AN ANSWER TO ANTI-MASONIC RELIGIOUS PROPAGANDA
Most Wor. Thomas S. Roy, Grand Master 1951-1953
I promised you in June, my Brethren, that in my address in September I should attempt to answer an attack made on Masonry by certain religious groups. I would have paid no attention to this attack were it not for the fact that some of the brethren have come to me with questions. At least two congregations within our jurisdiction, both of the same denomination, have interested themselves in anti-Masonic propaganda. They take the position that Freemasonry is opposed to their particular kind of religion, and that a man cannot be a Mason and at the same time a good Christian. Our brethren know that their pastors who disseminate this propaganda are good men. They know that they are men of learning who have gone much farther than their parishioners in their study of religion and related subjects. They are not to be blamed therefore if they conclude that their pastors have information about religion denied them, which leads them to oppose Freemasonry. Thus their concern.
In a pamphlet under the title, Does God want you to be a lodge member? which was found in a church not far from Boston, I found the address of a religious publishing house which specializes in anti-Masonic literature. I sent some money, and in return, received some forty anti-Masonic tracts or pamphlets. They have been written, for the most part, by men who represent the ultra-conservative, wing of Protestantism. The writers have not always been careful with the truth; at least they state as fact what has never been established as such. They forget that one of the Ten Commandments is, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." They draw malicious inferences not at all warranted by a correct interpretation of the facts. They cite Masonic authorities such as Mackey and Preston, and identify the teachings of Freemasonry with the opinions of those men rather than with the moral teachings of Freemasonry itself. Incidentally, they know all there is to know about our obligations and ritual. One of these pamphlets contains what purport to be the physical penalties of all the degrees, Symbolic Lodge, The York and Scottish Rites. As you can imagine, their criticisms bear down hard on an organization that seems to need the use of such imprecations In as much as one of those obligations seem to demand that the candidate promise to impose on others who betray the secrets of the Order the same punishment as he invokes on himself, it cannot be wondered at that Freemasonry is condemned by many.
Their sharpest criticism, however, is aimed at our most vulnerable spot; namely, the apparently selective morality implied in part of our obligations. There was a time when men thought of themselves as obliged to do anything they could get away with in their business dealings with their fellowmen. Caveat emptor, (let the buyer beware), was the slogan. Under the conditions that then obtained, the obligation had some cogency, A Mason had to be honest in his dealings with a brother Mason. But there can be no double standard in ethical questions for Masters today. A Mason must be equally honest with all men, nor shall we protect the wrongdoing of any. In this respect our practice is above our ritual. For in practice, not only will we not protect a brother Mason in his wrongdoing, but in unethical conduct, we will bring charges against him and have him expelled from our fellowship if it can be proved that he has brought reproach upon the good name of Freemasonry. The action of this Grand Lodge this afternoon in confirming the suspension of a member, and at other times in expelling members for unMasonic conduct, is all the proof needed that this is true.
Freemasonry may lead in asserting and practicing the highest in ethical idealism, but it must never be behind the accepted morality of any generation, it must be above suspicion and beyond criticism. Particularly we must not have our ritual trailing our practice.
These religious critics of ours are harsh in their criticism of the religious factor in Freemasonry. Their criticism lakes this form; Freemasonry is a religion; it does not conform to the beliefs and practices of the Christian religion; therefore it is a false religion therefore any person having membership in Freemasonry is guilty of promoting a false religion, and perforce is not worthy of membership in a Christian church. We have been ill-served by some of our Masonic historians in this respect. In their zeal for linking Freemasonry with antiquity, they have almost concluded that similarity indicates origin. Mackey speaks of our affinity with the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient times. He has given a phallic significance to some of our symbols. Freemasonry would be well-advised to stick to its immediate origin, and not to try to satisfy the craze for antiquity that plunges us into a maze of conjecture that adds nothing to our prestige, and exposes us to the criticism that is not deserved in the light of our present ideals, goals and practices. We claim no direct relationship with pagan religions.
Unfortunately, some of the apologists of Freemasonry in other days have tried to establish the worth of the Order by making claims for it not consistent with its organization and purposes. One of them made the statement that Genuine Freemasonry is a pure religion. That is an unfortunate and misleading statement. But it has been taken at face value by these religious critics who proceed to show the kind of religion it is, and gives them the basis for their argument that Freemasonry is a false religion and therefore to be condemned.
Our answer to this is that while Freemasonry is religious, it is not even in the remotest sense a religion. We have prayers, it is true, invocations to deity. But Congress opens its sessions with prayer, and no one has ever suggested that our legislature is a religion. The Republican and Democratic Conventions opened with prayer - and such prayers they were! But not even the most ardent member of either convention would call it a religion. Colleges have religious services, some of them daily Chapel, but nobody ever called a college or educational program a religion. What it means is that these organizations, even as ours, are composed of religious people who believe that their religion should enter into all of life.
We have none of the marks of religion. We have no creed, and no confession of faith in a doctrinal statement, we have no theology. We have no ritual of worship. We have no symbols that are religious in the sense of the symbols found in church or synagogue. Our symbols are related to the development of character and of the relationship of man to man. They are working tools to be used in the building of a life.
Our purpose is not that of a religion. We are not primarily interested in the redemption of man. We seek for no converts. We solicit no new members. We raise no money for religious purposes. By any definition of religion accepted by our critics, we cannot qualify as a religion. All of which means that a man has not subscribed to a new religion, much less an anti-Christian religion, when he becomes a Mason, any more than when he joins the Democratic Party, or the Y.M.C.A. And there is nothing in Freemasonry that is opposed to the religion he brings with him into the Lodge.
We are condemned because we say that a man may be obligated on the scripture of his own religion, and that we thus place all religions on an equality. But Freemasonry does not assert and does not teach that one religion is as good as another. We do not say that all religions are equal because we admit men of all religions. We refuse to apply a theological test to a candidate. We apply a religious test only. We ask a man if he believes in God, and that is a religious test only. If we asked him if he believed in Christ, or Buddha, or Allah, that would be a theological test involving a particular interpretation of God. Belief in God is faith; belief about God is theology. We are interested in faith only, and not theology. We do not set ourselves up as judges of the qualitative values of the theological interpretations of God. When Freemasonry accepts a Christian, or a Jew, or a Buddhist, or a Mohammedan, it does not accept him as such, but as a man, worthy to be received into the Order. We ask him to pledge himself by the highest and holiest loyalty in his life to be true to his vows. To ask him to vow on a book in which he did not believe would be the kind of hypocrisy condemned by the highest teachings of the Christian religion. To say that we reject Christ because we do not mention him would be as reasonable as to say that we reject the prophecies of Isaiah because we do not mention them. It is the glory of Masonry that a man who believes implicitly in the deity of Christ, and a man who says that he cannot go that far, can meet as brothers in their acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the Supreme Being, the Maker of Heaven and earth, and in acknowledgment of their duty to love him with heart and mind and soul and strength. They can unite in fulfilling the great purpose of Freemasonry, the development of human character, and the establishment of the collective life of mankind in brotherhood. In doing this we dare to hope that we are more than neutral in helping the church in its great task.
We are not a religion, and we are not anti-religious. We are a completely tolerant organization. We stand for the values that are supreme in the life of the church, and we are sure that he who is true to the principles he learns in Free¬masonry will be a better church member because of it. Indeed just the other day I heard the Rector of the largest Episcopal Church in another city say that he was a better Christian and a better Rector because of his Freemasonry. Freemasonry rightly conceived and practiced will enhance every worthy loyalty in a man's life. It will not weaken a man's loyalty to his church, but will strengthen it by the in creased sense of responsibility to God and dependence on God taught in our ritual. It will not drain his strength from the service of the church, but will increase his strength for the se rice of the church. It will not draw him away from the doctrines of his church, but stimulate his interest in the values of religion that enrich and ennoble the life of man.
As distinguished from the church or the synagogue, Freemasonry does not claim to know all there is to know about deity, and therefore makes no assertion of infallibility. Our quest is for light, more light, further light; for truth more truth, further truth. Because we do not claim to have received full light to have a monopoly of or a corner on, truth, we can claim to be a tolerant group. We believe that there should be some place where men can meet without having to assert or defend the peculiarities of their doctrines. There should be some place where men can meet and know that their right to worship God in their own way is respected completely; a place where a man learns that the only respect he can claim for his beliefs is the respect he accords to the beliefs of others. There should be some place where men can face the realities of life and know that the only barriers that separate men are those of and enmity. Freemasonry is that place, for it unites men in a unity created by our common loyalty to the realities of religion as expressed by the prophet Micah twenty-seven hundred years ago when he wrote: "He hath showed thee, a man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."
Thomas S. Roy, Grand Master.
At the December 1952 Quarterly Communication, Grand Master Roy reported that this address was printed in a pamphlet and had been distributed to various Grand Jurisdictions; he had received various requests to reprint the address, including one from the Grand Lodge of Scotland to place it in the 1953 Year Book.
At the September 1953 Quarterly Communication, the Grand Master included a response from the Grand Lodge of Greece, asking to include it in the Grand Lodge bulletin for the following month.
Grand Master Roy added the following remarks at the September, 1953 Quarterly Communication.
However, while we condemn, and rightly so, the suppression of Masonry by political and religious totalitarianisms, let us be sure that we are not guilty of a species of suppression all our own. For there is a suppression of Freemasonry, not by dictators, but by Freemasons. This is the most fatal suppression of Freemasonry that is practiced today. It is not the result of a conspiracy outside Freemasonry, but of inertia within our ranks. It is not a purposive program to destroy Freemasonry, but an involuntary ineptness that prevents Freemasonry from coming to its complete flowering in the individual and in the community.
Freemasonry is a philosophy of life, or more simply, a way of life. When a man becomes a Mason, he enters upon that way of life. If we rightly assume that he meant what he said when he entered upon that way of life, then if he does not walk in it, he is guilty of a serious suppression of Freemasonry.
It is unfortunate at times that the Mason who affiliates with collateral Masonic bodies, or with organizations composed exclusively of Masons, apparently concludes that he is to be governed henceforth bv a new set of ideas or practices. He ought to know that no subsequent obligation can abrogate his original obligation as a Mason. That is, no subsequent affiliations can nullify the original objectives of Freemasonry as a way of life. Whatever his subsequent affiliations, only those activities, and that kind of life, is justified which is consistent with his original obligations and aims as a Mason. Anything else is possible only by the suppression of Freemasonry.
When we come to our responsibilities as citizens, we face an even more serious suppression of Freemasonry. Our obligations call for the fulfillment of our duties as citizens. Every time a Mason is less than completely honest in his business transactions he is suppressing Freemasonry. Every time he is less than brotherly in his relationships, not only with his Brother Mason, but with all mankind, he is suppressing Freemasonry. Every time he fails through indolence or indifference to exercise his franchise as a voter, he is suppressing Freemasonry. But above all else, every time he fails to stand up and be counted, to make his influence felt on matters that involve the future of our country, he is suppressing Freemasonry.
Let us frankly face up to the fact that there are forces that threaten the institutions upon which the future of democracy depends. I am alarmed at the way our public school system is being attacked today, even as I am amazed at the brazen effrontery of those who attack it. Certainly here in Boston we are facing the spearhead of that attack. Not so long ago an attack was made upon certain of our colleges. The speaker was quoted as saying that "The religious mentality of Harvard and Yale and other American universities is akin to that of Russian Premier Malenkov. God has as much place in the Kremlin as in those universities." Continuing, he said, "Twenty-five million children in school never hear the word God spoken." This is but one of the repeated assaults being made upon our educational system in America in which it is accused of being godless or atheistic. It is an insidious attempt to break down the confidence of the American people in their system of education, and ultimately to secure the support of religious schools with public funds. It is a serious subversion of our principles, and therefore a suppression of Freemasonry if we do not begin to reply, not as Masons, but as citizens.
Is it not time that we challenged these detractors to a comparison of the products of our state-controlled, and as they say, godless, schools with that of the religion-controlled schoois. A project with that in mind should not be difficult to arrange and conduct. For example, who are the men in our communities who are in the forefront of our political and industrial and social life, men who by their integrity and ability enjoy the confidence of the whole community? They are the product of those universities that. are charged with being akin to the Kremlin. Compare the graduates of our public schools with the graduates of religious schools, and you will never question again the quality of the educational products of our public schools. Wherever our system of free public schools is threatened by those who seek to discredit and ultimately destroy it, the Freemasons must go into action in fulfillment of their duty as citizens, or else confess not only their ineptness as citizens, but that they are suppressing Freemasonry by their failure to put its principles into practice in public life.
As Freemasons, we occupy a peculiar position in our community. There are those who look upon us with pride, and those who look upon us with scorn. While we are not indifferent to both, we are unmoved by both. Nevertheless we have a great responsibility, in that we must demonstrate that Freemasonry is a constructive force in the interest of ail that is good. There is only one way in which this can be done. We cannot do it by taking action as a body, for we are prohibited from taking collective action on any question. We can do it only by each Mason's acknowledging that he is an instrument for the projection of the principles of Freemasonry into the life of the community. Non-Masons of all creeds should be able to say, "Whatever their secrets, or whatever their beliefs, these Masons are men of superior morals, above reproach in their personal lives, and the most responsive men in the community to every cause related to the welfare of their fellow men." We must give a new meaning to Pareto's doctrine of the Elite, of the influence of a select group upon the life of the nation. For we must constitute that hard core of integrity and brotherhood without which no nation can be sound, and with which no nation can be weak. It was Horace Mann who said, "Be ashamed to die until you have done some good for humanity." But we say, "Be ashamed to keep on living unless you have made Freemasonry live in the principles by which you live and serve the world."
Thomas S. Roy, Grand Master.
This address was also reprinted in TROWEL Magazine in Winter 1985.