A Stupid Atheist?

A Stupid Atheist?

THE first of the Old Charges, “Concerning God and Religion” begins:

“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and, if he rightly understands the art, will never be a stupid atheist….”

That all petitioners for the degrees express a belief in Deity is a fundamental requirement. That all elected candidates who receive the entered Apprentice degree publicly express a belief in deity is a fundamental requirement. No lodge would accept the petition of any man unwilling to profess his faith in Deity.

We are taught that no atheist can be made a Mason, and the reason usually assigned is that, lacking a belief in Deity, no obligation can be considered binding. The real reasons for the non-acceptance of atheists into the Fraternity goes much deeper. We are not entirely accurate when we say that no obligation can be binding without taking an oath. Our courts of law permit a Quaker to “affirm” instead of taking an oath to tell the truth, inasmuch as a Quaker’s religious belief does not permit him to swear.

Yet, a Quaker who tells an untruth after his affirmation is as subject to the penalty for perjury as the devout believer in God who first swears to tell the truth, and then fails to do so. The law holds a man truthful who affirms, as well as one who swears to tell the truth.

No atheist can be made a Mason, far less from lack of binding power of the obligation taken by such a disbeliever, than from Freemasonry’s knowledge that an atheist can never be a Mason “in his heart.” Our whole symbolism is founded on the erection of a Temple to the Most High. Our teachings are of the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man founded on that fatherhood, and the immortality of the soul in a life to come. A disbeliever in all these could by no possible chance be happy or contented in our organization.

WHAT IS AN ATHEIST?

IT is possible to spin long-winded theories about the word, draw fine distinctions, quote learned encyclopedias and produce a fog of uncertainty as to the meaning of “atheist” as hopeless as it is stupid, From Freemasonry’s standpoint an atheist is a man who does not believe in Deity. Which immediately brings out the far more perplexing question:

THE question has plagued many a Masonic scholar and thousands of men less wise. It is still a matter of perplexity to many a man who fears that the friend who has asked him to sign his petition is an atheist.

“What is this Deity in which a man must believe?”

Such an anthropomorphic God, derived from descriptive passages in the Bible, added to by the drawings of artists and crystallized in an age of simple faith, have given such a conception to many who find it adequate.

Here is where all the trouble and the worry comes on the scene. Man’s idea of God differs with the man, his education, his early religious training. To some, the mental picture of God is that of a commanding, venerable figure with flowing white hair and beard – the great artist Dore so pictured God in his marvelous illustrated Bible. Such a conception fits naturally in a heaven of golden streets, flowing with milk and honey. White clothed angels make heavenly music on golden harps, the while Deity judges between the good and the evil.

Others conceive of Deity as a Bright Spirit, who moves through the universe with the speed of light, who is “without form” because without body, yet who is all love, intelligence, mercy and understanding. The man who believes in the anthropomorphic God describes his conception, then asks the brother who believes in a Bright Spirit:

“Do you believe in my God?”

If the answer is in the negative, the questioner may honestly believe him who answers to be an atheist. The Deity of a scientist, a mathematician, a student of the cosmos via the telescope and the testimony of geology, may be neither anthropomorphic nor Bright Spirit, but a universally pervading power which some call Nature; others Great First Cause; still others Cosmic Urge.

Such a man believes not in the anthropomorphic God, not in God as a Bright Spirit. Shall he call his brethren who do so believe, atheists? Have they the right so to denominate him?

CAN GOD BE DEFINED?

TO the Geologist, the very handwriting of God is in the rocks and earth. To the fundamentalist, the only handwriting of God is in the Bible. Inasmuch as the geologist does not believe in the chronology of the life of the earth as set forth in the Bible, the fundamentalist may call the geologist an atheist. Per contra, the geologist, certain that God has written the story of the earth in the rocks, not in the Book, may call the fundamentalist an atheist because he denies the plain testimony of science.

One is a right, and each is as wrong, as the other! Neither is an atheist, “because each believes in the God which satisfies him!”

You shall search Freemasonry from Regius Poem, our oldest document, to the most recent pronouncement of the youngest Grand Lodge; you shall read every decision, every law, every edict of every Grand Master who ever occupied the Exalted East, and nowhere find an ukase that any brother must believe in the God of some other man. Nowhere in Freemasonry in England, its Provinces, or the United States and its dependent Jurisdictions, will you find any God described, cataloged, limited in which a petitioner must express a belief before his petition may be accepted.

For Masonry is very wise, she is old, old and wisdom comes with age! She knows, as few religions and no other Fraternity has ever known, of the power of the bond which lies in the conception of an unlimited God.

A witty Frenchman was asked once: “Do you believe in God?” He answered:

“What do you mean by God? Nay, do not answer. For if you answer, you define God. A God defined is a God limited, and a limited God is no God!”

From Freemasonry’s gentle standpoint, a God defined and limited is not the Great Architect of the Universe. Only God unlimited by definition; God without meets and bounds; God under any name, by any conception, is the fundamental concept of the Fraternity, and to believe in Whom is the fundamental requirement for membership.

LOGIC AND UNDERSTANDING

IN her Fellowcraft Degree, Freemasonry teaches of the importance of Logic. It is perfectly logical to say that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite; a truism as exact as to say that light and darkness cannot exist in the same place at the same time, or that sound and silence cannot be experienced at the same moment. A mind which can comprehend infinity is not finite. That which can be comprehended by a finite mind is not infinite. Therefore, it is logical to say that no man can comprehend God, since the only mind he has is finite.

But, if a man cannot comprehend the God in Whom he must express a belief in order to be a Freemason, it is obviously the very height of folly to judge his belief by any finite comprehension of Deity. Which is the best of reasons why Freemasonry makes no attempt at definition. She does not say: “Thus and such and this and that is my conception of God, do you believe in HIM?” She says nothing, allowing each petitioner to think of Him as finitely or as infinitely as he will.

The agnostic frankly says:

“I do not know in what God I believe, or how he may be formed or exist. I only know that I believe in something.”

Freemasonry does not ask him to describe his “something.” If it is to him that which may be named God, no matter how utterly different from the God of the man who hands him the petition, Freemasonry asks nothing more. He must “believe.” How he names his God, how he defines or limits Him, what powers he gives Him – Freemasonry cares not.

It is probable that the majority of those who profess atheism are mistaken in their reading of their own thoughts. An atheist may be an honest man, a good husband and father, a law abiding, charitable, upstanding citizen. If so, his whole life contradicts what his lips say. In the words of the poet:

“He lives by the faith his lips deny, God knoweth why!”

Many a man has reasoned about faith, heaven, infinity, and God until his brain reeled at the impossibility of comprehending the infinite with the finite, and ended by saying in despair: “I cannot believe in God!” Then he has taken his wife or his child in his arms and there found happiness, completely oblivious to the most profound, as the most simple fact of all faiths and all religions; where love is, there is also God!

DECLARATION OF BELIEF

BUT, Freemasonry does not go behind the spoken or written word. With a full understanding that many a man who defiantly denies the existence of God is actually not an atheist “in his heart” our Order nevertheless insists upon a plain declaration of belief. There is no compromise in Freemasonry;1 her requirement are neither many nor difficult, but they are strict.

Having accepted the declaration, however, Freemasonry asks no qualifying phrases “Nor should any of us question a declaration.” It is not for us to let our hearts be troubled, because a petitioner’s conception of Deity is not ours. It is not for us to worry because he thinks of his God in a way which would not satisfy us. Freemasonry asks only for a belief in a Deity unqualified, unlimited, undefined. Her sons cannot, Fraternally, do less.

When the great schism in Freemasonry ended in 1813, and the two rival Grand Lodges, the Moderns (who were the older) and the Antients (who were the younger, Schismatic body) came together on St. John’s Day to form the United Grand Lodge, they laid down a firm foundation on this point for all time to come. It was later declared to all by this, the primary, Mother Grand Lodge of all the Masonic World:

“Let any man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious Architect of Heaven and Earth, and practices the sacred duties of morality.”

What a Mason thinks about the glorious Architect, by what name he calls Him. how he defines or conceives of Him, so far as Freemasonry is concerned may be a secret between Deity and brother, kept forever, “in his heart!”2


1 While traditionally this is the case, some Masonic Obediences do not require candidates to profess a belief in God.

2 Originally published, SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol. X   April, 1932 No.4

Conduits

Conduits

A CONDUIT is a tube that runs from one place to another, to channel water or other fluid, or electrical wires, or wires that connect ‘things.’ Think, a farm to a water supply, or power lines buried underground, going to homes. Conduits provide not only a safe enclosure to run these essential elements but they also contain them. Without this containment, they would disperse. Their energy would be diffuse and fall toward entropy, only to have to regenerate somewhere else anew. Likewise, the conduit protects these elements from being corrupted by outside forces.

Let’s take this a step further: a conduit must be kept in excellent condition in order for it to perform its function. It has to be free from the things that corrode it or threaten to break it. It must be kept in the proper shape and alignment, in order to conduct the elements to their proper locations. It also must be made out of the proper materials to support and safely deliver their goods. You do not run water through cardboard or lead conduits, as one breaks down and loses its form and the other poisons the water.

RIGHT FORM, RIGHT MIND, & RIGHT SPIRIT

IN a recent group presentation, a fellow Brother stated that the human body needed to be able to be in top physical condition in order for it to be a conduit for the most effective spiritual work. This was part of a larger discussion regarding martial arts and the physical form, linking the whole to the work of the Freemason. Many martial arts are built on the totality of the human form – mental, spiritual, physical – moving in alignment with the will of the Divine. The masters of martial arts are the synthesis of Right Form, Right Mind, and Right Spirit. So, too, is the Freemason admonished to take care of his body, his senses, his mind, and his spirit, caring for each to the best of his abilities and offering the proper amount of focus to each. This means getting enough sleep and exercise, meditation and study, action and work.

During the course of the conversation noted above, it was indicated the flow of energy was coming from the Divine to the Human, the connection running both ways but the energy itself running only one, like water running in a pipe to a cistern. This would indicate to me that the energy is converted by the human into useful creations; ideas or dreams, revelations, and intuition are flowing all the time into our lives, 24×7. We would then have the ability to turn on the “faucet” so to speak, and have a ready supply of Divinity. Every single moment. The human form, being itself of a honed, pristine nature, is then able to use this energy consciously toward a higher purpose, toward the evolution of humanity.

If only this were so.

FREEMASONS & THE HUMAN STRUGGLE

FOR the Freemason, and any ritualist, it should be the first thing we wrangle. Oh, but we humans struggle. We struggle to control our desires and wants, from temperature to the hardness of chairs or the stiffness of our clothing. We are hungry; we are cold; we are sleepy. We lack the exercise our bodies need, the quality of food our cells require, and the mental stimulation of an excellent book or enlivening debate. We do not look for the work that challenges us to change and grow but to the work that is just a little easier on our bodies. Even those of us who are the most disciplined struggle to maintain this homeostasis in a world filled with temptations. We could ask the question, “If I were God, would I channel through me?”

But, here’s the rub, I think: God, in whatever form you imagine it to be, does channel though us. Like a TV with an antenna that isn’t quite in tune with a signal, the Divine does make its way to us, through us maybe a little scrambled and yet still escapes in what we do. The signal is always there. The light that pours through the flawed prism is pure light – it is the imperfections in the glass that stunt the beauty. The Sun is always shining, regardless of our ability to see it. The God-Human-Connection not an all or nothing situation. It’s an always-on condition. The question is, with our earthly shackles, can we hear It?

And, can It hear us?

It’s said that ritual is the interface between human and God. That interface, I believe, runs both ways. Like a conduit of fiber-optic cable connects us to the cyber world, we are an energy source for the Divine. Upload and Download. Many believe that

“…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

[Ecclesiastes 12:7]

That being the case, it seems to me that we come back to the Divine, luggage in hand, ready to unpack our lifetime of learning. Again, much like the internet, we take bits of energy from the greater bucket of knowledge and in turn, upload some of the same. We contribute, mindfully or not, to the consciousness of the Divine. This Universal Consciousness doesn’t just pick up the perfect signals, the light from the perfect prism. The Divine picks up the flaws and corruption, the occlusions and excrescences that cause variations in the communication.

UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS & THE PERFECTING OF HUMANITY

I AM even going to stretch this further and say that the Divine, in concept, might be Universal Consciousness, which is the unfoldment of the universe. In metaphysical circles, this universal mind is “a metaphysical concept suggesting an underlying essence of all being and becoming in the universe.” This concept was first brought out by Anaxagoras, an early 5c B.C.E. philosopher who believe that the growth of all living things only comes about by the mind within the organism, being part of a larger conceptual “Mind.” Indeed, modern philosopher Philip Goff has coined the term “panpsychism” as an all-pervasive consciousness. In his terms, consciousness is “experience” and all forms of matter have experiences, regardless of the complex or simple structure of the being. The rock, the sun, the moon, the human, and the mouse all have experiences unique to their being, all contributing to what we might call Universal Mind, or perhaps God.

Therefore, we may be conduits of the Divine, with the goal of It, Divinity or the Universe, becoming manifest in this reality. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that we too are conduits of experience filling the pool of the Universal Mind. And what if, simply, we contribute to the betterment of humanity by the pure act of filling the pool with the best we have to offer? In other words, the quality of our conduit equates to the quality of our experiences, and those experiences are ultimately adding to the “Perfecting of Humanity.” In actuality, they add to the perfection of all of the universe if matter is all-connected. This may be the legacy we leave to those who follow us, and perhaps to ourselves, if we return again. If we truly want to work toward the perfection of Humanity, then it begins, as always, with our own self – body, mind and spirit. It means becoming the best versions of ourselves, whoever we are and whatever we may be, living our dharma.

Reforming the Gods?

Reforming the Gods?

I was participating in an Esoteric Book study group last week when I heard the phrase, “reforming the gods.” I’ve heard, often, about how God reforms us, how theology can be reformed, but not about how humans reform the gods. It sounded like hubris, to me. What does one mean when they say, “we or he is attempting to reform the gods?”

To reform something is to take it apart, piece by piece, and use the material to create some new form, some new “thing” that is ostensibly better than the old “thing.” To reform the gods, in the simplest of terms, is to take what we know of our gods and create something new from their forms, from their essence. That sounds like no easy task. We are reshaping all that we understand about the gods, or God, and forming it into something we think best. Again, hubris.

The question is, how does the human being reform their gods? Perhaps simple devotion turns into radical fanaticism. Perhaps, they do it through their own misinterpretation of the mores, customs, and dogma of religion or society, forming the rules to bend to their will. Their desires. They mix the idea of the divine will with their own, seeking to meld them, or seeking to justify them?

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with A Thousand Faces, in the section on Initiation, states:

Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions to the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. The rest of the world…is left outside his sympathy and protection because (it is) outside the sphere and protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world.

In thinking about this, I wonder if the way humans use language to express their thoughts affects our theology in much the same ways that language and biology and culture are inextricably linked. We may think there is evolution of biology but isn’t there evolution of culture as well? And if they are both evolving, we, as humans and as part of it, are evolving language to keep pace. It makes sense that our theology would evolve to survive. Surely it is adaptation that creates the lineage, not merely perseverance. Yet, evolution comes in many forms, and we know species have evolved themselves extinct: not their their own will but by the vehicles of adaptation to hostile and temporary environments. Extremes cannot last.

xSymbols_Masonic_collage_240x359.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ak16jJjibbFreemasonry, in some odd ways, has not yielded to that adaptation of culture and language; yet, in some ways, it has. We have the dusty Freemasonry of old which contains the ritual forms unchanged from time immemorial. It is the ritual kept pristine, trappings kept shiny, and only the briefest whiff of questioning outside of the aforementioned monitors and rituals. It is a Freemasonry that is solid in its roots but has nothing above ground where the Light can shine on it.

Then we have a Freemasonry that is on the cusp of something larger than its predecessors. Like evolution, institutions keep pace with culture. In this, Freemasonry is global. It is foundational that Freemasonry uses symbols to communicate – a global language. It has been carried to many places by traveling Freemasons, establishing Lodges wherever they rest. It cannot help but be global, and even the dusty “old” Freemasonry is global. This means it must evolve to the pressure from waves of global cultural epigenetics. If it does not, it goes the way of the dinosaur – remembered in tar pits and gasoline tanks, museums and historical sites. It will become the backbone of a new Freemasonry which seeks to live up to its lofty goals of tolerance, solidarity, equality, and liberty for all human beings. This includes people of all races, creeds, genders, sexual orientation, and ages. The basic virtues of Freemasonry hold to the quality of the person, not these divisive human characteristics. This is a Freemasonry that is building itself on the roots of the old, pushing up through the dirt, and beginning to grow in the sun.

Campbell, in the same chapter makes the case.

Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense. The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealots to preach, but reluctant apparently to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children.

The trappings of religious dogma are “pedantic snares” which need to be kept “ancillary” to the main virtues of the message. Yet, we humans struggle with this. We struggle every day to interpret and misinterpret the meaning of philosophical and religious text, holding onto what Dr. Wayne Dyer called “an erroneous zone” that inhibits how we function in life. We can’t think differently and when change does come, the adaptive change to flow with evolution, we balk.

language_evolutionSome of the Freemasonic Lodges, in the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, altered their formats. Some shuttered and closed for the duration, their members being higher risk than the average population. Others went to doing online independent study sessions, one-offs, and some did podcasts. These are some good adaptations, evolution created by the younger and more tech-savvy population. Those that are in touch with cultural changes.

Other Masonic Lodges and Orders adapted even further. Short rituals have been created for some Lodge get-togethers that, while not regular meetings with ritual, gathered everyone together on a teleconference to discuss relevant essays and writings. It is “the short form” of a meeting that maintains consistency and yet adapts to the world needs. Brothers still share fraternal talk, brotherly love, and some relief from the ills that surround us all. Masonic philosophical talks, for one group, went from being in-person, to online, with an even greater attendance – up to 100% more individuals registered than in previous meetings. Discussion and debate are lively and energizing, allowing people to take away greater ideas than they had at the beginning of the meeting. This doesn’t supplant the ritual of Freemasonry nor the need for integration of mind, body and spirit into the form of Freemasonry. It is adaptation to survive, to thrive, in a world of fear and chaos and change.

I don’t see that a Freemasonry which adapts and flows with the world needs is a Freemasonry attempting to reform their gods. On the contrary; it is ensuring that Freemasonry isn’t dogma, that it’s not allowed to stall and collect dust, thereby ensuring its demise. We have to allow for change, for evolution, else we are destined to fall to an extreme, then wither and die. No. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to wake up, change the path we’re on, and try something new. It is thoughtful change, slow but progressive, which keeps the blood pumping and the cells growing. Perhaps it is the cells and blood that instigate the change, Darwinian-style, to create the new culture. It doesn’t take a Duchovnyian leap of logic to figure out that we need to adapt lest we die.

Freemasonry is dead. Long Live Freemasonry.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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