is a universal Masonic requirement of belief in Deity, which is followed by all
regular Grand Lodges of the world. As
Entered Apprentices, receiving Light for the first time, Masons are cautioned
that no Atheist may be made a Mason. Therefore,
as soon as we become Entered Apprentices, we are warned not to submit known
Atheists for candidacy for the Degrees. Upon
being raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, Brethren are later reminded
not to proffer Atheists for membership as one group in a list of people whom
may never be made Masons. As Macoy
puts it, “Freemasonry accepts the idea of God, as a supreme fact, and bars
its gates with inflexible sternness against those who deny his existence” (p.
long the taboo of the Western World, makes up a surprisingly large percentage
of the population of the United States. Nearly
30,000 Americans in 2001 identified themselves as being “Secular,” being
“Atheist,” or having “No Religion” (United States Census Bureau, Table
there is no place for Atheists in the Craft, there has been little to no reason
ever given for the exclusion of such a large group of men. The following paragraphs will discuss the history of God in
Masonry and give a detailed look at precedents and current trends which make
the Lodge an inhospitable place for those who do not acknowledge the supremacy
begin, we must leave aside all Divine aspects of Masonry for a moment and focus
on other core Masonic principles, namely the duties of brotherly love, relief,
and truth. It becomes apparent
upon brief introspection that those who disbelieve in the Grand Architect are
fully capable of performing these duties.
A close friend of the author’s from childhood is one of the most kind,
generous, and honest people he has ever known.
Indeed, he would make a good member of the Craft if he was not an
Atheist. In spite of many
discussions about the existence of a Supreme Being over the years, he has come
to his own conclusion that there is no Supreme Being; the author therefore
cannot ever recommend this man for the Degrees of Freemasonry, though he may
otherwise be a good candidate. There
has been little non-prejudiced, reasoned discussion explaining why this
gentleman cannot be admitted—many of the arguments are clouded in rhetoric,
unacceptably biased, or not argued through the use of reason.
This paper will take a new look at why Masons exclude Atheists from
their ranks and then explain why they should continue to do so.
authors who have set out to discuss the topic of Atheism and Masonry have come
to one of only a few conclusions. Either
Atheists are incapable of following Moral Law and can therefore not be counted
among the Craft, or Atheists, because they do not believe in God or Divine
Retribution, are somehow beneath us. Both
of these perspectives are outdated and prejudicial.
Yet for some reason, the bulk of the literature written over the last
century or more points to one or both of these perspectives.
first conclusion is that Atheists are incapable of following God’s Moral Law,
and they are therefore incapable of meeting on the Square.
The most often-quoted example of this comes from James Anderson in his Constitutions
of Free-Masons (p. 50): “A Maſon
is oblig’d, by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly underſtands
the Art, he will never be a ſtupid
Atheiſt, nor an irregular Libertine.”
Can Atheists follow moral law? Again,
from an areligious perspective, an Atheist can hold the same values that a
non-Atheist holds, but for different reasons. A religious man may hold moral law to be a sacred or divine
teaching, whereas a man without religion may believe that “doing good” is
beneficial to himself and all of humanity, though not link it to God.
Therefore, Atheists are capable of reaching the same end, that of acting
uprightly, though they may have used different means to arrive at their
Atheists can practice brotherly love, relief, and truth, then why deny them
admittance to our Order? Paton
(p.154) suggests that the Atheist “… acknowledges no relation to God which
should lead to fear, or hope, or love, or obedience.
To him, as to the most absolute speculative atheist, the moral law is
nothing.” Paton suggests that
following moral law is but a whim, a fleet of fancy which may be turned upon
because a man who does not fear God has no reason to remain moral.
Perhaps the best example of this philosophy was given by Albert Pike
The intellect of the Atheist would find matter everywhere; but no Causing and
Providing Mind: his moral sense would find no Equitable Will, no Beauty of
Moral Excellence, no Conscience enacting justice into the unchanging law of
right, no spiritual Order or spiritual Providence, but only material Fate and
Chance. His affections would find only finite things to love; and to them the
dead who were loved and who died yesterday, are like the rainbow that yesterday
evening lived a moment and then passed away. His soul, flying through the vast
Inane, and feeling the darkness with its wings, seeking the Soul of all, which
at once is Reason, Conscience, and the Heart of all that is, would find no God,
but a universe all disorder; no Infinite, no Reason, no Conscience, no Heart,
no Soul of things; nothing to reverence, to esteem, to love, to worship, to
trust in; but only an Ugly Force, alien and foreign to us, that strikes down
those we love, and makes us mere worms on the hot sand of the world. No voice
would speak from the Earth to comfort him.
adds the idea that Masons believe in a “Future State,” which he defines
loosely as rewards and punishments to be given in the next life or in the
afterlife. In this case, Paton makes the point that without a belief in a
Supreme Being or the afterlife, there is no immortal consequence to breaking
moral law. This has historically
been a key reason for denying Atheists positions in Masonry—they cannot be
trusted to maintain morality. Although it is true that Atheists have no belief in immortal
consequences, good men tend to be good men; using this as the only argument to
keep Atheists out of Masonry is hardly sufficient.
other perspective often repeated in Masonic literature dealing with the subject
of Atheists is that those who do not believe in a Grand Architect are somehow
baser than those of us who do believe. The
effect of allowing Atheists entry into Masonry
be to lessen confidence and weaken friendship, and no obligation would be
regarded as binding among men … Mankind would give way to the most
unrestrained, cruel, and base passions of their worst natures.
The very foundations of good order would be subverted, and society would
soon degenerate into a state of anarchy. (Ernst,
is an even more prejudiced view than the view that Atheists cannot be trusted
to uphold moral law, though there are connections between them.
Anderson’s reference to Atheists as “stupid” (meaning base, not of
lower intelligence), implies the belief that non-believers are less of men.
This, in addition to the aforementioned arguments, makes up the bulk of
the arguments opposing the Atheist’s admission to the Lodge.
the time since most of the above-cited works were written, we as a secular,
Western society have moved beyond the name-calling and prejudices that plagued
our forefathers. Indeed, the
forbearers of our Craft did not always require religion in their ritual.
Prior to the establishment of modern Freemasonry, when our predecessors
still hewed stone and built magnificent cathedrals, religion may not have
always played a part in meetings.
is no denying that Masons as early as c.1430
were required to be Christian. Surviving
fifteenth century records indicate that there were religious overtones in
Masonry this early as c.1430, when
the document now known as the Regius MS was written (Waite, p. 3-4).
And though there was a requirement that Masons at this time “lift up
their hearts to Christ” (Waite, p. 4), it was not until three centuries later
that there was an absolute requirement that Christianity had to be professed
(Coil, p. 515). Early on, therefore, it was certainly preferred that members
of the Craft be Christian and God-fearing.
a historical standpoint, however, how much was the Christian requirement simply
based on the power and control exercised by the Church during the late Middle
Ages? Given the nature of European
feudal society, especially on the British Isles and in France, Church officials
held most power in most places, and they held in their hands the “only” way
to worship. In the Regius MS,
Masons were required to “assist at Holy Mass with becoming reverence.”
Since the primary buildings constructed by stone masons at the time were
cathedrals, or places of Christian worship, there was likely some degree of
religious oversight of the process by a Church official.
Though they may not have been given the operative secrets of the guild
(therefore making the Catholic Church distrust the Masons as an organization in
later centuries), it is not an unreasonable assumption that the edicts
requiring Christian faith may have come—either directly or indirectly—from
in the era of the Masonic Guild, it is clear historically that there was often
a blurring of lines between Church and Lodge.
The Comacine order, the early forbearer of later guilds of masonry, for
example, was known to admit priests as members.
Monks were not uncommon, and there were such monks associated with the Comacine
body; so that qualified architects were easily found in the ranks of religious
orders. (Scott, p. 160)
in God has clearly been at the core of Masonry since its inception.
Given the obvious historic influence of the Church on what was to become
Speculative Freemasonry, ritual and belief system within the Lodge was
“erected to God.” No room for
Atheists was left; this was likely done on purpose, at least early on, through
the influence of the monk-architects. This,
however, was likely not a sinister act. After
all, “A Freemason in the year 1200 A.D. … thought of himself as a Catholic,
[but] it did not occur to him to think of his art or craft as having anything
to do with Catholicism” (Haywood, p. 122).
Nonetheless, the required belief in Deity became a core tenet of the
fledgling guild during that era.
the Historical Perspective
this point, this paper has dealt with Masonry from a historical perspective.
Various opinions of prominent Masonic authors from the last three
centuries were discussed, and a brief history of the inclusion of God as a part
of Masonic teaching has been laid out. However,
none of the theory or philosophy thus far presented has gotten to the heart of
the issue: why can’t Atheists be admitted to Lodges today?
Answers of “that’s the way it has always been” have been proffered
(see, for example, Lippincott & Johnson, p. 84).
However, this excuse is on its surface weak.
There was a time when only men of sound body were admitted; several
Grand Lodges, including the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, have begun
admitting men with physical deformities (see, for example, Hoenes, p. 6-7).
Other changes have been made over time; admitting Atheists would only be a
modernizing adaptation. Other
answers to this question have been dealt with above.
Though some may find solace in these answers, others may find them to be
excuses based on prejudice and fear. The
remainder of this paper will attempt to discuss, why, in the culturally
accepting 21st century, there is still no room for Atheists in
the end, the origins of religiosity
in Masonry are not as important today to the argument of admitting Atheists as
the role of the Mystic Tye. The
prime reason for continuing to deny Atheists admittance into our Brotherhood is
the presence of God and religion throughout Masonic beliefs, as noted before.
By itself, the ritual we practice has overtones of the Grand Architect.
These rituals would make Atheists (a) uncomfortable given their
individual beliefs and (b) unable to understand the nuances of Masonry, given
the absolute importance Masons put on their faith to God.
Beyond ritual, the myths and legends that make Masonry what it is today
are inherently religious.
Freemasonry only a society of fraternity, with no religious component, such as
a Moose Club, or a charity-only organization, such as Rotary International,
these stringent requirements regarding an individual’s beliefs would not be
as important. Our Fraternity,
however, is one with religious components.
One needs look no further than the Ritual presented to a Candidate
during the First Degree. A
candidate is asked in whom he puts his trust and is required to give an answer
which acknowledges a belief in Deity. He
is told that since his trust is in God, he is sound in faith in the Great
Architect. In other words, to
proceed past the first moments in the Lodge, one must affirm his faith in
such a display would be difficult for someone who does not hold a belief in the
Supreme Architect of the Universe. One
might assume that an Atheist, not being tied to his morality, would lie (as has
been suggested by some); but to what end?
What would an Atheist see in an open lodge that would interest him?
the ritual stands, an incredible number of references are made to the Volume of
Sacred Law, to God, and of our submission to Him.
An Atheist in such surroundings would likely feel uncomfortable.
should we change our Craft and the beliefs of our Order; to do so would be to
destroy the heart and soul of the Fraternity.
The foundation of Masonry, that which supports us and holds us together,
is the shared belief in the existence of Deity:
foundation there is none; upon God Masonry builds its temple of Brotherly Love,
Relief, and Truth … God is the first Fact and the final Reality—the Truth
that makes all other truth true; the corner stone of faith, the keystone of
thought, the capstone of home … Everything in Masonry has reference to God,
implies God, speaks of God, points and leads to God.
Not a degree, not a symbol, not an obligation, not a lecture, not a
charge but finds its meaning and derives its beauty from God, the Great
Architect, in whose Temple all Masons are workmen. (Newton, p. 58-60)
reality, therefore, Masonry is necessarily theistic.
There is no part of Masonry which does not call upon the Great
Architect, in whose presence we conduct our meetings.
an Atheist were to join the Craft, he would find that he would be not be able
to fully understand even part of the esoteric mysteries which bind Masons
together. Looking no farther than
the lecture and charge given to new brethren upon being initiated into our
Craft, it is clear that the firm belief in God is required to understand the
nuances of these lessons.[ii]
Take, for example, the
significance of something as simple as the white leather apron: as an “emblem
of innocence,” the white leather apron’s purpose is to symbolize right and
proper behavior is the path to the Celestial Temple above (Grand Lodge of the
District of Columbia [hereafter GLDC], p. 179-180).
Furthermore, the significance of Jacob’s Ladder, key instruments
thereof being Faith, Hope, and Charity, shows that proper reverence must be
given to Deity. Finally, an
Atheist would likely be put off by the discussion of the perfect Ashlar and
the rough Ashlar we are reminded of our rude and imperfect state by nature; by
the perfect ashlar, of that state of perfection at which we hope to arrive by a
virtuous education, our own endeavors and the blessing of God; and by the
Trestle Board we are also reminded that as the operative workman erects his
temporal building agreeably to the rules and designs laid down by the Master on
his Trestle Board, so should we, both operative and speculative, endeavor to
erect our spiritual building in accordance with the rules laid down by the
Supreme Architect of the Universe in the Great Books of nature and revelation,
which are our spiritual, moral and Masonic Trestle Board. (p. 183)
does it mean to “erect our spiritual building in accordance with the rules
laid down by the Supreme Architect”? One
interpretation is that our “spiritual buildings” are our individual
souls—the essential parts of ourselves, which will inevitably be brought to
the World Hereafter (what Paton called the “Future State”). We therefore instruct our new initiates to stand tall before
God, marking our lives against those laws He has set down for us, in our
Volumes of Sacred Law and in our hearts as Brothers formed in His image.
To “erect” our souls is to stand upright and to act nobly in our
lives, especially in service to Deity.
is therefore impossible to allow Atheists to join order because they are
incapable of measuring themselves against the will of God, to whom Masons all
must show reverence. Though an
Atheist may be a good man in the traditional sense of the word, as someone who
acts nobly and charitably towards his fellow man, he is missing a vital
component of Masonry: reverence to God. It
is only through God that a man may be a Mason, for it is only through
appropriate “reverential awe which is due from a creature to his Creator”
(GLDC, p. 187) that a man can be an appropriate candidate.
J. (1723) The Constitutions of the
Free-Masons: Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, &c. of that most
Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity.
London: William Hunter.
H. W. (1961). “Religion” in Coil’s
Masonic Encyclopedia. New York:
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J. (1870). The
Philosophy of Freemasonry; or, an Illustration of Its Speculative Features,
Based upon the “Interrogatories” and the “Ancient Charges” of the
Institution. Cincinnati: Jacob
Ernst & Co.
Lodge of the District of Columbia (GLDC). (2003). Masonic
Cipher, 3rd ed. Washington,
DC: Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
H. L. (1948). The
Newly-Made Mason: What He and Every Mason Should Know About Masonry.
Chicago: The Masonic History Company.
W. R. (Spring, 2007). “Honoring
Service and Sacrifice” in The Voice of
Freemasonry. Vol. 24, No. 2.
F. M. (1975). A
Study and an Interpretation of The Regius Manuscript: The Earliest Masonic
Document. Portland, OR:
Research Lodge of Oregon No. 198 AF&AM
R. R. (2006). A
Bridge to Light: A Study in Masonic Ritual & Philosophy, 3rd
ed. Washington, DC: Supreme
C.S., Johnston, E. R., eds. (1926). Masonry
Defined: A Liberal Masonic Education, 15th ed.
Memphis, TN: Masonic Supply Co.
R. (2006). The
Secrets of Freemasonry: Revealing the Suppressed Tradition.
Selected and Revised Edition. London:
R. (2000). A
Dictionary of Freemasonry, 2000 ed. New
York: Gramercy Books.
J. F. (1927). The
Religion of Masonry: An Interpretation.
Washington, DC: The Masonic Service Association of the United States.
C. I. (1878). Freemasonry:
Its Two Great Doctrines, The Existence of God and A Future State.
London: Reeves and Turner.
A. (1871). Morals
and Dogma. Accessed via <
http://reactor-core.org/morals-and-dogma.html> on 16 August 2007.
Scott, L. (1899). Cathedral Builders.
London: Sampson Low & Co.
States Census Bureau (2007). The
2007 Statistical Abstract. Accessed
via <http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab> on 15 August 2007.
A. E. (1925). Emblematic
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London: William Rider & Son, Ltd.
Special thanks go to Joan Sansbury and Larissa Watkins at the Library of the
Supreme Council, 33˚, Washington, DC. Without their assistance, I would not have had access to so
many materials and so much Masonic information.
All references to the lecture and charge of the 1˚ are taken from the
non-secret (i.e. not ciphered) work of the Grand Lodge of the District of