a belief in the G. A. O. T. U.-- otherwise the binding influence of the oath would appear to be nil. I beg the favour of an early reply, as at our next meeting on the 21st current, it is intended to raise a Mohammedan Brother to the High and Sublime Degree of Master Maon, and it is very desirable that the obligation be administered in proper order, on the volume sanctioned by Masonic law. I may add, that in the 1st and 2nd degrees, this Mohammedan Brother was obligated on the Koran: the Sacred Scriptures of the Christain Dispensation lying open the whole time on the pedestal.
District Grand Secretary, George Davies, in answer to the above inquiry sent the following decision: I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 7th instant, requesting a ruling from the Right Worship ful District Grand Master on the following points: 1. Whether it is correct for a Worshipful Master to obligate a Mohammedan candidate on the Christian Bible or on the "Volume of the Saered Law" as accepted by him, namely, the Koran. 2. In the case of a Hindu or other Thest, what should be considered the Sacred Law in their respective cases?
Your queries have been duly laid before the Right Worshipful District Grand Master, and I am directed to reply as follows: 1. Masonry being universal, men of every creed are eligible for membership, so long as they accept the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. 2. As all candidates for Masonry are obligated, to render that engagement a solemn and binding one, the candidate should be obligated on the "Volume of the Sacred Law" which he accepts as such, in the case of a Mohammedan gentleman, the Koran, in the case of a Hindu the Shastras, a Parsee the Zoroastrian code; in other words, it is the duty of the Worshipful Master to ascertain before obligating the candidate which Revels tion from God to Man he accepts as that most binding upon his eonscienee, and the obligation should be given accordingly.
In the case of lodges working under the English Constitution, and of which Europeans are members, the English Bible must remain open, and be used in the Lodge; the other books being used for the obligations of the candidates only. To summarize the matter:--In the case of your Lodge, a Mohammedan gentleman being a candidate, your procedure should be as follows: The English Bible will remain open, being removed for convenience sake to the Eastern part of the Lodge the Koran will then be placed on the Altar and the candidate obligated, after which it will be removed and the Bible replaced. As however the matter is of great importance, a reference on the subject will be made to England. Pending a reply the above must be accepted as the law on the subject.
District Grand Master, Major M. Ramsay in December of that year obtained the following comment from Grand Secretary John Hervey at the headquarters in London: I am in receipt of your favor of the 9th Oetober, with copies of correspondence with the Worshipful Master of the Lodge Ravee, No. 1215, on the subject of obligating candidates not professing the Christian faith, and beg to say that I fully coincide in your answers, which I do not think could have been better expressed.
Lodges in India working under the Grand Lodge of Scotland have recognized the Zendavesta, the Koran, and the Shastras by appointing official bearers of these volumes. brother George W. Speth, who edited the book by Brother Whymper, received a letter from D. Murray Lyon, dated at Freemasons Hall, Edinburgh, December 21, 1887, in which he says: The statement to which you refer is correct. I cannot say when the arrangement was originally authorized, but the By-laws of the District Grand Lodge of India, in which the duties of Bible Bearer, Zend Avesta Bearers and Koran Bearer are given, were sanctioned and confirmed by Grand Committee in August, 1885, as per Certificate of Grand Secretary of date. Brother Whymper favored separate Jewish, Parsee, Hindu, and Mohammedan Lodges. He says, "It is impossible for any man, no matter what his former religion may have been, to become a Fellow Craft Mason in English Masonry and refuse to accept both the Old and New Testaments."
But in Brother William James Hughan's Introduction to the Religion of Freemasonry (pages v to vii) he replies:
How then would these distinctive combinations provide of such a contingency? If we cannot do with these religionists in our Lodges, I do not see how we can do without them--that is, in separate Lodges. We meet on the Level or not at all, and therefore, if we cannot as votaries of various Faiths become members together in Lodge, and thus illustrate the "Brotherhood of Man," better far to refrain from all attempts at Universality, and revert to an exclusively Christian Constitution, as in the olden time.
I am anxious to look at the question ill all its aspects, and do not mention difficulties because of any fondness of them, but simply to suggest that if a return to the old system is to be recommended, and primarily because it prevailed prior to the inauguration of Grand Lodges, it is well we should understand what is involved in such a course. At all events, it seems to me that we are at the present time observing the old rule of 1723, in promoting the " Relwfon in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves," as well as respecting some of the usages and customs of our Grand Lodge. Besides which, by thus extending the scope of our Ancient and Honorable Society, we are adding immensely to its beneficial influence and practical usefulness, especially abroad.
Holding this view, and bearing in mind the esteemed brethren who hold and advocate otherwise, I am prepared to accept the opinion and advice of the revered brother, the Reverend A. F. A. Woodford, M. A., Past Grand Chaplain, who maintained that " the Christian School and the Universal School can co-exist in Freemasonry. Though their views are necessarily antagonistic, yet they need not be made the subject of contention they can be held in peace and consideration, and all fraternal goodwill.
Indeed, we think, upon the whole, that Freemasonry has, curiously enough, a twofold teaching in this respect." According to Brother Whymper's convictions, the spread of the Craft in India amongst Parsees, Hindoos, and Mohammedans calls for serious consideration, and increasingly so when Brethren of each of those Faiths become sufficiently numerous to support Lodges composed mainly of members of their own persuasion. Should difficulties arise in consequence, we may yet have to try the ingenious suggestion of chartering Lodges for each particular Faith, subject to the rights of mutual visitation, but I confess to the feeling that, should ever such be deemed requisite, an element religious distinction and classification will be of necessity introduced, which will considerably modify or Weaken the unsectarian character of the Institute.
The subject is also discussed by Brother Roscoe Pound, Proceedings, Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, 916 (pages 821-3) and his Masonic Jurisprudence, 920 (page 35), and in Doctor Mackey's revised jurisprudence of Freemasonry, 1927.
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