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About Freemasonry

When is a man a Mason?

When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope and courage--which is the root of every virtue.

When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowmen. Ashlars

When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins--knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself.

When he loves flowers, can hunt the birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child.

When he can be happy and high minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees, and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. grip

When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond sin. all see eye

When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellowman, with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of song--glad to live, but not afraid to die!

Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give all the world.
Joseph Fort Newton

An Answer to Anti-Masonic Religious Propaganda

From time to time various church groups or religious figures have criticized Freemasonry, mainly due to a lack of understanding of the purposes of the organization. In 1952, the then Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts, Thomas Sherrard Roy, included in his address to the Grand Lodge an answer to the attacks being made on the Craft by certain religious groups. This was and remains one of the most scholarly responses to such criticism ever delivered.

An Answer to Anti-Masonic Religious Propaganda

He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.

I promised you in June, my Brethren, that in my address in September I should attempt to answer an attack made on Masonry by certain religious groups. I would have paid no attention to this attack were it not for the fact that some of the brethren have come to me with questions. At least two congregations within our jurisdiction, both of the same denomination, have interested themselves in anti-masonic propaganda. They take the position that Freemasonry is opposed to their particular kind of religion, and that a man cannot be a Mason and at the same time a good Christian. Our brethren know that their pastors who disseminate this propaganda are good men. They know that they are men of learning who have gone much farther than their parishioners in their study of religion and related subjects. They are not to be blamed therefore if they conclude that their pastors have information about religion denied them, which leads them to oppose Freemasonry. Thus their concern.

In a pamphlet under the title, Does God want you to be a lodge member?, which was found in a church not far from Boston, I found the address of a religious publishing house which specializes in anti-masonic literature. I sent some money, and in return, received some forty anti-masonic tracts or pamphlets. They have been written, for the most part, by men who represent the ultra-conservative wing of protestantism. The writers have not always been careful with the truth; at least they state as fact what has never been established as such. They forget that one of the ten commandments is; Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. They draw malicious inferences not at all warranted by a correct interpretation of the facts. They cite Masonic authorities such as Mackey and Preston, and identify the teachings of Freemasonry with the opinions of those men rather than with the moral teachings of Freemasonry itself. Incidentally, they know all there is to know about our obligations and our ritual. One of those pamphlets contains what purport to be the physical penalties of all the degrees -- Symbolic Lodge, the York and Scottish Rites. As you can imagine, their criticisms bear down hard on an organization that seems to need the use of such imprecations. Inasmuch as some of those obligations seem to demand that the candidate promise to impose on others who betray the secrets of the Order the same punishment as he invokes on himself, it cannot be wondered at that Freemasonry is condemned by many.

Their sharpest criticism, however, is aimed at our most vulnerable spot: namely, the apparently selective morality implied in part of our obligations. There was a time when men thought of themselves as obliged to do anything they could get away with in their business dealings with their fellow men. 'Caveat emptor', (let the buyer beware), was the slogan. Under the conditions that then obtained, the obligation had some cogency. A Mason had to be honest in his dealings with a brother Mason. But there can be no double standard in ethical questions for Masons today. A Mason must be equally honest with all men, nor shall we protect the wrong-doing of any. In this respect our practice is above our ritual. For in practice, not only will we not protect a brother Mason in his wrong-doing, but in unethical conduct, we will bring charges against him and have him excluded from our fellowship if it can be proved that he has brought reproach upon the good name of Freemasonry. The action of this Grand Lodge this afternoon in confirming the suspension of a member, and at other times in expelling members for un-masonic conduct, is all the proof needed that this is true.

Freemasonry may lead in asserting and practicing the highest in ethical idealism, but it must never be behind the accepted morality of any generation. It must be above suspicion and beyond criticism. Particularly we must not have our ritual trailing our practice.

These religious critics of ours are harsh in their criticism of the religious factor in Freemasonry. Their criticism takes this form: Freemasonry is a religion; it does not conform to the beliefs and practices of the Christian religion; therefore it is a false religion; therefore any person having membership in Freemasonry is guilty of promoting a false religion, and perforce is not worthy of membership in a Christian church. We have been ill-served by some of our Masonic historians in this respect. In their zeal for linking Freemasonry with antiquity, they have almost concluded that similarity indicates origin. Mackey speaks of our affinity with the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient times. He has given a phallic significance to some of our symbols. Freemasonry would be well-advised to stick to its immediate origin, and not to try to satisfy the craze for antiquity that plunges us into a maze of conjecture that adds nothing to our prestige, and exposes us to the criticism that is not deserved in the light of our present ideals, goals and practices. We claim no direct relationship with pagan religions.

Unfortunately, some of the apologists of Freemasonry in other days have tried to establish the worth of the Order by making claims for it not consistent with its organization and purposes. One of them made the statement that "Genuine Freemasonry is a pure religion". That is an unfortunate and misleading statement. But it has been taken at face value by these religious critics who proceed to show the kind of religion it is, and gives them the basis for their argument that Freemasonry is a false religion and therefore to be condemned.

Our answer to this is that while Freemasonry is religious, it is not even in the remotest sense a religion. We have prayers, it is true, invocations to deity. But Congress opens its sessions with prayer, and no one has ever suggested that our legislature is a religion. The Republican and Democratic Conventions opened with prayer - and such prayers they were! But not even the most ardent member of either convention would call it a religion. Colleges have religious services, some of them daily Chapel, but nobody ever called a college or educational program a religion. What it means is that these organizations, even ours, are composed of religious people who believe that their religion should enter into all of life.

We have none of the marks of a religion. We have no creed, and no confession of faith in a doctrinal statement. We have no theology. We have no ritual of worship. We have no symbols that are religious in the sense of the symbols found in church and synagogue. Our symbols are related to the development of character and of the relationship of man to man. They are working tools to be used in the building of a life.

Our purpose is not that of a religion. We are not primarily interested in the redemption of man. We seek for no converts. We solicit no new members. We raise no money for religious purposes. By any definition of religion accepted by our critics, we cannot qualify as a religion. All of which means that a man has not subscribed to a new religion, much less an anti-Christian religion, when he becomes a Mason, any more than when he joins the Democratic Party, or the YMCA. And there is nothing in Freemasonry that is opposed to the religion he brings with him into the Lodge.

We are condemned because we say that a man may be obligated on the scripture of his own religion, and that we thus place all religions on an equality. But Freemasonry does not assert and does not teach that one religion is as good as another. We do not say that all religions are equal because we admit men of all religions. We refuse to apply a theological test to a candidate. We apply a religious test only. We ask a man if he believes in God, and that is a religious test only. If we asked him if he believed in Christ, or Buddha, or Allah, that would be a theological test involving a particular interpretation of God. Belief in God is faith; belief about God is theology. We are interested in faith only, and not theology. We do not set ourselves up as judges of the qualitative values of the theological interpretations of God. When Freemasonry accepts a Christian, or Jew, or a Buddhist, or a Mohammedan, it does not accept him as such, but as a man, worthy to be received into the Order. We ask him to pledge himself by the highest and holiest loyalty in his life to be true to his vows. To ask him to vow on a book in which he did not believe would be the kind of hypocrisy condemned by the highest teachings of the Christian religion. To say that we reject Christ because we do not mention him would be as reasonable as to say that we reject the prophecies of Isaiah because we do not mention them. It is the glory of Masonry that a man who believes implicitly in the deity of Christ, and a man who says that he cannot go that far, can meet as brothers in their acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the Supreme Being, the Maker of Heaven and earth, and in acknowledgment of their duty to love Him with heart and mind and soul and strength. They can unite in fulfilling the great purpose of Freemasonry, the development of human character, and the establishment of the collective life of mankind in brotherhood. In doing this we dare to hope that we are more then neutral in helping the church in its great task.

We are not a religion, and we are not anti-religious. We are a completely tolerant organization. We stand for the values that are supreme in the life of the church, and we are sure that he who is true to the principles he learns in Freemasonry will be a better church member because of it. Indeed, just the other day I heard the Rector of the largest Episcopal Church in another city say that he was a better Christian and a better Rector because of his Freemasonry. Freemasonry rightly conceived and practiced will enhance every worthy loyalty in a man's life. It will not weaken a man's loyalty to his church, but will strengthen it by the increased sense of responsibility to God and dependence on God taught in our ritual. It will not drain his strength from the service of the church, but increase his strength for the service of the church. It will not draw him away from the doctrines of his church, but stimulate his interest in the values of religion that enrich and ennoble the life of man.

As distinguished from the church or the synagogue, Freemasonry does not claim to know all there is to know about deity, and therefore makes no assertion of infallibility. Our quest is for light, more light, further light; for truth, more truth, further truth. Because we do not claim to have received full light, to have a monopoly of, or a corner on, truth, we can claim to be a tolerant group. We believe that there should be some place where men can meet without having to assert or defend the peculiarities of their doctrines. There should be some place where men can meet and know that their right to worship God in their own way is respected completely; a place where a man learns that the only respect he can claim for his beliefs is the respect he accords to the beliefs of others. There should be some place where men can face the realities of life and know that the only barriers that separate men are those of ill-will and enmity. Freemasonry is that place, for it unites men in a unity that transcends the accidents of creed and class, a unity created by our common loyalty to the realities of religion as expressed by the prophet Micah twenty-seven hundred years ago when he wrote:

He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.

Thomas S. Roy, Grand Master
Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Proceedings, 1952

Rev. Dr. Roy was born at New Castle, New Brunswick in 1884 and was brought up Roman Catholic. At 16 years of age, he began attending the local Baptist Church which sparked his desire to enter the ministry. He was ordained in 1911 in the United Baptist Church, Digby, Nova Scotia. He came to Massachusetts in 1913 and held pastorates in West Newton, Brockton and Worcester. He retired from the First Baptist Church of Worcester in 1951 to become the Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts. He remained active in the fraternity and in his church until his death in 1980. A remarkable life of 96 years of devoted service to humanity.