In an abstract sense, Deism, or Theism, is the belief in God, but the word is generally used to designate those who, believing in God, reject a belief in the Scriptures as a revelation. The sect of Deists which, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, enrolled among its followers many great intellects, such as Toland, Collins, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Fume, Gibbon, and Voltaire--is said by Findel (History of Freemasonry, page 126) to have "necessarily exercised an important influence on the Fraternity of Masons"; and, he adds, that "we cannot doubt that it contributed essentially to its final transformation from an Operative to a universal Speculative Society." The refutation of this remarkable assertion is best found in the first of the Charges adopted at the revival in 1717, and which was published in the Constitutions of 1793. A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine," where the words irreligious libertine refer to the Freethinkers or Deists of that period. It is evident, then, that the Deists could have had no influence at that time in molding the Masonic organization.
There is still better evidence to be found in the old records of Freemasonry during several preceding centuries, when the Operative was its dominant character, and when the dogmas of Christianity were fully recognized, which must necessarily have been the case, since Freemasonry during that period was under the patronage of the Church. There is, in fact, no evidence to sustain Findel's theory, that in the transition stage from the Operative to the Speculative, when such men as the deeply religious Ashmole were among its members, the Deists could have infused any If their principles into its organization or exercised any influence in changing its character.
Freemasonry, at that time sectarian, demanded almost a Christian belief--at all events, a Christian allegiance--from its disciples. It is now more tolerant, and Deism presents no disqualification for initiation. An atheist would be rejected, but none would now be refused admission on religious grounds who subscribed to the dogmas of a belief in God and a resurrection to eternal life.
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