Friday, December 7, 2012

Minority Religions and the Craft (Revised!):
A Meditation Upon Ruling and Decision No. 3 (GM/GL/FL, 11/28/2012)

It is becoming widely known throughout the Masonic world (courtesy of such diligent sources as Christopher Hodapp’s most excellent blog) that recently the Grand Master of Florida issued a Ruling and Decision that effectively expels followers of “Paganism, Wiccan (sic) and Odinism, and … Agnosticism and Gnosticism” from Freemasonry, within his jurisdiction. In this blog post, I analyze the logic of this Ruling and Decision, and render my own opinion on it.

Let’s get one thing right out in the open from the beginning. Although I now reside in New York City, I am indeed a Freemason under the jurisdiction of the Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida. I was raised a Master Mason in Winter Park Lodge #239, F&AM, in Florida. Thus, here I am taking issue, and publicly, with the logic of a position taken by my own Grand Master.

It is important to understand that I am not disputing the Grand Master’s authority. However, as a Free and Accepted Mason, the ancient traditions of the Craft give me every right to take issue with the logic of any man’s statements, including those of my own Grand Master; any departure from this standard would make of Masonry a religion, and an absolutist, authoritarian religion at that. If any person or persons, especially under the Masonic jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Florida, wishes to dispute that, on the authority of written Masonic regulation, they are welcome to bring that to my attention using the Comment space below. (Anonymous authorship of detracting comments, of course, will be interpreted as evidence of cowardice.)

Revisions as of December 10, 2012

Overall, I have been deeply gratified by the show of support for my ideas, both throughout the U.S. and abroad. During the last three days, I have communicated with many brethren who have brought several concerns to my attention. Some of these concerns require me to revise the post, as I note below, although not all revisions are specially marked.

The Text of the Ruling and Decision

The following was issued over the signature of the Most Worshipful Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master of Freemasons in the Grand Lodge of Florida, as Ruling and Decision No. 3, dated November 28, 2012.

[Beginning of quote:]

The question has arisen if certain religious practices are compatible with Freemasonry, primarily Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism.


Section 2. The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida hereby recognizes, as being Landmarks of Freemasonry, the following:

a)      A belief in the existence of one ever living and true God.

b)     A belief in the immortality of the human soul and a resurrection thereof to a Future Life.

c)      The Volume of the Sacred Law, open upon the altar, is an indispensable furnishing of every regular Lodge while at labor.

Regulation 1.02 Masonic Law is a rule of fraternal conduct, and applies only to the moral and fraternal rectitude of its members. It is based upon the law of Divine Revelation, therefore, any

covenant, affirmation, declaration, assumption, prescription, or requirement derogatory thereto, or in conflict therewith, is void. Hence the precept, “a Mason is bound by his tenure to obey the moral law.”………….




“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine.”……….

Therefore, as Grand Master, it is my Ruling and Decision that none of the above mentioned beliefs and/or practices are compatible with Freemasonry since they do not believe or practice one or more of the prerequisites to be a candidate for Masonry listed above. Further, any member of the Craft that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks. Furthermore, Freemasonry prohibits the change of any of the Ancient Landmarks, and its members admit that it is not in power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry.

[End of quote.]

The Logic of the Ruling and Decision

Both the unstated assumption that underlies the Ruling and Decision, and the interpretations it seems to make of the Landmarks of the Craft, present logical problems.

The Underlying Assumption of the Ruling and Decision

Underlying the entire Ruling and Decision is the unstated assumption that the Grand Master can presume to rule on whether membership within a given religious group is acceptable for the Freemasons in his jurisdiction. This is a perilous and highly mistaken assumption. One of Freemasonry’s most distinctive landmarks is its religious tolerance. Without this, it can be argued, only the outward form of Freemasonry exists, not its true spirit or morality.

The month after I was raised a Master Mason, I and my fellow newly made Masons met with a group of three Past Masters, who bestowed upon us “the Master Mason briefing”: instruction in Masonic values and custom. To expand on this oral instruction, the PMs gave us a series of booklets, approved by the Grand Lodge for Masonic instruction. Here I quote from one of these—in particular, the one given to men before they are even initiated:

The Landmarks

They signify that in Masonry which is essential to its identity. To do away with them is to do away with Masonry. …

… [E]ven a Grand Lodge of the Fraternity itself as a whole cannot change these Landmarks! If a Grand Lodge were to change them, it would destroy itself because there would no longer be any Masonry left and there cannot be a Grand Lodge of Masonry if there be no Masonry.

… [N]o political discussion can be brought into our assemblies. Were this abolished, our organization would be taken captive by some political or social party and would perish at the first radical turnover of political power; and while it lasted it would be the servant of some power outside itself without the ability to regulate and control its own existence.

To the same effect is the ancient law forbidding that a candidate or Brother shall be questioned as to his particular mode of religious faith and also that no sectarian matters shall intrude within a Lodge. Just as it would mean the ultimate destruction of Freemasonry if it were to make itself over into the hands of a political party, so would it mean its death sooner or later to surrender itself to one particular religious Faith or belief.

[Source: pp. 4-6 (emphasis added) of Booklet No. 1: The Lodge System of Masonic Education, “Prepared by the Grand Lodge of Florida through the Committee on Masonic Education for the use of the Subordinate Lodges and their members per Regulation 37.18”; revised 1994, reprint 1994.]

One of the most important of all our Landmarks is that which forbids us to participate, as Masons, in any form of religious or political sectarianism. We cannot question a candidate as to his peculiar [that is, particular] beliefs in religion or politics; we cannot discuss such matters in any of our assemblies, and we cannot take any kind of public action with regard to them in the name of the Craft. [Same source, p. 10.]

The Grand Lodge of Florida thus recognizes—or at least it once did—that one of the ancient laws and landmarks of Freemasonry forbids a Brother to be “questioned as to his particular mode of religious faith.” Thus, putting a Brother’s Masonic membership in jeopardy if he is a member of a Wiccan, Odinist, other Pagan, or Gnostic group—each one a “particular mode of religious faith”—is not only forbidden by the ancient Landmarks, but, as the instruction I received put it, such a practice would “mean the ultimate destruction of Freemasonry.” (For Agnostics, see section below.)

I agree completely. Freemasonry was established in the American British colonies by a collection of Deists, Anglicans, non-conforming Christians (including Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists, and Baptists), Jews, and others, who put religious tolerance very high in the roster of Masonic values. To lose that vision is to lose Freemasonry itself. Worse yet, it diminishes Freemasonry’s vision of religious tolerance at precisely that moment in human history when the world needs it the most.

The Meaning of the Quoted Landmarks

The Ruling and Decision explicitly gives as a rationale some excerpts from the Masonic Law of Florida. Looking at these excerpts in detail raises serious questions about the logic of the Ruling and Decision (hereafter R&D).

One problem is that the landmarks quoted in the R&D are a mixture of three very different types of landmarks. Item (a)—as noted above, the belief in God—is a requirement of a candidate for Freemasonry, and in Florida is the only actual religious requirement of a candidate (see below). Item (b), the belief in the immortal soul and resurrection, is not actually a requirements of a candidate for Freemasonry in Florida (see below). Item (c), regarding the Volume of the Sacred Law (VLS) open upon the altar, is a requirement for the behavior of a Masonic Particular Lodge. We certainly do not require that candidates have an altar in their homes with a copy of the VLS open upon it!

Of course I fully accept these as Landmarks of the Craft. However, their application in the R&D is very problematic.

A. Belief in the Supreme Being

The quoted Landmark requires that the candidate hold “a belief in the existence of one ever living and true God. This is not negotiable, nor should it be. Indeed, this is the only religious requirement for a candidate to be eligible for initiation, as stated in Regulation 31.16 (Digest of Masonic Law in Florida, page 257; see below).

Although the R&D does not specify where this is a problem with regard to the belief systems noted, I think I can see what the rationale was here. You see, most of these belief systems (except Agnosticism) have forms that believe in more than one Supreme Being:

  • Some Wiccans believe in one Goddess, others in a Goddess and a God or multiple Goddesses and Gods. (Some dislike the term “goddess” for a female god; as a female Wiccan friend of mine once put it, “the word ‘goddess’ brings out the terroristess in me.” Pace ad omnes.)
  • Odinists tend to accept the Gods of the ancient Norse mythos, which are several.
  • The term “Pagan” is quite general, including followers of revived Egyptian, Greek, and Roman faiths, as well as the lesser-known faiths of the Celts. All of these groups believe in multiple gods, as do some groups with thoroughly modern roots, such as those based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Gnosticism is an umbrella term for a very wide range of beliefs. Most modern Gnostic groups are essentially esoteric forms of Christianity that represent only one supreme God. Others lean more towards a belief in more than one god.
The point at issue is, what is the spirit of the Landmark? Do we require that candidates believe in one and only one God? If so, that would exclude the world’s half-billion male Hindus from becoming Freemasons, and the hundreds of regular Masonic lodges within the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of India might take some exception to that. Hindu Freemasons have been initiated into regular Masonic lodges in India since 1857.

For that matter, adherents of the Shinto religion in Japan believe in very many gods; well do I remember seeing their many temples when I lived in south-central Japan some years ago. Banning adherents of Shinto from Freemasonry might raise concerns with the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Japan.

Indeed, the world of regular Freemasonry made peace with the issue of initiating Brethren who believe in more than one God generations ago.

B. Belief in the Immortal Soul and Resurrection

(Note: This section heavily revised throughout.)

The Landmark quoted above in the R&D seems to imply that a candidate must hold “a belief in the immortality of the human soul and a resurrection thereof to a Future Life.” However, it is not explicitly stated in the Landmark that this is a belief required of the candidate. I find two things of interest in this regard:

First, the actual regulations of the Florida Grand Lodge state the following (Regulation 31.16, Digest, p. 257) :

            31.16   Belief in God is the only religious prerequisite of a candidate for initiation into Masonry, but a Mason is bound by his tenure to obey the moral law.

This regulation is clear and unambiguous. The only religious prerequisite—and I stress that the legal meaning of “only” is universally acknowledged in the civil law to be utterly exclusive in nature—is belief in God (the earlier of the two phrases of Regulation 31.16). This could refer to belief in a single Deity, multiple Deities, or Deity as conceived in either Theist or Deist terms.
Second, it is important to note that the Florida Petition for the degrees of Freemasonry state only that the candidate must believe in a Supreme Being. No mention is made of a belief in immortality or a resurrection to a Future Life.
The conclusion is inescapable: nothing prohibits from Freemasonry men who do not believe in the immortality of the soul or a future resurrection. There are a lot of people who believe in God, but also believe that "when you die, that's it." It's plain and simple, as far as the Florida Masonic Regulations are concerned: Such men can be Freemasons, as far as the religious qualifications are concerned.

C. The Volume of the Sacred Law

As I pointed out above, the Landmark involving the VLS is a requirement of lodge behavior and ceremonial, not individual conduct.

One wonders if the real problem here is that the groups under consideration here may use in their religious devotions a sacred book that is not the Christian Bible. The Wiccans, for example, may use a version of the Book of Shadows during their ceremonial. (There are popular versions available from Ann Moura and Silver Ravenwolf, among others.) Although there is no Odinist equivalent of the Bible, in many such groups there is special attention given to the Elder and Younger Eddas. Pagan groups from Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Celtic traditions vary widely in what they conside sacred texts—but, for the most part, they have something. Many Gnostic groups revere the Christian Bible, as well as other ancient gnostic wisdom texts, such as those found in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures or The Gnostic Scriptures. (Agnostics, of course, do not meet in an organized group for religious worship, nor do they have sacred texts.)

So they may not use the Christian Bible. So what? All of that is a matter of private religion, concerning which Freemasonry may not inquire. I have been present at Masonic initiation in a time-venerated regular Masonic lodge where the altar held, in addition to the open Christian Bible as the VLS, open candidate copies of the Jewish Tanakh, the Muslim Koran, a Buddhist sutra, and the Tao Te Ching—simultaneously. (This is quite the active and growing lodge, I might add.)

The point is that the candidate should look to some text that he holds sacred, something outside of himself, for spiritual guidance. Members of all of the noted groups do that (excepting the agnostics).

D. Divine Revelation and the Moral Law

The R&D goes on to quote Regulation 1.02 of the Florida Masonic Law, to the effect that the Mason is bound to obey the moral law as “based upon the law of Divine Revelation.” Clearly this must mean Divine Revelation as recognized by the candidate, and most of the groups above (again, except agnostics) accept something as communicated by God or Gods to humankind, directly or indirectly, thus constituting some sort of Divine Revelation. I have indicated above the sorts of writings that are considered sacred texts in these traditions; these texts typically have explicit or implicit statements of ethics and morality. In several of these traditions, there are active discussions of ethics and morality. (See, for example, Chapters 18 and 19 in Scott Cunningham’s Living Wicca.)

One point subtly alluded to in the R&D involves the term “moral law.” Some Masonic jurisdictions follow the principle laid down by Brother Albert Mackey in The Principles of Masonic Law, that the phrase “moral law” simply means the Ten Commandments. (See The Principles of Masonic Law, Book Third, Chapter I, Section I, “Of the Moral Qualifications of Candidates,” available here, courtesy of Wikisource.) Although Gnostics typically revere the Christian Bible and thus hold themselves accountable to the Ten Commandments, this would not likely be the position of Wiccans, Odinists, or other Pagans.

However, this is an interpretive dead end. If we take the position that all candidates must believe and follow the Ten Commandments, then we must recognize that this explicitly excludes from Freemasonry anyone who is not a Jew or a Christian. In the modern Jewish tradition, the First Commandment is what is often treated as a prelude to the Ten Commandments by Christian churches. It is the text of Exodus 20:2, and it states, in the King James Version: “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The word translated “LORD” by the King James translators is the Hebrew word known as the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God, never to be pronounced. (The word is sometimes translated as the name “Yahweh” in more recent Bible translations.) Of course, people who follow Wicca, Odinism, or other Pagan groups—any non-Jewish and non-Christian religion, really—do not worship Yahweh, and so cannot keep the Ten Commandments in their fulness.

But this is not really a problem for regular Freemasonry, either. Mackey’s writings about the moral law are entirely his own opinion, and are not binding on Freemasonry or Freemasons. Regular Freemasonry has long had no problem initiating Muslims and others who do not accept the Christian Bible as their authoritative moral and religious guide. (Again, what matters is that the candidates has some authoritative moral and religious guide.)

In sum, there is no reason to exclude followers of Wicca, Odinism, most other Pagan groups, or Gnosticism from Freemasonry, on the basis of the clauses of Florida Masonic Law dealing with Divine Revelation and the moral law.

On Agnosticism

[Note: This section heavily revised.]

Agnosticism needs to be treated separately, because it covers so much ground.

The technical sense of being an “agnostic” means someone who does not take a position on whether God exists or not. Even in this technical sense, an “agnostic” may take a position anywhere along a wide spectrum of opinion concerning the existence of God, ranging from “hey, who knows?” all the way to the viewpoint that, even in principle, it is impossible to know whether or not God exists. (For this latter position, see Leslie Stephens’ 1876 “An Agnostic’s Apology,” available here.)

Being a Freemason requires an affirmative belief in a Supreme Being—not a firm conviction, not a firm knowledge, not personal revelation, but a belief. A man must take this much of a stand to fulfill the religious requirements of being a Freemason. Regardless of the label placed on a man’s belief system, if he cannot offer that affirmative belief, then he cannot be a candidate for Freemasonry.

None of this is controversial; it has been the practice of American Freemasonry for over two centuries. However, there is one important catch with which I was not familiar when I first wrote this piece:

Lots of “agnostic” men believe in God.

It has been pointedly brought to my attention that, for a lot of men in the street (as opposed to folks in the social science lab), they call themselves “agnostic” for a number of reasons, even thought they actually believe in God. Some reasons:
  • They don't think it's possible to prove logically that God exists, even though they believe God exists.
  • They have a belief, but not a burning conviction or some kind of mental certainty.
  • They feel that God is beyond any merely human attempt at description.

I could go on. This whole issue shows one reason why it is important for Masonry to stay away from judging potential candidates or brethren by religious labels in the first place: different people mean different things by these labels. Florida needs to return to the classic Masonic position: We inquire whether the candidate believes in God, and the religious questioning stops there.

Another odd thing is that the R&D even refers to Agnosticism as a “religious practice.” There is no Agnostic Church. (What would they worship, you ask? Hey, I don't know ….) There are no agnostic religious rituals or sacred texts. Overall, it’s just odd to see Agnosticism lumped in with other groups that are religious practices.

Here again, Agnostics should not be banned from Masonry just on the basis of that label. It's a matter of belief in God, not a religious label.


[Note: this section revised.]

The logic presented by the R&D with regards to followers of Wicca, Odinism, Paganism generally, Gnosticism, and even Agnosticism, is deeply flawed. To summarize these flaws:

  • All of followers of Wicca, Odinism, Paganism generally, and Gnosticism--and even many of those who describe themselves as Agnostics--believe in God. They may believe in the existence of more than one—not always the case, especially with Gnostics or God-believing Agnostics—but the belief in a plurality of gods was not a problem for regular Freemasonry when it came to initiating Hindus or Shintoists, and so it should not be a problem when it comes to other faiths.
  • According to Florida Regulation 31.16, "Belief in God is the only religious prerequisite of a candidate for initiation into Masonry."
  • “The Volume of the Sacred Law, open upon the altar,” is a requirement for a Lodge, not an individual.

What’s the Real Problem?

In so many aspects of the social world, there is the surface communication, and there is the deeper level of communication. The R&D is no exception. So what is really at issue here? I have the sense, from reading some of what others have written about this issue, and from my own experience with Freemasonry and Freemasons, that there is a great deal of discomfort in some quarters with the rise of belief systems in the United States that are other than Protestant (and, to some extent, Catholic) Christianity.

And this is certainly the case with today’s America. The National Council of Churches reported that “virtually all mainline denominations” of Christianity—the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians—declined in membership in 2010 (the most recent year for which figures are available). With especially Asian immigration to America, non-Christian religious groups are on the rise, and heaven knows that the subject of immigration has a long history of bringing out the ugly in the American psyche. Although quite tiny, groups in the Wiccan, Odinist, other Pagan, and Gnostic traditions are also on the rise. All of this is discomfiting in the extreme to those who wish to maintain the status quo.

What Is To Be Done?

Thing is, we can’t maintain the status quo. The religious composition of America is going to change; it’s only a matter of how, and when (both subjects of lively debate in religious studies circles). What regular Freemasonry in America can do is either to stay true to its heritage of religious tolerance, or allow itself to be co-opted by those who wish to use it for their own religious ends.

I say that we stay true to our heritage. In that spirit, I call on the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Freemasons in Florida to rescind his own Ruling and Decision No. 3. I invite all Florida Masons to join with me in calling for the same. (Those Florida Masons who wish to put this into the form of a Resolution should make themselves known through a message sent to .) It is no shame to admit error; there is terrible shame in considering oneself above error.

What About Me?

So why am I getting so exercised about this? Frankly, that’s no one’s business: My position should be judged on its merits, not on the personal characteristics of its author. But because I don’t wish to be bothered about this privately, and many times, I will open up here about my personal stake in all of this.

I don’t have one.

I don’t have a horse in this race. I am a Christian who believes in the existence of the ever-living and true God. I believe in the immortality of the human soul, and in the literal, physical resurrection of the soul into a Future Life. I hold the Christian Bible to be sacred scripture. I firmly believe in following the Ten Commandments.

Specifically, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, you may know us as the Mormons, and we do have our distinctive beliefs about divinity and scripture. In Florida, for years I taught the Bible in Sunday School at the LDS congregations in Winter Park and Goldenrod near Orlando. These days I attend the Manhattan First Ward (LDS congregation), where I help people with family history, and occasionally substitute-teach in church classes.

In brief, I am not directly touched by the R&D. So why is the R&D such an issue for me?

Because I am a Freemason. The core values of Freemasonry, including religious toleration, are very important to me. The R&D as it is written is a threat to the long history of Masonic religious toleration. It is thus a threat to the integrity of the Fraternity, and might even invite unpleasant discussions involving withdrawal of recognition (the atomic bomb of Masonic polity) from other Masonic jurisdictions.

You might think that unlikely. Guess again. Something very much like this happened with the Grand Lodge of Utah back in 1984. For many years, the GL of Utah forbade Latter-day Saints from becoming Freemasons, and forbade LDS Masons from other jurisdictions to visit Utah lodges. Some other Grand Lodges took issue with this, not because they were loaded with Mormons—no Grand Lodge is—but because this exclusionary stance was a fundamental breach of Masonic values. The GL of Utah blinked and changed its policies.

It’s only a matter of time until a Wiccan, Odinist, other Pagan, or Gnostic Freemason—they certainly exist—from some other jurisdiction winds up getting banned from visiting a Florida lodge. They’ll complain to their Grand Lodge, and soon enough we all go to Masonic DEFCON 1.

I don’t want that to happen, either. Again, I appeal to MW Grand Master Aladro to rescind Ruling and Decision No. 3. And I invite all Florida Masons to join in that appeal.

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[The image that opens this post appears courtesy of Eoghan Ballard.]

(Copyright 2012 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)



  1. Is gnosticism/agnosticism a bivalent condition (either/or)? One either asserts that gnosis can occur (gnostic), or is unwilling to assert that gnosis can occur (agnostic). γνῶσις in the Septuagint, is the translation of the Hebrew word דעת, or knowledge (da'at). It is used as follows in the Bible: כִּֽי־יְ֭הוָה יִתֵּ֣ן חָכְמָ֑ה מִ֝פִּ֗יו דַּ֣עַת וּתְבוּנָֽה׃ gets translated in the Septuagint as ὅτι κύριος δίδωσιν σοφίαν καὶ ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ γνῶσις καὶ σύνεσις (translated as "For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding." in the King James Bible, Proverbs 2:6). So Gnosticism, in its essence is the direct knowledge of God. Agnosticism is a lack of such direct knowledge.

    It would seem that by demanding that all Gnostics and Agnostics, that he who has a direct knowledge of God and he who lacks such a direct knowledge "shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion" (which is a peculiar way to run a Trial Commission if the verdict is decided in advance), the Grand Master is demanding this of all Florida Masons.

    With Ruling & Decision #3, we may have just witnessed the Grand Master threaten to expel all Masons from the Grand Lodge of Florida if they refuse to resign of their own accord. If the Grand Master's will is done, he would have to himself resign from Freemasonry or face expulsion from himself. A Grand Master expelling himself from Freemasonry is too ghastly to contemplate. Let us hope, therefore, that the Grand Master of Florida shows us his moral courage of his convictions by resigning from Freemasonry, rather than having to endure an ugly Masonic trial that can only lead to his own expulsion from Freemasonry. The sooner he steps forth and resigns from the Craft, the sooner he demonstrates his firm conviction towards the rightness of Ruling & Decision #3.

  2. The minute I heard of this I cringed.

    As long as a Man believes in a creator of the universe & is a moral person who obeys the civil law, than I as Worshipful Master of my Lodge, would have no problem initiating a man into our order.

    W.Bro Richard Weston WM of the Arter Lodge; number 2754 on the rolls of the United Grand Lodge of England.

  3. Thank you Brother!

    This is very insightful. I invite you to add your light to the Masonic Landmark Restoration Community on Facebook - we can certainly benefit from your reason and wisdom!

  4. Dave - Another VT MasonDecember 7, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    Very good article Brother. I agree with most of your points, with the only exception being the banning of all Agnostics. I have personally met many agnostics whose believe in a supreme being is far greater than that of many I have met who do not use that label. I agree that those who call themselves Agnostic and do not truly believe in a supreme being - more properly termed as Agnostic Atheists - should be denied membership as they truly do not meet the landmarks. However, I would have no problem with admitting a man who identifies as Agnostic and has a strong believe in a supreme being - an Agnostic Theist - and indeed know brothers who identify this way.

    I believe the quote below from Brother Cliff Porter (himself in turn quoting another brother) from a discussion on Facebook of this matter speaks to the issue far better than I am able to:

    " answer to your question here is a quote from an agnostic man on a different forum and not related to this, "I call myself an agnostic because I do not consider it possible to ever know the nature of God. If a God exists--which I believe one does but can not prove--then by the very nature of what a God is, that being is beyond our ability to comprehend--and always will be." I see nothing wrong with saying I believe in God, but don't believe I could prove it and don't believe I can define Deity. This is, in my estimation, completely still in keeping with Masonic Landmarks concerning a belief in Deity."

  5. @47th Problem: Shine on, you crazy diamond. I admire the way you approach this issue. In the general sense of the term "gnostic," Freemasons truly are Gnostics, and we need to face up to that. Thank you for sharing your perspective--let alone in Hebrew and Greek, as well.

  6. @ Brother Weston: Thank you for your thoughts here. My sense of the situation, after receiving a number of private communications from near and far, is that you and I and the rest of the commentors here have a great deal of company in the "Cringed" department. Perhaps if we--and our respective Grand Lodges--all let the Grand Lodge of Florida know just how very _much_ we cringe at this thought, the situation might change. (The email and postal addresses are in the link to the R&D itself.)

  7. @VTMason: I have "liked" and therefore joined the Masonic Landmark Restoration Community on Facebook. I am deeply honored by the invitation. Perhaps, if from our various locations and jurisdictions we can raise this issue, we can make a real difference. So mote it _be_.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. @Dave-Another VT Mason: I agree with you completely. Someone who fits the description of what you call an Agnostic Theist would be suitable for Freemasonry, precisely because he believes in a Supreme Being.

    That said, it must be noted that such brethren as the Brother you quoted (from Brother Cliff Porter's post) would not be considered an "agnostic" at all by the usual definition of the term. We shall need to elucidate this for the brethren of the Grand Lodge of Florida, and elsewhere, who may know only the more limited sense of the term.

  10. Brilliant presentation, Bro. Mark. The acts of this GM disgust me and it is one of the most egregious violations of the landmarks I have seen in my 26 years as a Mason. Of all the issues facing the Craft, of all the areas where the world needs men of excellent character displaying tolerance, wisdom, and Light - this GM focuses his energy of bigotry and intolerance. I would love to know the true reason for this edict. I have read the narratives from Brothers who felt they may be the source of the problem, due to encounters with the GM. However, I cannot imagine a casual encounter would trigger this type of response. Is there a movement within FL Masonry, led by Fundamentalists blinded by their own demagoguery? Is this an effort by the Old Guard to exercise some type of control to strengthen "church social" Masonry? It is baffling....and disgusting.

    WB R. Gregory Starr

  11. @WB R. Gregory Starr: I share your sense that the R&D3 is a stunningly egregious violation of the Landmarks of Freemasonry.

    I too would love to know the real story behind this edict. I don't know that we will ever know. However, whatever the reasons, the effect of the R&D3 is to open the door to ejecting brethren on the basis of any number of personal characteristics. If it is religion today, it may well be politics tomorrow, or socioeconomic status, or race, or ethnicity, or culture.

    Freemasons who care about preserving the values of their Fraternity should draw a line in the sand--right here--and work for the rescinding of this R&D3.

  12. Gnostics meet all the requirements of Masonic membership listed in the GM’s Ruling.

    Gnostics believe in God. Gnostic dualism is not the opposite of monotheism; it refers instead to the notion that the Deity as utterly transcendent of and separate from the physical universe.

    Gnostics believe in the immortality of the soul. In fact, early Gnosticism played a key role in integrating this belief into Christian doctrine. The goal of Gnostic striving is the reintegration of the human soul into its native realm of Light.

    Gnostics use the Volume of Sacred Law in studies, prayers, teachings, and liturgy. In addition to Old and New Testament scriptures, Gnostics also recognize texts that were not adopted as part of the canon of Rome (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi codices).

    Gnostics obey moral law. Gnostic morality is generally to avoid contamination by the world. The ideal of universal Brotherhood also resonates deeply with Gnostics, based in the belief that there is an immortal “divine spark” in the soul of every being. Freemasonry’s concept of Fraternity originates in this Greek then Gnostic belief.

    Gnosticism has a long and deeply intertwined history with Freemasonry. In 1118, when the first Templars took an oath under the Patriarch of Constantinople, Grand Master Hughes De Payens was said to have received from Theoclet the apostolic succession of Saint John. Thus, from the very beginning of the Templar Order, the Apostolic lineage of kabalistic Gnosticism (“Johannite” Christianity) was vested in its chiefs. Saint John is considered the Father of the Gnostics.

    Jules Doinel, founder of the French Gnostic Church, was a Freemason of the Grand Oriënt de France. The Gnostic Church has long been referred to as the “Church of the Initiated” because it welcomed Masons and initiates of other secret orders to attend Mass and receive the sacraments at a time when other Catholic and Protestant Churches officially condemned Freemasons.

  13. @John Mongiovi: Thank you for demonstrating that the R&D3 clearly does not manifest any understanding of how Gnostics entirely fulfill the requirements for being Freemasons.

  14. Brethren, here is another chunk of information on this sad situation. It appears it is, indeed, a fundamentalist witch-hunt and that there may be a history of racial intolerance as well.

  15. First, thank you my friend for a delightfully well argued rebuttal of R & D 3 . I found it an engaging post. We may appear to occupy some very different ground on the subject of regularity and landmarks, but I think that ultimately we seek the same thing of and for Freemasonry. That is the opportunity for all who seek to follow this path of self-development to do so without reference to dogma and bigotry, whether religious, racial, or other. Well, my views may be a bit more expansive, but that is a separate affair. What I will note is that while we use very different approaches to tackling the problem, we both find the current stance of the Grand Master of Florida to be wrong. He may be authorized to take that stance, but that does not make it right.

    Our different responses, interestingly enough but probably not surprisingly, reflect our different places in the masonic world. You have opted to work within the belly of the beast, while I approach it from a more liberal obedience. I guess that as an Irishman, I've dealt with as much fertilizer as I can tolerate, and thus moved to more where the air is not as thick. So, you quite successfully use the landmarks as a tool to argue against Bro. Aladro's decision, while I argue that landmarks seem designed for an entirely unmasonic purpose in the first place - to exclude those who have a different view of matters masonic. I hope the discourse will continue. Many thanks.


  16. Greg: Indeed, it does appear that there may be a religious underpinning to all this, not just misunderstanding. My preference is still to respond to it on Masonic grounds; we will get nowhere with a more personally oriented approach.

    Eoghan: Yes, we do go at this very differently. But yes, we are each deeply offended by this unMasonic R&D3.

    My thanks and best wishes to each of you.

  17. Bro. Mark - Thank you for your insight in this situation. When I sent you a Facebook email about it, I knew that I could only expect the best researched, unbiased, accurate, and fair assessment of the issue that is currently affecting all Florida Masons as well as all Masons elsewhere. This is not just an problem for the individual parties involved.

    Again, Thank you.

  18. Brother Manny, you humble me. Thank you for your extremely generous and kind worlds.

  19. You say
    "You see, most of these belief systems (except Agnosticism) have forms that believe in more than one Supreme Being"

    This is true, but even the Grand Lodge of Florida admits Trinitarian Christians as members, don't they?.


    Ralph W. Omholt P.M.
    Kirkland Lodge 150
    Kirkland, Washington

    Most Worshipful Grand Master:

    With all due personal and Masonic respect, in the spirit of Masonic “due and timely notice,” I feel compelled to address your Ruling and Decision No. 3, of 2012. While your ruling is unique to the Florida Jurisdiction, it has stirred a major controversy; adverse to the peace and harmony amongst regular Freemasons, beyond your Jurisdiction.

    As a particular case in point, it was thoroughly, passionately and constructively discussed at my most recent Lodge meeting. It is also currently scheduled to be discussed in at least one other Lodge in the Seattle area, which I’m aware of. None present at my Lodge’s most recent meeting indicated any magnitude of agreement with your position, as expressed in your Ruling and Decision No. 3. However, one of the points of the discussion was whether or not it was appropriate to advocate that the Washington Grand Lodge remove its recognition of the Florida Grand Lodge.

    In the spirit of Freemasonry, and in hope of contributing to the healing of any controversy surrounding your Ruling and Decision No. 3, I respectfully request that you seriously consider the following viewpoints:

    1. Your ruling clearly cites the “Landmarks” submitted by Dr. Albert Mackey; which, in their entirety, did not actively serve Freemasonry when they were written. Nor have these “Landmarks” been at all widely accepted, to any appreciable degree, by Freemasons as the basis for Masonic Jurisprudence; unique Masonic Code coincidence excepted.

    2. If “Mackey’s Landmarks” (25) are to be the basis for strict modern Masonic jurisprudence, it is academic that they must be considered in their entirety. Such would be unacceptable, just by virtue of their assertion that any Grandmaster is entitled to make “Masons at site.”

    3. If followed, “Mackey’s Landmarks” – and your Ruling and Decision No. 3 - regarding religion, would by extension, imply the necessary exclusion of those, amongst others, of the Jewish faith; while accepting those of the Islamic following – with a predictable accompanying furor, however irrational such may be. Certainly, the expense and monetary consequences of potential civil litigation need to be considered; add the predictable PR damage to the Masonic fraternity.

    4. If continued, your Ruling and Decision No. 3 is clearly and logically destined to force a ‘comparative review’ of the Christian religion, in general; with potentially damaging viewpoints and associated consequences – to ultimately be associated with not only “Freemasonry,” but your personal legacy as a Grandmaster. Just within the confines of Freemasonry, any such exchanges are overwhelmingly unconscionable, particularly having been instigated by a Masonic Grandmaster, inadvertently or otherwise.

    5. Additionally, your Ruling and Decision No. 3 sends the clearly implied message that the Masonic doors and Lodge rooms are open to liars; while punishing members of integrity and honesty. Worse, fearing an unpredictable ‘purge, a significant percentage of members of any Florida Lodge would find it instantly compelling to resort to dishonesty; as the easiest resolution to a clearly distasteful ruling – with a consequent and enduring distrust of the Florida Grand Lodge, per se.

    6. I would also encourage you to consider the potential for your Ruling and Decision No. 3 also being locally viewed and noted as a personal violation of the Florida Jurisdiction’s Master Masons’ Obligation, prohibiting any act which would wrong either a Lodge or an individual Master Mason; regardless of whether or not Masonic charges are asserted.

    Accordingly, in the interest of Masonic peace and harmony, I implore you to withdraw your Ruling and Decision No. 3.

    Fraternally and Respectfully,

    Ralph W. Omholt P.M.

  21. Very good post Bro. Mark. I was about to object when you claimed the "you didn't have a stake in this fight." But you rightly pointed out that LDS members have been subject to Masonic discrimination in the past. I know many "Christian" brethren who consider the LDS Church to be satanic, so it would only be a matter of time before "they came for you." The real problem here is GL's in certain parts of the U.S. becoming personal fiefdoms, or being run by the "good ole boy" system. It's about power, authority, and RWGM's allowing personal prejudices to overrule their Masonic oaths. Ultimately, if a GL acts unmasonically (in the case of FL), all that is left for other GL's to do is to recognize reality. If a GL refuses to follow Freemasonry, then recognition should be withdrawn. In our American system, there is no other remedy. Sad, but for evil to be defeated, good men must do SOMETHING.


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