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 Logic of the Ruling and Decision
The Underlying Assumption of the Ruling and Decision
The Meaning of the Quoted Landmarks
A. Belief in the Supreme Being
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.
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
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) :
C. The Volume of the Sacred Law
D. Divine Revelation and the Moral Law
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.)
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.
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?
What Is To Be Done?
What About Me?
Mark Koltko-Rivera on Twitter: @MarkKoltkoRiver .
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[The image that opens this post appears courtesy of Eoghan Ballard.]