It comes up so often, The Magpie Mason had to address it eventually. In fact, it came up in conversation today on Masonic Light, and it figured into the discussion at the meeting of American Lodge of Research a few weeks ago.
“It” is the confusion of whether Freemasonry is a religion, but more specifically why so many claim that it is a religion because of what they think they’ve understood in the book “Morals and Dogma” by Albert Pike.
Albert Pike. Talk about confusion.
One need understand only that Albert Pike did not, does not, and cannot speak for all of Freemasonry – nobody can – but his role in particular was that of Sovereign Grand Commander (presiding officer) of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (a distinct minority within Masonry in the United States) during the latter half of the 19th century. True, his book “Morals and Dogma” was an official text of the A&ASR, whose initiates received copies of it for about a century, but did they read it? I suspect 99 percent of them did not.
It is 861 pages of very dense material authored in Victorian prose that explores subjects that were not as well understood in 1871 as they are today, such as Egyptology, and the studies of other ancient cultures. The book is so complicated that it has been revisited a number of times by other authors. One of Pike’s successors as Sovereign Grand Commander, Ill. Henry C. Clausen, who served during the 1970s, wrote “Commentaries on Morals and Dogma” to make Pike’s ideas approachable for the modern reader.
In more recent years, Ill. Rex Hutchens authored “A Glossary to Morals and Dogma,” which attempts to define the terms and references Pike used. More recent still is the purported rewriting of “Morals and Dogma” by four Masons in Texas. And, as you read this, Ill. Arturo de Hoyos is laboring on a new publication that will offer an annotated version of Pike’s book, that I suppose will document his sources of information.
(As an aside, do yourself a favor and watch video of Clausen here and here.)
Nevertheless it is Pike’s “Morals and Dogma” that is cited by the confrontational, confused, and curious alike. The confrontational are not above jerking a phrase out of context to vindicate their “believing is seeing” approach to learning. The confused are vexed by “M&D” because its innumerable mentions of ancient gods, philosophers, and texts serve to complicate the truly simple concepts of Freemasonry. And the curious are trusting and happy to read from “M&D,” to use its 218-page index for reference, and to try to make the best of what Pike was saying.
So, what did he say about Freemasonry being a religion anyway? (This is a great example of why that massive index, added to the text in 1909 by T.W. Hugo, is crucial to approaching this book.)
On Pages 212-13, in the lecture of the 13°, Royal Arch of Solomon:
“Books, to be of religious tendency in the Masonic sense, need not be books of sermons, of pious exercises, or of prayers. Whatever inculcates pure, noble, and patriotic sentiments, or touches the heart with the beauty of virtue, and the excellence of an upright life, accords with the religion of Masonry, and is the Gospel of literature and art.”
From Page 219, in the lecture on the 14°, Perfect Elu:
“[Freemasonry] is the universal, eternal, immutable religion, such as God planted it in the heart of universal humanity. No creed has ever been long-lived that was not built on this foundation. It is the base, and they are the superstructure.”
And, very importantly, from the lecture of the 26°, Prince of Mercy:
“While all these faiths assert their claims to the exclusive possession of the Truth, Masonry inculcates its old doctrine, and no more: That God is ONE; that His THOUGHT uttered in His WORD, created the Universe, and preserves it by those Eternal Laws which are the expression of that Thought: That the Soul of Man, breathed into him by God, is immortal as His Thoughts are; that he is free to do evil or to choose good, responsible for his acts and punishable for his sins – that all evil and wrong and suffering are but temporary, the discords of one great Harmony – and that in His good time they will lead by infinite modulations to the great, harmonic final chord and cadence of Truth, Love, Peace, and Happiness, that will ring forever and ever under the Arches of heaven, among all the Stars and Worlds, and in all souls of men and Angels.”
To me it sounds like he is saying Freemasonry states the primal Truth from which religious denominations start their respective paths, and to which these same denominations inevitably return (if they are honest in their purposes). I can understand why sectarian authorities want to see Masonry as something akin to their own rites because that allows for direct comparison and a claim to one’s allegiance (i.e., one who is a member of lodge cannot also be a member of church), however misguided the thinking behind that is. However, Masonry presented by Pike as fundamental, moral Truth, free from man-made constraints, is too powerful a rival for them.
And they know it.
I also like to consider the etymology of the word religion: originally from the Latin religare, meaning to tie, fasten, bind, etc. What binds Freemasons together? Our obligations, the cabletow, the Mystic Tie....
“How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity....”
Freemasonry, which teaches the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of deity, encompasses Truth, and Truth is greater than sectarian priorities and other artificial innovations. One would be wise to remember this whenever confronted with the anti-Mason or other ignoramus who aims to detract from Freemasonry by arguing it is a mere religion or sect.