A common misconception that I see held by non-Masons, and often cultivated by anti-Masons, is that Freemasonry is a religion and, some go so far as to say that it is incompatible with Christianity, and they also state that Christians who choose to be Freemasons are not real Christians or are being deceived. Overlooking the fact that no man has the right to dictate to another in matters of belief or faith, they often don't use any logic or reason for their arguments. Simply put, Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. The Masonic Service Association of North America has a great page concerning Freemasonry and religion.
Those calling Freemasonry a religion often quote Albert Pike who remains the favorite "whipping boy" of the anti-Masonic movement who often exaggerates his importance and misquote Morals & Dogma to further their own narrative. These are two cherry-picked quote that they often cite:
"Every Masonic Lodge is a temple of religion; and its teachings are instruction in religion" (Master Mason, Morals & Dogma)
"Masonry, like all the Religions, all the Mysteries, Hermeticism and Alchemy, conceals its secrets from all except the Adepts and Sages, or the Elect, and uses false explanations and misinterpretations of its symbols to mislead those who deserve only to be misled; to conceal the Truth, which it calls Light, from them, and to draw them away from it." (Master Mason, Morals & Dogma)
I have found that most quoting Pike have never actually read Morals & Dogma, but just copy and paste from some anti-Mason website. They also do not understand the context of the book or the context of that quote. They assume that this book carries the weight of law within Freemasonry when it doesn't. In the Preface, Pike even states that "Everyone is entirely free to reject and dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him to be untrue or unsound." They also overlook this quote that comes later:
"Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief falsifies and denaturalizes it." (Elu of the Fifteen, Morals & Dogma)
Anti-Masons will also claim that the officer titles we use make us a religion. Some will argue that because the Lodge's presiding officer is known as the "Worshipful Master" that Freemasonry is a religion. The word "Worshipful" is an Old English term meaning "one deserving of respect". Freemasons do not worship the Worshipful Master, he is simply the Chief Executive Officer of a Lodge. It is interesting to note that in non-English speaking jurisdictions, Lodges refer to the Master as Venerable instead of Worshipful.
One absurd argument I've heard is that simply having rituals makes us a religion. Never mind that rituals are inherent to mankind. There are a number of categories of rituals such as social rituals, military rituals, celebratory rituals, worship rituals, funerary rituals, bardic rituals, and initiatic rituals. Freemasonry is filled with a variety of rituals, but the most notable is the initiatic or initiation rituals. Rituals remind us of what is important as well as providing a sense of stability and continuity in our lives; it educates us in the values of an organization, allows for knowledge to be passed from generation to generation unchanged, and binds the members together. Rituals alone do not make something a religion.
When one analyzes Freemasonry, it does not meet the characteristics to be a religion:
- Religions advocate sectarian faith. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions have dogmas, theology, cosmology, and eschatology. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions enforce an orthodoxy. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions seek coverts. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions have clergy or priesthoods. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions offer some kind of sacrament. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions have a plan for salvation and atonement. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions have ascetic practices. Freemasonry does not.
- Religions have sacred locations. Freemasonry does not.
Freemasonry allows men of various faiths to come together, but that doesn't mean anyone is required to accept the beliefs of another as his own. Just like with partisan politics, sectarian religious topics are not discussed in Lodge so as to avoid petty quarrels that may disrupt the harmony of the Lodge. In this day and age when our country is so divided, it is refreshing to see that Freemasonry is a beacon of unity.
1. Duncan, J. H. (n.d.). Masonry & Religion. Retrieved from Supreme Council, Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction: https://scottishrite.org/about/media-publications/journal/article/masonry-religion/
2. Freemasonry and religion. (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of BC & Yukon: http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/textfiles/religion.html
3. Is Freemasonry a religion? (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of BC & Yukon: http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/anti-masonry08.html#religion
4. Pike, A. (n.d.). Morals & Dogma.
5. Statement on Freemasonry and Religion. (n.d.). Retrieved from Masonic Service Association of North America: https://www.msana.com/religion.asp