MASONIC Digest Friday, 2 Feb 1990 Volume 2 : Issue 5 Today's Topic: Administrivia Response

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MASONIC Digest Friday, 2 Feb 1990 Volume 2 : Issue 5 Today's Topic: Administrivia Responses to Tom Albrecht (Christianity and Freemasonry) Send all submissions and requests to ptrei@asgard.bbn.com (*not* neccesarily the Reply-To: field.) (From enet:DECWRL::"ptrei@asgard.bbn.com") MASONIC digest is moderated. Please remember: THIS IS A PUBLIC FORUM - YOU MUST ASSUME THAT MOST READERS ARE NON-MASONS. Please include a relevant subject line, and cover one topic per message. If you require anonymity, say so at the top of your message (and give a nom-de-net). All contributions remain the property (Copyright 1990), and responsibility of the authors, and may not be diseminated beyond the list without their express permission. My own comments remain mine (Copyright 1990 Peter Trei), and represent only my views at the time of posting - not neccesarily those of my employer, or of any Grand Lodge. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- From: Peter Trei (ptrei@asgard.bbn.com) Subj: Administrivia. Date: 31 Jan 1990 I'm still having some mail problems. Please continue to send mail to ptrei@asgard.bbn.com rather than the "Reply-To:" field of the digest. This issue contains all of the responses to Tom Albrecht's message in v02n003 to date. I'm impressed with their high quality (and very aware of the somewhat defensive quality of my own posting). It's clear that there is a very wide variation of belief on this issue, and it's fascinating to see the various veiwpoints. If more responses arrive I will post them later, but as I said, I am not willing to handle responses to responses, responsesª3, etc. Mr. Albrecht has said he'd be happy to continue the discussion by email. His address is tom@dvnspc1.dev.unisys.com. Since this topic has been surprisingly non-pyrogenic, I think I might allow it to reappear periodically, but not more often then once ever several months, carefully vetted for non-repetition. How does this sound? yours fraternally, Peter Trei moderator ------------------------------ Date: Tue, 23 Jan 90 15:39:15 EST From: inmet!justin@uunet.UU.net Subject: Is Masonry at odds with Christianity? Depends on definitions... My, what a fascinating topic. In a way, I was actually pleased by the article by Tom Albrecht in digest 2,3. I'd been expecting a classic "Masons are EEEVILLL" rant; instead, he presents a set of opinions that are, at least, consistent and pretty well-thought-out. I don't agree with his conclusions, but he argues well that they follow from his premises. I'll address a specific point before proceeding to my general opinion of his argument. Re: Is Freemasonry a religion? I have to confess, my feelings on this matter are actually pretty close to Tom's. I suspect that we have a semantic problem here, concerning peoples' definitions of "religion". My personal definition of religion, which I gather is pretty close to the one Tom is arguing from, is, "a dogmatic belief about the nature of God." That simple. By that definition, Masonry *is* a religion, if only because it presumes the *existence* of God. (Of course, by the same argument, atheism can be called a religion as well, but that's a debate better held somewhere else; send me email if you *really* want to discuss it.) On the other hand, the definition generally used around Masonry, to justify Masonry not being a religion, has far more specific connotations, implying that Masonry is not a religion because it does not share in all of the outward *trappings* of most religions. (I could, of course, use alternate definitions. One of my other favorites is, "an organization that teaches a spiritual path"; this definition is becoming increasingly common with the advent of the New Age trend. By this definition, too, Freemasonry is a religion.) The members of the Craft, in general, seem to be a tad oversensitive on this point; in order not to be misconstrued, Freemasonry misconstrues itself. Just because Masonry's views on matters of religion are extraordinarily vague does not negate them. Just because the Craft is one of the most ecumenical organizations around does not lessen its own religious views. Just because its dogmas try to be grounded in common sense, rather than sheer faith, does not really make them any less dogmas. I accept the few tenets of faith within Masonry (the existence of God, the principle that working to better oneself is a necessarily good thing, etc.), because they match my own world-view. But I also accept that they *are* dogmas, which are no more self-evident from a mathematical or physical viewpoint than anything that the Bible, Quran, or what have you, have to say. (Ooh, I smell a tangential thread brewing here...) Re: The Gist of the Message On the whole, I reservedly agree with Tom. I do think that Masonry is incompatible with *his* interpretation of Christianity. He makes his point in several ways, but most of it boils down to the fact that Masonry is *very* ecumenical, and much of traditional Christianity is not; indeed, certain interpretations of Christian thought are downright anti-ecumenical, and that is, I believe, the viewpoint that he is coming from. Additionally, this viewpoint holds that the only truly important thing is belief in Christ, and all else is secondary; this is, if not directly contradicted by Masonic thinking, at least a very different emphasis. He makes three particularly good points: -- If you do not accept other religions as having *some* validity, then offering prayers in communion with those of these other religions can be taken as rather serious hypocrisy. -- He argues that a Christian cannot consider a non-Christian to be a spiritual brother, basing this view on Scripture. I would say that there are two definitions of "spiritual brotherhood" being bandied about here; however, if one takes the view that only a Christian can be a truly good man, it is a valid point, and one that is *quite* contrary to the Masonic view of things. -- He says, in two different places, that the Masonic mode of salvation is at odds with the Christian. This is only really true if you take the extreme view, that Christianity regards faith in Christ as the only important thing. Still, I believe that he *is* arguing the extreme Christian view, and there is no question that Masonry regards one's actions as being, in some absolute sense, important. Now, before people go flaming me, I ask them to consider for a minute. I am *not* agreeing with Tom's conclusions, by any stretch of the imagination; I'm not Christian, and my personal faith is quite compatible with Masonry. Basically, I'm playing Devil's Advocate here, since I suspect that most people will be tearing into his discussion without seeing the point. As far as I'm concerned, the question is, can a Christian (by Tom's definition of Christian) be a Mason in good faith? And my conclusion is, no, he can't. Now, this is using one very particular interpretation of Christian philosophy, a strongly orthodox and traditionalist one. I know plenty of people who consider themselves good Christians, who take the faith rather differently from him, who would have no problem with Masonry. But Tom's philosophies really are at least somewhat at odds with Masonic thought. Given that one of the major tenets of Masonry is respect for the religions of others, I think that it behooves us to respect his beliefs, and recognize that he is right: given the direction and depth of his beliefs, he really couldn't become a Mason in good faith. -- Justin du Coeur aka Bro. Mark Waks the long-winded new guy on the block PS. Oh, yes -- if you want to argue about the validity of this particular definition of Christianity with me: please don't. It's really not relevant to my point, and you won't get much satisfaction out of it -- I have, at best, a layman's understanding of Christianity. My point is that his conclusion follows from his faith, and that, I believe, is true... ------------------------------ Date: Tue, 23 Jan 90 11:34:07 EST From: Howard Steel Subject: Christianity and Freemasonry It is extremely sad to see that in a world fraught with mis-understanding, prejudice, and intolerance, that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church would come to conclude and profess that ANY group which fosters ideals that encompass the beliefs of the majority of humans could be considered ANTI-Christian. There is a distressing tendency to equate religion with spirituality, when in actual fact the actions of many churches (Christian and non-Christian) take on a particularly defensive stance when anyone expresses spirituality in terms other than those within the narrow confines of accepted tradition. Religion does not equal Spirituality, non-denominational/non- Christian does not equal Anti-Christian, and no man or group can hope to have all the answers. Intolerance is usually generated from fear; fear of the unknown and the attempt to protect ourself (or the group-self) from a percieved threat. This particularly un-Christian (un-Bhuddist un-Hindu, un-Taoist, un-Jewish un-etc.) attitude is in and of itself anti-Christian. / / / / / / / / :-(I Think, Therefore I Am, I Think :-) / / / / / / / / / Howard.Steel@Waterloo.NCR.COM NCR CANADA LTD. - 580 Weber St. N / / (519)884-1710 Ext 570 Waterloo, Ont., N2J 4G5 / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / ------------------------------ From: Peter Trei (ptrei@asgard.bbn.com) Subj: Christianity and Freemasonry. Date: 31 Jan 1990 Mr Albrecht: It should come to no one's suprise that I disagree with you and your denomination's conclusions. There are two main points I'd like to bring up. * You misunderstand the nature of "Masonic authority". In it's study, your denomination defined as "Masonic authorities" the authors of a list of books produced when John Ankerberg (an anti-Masonic televangelist) wrote the American GLs, asking which books they considered authoritative on Freemasonry. The list they produced is actually pretty good: Coil's "Masonic Encyclopedia", Newton's "The Builders", and Mackey's "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry" among others. Your church described these as "primary materials". This is a misnomer. The primary material of Freemasonry is the experience of the ritual. Reading about it won't really do it: Masonry is something you do more then something you study. The lodge experience is the real "Masonic authority". Masonic authors are free to write whatever they feel like about Masonry, and they would have to reveal secrets, or really go off the wall to incur any discipline from GL. Only a small fraction of Masonic literature undergoes any kind of GL approval process. Try contacting your local Grand Lodge (I can get you the phone and address) if you want to obtain "official" information. ½Also try reading Hamill's "The Craft", which I described in the past issues of the digest.| Try this thought experiment: Suppose that all Scripture had to be memorized: writing it down, or giving it to non-Christians was wrong, as was bringing non-Christians to services or evangelizing them (remember, this is just an exercise). I imagine that all kinds of strange rumors would then be afoot about Christianity - that it's central ritual involved human cannibalism, and that churches were filled with the most obscene depictions of torture, one of which was the central image of worship. Suppose a non-Christian then wrote the heads of various denominations, asking what books are authoritative on Christianity. He'd undoubtedly get a list, but could he determine what Communion really was, and gain a true appreciation of martyrdom or the Crucifixion by reading them? I think not. You, your denomination and all outsiders are in a similar fix when trying to study Freemasonry. You can't really understand it from the outside. Every one of us took a leap into the unknown when we first knocked on the door of a lodge; the overwhelming majority are glad we did so. As a result of this gap in knowledge, I'm not sure we can convince you of the propriety of our institution. For the same reason, your denomination's arguments fail to hit the mark for Masons - we know what we're talking about, while you are criticizing on the basis of partial knowledge. I've tried another thought experiment: I've tried to think of someone converting to "Freemasonry", either from another religion or from atheism. It just does not work. There is not enough in Masonry make a working proposition of it. If your faith can be equated with your home, then Masonry is an annex in the back yard that you use as a den. While it may be constructed from the same materials as your home, and from a distance appear to be another house, it is not one - it lacks too many essential components, and can exist only as in relation to an actual house. It is neither a home, nor a substitute for a home, just as Masonry is neither a religion nor a substitute for a home. * You misunderstand the specialized volcabulary of Masonry as it is * used in (sometimes sloppily written) Masonic texts. Like any specialized field, Masonry has it's own volcabulary. You'll have to accept our explanations as to what we mean when we use certain words, our you'll get a *very* false notion as to what is going on. (Think what a gory image "Washed the the Blood of the Lamb" conjures up if taken literally. :-) Words such as "religion" and "god" frequently appear in Masonic literature, and from their use it is easy to draw the conclusion that Masonry is a separate religion with it's own god(s), like Islam or Hinduism. This is incorrect. When we use these terms in a Masonic context, they are (to use a computer languages analogy) locally defined constants. Each Mason internally translates them to the God and religion of his own faith, as explained in the pamphlet I quoted. For this reason the definition of these terms in Masonic contexts is pretty vague - it's up to the individual to decide, within very broad bounds, what he means by them. The ease with which this is misunderstood is exacerbated by careless writing on the part of many Masonic authors. A large majority of Masons are Christians, and it is a simple trap for Masonic authors to assume they are writing solely for an audience of their co-religionists. (This was more true in the past than it is now.) Rev. Newton (author of The Builders) was a Christian minister and while very good on Masonic ethics and morality, had something of a tendency to confuse the distinction between Masonry and his religion. I disagree with Coil's characterisation of Masonry as a religion. I suppose you can also find people who describe baseball as a religion (certainly the editorials welcoming the start of the season seem to! :-), but that does not put it on a par with Bhuddism or Christianity. It's pretty clear that the vast majority of Christian Masons see no conflict between their faith and the Craft. Some of the optional degrees *require* that the candidate profess Christianity. Twice a year, on the feasts of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, Christian Masons are invited to attend special services as Masons. Many prominent churchmen have been brothers, including Sir Israel Brodie and at least one Archbishop of Canterbury (Geoffrey Fisher). ½The only list I have is Church of England|. Such men can scarcely be accused of disregarding possible problems. > Freemasons meet in temples, they offer prayer, they have alters, > they have symbols and rituals of a religious nature. What is the > purpose of prayer but to petition Almighty God? Can a Christian > rightly join in a prayer offered by a Hindu to a Muslim god? Masonic Halls are sometimes called temples, in commemoration of King Solomon's Temple, the perfection of which we strive to mirror in our characters. We offer prayers - as all men should do before important undertakings. The only symbol of a religious nature in the lodge is the Holy Bible and/or other appropriate VSL(s), which we each take as the rule and guide for our particular faith and practice. Prayer most certainly is a petition to Almighty God. As to your last question: First, it would be an abomination for a "Hindu to pray to a Muslim god" since Allah is not part of the Hindu religion. Secondly, the term "join in a prayer" is misleading. We pray with one voice, certainly, but each one of us is praying to his own God. I do not regard the presence of non-Christians as a reason I should not pray to my Savior. ½Actually, this situation rarely arises in practice: most lodges are wholly Christian, and Christians and Jews together probably account for >99% of Masons in America.| > "Masonry claims that it is not founded on the Bible." You are confusing the legendary history, which traces Masonry back to Adam (well before the Bible was written :-), and the actual historic record, which gets going in the mid-1600's. At that early time, Masonry was restricted to Christians. In the early 1700's the ritual was de-Christianized to allow non-Christians to join and so broaden our brotherhood to all good men of faith. This is why there are numerous Biblical quotes throughout the ritual, but amended to remove their specifically Christian, sectarian character. I was going to include a long section here disagreeing strongly with your condemnation of "good works", but I realized that it had much more to do with my religious beliefs than with Masonry. However, I will say the following: "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Matt 8:20 The various Masonic groups are the most generous donors to charity in the country, if not the world. Together we raise at least half a billion dollars a year, entirely from our own pockets. We fund medical research, visit the sick, feed the poor, care for the aged, support widows and orphans. The Shriner's Burns Units and Children's Hospitals treat thousands of people every year entirely free of charge and regardless of connection or non-connection to our order. The Freemasons are the largest donors of blood in the US (we and the Elks together account for over half of all donations). I firmly believe these to be good works and therefore Masonry a good institution. Masonry does not teach salvation by any method, but does suggest we should each strive to make ourselves acceptable to our respective Supreme Beings, and to *hope* for whatever form of salvation our religions provide. Freemasonry is not a religion. The ritual is written in such a way that it will support the religious views of any good man. Men of every creed can and do come together under its banner of universal brotherhood without conflict. Peter Trei ptrei@asgard.bbn.com Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! - Psalm 133 ------------------------------ Date: Sat, 27 Jan 90 13:19 EST From: BLISSLB%APPSTATE.BITNET@VTVM1.CC.VT.edu Subject: Masonry and Christianity The Orthodox Presbyterian Church concludes, "....Masonry is a religious institution and as such is definitely anti-Christian." As a non-Christian I find that I can take somewhat of a detached view of this whole debate. My detachment becomes even easier when I remember that the Craft does not solicit members. If Mr. Albrecht and members of his religious group ("sect" is a little strong, Peter. Up here in the mountains a lot of folks think Roman Catholicism is a "sect"!) do not wish to become Masons, that fine with me. So, from this point of view, let me respond to his church's statement. Is Masonry a religion? Webster's Third International Dictionary, Unabridged defines "religion" as, "The personal commitment to and serving of God, or a god with worshipful devotion, conduct in accord with divine commands especially as found in accepted sacred writings or declared by authoritative teachers, a way of life recognized as incumbent on true believers, and typically the relating of oneself to an organized body of believers." As an organization, Masonry is not involved in the serving of God or in worship. Nor do we possess a body of sacred writing or authoritative teachers. Finally, no Mason is ever told what to think nor how to think. The idea of a "way of life . . . . incumbent on true believers" is, in fact, non-Masonic as any brother who has gone at least through the three degrees of the Blue Lodge is aware. Scottish Rite Masons are even more aware of this! Rather than being a religious institution, Masonry is an institution composed of religious men. The fact that we invoke divine guidance in our lodges does not make the Craft any more of a religion than the fact that benedictions at high school graduations and session of Congress make these institutions "religions". The next issue is not so easily put aside. Is Masonry anti-Christian? One of the major differences between Christianity and my religion (I am a Jew) is that while Judaism is inclusive, Christianity is exclusive. Judaism teaches that there are "righteous among the nations." That is, one need not be a Jew to be close to God and receive His blessings in this life or any other one. Jews are obligated to obey the commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) because we voluntarily took on this obligation at Mt. Sinai. Non-Jews are not so obligated and serve God in their own, equally valid ways. Christians, on the other hand, recognize no other way to "salvation" but their own. Although most of my Christian friends are reluctant to admit it, their religion holds that I am going to Hell, going directly to Hell, and will not collect $200. My neighbor and colleague at Appalachian State University is also a Lutheran minister who tells me that his denomination will not allow its clergy to join the Masons because we hold that all religions are equally valid. This we certainly do believe. Masonry is not "anti-Christian" it is "non-Christian" and because of the exclusivity inherent in Christianity, when it comes to issues of God and prayer, most Christians are unable to recognize the difference between these two attitudes. They see no middle ground. You are either with them or against them. This blindness is causing a lot of fine men to pass up the fellowship and fine lessons of Masonry. My friend Dave would have made one heck of a Mason. Mr. Albrecht, there is nothing in our Craft that you would find inconsistent with your religious belief except the idea that anyone has a monopoly on the truth or the only way to God. However, if you sincerely believe that you have these two things, you really should not consider becoming a Mason. Len Bliss Snow Lodge Boone, NC ------------------------------ End of MASONIC Digest *********************

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