Help me to understand the "light" in Freemasonry and other perceived conflicts with Christianity
March 28, 2011 3:18 PM   Subscribe

When a Freemason is given "light" by the Worshipful master during his initiation, how does that not conflict with a Christian's belief that Jesus has already brought him into the light from darkness (through salvation)? I know the physical meaning is removing the blindfold and literally giving him light, but the symbolic meaning implies the brother was in darkness and is now in light. In a broader sense, how have other Christians handled the perceived conflicts between the rituals in Masonry and Christianity? Please keep your reply above the very basics of "Masonry is not a religion." I'm pretty familiar with all those statements (I'm an EA preparing for FC). Mainly looking for guidance from other Masonic Christians about the perceived conflicts between Christianity and masonry.
posted by Yunani to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My limited understanding of both would suggest that while light is being used as a symbol in both systems, it is not standing for the same thing in both. Enlightenment and salvation are two different things.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:37 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

While Masons don't care about what religion you are, many Christian sects (notably Catholics) do not approve of Masonry on any level.

To take your question seriously: "Light" is just a word, and like all words, it can refer to many things, not all of which are related. Light can mean actual illumination, it can mean salvation, or it can mean something frivolous, and so on. Just as with all other words and symbols, it's what is being represented that is important, not the word used to describe them. (The difference between symbols and their referents). If Masonry isn't offering you a path to the salvation you get through Christ, and they aren't claiming to, then there isn't any conflict at all.
posted by empath at 3:37 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Research what the church means when it refers to 'light', and what Masonry means, and decide for yourself if they're talking about the same thing. You may need to ask someone in Masonry and the church for help figuring that out.
posted by empath at 3:40 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the one example by itself is not a problem, it's a symbol which can symbolize different things. But it's part of a very broad network of symbolism and I'd generally agree with the view expressed here:
Masonry is a parallel religion to Christianity. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, "Freemasonry displays all the elements of religion, and as such it becomes a rival to the religion of the Gospel. It includes temples and altars, prayers, a moral code, worship, vestments, feast days, the promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife, a hierarchy, and initiative and burial rites" (vol. 6, p. 137).

Masonry is also a secret society. Its initiates subscribe to secret blood oaths that are contrary to Christian morals. The prospective Mason swears that if he ever reveals the secrets of Masonry—secrets which are trivial and already well-known—he wills to be subject to self-mutilation or to gruesome execution. (Most Masons, admittedly, never would dream of carrying out these punishments on themselves or on an errant member).
As I wrote, over here, swearing these blood oaths is either swearing falsely, if the consequences are not intended, or swearing to an immoral thing, if the consequences are intended.

These two reasons, plus Freemasonry's historical anti-clericalism and anti-Catholicism are the reasons the Catholic Church forbids its members from being Freemasons.
posted by Jahaza at 5:02 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your question is; "Why do the allegorical and symbolic rituals and expressions of two constructed world-views not meet the conditions required by logic?" then I believe that you've answered your own question. A others have noted, upon inspection, you will find that there is no fundamental agreement between, or even within, any ritualized belief systems about the "true" meaning of anything. It's not about the systems, it's about what the systems do for you.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:55 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

the symbolic meaning implies the brother was in darkness and is now in light.

Exactly. What's being referred to is the "light" of Masonic knowledge more than anything else. No salvation is implied.

There's a phrase from the Charge that perfectly applies in this situation, but I'm not sure I can say it on a public forum.

It includes temples and altars, prayers, a moral code, worship, vestments, feast days, the promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife

Lets see...
The altar at my Lodge has the Holy Bible on top of it.
Prayers are made to God or the "Great Architect of the Universe".
As for a moral code, what's wrong with that? "Be a good man."
I've been a Master Mason since 11/5/09, and have never seen any "worship". If they're talking about the title "Worshipful Master", that's an old English term and is no different from calling a judge "Your Honor".
Likewise, I've not seen any references to "reward and punishment in the afterlife" unless it was something being quoted or referred to from the Bible.
posted by mrbill at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Second Lentrohamsanin. Consider this: Just because Christianity has used light as a metaphor doesn't mean it now owns the concept, or the actual phenomenon. Every morning I open my eyelids, flip lightswitches, and draw blinds. Yet I believe and am grateful that God has called me out of darkness into his marvelous light. My actions toward procuring actual physical light (i.e., self-propagating electromagnetic disturbances) do not diminish or contradict my belief and gratitude toward what God has provided (i.e., the opportunity to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent), even though that provision is symbolized by light. The apostles did not hesitate to use the symbol of light, nor did God himself shrink from using actual light as a vivid symbol in Paul's conversion, merely because a similar symbol was already in use in Buddhism. They knew that the perfect dignity of the truth endures despite the imperfection or awkwardness of the symbols used to communicate it.

I'm debating whether the "is it a religion" bit is a derail, but I think it has raised some concerns germane to the OP, so I'll add my two bits: Masonry proposes no plan of salvation. It acknowledges that there is a God who can save, appeals for His aid, and directs the individual Mason to pursue Him according to his best understanding and conscience. Masonry has no particular cosmology. It goes as far as recognizing that there is a God, to whom we owe respect, who created the world, who makes it possible for us to know a moral law, and who will hold us accountable for obedience to that law after this life. There its cosmology stops. It is emphatically focused on making the best of our short time in mortality, and leaves eternity up to God; even the funeral rites are for the comfort and edification of the living, not for the benefit of the dead. On the essential, defining purposes of religion, as I understand them, it is simply not in competition.

Even the feast days, since we haven't covered those yet, direct our attention toward the virtues embodied by two great witnesses of Christ. Not by way of worshipping them, but by way of keeping them in mind as role models. Like the "temples" and "vestments," the feasts have no direct spiritual value imputed to them; they only provide reminders and opportunities to make ourselves receptive to things that God alone provides.

For that matter, I view the keeping of secrets in the same light. It does not concern me that the "secrets of the Craft" can be found in dozens of books, many websites, and perhaps even Discovery Channel specials. It concerns me whether I do as I have promised in relation to them. Remembering to keep them is a pointed reminder of more important promises that I must also keep. (I choose to regard it also as a symbol of pursuing and honoring the revelations and graces of God, which reside in the inner life and which no man can confer on another. If that perspective is valuable to you, you're welcome to it, but it is not any kind of official teaching of Masonry.)

Also, at least in my jurisdiction, it's explicitly stated before the obligation that the penalties are not to be taken literally. If you know they are a symbol before you undertake them, I think neither false nor immoral swearing is an issue. If your religion defines metaphorical swearing as a sin, or the swearing of oaths at all, then of course you had better not proceed.
posted by eritain at 9:25 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

The light offered to a candidate in Freemasonry is a rather simple symbol. It represents the knowledge about Freemasonry to which the candidate is now entitled. He was brought to the lodge blindfolded so that if he were to be found unworthy, he could be expelled from the lodge room without so much as learning its shape --- unless, of course, he visited some other day... but you get the idea. Also, the lodge offers the candidate light in a symbolic reminder of that first great Creator of Light -- Almighty God. This is done in commemoration of the divine act of creation, not in imitation.

Freemasonry is not a religion, but, rather, a supporter of the personal faith of its members. It encourages the Christian to be a better, more devote, Christian. It asks the same of the Jew, the Muslim, etc.

Most of the religious objections to Freemasonry, in the end, boil down to a condemnation of the tolerance the fraternity has shown for different religions. The first existing record of a Jewish man being initiated into a lodge dates from 1733 in London -- at a time and place when a Jew could not hold public office, serve on a jury, or vote. Notwithstanding the prejudice of the day, Freemasonry taught that all men are sons of one Father. This, of course, upset those who felt that everyone should be converted to one faith.

Indifferentism, in that Masonry doesn't care if a man is a Christian nor does it have an exclusive regard for any one faith over others, is a fair charge against the Fraternity. Some accuse Freemasonry of syncrenism -- that is, the teaching that all faiths lead to the true God... sort of the religious version of "all roads lead to Rome." Well, except Rome doesn't like Masons. However, I think this is entirely untrue of Craft/Blue Lodge Masonry. It *may* be somewhat true of Scottish Rite Masonry ... it certainly is true of Albert Pike, but, then, he is just one Masonic author among hundreds.

My take is that many Freemasons were closely aligned with the Enlightenment. Those religious institutions that dislike Enlightenment values came to dislike Freemasonry -- and with reason. In the case of the Catholic Church, it didn't help that the guy that took away the Papal States was a Mason. As was the guy who established secular government in South America. As was the guy... yeah, well, you get the point.

When you do get your FC, listen carefully to the lectures. You'll hear an excellent statement on Freemasonry's attitude towards religion.

If you are having doubts, I suggest talking to one of the many, many, members of the clergy who are also Masons. Ask your lodge or Grand Lodge for an appropriate contact. And, lastly, remember that if there is any real conflict between your faith and Freemasonry, then Masons themselves would be the first to tell you the side with your faith. But first, make sure the conflict is real and meaningful and not simply a misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt to drive of wedge between brothers.
posted by driley at 10:53 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to answer. These explanations really helped. I think I understand the "perceived conflicts" I mentioned and look forward to doing my FC soon. It's easy to get caught up in the negative, conspiratorial information out there and have your mind and conscience start playing tricks on you.
posted by Yunani at 3:37 AM on March 29, 2011

Under the assumption that you are some sort of Christian, I think it would benefit you to speak to a member of your local clergy to get their take on it. Random strangers on the internet are not going to be able to insights into the way your particular faith community deals with these things, and you don't want to find yourself in trouble you could have avoided by asking the right people.
posted by valkyryn at 4:54 AM on March 29, 2011

For that matter, I view the keeping of secrets in the same light. It does not concern me that the "secrets of the Craft" can be found in dozens of books, many websites, and perhaps even Discovery Channel specials. It concerns me whether I do as I have promised in relation to them. Remembering to keep them is a pointed reminder of more important promises that I must also keep.

I explain it to new guys as, "It's not so much the *content* of the secrets, which can be found with a 30-second Google search; it's about your ability/desire to *keep* them secret. If you couldn't be trusted with something so simple, how could a Brother trust you with anything else?"
posted by mrbill at 6:25 AM on March 29, 2011

Yunani, enjoy your FC and MM! Feel free to hit me up privately if you have any further questions I might be able to help with.
posted by mrbill at 6:27 AM on March 29, 2011

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