Freemasonry - Some Background
Freemasonry is veiled in assorted levels of secrecy, legend, and misunderstanding. Throughout the decades, this "social" organization has been referred to as a Christian brotherhood. Others consider it a fraternity of the occult. Freemasonry is often the target of conspiracy theorists, who allege that Masons are responsible for orchestrating entire political, financial and cultural movements throughout the world. For purposes of this website, we will limit our discussion of history, lore and legend, and focus on the basic "doctrinal" positions of today's Freemasonry - although the "basics" can even be hidden or misunderstood in various parts of the Order.
Freemasonry - Some Basics
Freemasonry is referred to by numerous names. Some of these names include: the Brotherhood, the Craft, the Order, and the Lodge. Blue Lodge (more formally known as Symbolic Lodge) consists of three degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. The three degrees are a progression with the goal being to become a Master Mason. Master Mason is the highest degree attainable in Symbolic Lodge. There are an additional 29 degrees in the Scottish Rite, and an additional 9 degrees in the York Rite. The 33rd degree is an honorary degree which cannot be sought. One has to be recommended for it. Various signs, tokens, and secrets are made known to the Mason as he graduates to higher levels or degrees. One of the most known symbols for Masonry is the letter "G." Depending on whose interpretation you believe, this symbol can represent geometry, God, or gnosis. Christians traditionally interpret the symbol as God, whereas others within the Order define it as knowledge or gnosis.
There is a great deal of secrecy in Freemasonry. From the beginning, the Entered Apprentice is kept in the shadows regarding the full meaning of Masonry's symbols and ceremonies. A member of the Lodge only receives further enlightenment as he rises through the degrees. Each Mason must swear a series of oaths to keep the secrets of the Craft as he learns them. He also agrees to severe penalties if he ever lets them slip. "Freemasons are emphatically called the Sons of Light, because they are in possession of the true meaning of the symbol; while the profane or uninitiated who have not received this knowledge are said to be in darkness." (Albert Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1946) As the Mason passes through the degrees of the Lodge, he receives true light, and is considered elevated above those who have not had the mysteries of Freemasonry revealed to them.
Freemasonry - Is It a Religion?
The Mason's official position states that Freemasonry is not a religion. "Masons who treat it as such are mistaken. Freemasonry strongly encourages its members to belong to an established religion, although this is not a requirement for membership (only that a candidate profess a belief in a Supreme Being). Masonry is a fraternal organization that encourages morality and charity and studies philosophy. It has no clergy, no sacraments, and does not promise salvation to its members" (Roger Firestone, Difficult Questions About Freemasonry, 2002).
A close assessment of the degrees of Freemasonry uncovers a basic theology that lies beneath everything in the Order. The degrees instruct that: There is a Supreme Being who created the universe, who has established and revealed a moral law, and to whom we must give account in a life after this. Masons argue that nothing in these five points, which are supported by all the materials, lectures and "working tools" of the degrees, conflicts with any of the major religions of the Western world. As such, all religions are welcome to participate in the Brotherhood, and thus, it should not be deemed a "religious" organization. "The true Mason is not creed-bound. He realizes with the divine illumination of his lodge that as a Mason his religion must be universal: Christ, Buddha, or Mohammed, the name means little, for he recognizes only the light and not the bearer"(Manly Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, 1976).
Many scholars call Freemasonry the "unifier" of all religions. "It is the universal, eternal, immutable religion, such as God planted it in the heart of universal humanity."(Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1950) "Every Masonic Lodge is a temple of religion; and its teachings are instruction in religion." (Pike) "Masonry is all that remains to us of the first world religion" which flourished in ancient times. "It was the first unified world religion. Today we are working again towards a world universal religion" (Foster Bailey, The Spirit of Masonry, 1979).