WHY MASONS MATTER

Recently, John Turner did an important post on the theme of American Religion and Freemasonry.

My own interests in the topic go back a long way. My first academic article ever, back in 1979 (!) was on Masons. (I was seven at the time). I specifically discussed the overlap between Jacobites and Freemasons in eighteenth century British politics. As John Turner suggests for the United States, you couldn’t go far in British towns large or small in the late eighteenth century without running into Masonry, and its political impact was enormous. It was a central organizational force for the emerging professions – for doctors and lawyers, shopkeepers and merchants, and also for military officers. The legal profession was a particular stronghold, and in later years, the police. Protestant clergy were also deeply involved.

I also confess a personal interest in the topic. I have never been a Mason myself but my father was a lifelong member who achieved high rank in British lodges, and it absolutely formed his world-view. He took very seriously the basic Masonic doctrine of universal brotherhood, crossing racial and religious frontiers.

Try as I might, I could never convince my father that the United States had actually segregatedMasonry, with the resulting emergence of that great Prince Hall tradition among African-Americans. (Those lodges were crucial to Black social and political organization). For my father, segregated Masonic lodges were a simple oxymoron. Even at the height of British imperial and racial arrogance, Masons left aside their race and caste when they stepped into the lodges. However often the principle was broken in practice, that was at least the theory.

I will be offering a couple of posts on Masonic themes, but my basic point is simple. Whenever I look at modern history – say, from the Enlightenment onwards – you find Masonic ideas and organizations everywhere you look, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, but also further afield.

To take an example, you absolutely cannot understand the British Empire without masonry, and that includes the history of all former imperial territories, from Canada and Australia down. Masons sailed the ships, ran the banks and the newspapers, staffed the ranks of commissioned officers, and also ran plenty of the Protestant churches and missions. I suppose you could try and write the history of Anglo-American missionary endeavors without paying due attention to that Masonic context, but you’d be a fool to try. That was true from the end of the eighteenth century right up to the withdrawal from colonial empire in the 1950s and 1960s.

To get a sense of that world of imperial masonry, read Kipling’s Indian stories, and his poems like “The Mother Lodge”. Also, do watch the extravagant 1975 film of The Man Who Would be King, especially the opening sequence in the train.

The problem in discussing all this is that Masons are just so ubiquitous. Did you ever see the great miniseries Lonesome Dove? Remember how one trail boss faithfully brings his partner’s body back  home after his sudden death? That is based on the classic Western saga of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, who blazed the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Like most famous Westerners, they were of course Masons, and Oliver Loving was buried with full Masonic honors. Lewis and Clark were Masons. So were Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, and Buffalo Bill. As were Tom Mix and John Wayne. Freemasonry was the cement that bound together the Santa Fe ring that was so crucial to the history of the Southwest. I say nothing about the morality or character of the people I’m discussing, but rather stressing how significant Masonry was to understanding what they were up to.

The American West without Freemasonry? Are you joking?

And not just in North America. I remember the bafflement of that very fine historian Jonathan Steinberg, whose research showed that during the 1940s, the Italian military and large sections of the nation’s bureaucracy had engaged in a massive conspiracy to protect Jews from the Nazis. For the life of him, though, he could not work out why they had done so. Other than natural goodness, what possessed those Italian elites to act thus, and to act in such an organized and coordinated way? Then, at a late stage in his research, an informant pointed out what was obvious enough to Italians: all those generals, ministers and public servants? “Masons!” And with that clue, everything else began to fall into place.

I’ll have lots more to say about Masons in coming posts.

I have not attempted here to sketch the really large bibliography on these topics, but one important book is Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs, Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927 (University of North Carolina 2007). I don’t agree with all her conclusions.

By the by, if you comment, please don’t waste time claiming that Masonry is a Satanic plot, OK? And no, the theory linking Jack the Ripper to the Masons has no historical basis. It was cooked up as a hoax in the 1970s, and widely accepted by people whose sense of humor had been surgically removed at birth.

 

  • Guest

    “Masonry is a Satanic plot”

    How about this, I just list all true statements:

    Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were both Masons. Masons step on the tau cross. Albert Pike praises Lucifer. Masonry has connections to Egyptian Mystery cults and Pythagorean’s cult. The Catholic Church has multiple papal statements condemning Masonry. The Queen of Heaven can be considered to figure prominently within Masonry. Shiva can be taken as important in Masonry. The inverted pentagram is found in masonry. The eye of Horus, being the star Sirius, is very highly important in masonry. Also the five pointed lotus can be easily connected with Masonry. The children of Lemech a murderer after Cain are both important in the origin story of masonry, the pillars, and a password. Some masons see connections to the Aztec religion, and if more of them were aware of the Maya religion they would also see connections to that; both practiced human sacrifice. The truth behind the truth is said to appear in masonry, by Masons. A murder figures prominently in the rituals of masonry, and it was, and is, conducted by Masons.

    There, I am helpful.

    • philipjenkins

      Hi John,
      Clearly we disagree on this.
      I am though wondering particularly about your remark that “The Catholic Church has multiple papal statements condemning Masonry” They’ve also issued a good number of statements against Protestantism. So what?

      • JohnH2

        We don’t actually disagree, I did try to take it down because explaining would take too much and getting my tone across is impossible and would never be understood by most people in the first place (as in, for instance, I am a Mormon).

        So factually true, but not really relevant, and not as Masons understand what is being said (which I am not a Mason, though I haven’t ruled that out for the future).

        Sorry.

        • philipjenkins

          You are so right in saying that tone and nuance are tough to communicate in such posts! And as for irony…

      • Antiphon411

        I found this article to be interesting and look forward to more. I also understand the point of you admonition regarding comments. Though no fan of freemasonry myself (as a Catholic) I support the study of it as an important aspect of American political and religious life. That being said, I wanted to address your question.

        The Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned freemasonry most thoroughly in Pope Leo XIII’s 1884 encyclical Humanum genus. The philosophy was particularly condemned for its naturalism which was supposed to lead or contribute to religious indifferentism and popular sovereignty–the overthrow of altar and throne (largely accomplished throughout the West).

        Of course the Protestant sects and Protestantism generally have often been condemned as heresies. There are many who think that Protestantism and freemasonry go quite well together. It might be noted that in Protestant countries freemasonry often has a Christian coloring; whereas in Catholic countries it is violently anti-clerical and anti-Christian.

        Two good books on freemasonry from a Catholic perspective:

        1) Msgr. George E. Dillon, Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked (1885; rev. 1950).

        2) William Whalen, Christianity and American Freemasonry (1958; rev. 3rd ed. 1998).

        • philipjenkins

          I will be posting on Masonic/Catholic conflicts, trying to be as objective as possible.

          • Antiphon411

            I look forward to it!

            (By “as objective as possible” you mean that Masonry will be presented as a Satanic plot though, right?)

          • JohnH2

            So why are you participating in both freedom of the press and freedom of conscience (religion)? (Both also condemned repeatedly)

          • Antiphon411

            Your gotcha points are a bit unclear, so perhaps my response will not be on point.

            1) Freedom of the press. I guess you mean that because I am reading a blog and commenting on it that I benefit from freedom of the press. The internet is a mode of communication. I use it to argue for truth and against error. All in all I would prefer a restricted press, provided that the censors were Catholic. No one has a right to spread error.

            2) Freedom of conscience (religion). I strongly reject this notion. No one is morally free to believe an error. You are not morally free to believe that there is no God. Religious liberty or freedom of conscience is rightly condemned as madness by Pope Gregory XVI and as an error by numerous popes over the last few centuries. For my fuller thoughts on the issue, see my comments on the following posts:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/03/yes-religious-liberty-is-threatened-in-america/

            http://www.patheos.com/Topics/Is-Religious-Freedom-Threatened/Religious-Freedom-Under-Siege-Alyxander-Folmer-03-26-14.html

          • JohnH2

            That you appear to be serious on this is something I find disturbing, and was unexpected.

            So that Obama can be seen as going after Catholics in terms of healthcare bothers you not because it would be wrong to go after a religious belief but because it is Catholic religious belief that is being oppressed? The Christian in Sudan awaiting execution is wrong to you because it isn’t Catholics who are doing the execution and not because it is wrong to force someone to believe what you feel to be true or not believe in an error?

          • Antiphon411

            1) “…Obama…going after Catholics in terms of healthcare…”

            I assume you mean this in regards to contraception. Contraception is not properly a Catholic issue, but a natural issue. Contraception in an unnatural act. It used to be the case that all Christians and other religions used to see the practice as evil in that it frustrated nature. Of course the only major “denomination” to continue to hold to this truth is the Catholic Church, because it cannot do otherwise owing to its divine institution.

            2) Sudanese Christians. I don’t quite get your point here. Killing people is generally wrong whether or not the victims or the perpetrators are Catholic.

          • JohnH2

            So I was correct in my assessment in the first question.

            And for the second killing her might be the issue for you but if I had say hired the Roman Legions and called it “Persecuting out of Love”, or called for a crusade against the entirety of Sudan, or very carefully had the secular authorities being the ones doing the extermination (under threat of crusade, general revolt of all “good” Catholics, and etc viz.Lateran IV Canon 3), then it would be peachy with you?

          • Antiphon411

            If you think your assesment was correct regarding the first point, then kudos! But let me restate: contraception is not a Catholic issue.

            Regarding the second point, crusades are wars undertaken in defense of the Faith or the faithful. Regarding Sudan, it would be nice to see persecuted Christians defended by Christian powers, but thanks to Liberalism (and, to keep this comment on topic with the post: Freemasonic religious indifferentism) there are no Christian powers any more.

            “Turning heretics over to the secular arm” was not merely a legal fiction so that the Church could kill people while keeping Her hands technically clean. Rather it was a recognition on the part of secular authorities that they had an interest in maintaing the social cohesion bestowed on society by the existence of a single Faith.

          • JohnH2

            My faiths amicus brief, and all others, are based on contraception being a moral issue for Catholics and not a moral issue for Mormons.

            You could have just said I was right about the second point as well.

            When the Freemasons were more universal and their ideals more universal was when the non-Catholic “Christian” powers were at their height. Our strength as a society depends on us recognizing that we are one out of many. In America diverse groups live in peace next to each other, which same groups are at constant war in their home countries.

            It was when neither the Mormons nor America lived up to their ideals, Mormon or Masonic, that orders of extermination, “wars”, and the folly of marching an army across the country to put down a non-existent revolt, the massacre of others because they are the hated untrusted other, and other incidents happened. As with the rulers of the Languedoc, you should realize that the strength of our society, and some of societies best citizens, Masons and Mormons, are because there are many and this gives a greater social cohesion than were there a singular Faith.

            If the rulers of the Languedoc had not been exterminated then they would have (and did) disagree that the extermination of the heretics was not a legal fiction. The Catholic church sure proved them wrong about their assessment, not by actual proof but by way of a crusade.

          • philipjenkins

            Just curious. Other than the Catholic Church, can you tell me any other organization or denomination in the world today that condemns or forbids contraception?If not, then that means it is a Catholic issue.

            Allow me to rephrase that. What I should say is that Catholics (or many Catholics, possibly a minority) hold that opposing contraception is a moral issue. As they are more or less alone in that view, then it is a Catholic issue alone.

          • philipjenkins

            Actually, as someone who has published on both anti-Masonic and anti-Catholic prejudice, I feel pretty well qualified to do this.

          • Antiphon411

            As you say: tone, nuance, and irony are difficult to communicate in a post. I was thinking of throwing in a little :) or even a ;)

            I have read your book on anti-Catholic prejudice–it was quite good. I look forward to your upcoming essays. My grandfather was a die-hard Mason and the philosophy has always intrigued me.

  • David Tiffany

    If Satanic conspiracy is part of the Masonic, you can’t leave that out.
    “At the heart of Masonry is a secret Luciferian doctrine which a Mason only comes to understand as he reaches the higher levels. Manly Palmer Hall, another of the great authorities on Masonry, writes, “When the Mason … has learned the mystery of his Craft, the seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands. …” (Manly Palmer Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, p. 48). The Apostle John warned that those who deny that Jesus is the only, all sufficient Christ, and that He came once and for all in the flesh, have embraced the spirit of Antichrist (1 Jn. 4:1-3). That Jesus was not the Christ, but that He had attained to the state of “Christ-consciousness” available to all mankind, is again part of Masonry: “Jesus of Nazareth had attained a level of consciousness, of perfection, that has been called by various names: cosmic consciousness, soul regeneration, philosophic initiation, spiritual illumination, Brahmic Splendor, Christ-consciousness” (Lynn F. Perkins, The Meaning of Masonry, CSA Press, 1971, p. 53).”
    http:downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • David Tiffany

    “The name of Christ is seldom referred to in Masonic literature, apparently due to Masons not wanting to offend their non-Christian members. Some Masonic leaders even teach that the Messiah will not be an individual, but “the perfection of the human race.” One such leader thinks that the stories about various Messiahs have their origin in the most ancient of religious beliefs — Solar Worship. Masons, therefore, consider the discussion about the deity of Christ to be an endless, futile argument. When quoting from the Bible, references to Christ are omitted, and prayer is never allowed to be offered (in a “well-ordered” lodge) in the name of Jesus Christ. Masons do not care whether a person privately petitions God or Jehovah, Allah or Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus, the God of Israel or the “Great First Cause,” but in the Lodge, the only petition allowed is to the “Great Architect of the Universe.” [HJB] Clearly then, Freemasonry does not believe that Jesus Christ is God, nor that salvation is available only through Him (cf. 1 Jn. 4:3). Freemasonry is a religion without a Savior.”
    With Joseph Smith being a Mason, it’s not hard to understand how he could (in his own eyes and the eyes of others) shred the truth about God, about Jesus and about the Gospel and replace those truths with something else. Those truths would have no value to him.
    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • Daniel Merriman

    It has been a while since I have read Walter McDougall’s “Freedom Just Around the Corner” and “Throes of Democracy”, but he makes repeated, but almost cryptic, references to the Masonic connections of a large number of the political actors he covers through 1876. To me, these references were intriguing and suggested a larger point to be made, but either McDougall failed to make it or I am not as good a reader as I thought I was. (I should add that I enjoyed both of these books immensely) Edited to add: McDougall does treat topics such as the development of the anti-Masonic party fully; I am more intrigued by his numerous almost “drive by” references to Masonry.

  • cken

    It seems to me the world was a better place when the Masons had much more influence than they have today.

  • Brint Keyes

    Your article piques my interest. That said, I find little (no?) actual evidence to support your assertion that Freemasonry’s influence was signal to the development of modern western civilization. You frequently mention that this and that person were Freemasons – yet this assertion immediately provokes the principle that Correlation is not Causation. One could just as easily assert that a majority of influential people had an odd number of letters in their middle names, therefore odd-numbered middle names were a decisive factor in Western Civ. Please understand I’m not trying to crack wise or troll here. I’m honestly interested in the premise of your article, but I’d really like to see something more substantive in the way of detailed evidence that shows not only how specifics of the Freemason doctrines bore fruit in society at large, but also (and more importantly) how those ideas were unique to Freemasonry, and would not have become part of society had Freemasonry not existed (cf. Matthew, Mark, Luke and “Q”).

    Thanks for starting the conversation.


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