Saturday, April 29, 2017

Freemasons in America

From First Things:
Freemasonry claims to have ancient foundations with occult knowledge and secret ceremonies of initiation, an example of ritual and popular religion, although many Masons have denied it is a religion, which Hackett defines as “shared ideologies and practices that help people become human in relation to transcendent realities.” “Freemasonry’s quest for primeval truth”—like primitivist Christian groups and Mormons—“joining together disparate political and religious leaders” contributed to the secularization of American society by staking out a “least common denominator” approach to religion—a via media between orthodox and evangelical Christianity on the one hand and pure rationalism on the other. Members were encouraged to keep “their particular [denominational] opinions to themselves,” embodying what the author dubs “polite Christianity” or what the 1723 Masonic constitution refers to as “that religion in which all men agree” (hence, the title of the book).

When Freemasonry refers to “rational” religion, this does not envision faith and reason as two wings of the human ascent to the truth, à la Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio; on the contrary, its religious equation is reason minus revelation or faith. As Thomas Paine argued, Masonry “is derived from some very ancient religion wholly independent of, and unconnected with that book [the Bible].” Another interesting historical tidbit informs us of the dependence of Mormonism on Freemasonry, especially in the development of its unique rituals. Likewise interesting is that eleven of Joseph Smith’s original twelve apostles were Masons.
Freemasonry caught on for a variety of reasons, not the least being its ability to forge deep relations independent of (or even in spite of) religious positions, redounding to the social, economic and political advantage of its members. It did not hurt that such prominent founders of the American republic as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and John Hancock were committed members of the Lodge. Interestingly, we learn that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Lodge members rarely attended church services (only 14 percent among San Franciscan Masons), giving credibility to the popular perception that Freemasonry was a religion unto itself. As part of its “inclusivity,” one lodge was comprised of Druids—whatever that might have meant. (Read more.)

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