As Freemasonry is not a religion, but a philosophical, philanthropical fraternity whose members believe in a Supreme Being (in most cases), can it be considered secular?
Firstly, just what is secular or secularism? Strangely, the first thing that comes to mind (mine anyway), is the separation of Church and State, as in the USA from its inception, and also as in France (from the early 1900’s). But strangely it means a lot more than this. The word secular is defined in many dictionaries as:
- Worldly rather than spiritual;
- Not relating to religion or to a religious body;
- Not bound by the full monastic rule of a religious order
Secularism is defined as:
- indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations
- The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education
Not every one of these definitions can relate to Freemasonry. However, secularism within a country can have an influence of Freemasonry, or perhaps the other way round?.
At the time of the beginning of speculative Freemasonry in the 16th/17th century – the first Grand Lodge was formed (in 1717) – Great Britain had already had its civil war and the Roman Catholics were banned from the Throne of England and the Act of Union (joining Scotland and Britain as ‘one country’) didn’t occur until 1710; the French Revolution and the American War of Independence were yet to happen. Great Britain, at this time was a Protestant country, France a Catholic country and the USA was a British colony. In Britain, however, there were still many Roman Catholics, especially in Scotland, who were sympathetic towards France as an ally. Having severed ties to the Pope in the 1520’s or 30’s, after the Pope had granted Henry the title of ‘Defender of the faith,” Henry VIII broke all links to the Roman Catholic Church thus forming the Church of England, but very much following the Roman Catholic ethos, unlike the Lutheranism and Calvinism. He retained the title of ‘Defender of the Faith.’
Speculative Freemasonry adopted the ancient charges of the stonemasons guilds which basically was a set of rules to live by, a sort of code of practise, not just for the work of stonemasonry, but to be practised in everyday life and at all times. Of course, being a staunchly Christian Country, this included religious duties. However, because of the issues with the Roman Catholic Church, the Jacobite uprising (mostly Scotsmen), members of the new and evolving Freemasonry had Brethren from both religions. Prior to this uprising, England had its own civil war and, again, those of both of these political sides were also members, of made members of this new fraternity.
The early life of Speculative Freemasonry began amidst divisions in religious following and political turmoil in what is now the United Kingdom and rapidly spread to France, the American colonies and beyond. The disorder all around had a profound influence in making Freemasonry ban all talk of religion and politics at its meetings, whilst taking an indifferent approach to both a Brother’s religious beliefs or political point of view, although each member must still believe in a Supreme Being at this time.
Masonic ritual also evolved during these early years, and although this is not discussed here, it is important to note that the rituals maintained at their heart the building of King Solomon’s Temple, which in itself involved not only the Hebrew tribes under King Solomon, but the assistance of Hiram, King of Tyre, as the Hebrews were a warring tribes and King Hiram’s people very much builders and stonemasons, which leads me to point out that, even in biblical times, the Tribes of the One God (monotheism) were assisted by the peoples of many gods (polytheism).
Freemasonry therefore can best be described as a philosophical fraternity whose member must believe in a single supreme being; the source of this religion remaining entirely up to each member but must alway left outside of the meetings and never brought inside, and can be of any political persuasion, but this too must always be left outside. Its core rituals are based upon biblical stories.
During the 18th century the colonists of the New World rebelled against their overseas rulers to form their own country, the USA, and it is important to bear in mind that many (but not by any means all) of the leaders fo this new country were Freemasons and they perhaps followed the lead of the Fraternity by leaving organised religion ‘outside the door’ of their government, that is they formed a secular state, where the church and state were separate, but they kept their strong religious ties to their church.
Later in this century, the French also had a revolution whose aim was to remove from their leadership the rule of the royals and upper classes of their country, rather brutally too; but at its conclusion the church and state were not separated. Just before this time, Freemasonry in France was evolving and in 1773 The Grand Orient of France was formed out of the original Grand Lodge in France, later to absorb the older on in 1799. (Today there are three, the Grand Orient of France, the Grand Lodge of France and the Grand National Lodge of France.) This new Grand Lodge still followed the Ancient Charges and Tenets of the Craft in as much as the belief in a single God was paramount.
However, in 1877 the Grand Orient of France voted to eliminate from its ancient constitution the following article:
‘Freemasonry has for its principles the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and the solidarity of mankind.”
It adopted in lieu thereof, the following:
’Whereas Freemasonry is not a religion and has therefore no doctrine or dogma to affirm in its constitution, this Assembly has decided and decreed that the second paragraph of Article 1, of the Constitution (above quoted) shall be erased, and that for the words of the said article the following shall be substituted:
‘Being an Institution essentially philanthropic, philosophic, and progressive, Freemasonry has for its object, search after truth, study of universal morality, science and arts, and the practice of benevolence. It has for its principles absolute liberty of conscience and human solidarity. It excludes no person on account of his belief, and its motto is ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.’
This, of course, created on its acceptance an issue with the ritual, so in order to resolve this a move was made to conform the ritual to the change of the constitution. Accordingly in 1879 a new ritual was adopted wherein all reference to the name and idea of God was eliminated, but liberty was given to the Lodges to adopt the new or old rituals as they should see fit.
Naturally, and as a matter of course, the change in the Constitution and ritual permitted the removal of the Bible (or other religious writings).
*** The above Curtesy of t a magazine named The Builder, published in 1918.
This move in 1877 was, unbelievably, instigated by a Pastor.
In 1878 Brother J. G. Findel wrote:
“,,,it is not my intention to give such general declarations on the true meaning of the Royal Art [Freemasonry Ed], as it seems more necessary to help to a right understanding of the resolution of the Grand Orient of France. Our French brethren have not deserted the belief in the existence of God and immortality of the human soul, in striking out the discussed words of the first article of the constitutions, but they have only declared that such a profession of faith does not belong to Masonic law. The Grand Orient has only voted for liberty of conscience, not against any religious faith. Therefore, the true meaning of the French constitution is now only that each brother Mason may believe in God or not, and that each French Lodge may judge for itself which candidate shall be initiated or not. The French vote is only an affirmative of liberty of conscience, and not a negation of faith.”
Although this upset the world of Regular Freemasons, as stated above, it was simply a promotion ‘liberty of conscience.’ But we can see here the formation of what one might deem secular Freemasonry. But was Freemasonry ever controlled by any religious order? Undoubtably a religious ethos runs at its heart, as it was formed by men of a devoutly religious character as the following of a religious doctrine was deep in their beliefs. However, as it can be seen at the very beginning of its emergence, organised religion was never a part of its formation and it has never been, nor will it ever be, influenced by any organised religion. Hence men (and of course women) of any faith may join its ranks, as can men (and women) from any level of society be members, meeting alongside each other as equals in every sense inside the lodge, whilst being at liberty to follow any religion or political point of view outside the Lodge. It is the belief that, whatever their station in life, whatever be their religion, whatever be their political viewpoint, the philosophy of Freemasonry is Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, and we all hope that those who have joined our fraternity, and those who wish to join, may all become better people, show more tolerance and be more useful to the rest of the world.
So you see, from the definition of secular as stated at the start of this article, Freemasonry cannot be deemed to NOT be secular, as it is not influenced or controlled by any organised religion. Whilst it is definitely not indifferent to religion, indeed regular Freemasonry still has at its heart the belief in a supreme being, irregular Freemasonry (that of the Grand Orient of France), although not excluding this belief, has opened its doors to all members of society, has changed its rituals for those who choose the new path, but all other aspects of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth remain firmly at its heart.
Finally, having noted the secular nature of Freemasonry, be it regular or irregular, no genuine Freemasons Lodge would ever be accepted if it focused on or was influenced by any organised religion. Freemasonry never evolved as a promotor of religion in any way shape or form, but embraces all monotheistic religions if regular, and all people of all and any belief or doctrine if irregular, each group following the same philosophical mandate, and each group only admitting men (or women) of good intentions, have no thoughts of any business gain, have no expectations to get anything tangible back from membership except to become better, more tolerant, and more sympathetic to the needs of others; in other words to become a better person.
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, former Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.
© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Neptune 5150 EC/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved