Toronto Society for Masonic Research

Freemasonry and Religion

This is the beginning of a work in progress ...

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could come up with two sets of assertions, mark the intersection that all agree on, examine the rest.  (Perhaps iterating the process on a lower level of detail)?  Thus, for example, we should be able to have easy agreement of who said/wrote what when.  (Without that we have either ignorance or conflicting accounts)  Once we agree on the texts and other data of fact, we can then proceed to examine meanings.

(Consider, for example, that teaching does not equate to *requirement*.  A citizen is urged to vote, but a non-voting citizen is not expelled.  Nor does admission requirement equate to maintenance requirement -- an old incompetent person may not qualify for entry, but that does not necessarily disqualify one who becomes so, from continued membership, or from voting.  Such deliberations do not question the basic documented facts, on which there should be agreement, regardless of one's beliefs as to meanings or "self-evident absolute truth".)

For example, we all agree that

In 1723 Anderson's Charges were adopted by "The Right Worshipful and most ancient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons", and that they contained the text: "only to oblige them ... to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty". [1]

We might even agree that, of the Charges, the following relate to the question of "religion" and "requirements":

"I. Of GOD and RELIGION" and "III. Of LODGES".

We could then (further) *point* to the essence of the (3) interpretations. ["Goodness", "Deism/Theism", "Christian"]

Does it seem reasonable to make such a timeline?

The GOdF, the UGLE, and the Question of Religious or Belief Requirement for Admission.

1723 Anderson's "Charges of a Free-Mason" [1]

1728 GOdF formed

???? First documented statement by (U)GLE of a religious *requirement* for admission

1815 UGLE Constitution states (what text?) Belief Requirement

???? First documented statement of "GAOTU" _as_a_Belief_Requirement

???? First documented statement of "Supreme Being" _as_a_Belief_Requirement

1848 GOdF post-2nd-Republic Constitution introduces belief requirement [2]

1867 GOdF recognized ... SC SR Louisiana -- ~40 US GLs severed relations [3]

1869 GOdF resolved: neither race nor religion disqualify candidate -- US reaction. [4]

1873 UGLE does what?

1877 GOdF removes 1848 belief requirement, making bible requirement lodge-optional.

1878 UGLE responds how? (text?)

1929 UGLE states for the first time "those Basic Principles of Freemasonry for which [it] has stood throughout its history"

[1] Anderson's Constitutions of 1723

[2] "1848 ... new religious dogma: "Freemasonry has for its principles the existence of Deity and the immortality of the Soul."  Prior to that time, the Grand Orient had conformed to the English Constitutions of 1723, belief in God not being inserted into the English Constitution until 1815" -- Coil1995 p265

[3] Coil1995 p266

[4] "In 1869 The Grand Orient of France resolved that neither color, race nor religion should disqualify a candidate. Although this conformed strictly to Masonic principles, it raised the racial question and so disturbed the Grand Lodges of the United States that several, which had not already done so, severed relations withe the Grand Orient.".-- Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, "France" p266 1995

Now, shall we correct/refine/complete this?

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1728-1848 GOdF had no religious requirement and was UGLE-recognized

1848 GOdF made religious requirement mandatory

1877 GOdF made religious requirement optional

Bessel: U.S. Recognition of French Grand Lodges in the 1900s

The GOF and some other grand lodges say its attitude toward the Bible and religion is more in keeping with Anderson's 1723 Constitutions of the Free-Masons than that of grand lodges in England and the United States today. The great principle of freemasonry in the 1700s was that it allowed men much greater freedom of conscience than most institutions had until that time, and this included tolerance of all religious attitudes within masonry.61 It was not until 1760 (forty-three years after the premier grand lodge was formed ) that the Grand Lodge of England changed its rules to require the Bible on lodge altars (until then Anderson's Constitutions was acceptable), and originally candidates were not asked to express a belief in God ("the laws and ritual of the original Grand Lodge in 1723 required no more of its initiates on the subject of religion than that they should be good men and true, men of honor and honesty, obeying the moral law").62 A California grand lodge committee said the inclusion of the Bible in masonry, "as dear as this alleged landmark is to the hearts of American masons," was an "innovation in the body of Masonry."63 The GOF went along with this "innovation" in 1849, but changed back to the original language in 1877, after France had undergone several savage foreign and civil wars, with French religious leaders often siding with the oppressors.64

[p. 228] Grand lodges in England and America were upset by the GOF action in 1877, but the post-1877 GOF rules were the same as its pre-1849 rules about the role of religion in freemasonry, and English and American grand lodges had recognized the GOF in the earlier period.65 The GOF was surprised that English and American grand lodges were so very upset with them for merely returning to their earlier language, which had been acceptable to the English and Americans. The Grand Secretary of the GOF wrote to an English brother:

The Grand Orient of France has not abolished the masonic formula, "To the glory of the Great Architect of the Universe," as you appear to believe, still less have they made profession of atheism. In their general assembly of September, 1877, they purely and simply proclaimed absolute liberty of conscience as a right belonging to every man, and out of respect for this liberty they expunged from their Constitution a dogmatic formula, which seemed to a great majority of the members to be in contradiction with liberty of conscience.

In modifying an article of its statutes the Grand Orient of France by no means intended to make profession of either atheism or materialism, as would seem to be understood. No alteration has been made either in the principles or the practice of Masonry; French Masonry remains what it has always been -- a fraternal and tolerant brotherhood.66

According to the Grand Lodge of Alabama Committee on Foreigh Correspondence, the inclusion of the Bible in masonic lodges was an innovation in the body of freemasonry, and we are often told that no such innovations are permissible. Moreover, in masonic lodges the Bible is used as a symbol, masons are not required to believe its teachings, and some other book may be substituted for it. Therefore, "the removal of the Bible and replacing it with some other symbol of Truth may surely be done without altering the essential character of the Fraternity. The Grand Orient did not, therefore, place itself outside the masonic pale by substituting for it the Book of Masonic Law."67

In any event, no matter what one feels about the GOF's position on this, the GLF's policy is different from the GOF. The GLF follows the same rules as American grand lodges concerning the Bible in lodge rooms and candidates' required statement of belief in God.

Grand lodges in the United States withdrew their recognitions of the GOF after 1868, when the GOF recognized a masonic group called the "Supreme Council of the A. and A.S. Rite of the State of Louisiana," which was not recognized by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana. The Louisiana Grand Master called this a "strange perversion" by the GOF. The Grand Lodge of Louisiana considered this an invasion of its territory, withdrew its recognition of the GOF, and called on other grand lodges to do the same. It is very significant, when we remember the time period of this action, that the GOF decree and report, as printed in the Louisiana Proceedings, states that one of the reasons the GOF recognized this "Supreme Council of ... Louisiana" is because that group allowed the initiation of men "without regard to nationality, race, or color." The GOF report mentioned "civil and political equality ... between the white and colored races," opposition to slavery, and the necessity of its abolition. "The split of French Masonry with that of America actually came in 1869 when the Grand Orient [GOF] passed a resolution that neither color, race, nor religion should disqualify a man for initiation."

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This is a story of an Agnostic Mason being expelled in Ontario in 1886.  As well as the recent story of an applicant being rejected because his Supreme Being was not considered sufficiently Supreme.

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[next:  On the Proper Solicitation of Brilliant Atheists]

PHR 2008-08-05