MASONIC Digest Friday, 2 Feb 1990 Volume 2 : Issue 5 Today's Topic: Administrivia Response
MASONIC Digest Friday, 2 Feb 1990 Volume 2 : Issue 5
Responses to Tom Albrecht (Christianity and Freemasonry)
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From: Peter Trei (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: 31 Jan 1990
I'm still having some mail problems. Please continue to send mail
to email@example.com rather than the "Reply-To:" field of the
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 90 15:39:15 EST
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,
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 (email@example.com)
Subj: Christianity and Freemasonry.
Date: 31 Jan 1990
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 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
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.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
- Psalm 133
Date: Sat, 27 Jan 90 13:19 EST
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.
End of MASONIC Digest
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