In the Shadow of Jehovah: Is Religion’s Devil a Reflection of a Limited Concept of God?

In the Shadow of Jehovah: Is Religion’s Devil a Reflection of a Limited Concept of God?

As always, this writing does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason. 


The figure of the Devil is among the most prominent and significant religious figures in the world today, particularly in the Abrahamic family of religions that have come to dominate the globe. The contrast between God (or his representative) and the devil is taken to be one of the most fundamental dynamics of many religious worldviews, even to the point that Satan serves as a symbol for those who oppose or criticize religion. Even for the non-religious, it’s impossible to deny the significance of the devil as an archetype in our culture.

This good vs. evil, God vs. Devil idea is actually much older even than Abraham, and has its roots as far back as Zoroastrianism in ancient Babylon, and many scholars even believe that the Abrahamic faiths picked the devil up from the Babylonians during their capture in that civilization. Many interpretations of the devil have been made on a symbolic level, ranging from a representation of our own carnal nature, to a reincarnation of the nature-spirit Pan, to the light bringer known as Lucifer

Today, I’d like to take a slightly different approach: Is it possible that the entire concept of the devil emerges directly from a certain limited concept of God?

Our Father, Who Art In Heaven

Inasmuch as the Devil is a shadow figure, perhaps even the quintessential iconoclastic antithesis to all that is regarded as good or holy, it represents the unconscious “dark” elements that are regarded as the opposite of the divine. In other words, the devil becomes the shadow aspect of God, and within us, the shadow of our own divinity. Whether or not a literal, supernatural entity that we might identify as the devil exists, we can see this symbolic truth. We can also surmise that the most essential quality of the devil is rebellion or resistance to the divine will, for the sake of self-gratification, and so represents the temptation each of us feels to indulge in personal pleasure, at the expense of our moral principles or nobler priorities. 

All of this presupposes a divine ruler on high, sitting on a throne in heaven, issuing commands, directing angelic activities, hearing and responding to prayers, even feeling gratified or displeased with earthly events. This is the image of God described in the Abrahamic faiths, often taken quite literally by believers. Even less anthropomorphic concepts of a monotheistic God are generally finite, in this way. God is thought of as a being who is somewhere, perceiving events, doing things, even peering into our very hearts and whispering in our minds, a sort of ultimate person above all lesser people, or as the saying goes, “King of Kings, Lord of Lords.”

Given all of this, it seems inevitable that out of this supreme, uber-person-God’s many created lesser beings, one of them would eventually question his position and rebel, and as it so happens, Lucifer was the first angel created, and the leader of the rebellion not long after. The relatively recent origins of this idea can be picked apart at an academic level, but nevertheless, it is the dominant devil mythology of the dominant religion of our time, Christianity. 

Father and the Rebel

Rembrandt Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son

“Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt

Of course, if God is an authority figure, there has to be an anti-authority rebel. How else could it be? If the devil hadn’t gone rogue, a human surely would have. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: should we take either of these two concepts seriously?

It’s no secret that many intellectuals have been critical, if not outright rejecting of this traditional concept of God and the devil. It seems too obvious how this uber-person was simply created by human minds, attempting to imagine a divine authority based on earthly authorities, or perhaps being imposed upon them by those earthly authorities as a justification for their rule.

If you want your sovereignty supported by your subjects, be sure you have the endorsement of the highest authority. Even regular philosophers have increasingly questioned and rejected this idea, from the time they gained the right to do so without being tortured and killed. 

Likewise, it’s difficult not to see the utility of the penultimate bad boy devil as both a scapegoat for our human failings and a scare tactic to keep the pews filled. That’s not to say that this dynamic duo doesn’t have symbolic value and that these stories aren’t useful in helping to shape human behavior towards a better trajectory. This is especially true for those who have trouble understanding a more rational concept of God. But for the rest of us, how else might we understand God, and is the devil even necessary?

Light Casts No Shadow

If we look to the many religions of the world, there are some for whom the figure of penultimate evil is either nonexistent or has a much lesser emphasis. It’s no coincidence that these also have quite different views on the nature of God, as well. We can easily see in this comparison how it is precisely the authoritarian concept of God which produces our angelic rebel. After all, without heavenly authority, who would he have to rebel against?

In Buddhism, for instance, while some variations may carry over personifications of evil from their polytheistic precursors, in general, the only enemy of mankind is ignorance itself. Likewise in Hinduism, while various Gods and Goddesses represent manifestations of “aspects” of God, even the dark or destructive ones are seen as mere parts in the divine play or dance of creation. In Paganism, Taoism, and occult or esoteric traditions the world over, there is likewise little-to-no concept of an embodiment of all evil, or at least not one that carries the same cosmic significance and literal personification as the Abrahamic devil. 

What else do all of these various non-Abrahamic traditions have in common? You guessed it, a quite different concept of God, or the divine. While there are minor differences, they tend towards a view of God as a universal mind, or omnipresent, transcendent cosmic consciousness, like the Hindu Brahman. Even the mystical elements of Abrahamic faiths, such as Christian Mystics, Islamic Sufis, and Jewish Kabbalists have less anthropomorphic, more mystical concepts of God, and emphasize the devil less. 

Many thinkers have proposed that these varying views are merely stages in a linear evolutionary development of our understanding of God, and that each can serve various people, depending on their capability to comprehend. For many, perhaps the simpler stories and images can suffice. In Freemasonry, each Mason is entitled to his or her own religious belief and conception of God, however personal or mystical; only the belief in a higher power is required. 

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

If you investigate freemasonry and religion, among the first things you will find are various iterations of the following message:

Freemasonry is not a religion, and is not intended to be a replacement for religion. Within the ranks of the brotherhood are many people of varying backgrounds and faiths. Lodges in one part of the world may have more members of a particular faith than those in other parts, but regardless of this, believers of all faiths are welcome. The teachings and rituals of freemasonry are intended to be acceptable to all religious traditions, and the organization encourages its members to practice their chosen faith, and to serve God above all man-made institutions.

While this is true, the relationship of freemasonry to various religions has gone through phases, and evolved over time. Some religions or sects have regarded freemasonry with suspicion, or in some cases, outright condemnation. Meanwhile, some of the rituals and symbolism used in Lodge clearly are traceable to particular religions, such as the Judeo/Christian. Does this mean that freemasonry is particularly Christian or Jewish, as opposed to any other faith? What is its compatibility with other, non-Christian faiths?

Freemasonry’s Historical Relationship with Christianity

freemasonry and christianityComing, most recently, from Europe in the first and second millennia C.E., it should not surprise us that freemasonry has been influenced by religion, specifically Christianity. While the York Rite has many Christian elements, this is only an appendant body, whose degrees are not essential to being a Mason. Beyond this, the common use of the Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) in the rituals is more-or-less the extent of specifically Christian symbolism in freemasonry, and even that is not ubiquitous among lodges and orders.

On the other hand, from a historical perspective, many believe that speculative (philosophical) Freemasonry might not exist today, if not for Christianity. This is due to the fact that much of what makes freemasonry so unique and valuable is to some extent the result of Christian oppression. In this sense, religion in the form of Christianity may have shaped Freemasonry far more from the outside than from the inside, at least according to many masonic historians, such as the masonic history described by Manly P. Hall.

During what we normally call the Dark Ages, various Western wisdom traditions, tracing their origins to the mystery schools of the ancient world, found refuge in the the ranks of operative masonry, among those who were truly stonemasons by trade. The operative masons’ democratic organizational structures, political independence, and secretive nature made this guild-like organization an appealing place for those who were considered heretics under the rule of the Catholic church. Within its ranks, they could practice and carry on their traditions in safety, and freely exchange ideas, blending the ancient wisdom teachings with the more literal craft of the masonic trade.

hermeticism alchemy and freemasonryThe fusion of these refugee practitioners of gnosticism, hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, and related systems with the operative builders of old is the origin of speculative freemasonry, as we know it today, and it all happened in part because of the religious tyranny of the church. Not only did freemasonry as we now know it come into existence partly to conceal themselves from the persecution of the church, but also subverted it in some ways, such as by being heavily involved in the secret colleges which ultimately culminated in the scientific revolution, and scientific enlightenment, displacing the Catholic church as a monopoly on truth. Yet, does this mean that Freemasonry was inherently anti-catholic, or anti-christian?

Freemasonry is primarily a collection of traditions and rituals, none of which are explicitly against any religion, but in fact are supportive of religion. What Freemasons generally are opposed to are tyranny over the minds and lives of people. Freemasons have been, throughout history, proponents and defenders of personal liberty, including the freedom to think, believe, speak, and worship as each person sees fit, as well as the ideal of self-rule and democratic forms of government. In fact, many masonic historians claim that our organization was instrumental in the democratic uprisings of the 18th century, including both the French and American revolutions.

In this light, we can safely say that freemasonry’s rocky historical relationship with Catholicism had less to do with their beliefs, and more to do with their imperial and dogmatic rule, which persisted even after the fall of the Roman Empire. Since the fall of that empire, freemasonry’s relationship to Catholicism and protestant Christianity has been much more congenial, even symbiotic, with many Masons also being members of various churches and clergy.

Conservative or Fundamentalist Religions

While much of freemasonry’s historical context is in relation to Catholicism, it has of course interacted with many other religions, as well. It might be safe to say that the theme is not so much variation in freemasonry’s attitude towards the various religions, antimasonryas we believe in freedom of individual worship, but rather in those other religions’ attitudes towards freemasonry. Often, the most conservative of these religions have a strong aversion to the theologically liberal nature of masonry.

The Muslim world is an excellent example. For various reasons, the Islamic peoples of the world have not generally had a very favorable view of Freemasonry, with it being totally banned in some Muslim countries. This seems to be due primarily to the Judeo-Christian flavor, symbolism, and historical lore of some aspects of freemasonry.

On the other hand, one appendant body of Freemasonry, the Shriners, clearly has Islamic symbolism, and some even trace their history to the first followers of Mohammed. Writers on the subject tie the Islamic opposition to freemasonry mostly to their political opposition to Judaism, and the long-standing rivalry between these two branches of the Abrahamic faiths.

Another group with a strongly antipathetic view on Freemasonry are some modern evangelical Christian sects, as well as some other protestant bodies. The details of their various stances are too great to go into, but generally they tend to associate Freemasonry with the occult, and therefore satanism, witchcraft, etc. Another common thread among both Evangelicals and Islamic people is the idea that Freemasonry is a Jewish conspiracy, mostly based on the prominent symbolism of Solomon’s Temple.

In general, those religious groups most opposed to Freemasonry are also those who are most opposed to freedom of religious thought, and those which are friendliest towards it are the most religiously liberal. Regardless of this, Freemasonry itself welcomes people of any particular faith.

Freemasonry and Non-Abrahamic Faiths

The relationship of Freemasonry to other belief systems outside the domain of hinduism and freemasonryAbrahamic religions follows the same aforementioned pattern; however, since non-Abrahamic religions tend to be less restrictive on personal freedom of thought, the relationship tends to be more often positive or neutral.

Hinduism in India, for instance, is generally accepting of all forms of worship as being within the myriad ways in which one can come to know God, Brahman or the absolute, and as such, freemasonry is usually regarded as another one of those ways, albeit one from a totally different cultural context, the West. Just as Hindus can accept Christ as a great saint, so they can usually accept freemasonry as a spiritual practice. Because of the British imperial rule, Freemasonry has had a presence there, and some believe that freemasonry has played some part in merging of East and West in India.

Likewise, there is not much in Buddhism which is opposed to masonic ideals and practices, and many masons practice some form of it. Today, some orders of freemasonry, most notably Universal Co-Masonry, are particularly friendly towards Eastern philosophy in general, even sometimes using the Vedas or I-Ching as our volumes of sacred lore. This is due in part to our historical ties to Theosophy, and consideration of the Eastern origins of much of Western esoteric tradition.

Lastly, what about Interfaith, Wiccan, Neo-shamanic, Pagan, New Age, and similar non-denominational, eclectic forms of spirituality? As with every other belief system, these should be welcome in freemasonry, so long as they believe in a singular, primary Higher Power, regardless of various sub-deities which may also be worshiped.

hermeticism and freemasonryAs far as which Order of Freemasonry this type of person might find most compatible, the main thing to consider is the culture of the brothers in the lodge; the more liberal and universal, the better. Membership in a primarily Christian or Muslim lodge may be possible, but might still feel out-of-place.

In that sense, Universal Co-Masonry, which is generally more religiously liberal as well as more mystically or spiritually oriented, is likely to be a more comfortable community for anyone on this type of path, the difference being primarily not in the rituals themselves, which are much the same as masculine masonry, but in the culture of the membership, and of course the lack of segregation by gender, race, or any other attributes.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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