An excerpt of an Address to District 24, Grand Lodge of the Commonwealth of Kentucky by Cameron C. Poe, PM and Chair, Education Committee, Grand Lodge of Kentucky 2014.
No one familiar with our fraternity can deny faith and Freemasonry are intertwined. Often times to the point of becoming blurred enough to appear as one body. This was not the design intended by the founders of speculative Masonry.
When it comes to Freemasonry and religion all should not only know, but conscientiously heed the rules regarding the use of religious overtones in our Lodge halls. As it has been written and said countless times: Freemasonry is not a religion - Freemasonry is not a substitute for religion. Furthermore, Freemasonry is also not a Christian organization, nor an Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto organization.
Freemasonry stands alone. I would like to address something that quite literally is right in front of our eyes, every time we meet, but often taken for granted as an afterthought to our degrees and ceremonies. It is the Holy Bible - the accepted book by Christian Freemasons in the United States as the “Volume of Sacred Law”.
No regular well-governed Lodge requires that it be the only sacred book or testament in which a man may place his faith. According to the World Press in 2012, there are 66 recognized religious books referred to or considered as “sacred” in the world.
In 2011, there were over 4,000 ideologies that met the definition of a religion. Most major religions, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, Hindu and many others have more than one sacred book. For example the old and new testaments of the Holy Bible are considered separate books.
The first mention of a Bible in Masonic records being part of the Lodge room dates to around 1760 from the Grand Lodge of England, when it is mentioned officially as an ornament “in all regular Lodge of Freemasons”. It is also here that it is first referred to as a Great Light.
So much of Freemasonry is construed and misunderstood simply because the non-Mason views our symbols, ritual and esoteric means of recognition to be threatening or dangerous. It is presumed that since they do not understand it, it must be malicious and in conflict with organized religions.
Ignorance breeds fear. And I don’t mean ignorant as in stupid. I mean ignorant as in not knowing the factual information and evidence that would naturally lead one to a satisfactory conclusion: being uninformed and unaware. Again, this is about context and is particularly true with some major religions. They take Freemasonry out of context.
So, What Does That Mean?
The definition of context as in Webster’s Dictionary is this:
the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: OR The set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.
So when I say faith and Freemasonry, we all know as Masons we are forbidden to speak of religion in our Lodge halls, so please keep in mind in what context I am speaking.
Directly from the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the Appendix, Paragraph E:
"Freemasonry and Religion
(1) Basic Principles. Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. It requires of its members a belief in God as part of the obligation of every responsible adult, but advocates no sectarian faith or practice. Masonic ceremonies include prayer, both traditional and extempore, to reaffirm each individual’s dependence on God and to seek divine guidance. Freemasonry is open to men of any faith, but religion may not be discussed at Masonic meetings.
(2) The Supreme Being. Masons believe that there is one God and that people employ many different ways to seek and to express what they know of God. Masonry primarily uses the appellation, “Grand Architect of the Universe”, and other non-sectarian titles, to address Deity. In this way, persons of different faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on God, rather than differences among themselves. Masonry believes in religious freedom and that the relationship between the individual and God is personal, private and sacred.
(3) Volume of the Sacred Law. An open volume of the Sacred Law, “The rule and guide of life,” is an essential part of every Masonic meeting. The Volume of the Sacred Law in the Judeo/Christian tradition is the Bible, to Freemasons of other faiths, it is the book held holy by them. (2000)
(4) The Oath of Freemasonry. The obligations taken by Freemasons are sworn on the Volume of the Sacred Law. They are undertakings to follow the principles of Freemasonry and to keep confidential a Freemason’s means of recognition. The much discussed “penalties”, judicial remnants from an earlier era, are symbolic, not literal. They refer only to the pain any honest man should feel at the thought of violating his word.
(5) Freemasonry Compared with Religion. Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion:
(A) It has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce religious orthodoxy.
(B) It offers no sacraments.
(C) It does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation.
(6) Freemasonry Supports Religion. Freemasonry is far from indifferent toward religion. Without interfering in religious practice, it expects each member to follow his own faith and to place his Duty to God above all other duties. Its moral teachings are acceptable to all religions.”
To emphasize how important it is that we get this right, it appears again. In our Book of Constitutions under the Digest Number 41.
“Masonry is Non-Sectarian, Non-Political, and must remain so.
The avoidance of political subjects in the lodge room is a cardinal principle of Masonry, and a Mason must not use his lodge connection to further his political ambition.
We are taught, among the first lessons in Masonry, that it unites, upon the principle of brotherly love, men of every country, sect and opinion. Our ancient brethren wisely determined that no political or religious distinctions should ever limit its charity. It is peculiar to no country, but common to all.
It recognizes no religion but that un-altering trust in God, who created the world and all things therein—The Grand Architect of the Universe—by whose unerring square- the blocks we offer must at last be tried, and who will reward us according to our merits no matter what volume it is, it Masonically conveys the same idea- that of the symbolism of the Divine Will and the belief in a Supreme Being.”
What Does This Mean?
It means that in some lodges in Washington D.C. for example there are as many as 5 sacred books placed upon the altar. In the Blue Lodge hall at the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, engraved in the ceiling above the alter is this:
FROM THE OUTER DARKNESS OF IGNORANCE THROUGH THE SHADOWS OF OUR EARTH LIFE, WINDS THE BEAUTIFUL PATH OF INITIATION UNTO THE DIVINE LIGHT OF THE HOLY ALTAR
Notice that it does not say the path to salvation. It does not say through the light of any one particular faith. A holy altar, not Muslim altar or Hindu altar or Christian altar. A holy Altar.
Be measured in your approach to prayer in your Lodge Halls. Not every man in the room may share the same beliefs you do. All must believe in one Supreme Being yes, but not the same way. I have been challenged that when a Brother prays in the name of Jesus Christ he is praying for himself, to his Supreme Being.
But if he is praying for the Lodge should he not be aware of the Jewish member? Or the Hindu? The Buddhist? It may sound extreme in this example, but in an effort to convey the seriousness of this I want to be clear. No man should be asked what his particular faith may be. Only that he must agree to believe in God. One God, a Supreme Being. The Grand Architect moniker was established to specifically avoid such conflict.
A Mason must believe in God, the tenets of Freemasonry are derived from a belief in the Supreme Being and our goals as Masons are to be derived from the teachings of the same. Too many of our Brethren have taken this to mean you must be a Christian to be a Mason. This is not true.
To Christians, the Holy Bible is to be the rule and guide in faith and practice. But it is far from simply a book and guide for life. It is a symbol upon which many have taken a solemn oath. Others having taken the same oath, only on a different book of faith are no more, or no less a Mason.
Whatever the book of faith may be, it should constantly remind he that studies it of the duties owed to God, his country, his neighbor and himself.
The book of your faith whatever it may be, has all you need to apply to your daily life, seek it out, study it, learn it and practice it. We are imperfect; let’s work on ourselves first, and by doing so diligently, we may improve those around us by example. Let us not forget as our charge implores us, to model our life after the Divine plan. We would be well served as Brothers, more especially as Masons, to become familiar with the book of our faith.
Let us show the world who we are by our actions, inside and especially outside the Lodge, by our conduct toward one another, our fellow man and our deeds in our communities. I sincerely hope that our diligent pursuit of knowledge of the book of our respective faiths, constitution of our fraternity, and the study of improving ourselves, we as Freemasons may be the example of light to lead the world.