By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory
Freemasonry is not well known. This is why outsiders sometimes denigrate or deride the movement. Because the objections are predictable and consistent, it is important to try to forestall them in advance.
Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry lists the principal sins of which Freemasonry is generally accused – its supposed secrecy, exclusivist charity, admission of unworthy members, claim to be a religion, administration of unlawful oaths, and puerility. The following are answers to these objections:
Is Freemasonry secret?
Though Masonry has its secrets, it is not a secret society. Its principles are far from being hidden from view, its members make no secret of their Masonic affiliation and even publicise it, and its meeting places are clearly identified and in many cases open to public inspection when not in use for Masonic meetings. Those aspects of Masonry which are secret are basically limited to modes of recognition which identify a man as a Mason and indicate the level or rank that he has attained within Masonry, and certain rites and ceremonies which ritualize doctrines which themselves are open and available. And even those few things which are Masonic secrets are not locked up within a restricted circle, since new members are continually entering the movement and learning them.
Does Freemasonry admit unworthy members?
Not knowingly. Applicants have to be recommended by existing members of the organisation, and criteria for acceptance include good reputation, civic responsibility and family stability. Once
admitted into Freemasonry, the member receives constant reminders of his ethical duty and social responsibility.
Is Masonic charity exclusivist?
The many Masonic benevolent institutions never refuse a helping hand to individuals or families in need, though it is true that in some respects priority is accorded to Masons and their families. Like all community groups that foster a special feeling of fellowship, Freemasonry urges mutual responsibility within the group, just as any sibling should be able to rely upon another in a family. Mackey says, “It is well known that those who are nearer should be dearer”, and adds that membership of a family or other group should confer a feeling of security.
Does Freemasonry claim to be a religion?
It does not claim to be, nor is it, a religion. Adherents of many faiths are among its members, and hardly any religious group raises objections to its believers being Freemasons. A Freemason must profess a belief in a Supreme Being, but the movement as such has no theological tenets or sectarian rituals. It is not a religion, a theology or a denomination. It stands for an attitude of personal humility and ethical responsibility motivated by belief in God, whatever the way in which one understands or celebrates Him. Members are encouraged to involve themselves in the religious denomination of their choice or upbringing. The use of Biblical terminology is Masonic rituals and the references to Biblical personages, especially King Solomon, reflect the Scriptural strand in our western culture.
Does Freemasonry administer unlawful oaths?
Though the wording of solemn obligations (they are promises not oaths) entered into by Masons is not publicised, there is nothing immoral, criminal, treacherous, or for that matter frivolous in such obligations. Nor do these obligations in any way compromise a Freemason’s duty to his family, profession, religion, or country. On the contrary, they reinforce the loyalties and commitments to which a person is already lawfully bound. Freemasons do not consider their Masonic obligations as in any way higher than the law of the land. The fact that so many eminent leaders in many walks of public life, known for their integrity and patriotism, have been and are Freemasons, is enough evidence that Freemasonry does not and can not countenance any compromise with the law.
Is Freemasonry puerile?
Perhaps because its rites and ceremonies are not open to public view, the movement is sometimes ridiculed by outsiders who invent and imagine supposed rituals which they then proceed to attack as outlandish or childish. Every club, organisation or community has its ways of doing things – running a meeting, addressing the chair, keeping the records. Anything can be criticised as childish or absurd, but the fact is that tradition and ceremony lend character and even drama to the affairs of the group. Masonic ceremonies symbolize principles and teachings which might otherwise remain so theoretical and vague as to be in danger of evaporating. True, the best ritual can be performed in sloppy and even absurd fashion, but if those taking part do so with intelligence and dignity and explain the symbolism of the ceremony, it is not puerile but poetic.
The accusations against Freemasonry are fallacious and unfair. The movement deserves a better deal.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.