Friday, May 13, 2016

Is Freemasonry a Cult?

In debates with anti-Masons, I've seen and heard the accusation tossed around that Freemasonry is a cult. Here is my somewhat biased look on what a cult is and a comparison to Freemasonry.

Cults have historically been associated with religious or social groups whose practices are considered deviant, and because the word carries with it a derogatory connotation some have used the word to label groups they do not approve of, whether that group meets the criteria of a cult or not. However, since what is considered radical or truly deviant are relative terms it is problematic to pin down a precise definition of the word 'cult'.

Cult comes to us from the Latin word "cultus" meaning "worship, devotion, or reverence". Looking at several dictionaries I see "cult" defined in the following:
noun

1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. 
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult. 
3. the object of such devotion. 
4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc. 
5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols. 
6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. 
7. the members of such a religion or sect.
I will say that Freemasonry doesn't fit the definitions because Masonic Lodges are not places of worship. Freemasonry is religious, but far from being a religion or a religious institution (ie church, synagogue, mosque, etc). We also do not force our members to live outside of "conventional society" nor do we have a singular "charismatic leader". We do have rites, rituals, ceremonies, but that is far from making an organization a cult.

Definitions alone do not accurately depict something on its own. I could define "human" as a "bipedal mammal", with that definition I could then say an ostrich is considered human. One must take into consideration the characteristics along with the definition otherwise you lose context and accuracy.

Here are some characteristics of a cult:
Leadership: A cult will have a living leader who is self-appointed, has absolute authoritarian/totalitarian control, is accountable to no one, and is often messianic with a special mission or cause. 
Truth: The leader, and sometimes the group, are in possession of a credible "truth". Often this surrounds some notion of salvation which can only be attained from affiliation with that particular cult. Only knowledge from the group is credible and often critical thinking is prohibited. 
Devotion: The members must submit to all orders of the leader without question or inquiry. Promote dependency of the members upon the group. 
Finances: Members are often required to turn over most if not all of their assets to help fund operations and the cause of the leader. Again, with the "no question" policy, there is no transparency in regards to where the assets are stored, used, or spent.
Profane world: There is instilled an illogical fear of the outside world. Members are often cut off or isolated from their pre-cult friends, families, and society. They have the polarized "us versus them" mentality. Members of cults move into communes and not in their previous residents.
Recruiting: Use deceptive methods in recruiting such as crisis creation, deepening a confessed guilt or fear, or state that they have all the answers. 
Leaving: There is no legitimate reason to leave the cult. Members who do leave are criticized and seen as evil.
You can find more here: http://www.prem-rawat-talk.org/forum/uploads/CultCharacteristics.htm

Our leaders/officers are elected or appointed by an elected officer, not self appointed. Least of all, do we have to do as bidden without question. Masonry don't claim to possess some hidden secret that will give us salvation from God's Judgment. There is no dependency or entitlement syndrome placed upon Freemasons. The finances are, or should be, tracked and, at least in my Lodge/Grand Lodge, audited annually; the Grand Lodge audit done by an independent auditor when a new Grand Secretary or Grand Treasurer is elected. Freemasons are not cut off from the world or family/friends that we knew previous to joining Freemasonry nor are we required to live in communes or residence established by the cult. Freemasonry doesn't recruit, but even to prospective members, we don't lie nor do we use deceptive means to bring them into our fold. Lastly, Freemasons leave the group all the time. Some leave for poor reasons while others leave for personal or financial reasons. It just depends on the man.

Having looked at all the information, I'd have to say NO, Freemasonry is not a cult. To be blunt, people who say we are a cult are ignorant of what both, cults and Freemasonry, are. It's not surprising though that those who know so little will defame and slander others without knowledge of the facts. I would point out though that many of these characteristics fit the description of some of the anti-Masons I have met. I have found that using their loose definition of what a cult is, you could label just about any assembly of people a cult. Anti-Masons have overused and abused the use of the word "cult" that its use is becoming meaningless and trivial.

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