Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy 200th Birthday to Albert Pike!

Just had to break out of my year-end rush to send out happy 200th birthday greetings for Albert Pike (1809-1891), formerly the seventh Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite in the Southern Jurisdiction.

Yes, I know he looks a bit scary. The fellow had more than a slightly rough life, upon the details of which I shall not dwell here. However, looking beyond his stern appearance, I am in awe of his sheer scholarly output, a great deal of which is worth our while today. A few cases in point:
  • His revision of the Scottish Rite rituals. Sure, the rituals have been revised a bit here and there since his time, but by far most of what one sees in the Scottish Rite rituals in the Southern Jurisdiction today is Pike's work--and it is magnificent. (For a taste of it in print, take a look at Rex R. Hutchens' A Bridge to Light: The Revised Standard Pike Ritual (3rd ed., 2006, ed. by Arturo de Hoyos).
  • His major commentary on that ritual, Morals and Dogma. Yes, the language is a bit outdated. However, if you take it in bite-sized chunks, you'll find that there are depths of interesting thinking here. I don't agree with everything Commander Pike had to say, but I'm grateful for him raising the issues he raised. (I look forward to the forthcoming new edition of Morals and Dogma, also edited by Arturo de Hoyos, which I hope will be out in the new year.)
  • His other commentary on that ritual, which can be found in the Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide (second edition, 2009, also edited by Arturo de Hoyos). Where else does a modern man make intelligent remarks on Pythagoras, the Kabbalah, and the meaning of Freemasonry?
  • His thoughts on the symbolism of the Blue Lodge, found in Albert Pike's Esoterika (2nd ed., 2008, edited by the indefatigable Arturo de Hoyos). When some leading intellectuals in the United Grand Lodge of England got a hold of a manuscript copy, they declared this the most profound work they'd seen on the Blue Lodge degrees.
Beyond all of the scholarship, I have a great deal of respect for the values that Albert Pike espoused. Among those that he made a point of emphasizing in the Scottish Rite ritual:
  • Tolerance of different religions, and championing of the cause of religious freedom, and respect for religious diversity.
  • Commitment to ongoing learning.
  • Championing the cause of those not in power. Commitment to fight political repression.
  • Commitment to seeing the truth and value that is there to be found in philosophies and religions from across the many cultures of humanity, throughout the ages.
He was not a flawless man by any means, but I have a great deal of respect for much of his thought. I was pleased to discover his condemnation of slavery (not what one expects from a former Confederate general). I also am in awe of his efforts on behalf of Freemasonry--for the Scottish Rite, to be sure, but also for many other aspects of the Fraternity. In my opinion, American Masonry might not have emerged from the Anti-Masonic Period half so well without his efforts.

So happy birthday to you, Commander Pike--with thanks for a job well done.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mark Koltko-Rivera on Masonic Central--Tonight!--Talking About His Dan Brown Book

Mark Koltko-Rivera will be on the Masonic Central podcast this evening, Sunday, December 13, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. (You can link to the podcast here.) Mark will be discussing his book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: Freemasons, Magic, Mystery Religions, Noetic Science, and the Idea that We Can Become Gods.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

American Lodge of Research Meeting Report (Oct. 29, 2009)

Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending my first meeting at the American Lodge of Research (ARL), held at Masonic Hall in New York City. ARL is the oldest research lodge in the United States, and its venerable traditions were in full evidence in the meeting on Thursday, October 29, when we were regaled by a presentation by W. Bro. Gilbert Ferrer regarding logical errors that are frequently found in anti-Masonic rhetoric.

I would be honored to give you a full accounting of this meeting. However, the fact of the matter is that Bro. Jay Hochberg has already done that on his blog, "The Magpie Mason" (read the post here); Bro. Hochberg's professional background is in journalism, and he has written a superior report, upon which I could not hope to improve. I recommend his report to the readers of this blog. (Incidentally, I suggest you take a look at "The Magpie Mason"; I highly recommend that blog, as well.)

Kudos to the leaders of the American Lodge of Research for upholding the finest traditions of Masonic scholarship. May your tribe increase.

[The image of a multivolume Latin dictionary is a photo taken by Dr. Marcus Gossler at the University of Graz in 2005. It was obtained from Wikipedia and appears here under the GNU Free Documentation License.]

257th Anniversary of George Washington's Initiation as a Freemason

On November 4th, 1752, a twenty-year-old young man named George Washington became an Entered Apprentice at the Lodge of Fredericksburg, in the British colony of Virginia. (This lodge still exists today as Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in the Grand Lodge of Virginia AF&AM.) My friend and our Brother Christopher Hodapp has a fascinating description of George Washington's initiation in Chapter 1 of his 2007 book, Solomon's Builders (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press), which I highly recommend.

Let's think for a few moments about the Freemasonry that George Washington entered, back in 1752.

At this time, Virginia was an intensely agricultural area with its population scattered throughout the colony. We have almost no Masonic records from this era in Virginia. As Coil puts it, summarizing the little that we know:

The first lodge in Virginia of which there is a reliable account is the lodge at Fredericksburg, in which George Washington was made a Mason, Nov. 4, 1752, and was passed and raised the following year. This lodge is also famous by reason of the fact that its minutes for Dec. 22, 1753 contain the earliest extant entry [that is, anywhere in the world] recording the working of the Royal Arch Degree. The lodge evidently worked under immemorial right prior to the time it received its warrant from Scotland, July, 21, 1758. (Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, rev. ed., 1995, pp. 666-667)
Lodge records indicate that George Washington was Entered on November 4, 1752, Passed on March 3, 1753, and Raised on August 4, 1753 (Coil's, p. 677). From these few facts, we can observe the following about the Freemasonry that George Washington entered:
  • Washington's initiation occurred a mere 35 years after the formation of the first Grand Lodge, in London in 1717. (There would have been men still alive who had been involved at that event in London, although it is doubtful that Washington would have met any of them; other than a single trip to Barbados, Washington never left North America.) The Hiramic legend and the legends of the Craft degrees gave a mythic antiquity to Masonry, but there was little or nothing in the way of real-life protocol, precedent, or direction from Grand Lodge for the Brethren to fall back on. They had to figure things out as they came up. Given that the Fredericksburg Lodge has lasted for over two and a half centuries, I'd say that they've done pretty well for themselves. 
  • A fair amount of time passed between Washington's degrees, 4 months between the EA and the FC, and 5 months between the FC and the MM degrees. The amount of time required didn't seem to hurt him any.
  • There was an interest, even at this very early date, in the 'high degrees' that go beyond the Craft degrees.
  • There was little or nothing in the way of "famous Masons" at the time. Somehow, men were attracted to the Fraternity itself, rather than to its glorious history--a history that was just beginning at this time.

Washington himself was really something of a nobody at the time of his initiation: the oldest surviving son of a landowning family, yes, but poorly educated. He was just beginning his military career. He would gain notice the very year he was Raised during a dangerous mission as a messenger to an important Native American chief in the run-up to the French and Indian War; during that conflict, he distinguished himself on several occasions. (The photo shows a 1772 painting of Washington as a British officer--a bit of a jarring image, I know.)

Biographers have lined the shelves with works on Washington (for example, Joseph J. Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington, New York: Knopf, 2008). They are in agreement that Washington was an excellent leader in difficult circumstances, beginning with that early dangerous mission, continuing through the brutal French & Indian War, then the hard slog of the Revolutionary War, then the establishment of a stable American government and useful Constitution.

Can Masonry take any credit for that? Certainly nothing can be established at this late date. Ellis' biography, for all its merits, shares the typical fault of historians who silently pass over Washington's Masonic association and activities. However, I find it highly suggestive that when Washington did comment upon Freemasonry, he was unfailingly positive about the Fraternity. In addition, when it came time to lay the foundation of the United States Capitol--the symbol and landmark of American democracy, for which he had risked his life and limb and fortune for many years--Washington did so in Masonic regalia, and with Masonic ceremony. Surely this was not a casual choice.

So, this great American leader was a Mason. His Masonry involved months between receiving his degrees. The Masonry of his era required lodges to be resourceful in solving their own problems and challenges. Even then, there was an interest in the high degrees of Masonry. The attraction to the Fraternity was its principles, precepts, and ritual--in a word, its secrets--not its famous members or actual history; there was precious little of either of those latter items.

Food for thought, brethren--food for thought.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Last Chance!
"Hunting The Lost Symbol"
on Discovery Channel, Today

The documentary "Hunting The Lost Symbol" will be broadcast today, Sunday, November 1, on Discovery Channel, from 4 pm to 6 pm (Eastern time; check your local listings).

Of course, this documentary focuses on Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol. There are prominent segments about George Washington, the missing cornerstone to the U.S. Capitol building, Freemasonry, noetic science, Aleister Crowley (mentioned in the novel as an inspiration for the villain), and other topics related to the novel.

Prominent Masons were interviewed for this program, including Brothers Christopher Hodapp (author of Freemasons For Dummies and other books on the Templars and secret societies), S. Brent Morris (author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry and other books on the Fraternity), and Mark A. Tabbert (author of American Freemasons, and a prominent figure at the George Washington Masonic Memorial). One very obscure Mason was also interviewed; that would be me.

One thing I feel I should emphasize to this audience. This was my first experience as an interview subject on a documentary. I have learned much through this experience, including the fact that the interviewee does not necessarily know what will be shown visually over the sound of his voice. Sometimes what is shown will be something of which one might approve; sometimes it will not. For the record, I was not informed that a re-enactment of ritual would be shown over my voice; I did not suggest this, I did not assist in presenting this re-enactment in any way, and I did not approve it.

Aside from that particular brief portion of the show, Masons should find much to like in this documentary. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Part 9: Humanum Genus:
Are the Masons “Naturalists”?
(Series: The Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry)

Starting with Part 8 of this series (all Parts of which are available through links at this post), I began a consideration of the “classical” objections that the Roman Catholic Church has raised against Freemasonry, as put across in a Papal encyclical promulgated by Pope Leo XIII on April 20, 1884, known by the first words of its Latin text, Humanum Genus (“the race of man” or “the human race”).

In this post, I shall consider what Humanum Genus has to say about the ultimate objectives of Freemasonry. As it happens, Humanum Genus has a perception of Freemasonry and its aims that is both fundamentally flawed and highly inaccurate. I describe the inaccuracy, and give my opinion about the historical bases of this deeply distorted perception.

(Note: The numbers in square brackets below, such as “[10],” refer to the numbered paragraphs of Humanum Genus as given in the English translation on the official Vatican website.)

What Humanum Genus Says About the Objectives of Freemasonry

In its opening paragraphs, Humanum Genus makes its first claims about Freemasonry, claiming that Masonry has a particularly fiendish agenda:

At this period, however, the partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons. No longer making any secret of their purposes, they are now boldly rising up against God Himself. They are planning the destruction of holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom, if it were possible, of the blessings obtained for us through Jesus Christ our Saviour. [2]

Later, the document makes the following general claim:

[Masonry has as its aim] the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order of the world which the Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which the foundations and laws shall be drawn from mere naturalism [10].

Such claims sound horrible, but we must remember that they live and die on the basis of specific evidence. What specific evidence does Humanum Genus produce to support such a claim? Many specific statements are made about Freemasonry in the document, claims with which I shall deal later in this series. However, early on, Humanum Genus makes a statement that it calls “the fundamental doctrine” of Freemasonry, the basis of all Masonry’s other supposed moral errors, and it is this fundamental doctrine that I shall consider in this post.

In the world of Humanum Genus, Freemasonry is a branch of Naturalism, that is, the philosophical school which claims that reality is solely composed of the matter and energy studied by the physical sciences, and that there is nothing spiritual or supernatural about reality. Humanum Genus then goes on to state the following:

[T]he fundamental doctrine of the naturalists … is that human nature and human reason ought in all things to be mistress and guide. Laying this down, they care little for duties to God, or pervert them by erroneous and vague opinions. For they deny that anything has been taught by God; they allow no dogma of religion or truth which cannot be understood by the human intelligence, nor any teacher who ought to be believed by reason of his authority. And since it is the special and exclusive duty of the Catholic Church fully to set forth in words truths divinely received, to teach, besides other divine helps to salvation, the authority of its office, and to defend the same with perfect purity, it is against the Church that the rage and attack of the enemies are principally directed. [12]

It would be difficult to misrepresent Freemasonry more thoroughly in so few words. Let us consider the reality behind Humanum Genus’s warped perception of Freemasonry.

The Truth About Freemasonry

Pretty much everything that Humanum Genus states about Freemasonry in the passages quoted above is inaccurate. Freemasonry is not a form of philosophical naturalism. Far from being opposed to the idea of divine revelation, Freemasonry embraces the concept.

Freemasonry is Not a Form of Naturalism

“Naturalism” is the philosophical position that the world is just as we perceive it through our senses. In the world of naturalism, there are no spiritual phenomena, there are no supernatural phenomena, there is no divine revelation and no authoritative religious doctrine. The strictest form of Naturalism makes the claim that there is no such being as God. A somewhat less strict form of Naturalism allows for Deism, the idea that God exists, but does not interfere with the affairs of human beings or the workings of the world. Neither form of Naturalism is acceptable to theistic religions such as the classical forms of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, which bear witness to the central importance of God’s revelation to the world.

(Technical Note: What Humanum Genus calls “naturalism” is known in the technical language of philosophy as ontological / metaphysical / philosophical naturalism. As such, it is distinct from the philosophical position of methodological naturalism (an important position within the philosophy of science), and from movements in the arts and literature that are also called “naturalism.”)

Freemasonry is not a form of Naturalism. Consider the following:
  • One of the universal characteristics of regular Freemasonry is that all candidates for Masonry must declare belief in a Supreme Being.
  • The opening and the closing of the Lodge are accompanied by lengthy and detailed prayers to the Divine Being, something that would be senseless from the perspective of Naturalism. Petitionary prayer (that is, prayer where one asks for things), such as we see in the Lodge, is also distinctly absent from Deist practice.
  • During the initiatory rituals of Freemasonry, the candidate is called upon to offer personal prayer.
  • The impressive Obligations of each degree of initiation are taken by each candidate “in the presence of Almighty God.”
  • The traditional charge given to the candidate upon initiation specifically mentions the candidate’s duty to God as having overarching importance.
These are not the practices of Naturalists.

Freemasonry Values Divine Revelation

Through its ritual, Freemasonry demonstrates the highest degree of respect towards divine revelation. Within the Masonic Lodge, an item of central importance is the Volume of the Sacred Law (VSL), as a symbol of God’s revelation to humanity. Consider how the VSL is treated in Masonic ritual:
  • The opening of the VSL at the opening of the Lodge for business and ritual, and the closing of the VSL at the close of the Lodge, are themselves solemn and dignified rituals that emphasize the importance of the VSL to Freemasonry.
  • During the time that the VSL is open upon the altar of Freemasonry, outside of certain ritual requirements, none are permitted to pass between it and the Worshipful Master of the Lodge, that his view of it may be unimpaired as he directs the work of the Lodge.
  • During the three basic initiatory rituals of the Blue Lodge, the candidate is conducted about the Lodge in a manner that emphasizes the centrality that the VSL is to take in his life.
  • The candidate takes upon himself the solemn and sacred Obligations of each of the three Degrees of Masonry in a way that emphasizes the importance that the word of God is to take in his life forever after.
  • One of the highlights of any regular business meeting of the Lodge is the ceremonial presentation of  a copy of the Volume of the Sacred Law to newly made Master Masons, complete with a speech by a Lodge officer enjoining the new Master Masons to familiarize themselves with it and, indeed, to build their lives upon its precepts.
In sum, Freemasonry makes the strongest possible ritual statements in favor of the idea of a God of revelation, thereby rejecting any form of naturalism or Deism. (I have said more about the Masonic concept of God and divine revelation in Part 5 of this Series.)

Given that Freemasonry is neither Naturalist nor Deist, it should be clear that Freemasonry does not have the religion-destroying agenda and objectives that Humanum Genus stated it does. There certainly have been Naturalist organizations that had an anti-religious agenda; Freemasonry was not and is not one of them. However, the key to understanding the basis of Humanum Genus's misperceptions about Masonry lies in understanding the historical background of at least one anti-religious Naturalist organization.

The Historical Basis for the Misperception

Given the many ways in which the very rituals of Freemasonry testify that Masonry is not Naturalism, why would Humanum Genus present such a distorted perception? My sense of the situation is that the author of the document had on his mind another organization that had impersonated and even infiltrated European Freemasonry, a century earlier: the Illuminati.

This is evident in the description that Humanum Genus gives of those whom it supposed were Freemasons:

… Candidates are generally commanded to promise - nay, with a special oath, to swear - that they will never, to any person, at any time or in any way, make known the members, the passes [that is, the modes of recognition], or the subjects discussed.… Moreover, to be enrolled, it is necessary that the candidates promise and undertake to be thenceforward strictly obedient to their leaders and masters with the utmost submission and fidelity, and to be in readiness to do their bidding upon the slightest expression of their will; or, if disobedient, to submit to the direst penalties and death itself. As a fact, if any are judged to have betrayed the doings of the sect or to have resisted commands given, punishment is inflicted on them not infrequently, and with so much audacity and dexterity that the assassin very often escapes the detection and penalty of his crime. [9]

… But … to bind men like slaves in the very tightest bonds, and without giving any sufficient reason; to make use of men enslaved to the will of another for any arbitrary act ; to arm men's right hands for bloodshed after securing impunity for the crime - all this is an enormity from which nature recoils.… [10]

By and large, these statements do not describe the practices of Freemasonry. Yes, Masons do swear not to reveal the modes of recognition, and it is within the regulations of many Grand Lodges that Masons are to keep the business of the Lodge confidential. We do not swear to keep the identities of Lodge members secret; indeed, in many American jurisdictions, we put the names and photos of officers of the local and Grand Lodges on the Internet. We do not swear mindless obedience to the Masters of the Lodges, nor do we bind ourselves to lethal penalties for disobeying those masters, nor do we inflict such punishment. Who would do such a thing?

The Illuminati.

The Bavarian Order of the Illluminati (founded May 1, 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, pictured) did indeed function in this manner, at least on paper. I am aware of no actual assassinations carried out by the Illuminati of its disobedient members, but certainly the instilling of a very strict obedience was promoted in its documents, which were discovered and published by the Bavarian state beginning in the 1780s. Beyond that, the Illuminati did indeed have the agenda of replacing aristocratic governments and destroying the power of the Church by force. The Illuminati did indeed support Naturalism and an essentially atheist worldview.

The Illuminati included within its lower degrees the degrees of Freemasonry. During its relatively brief period of activity, the Illuminati infiltrated dozens of Masonic lodges in Europe and fed Masons into the Illuminati order.

(I describe the real history of the Illuminati in a post on another blog. I am at work on a history of the Illuminati and am available to speak on the topic to Masonic and other audiences. I may be contacted through my home page; see my Blogger profile.)

The exposure of the Illuminati in the 1780s made an immense media splash throughout Europe. Subsequently, they were rumored to have survived their suppression by government authorities, and to have inspired both the French Revolution and the rising tide of Marxism, which shared with the Illuminati the goal of changing government and the role of religion in society. It appears that Pope Leo XIII was misled by these rumors to believe that Freemasonry shared a common cause with the Illuminati, and the Pope wrote Humanum Genus with this misperception firmly in mind.

The tendency to make this kind of conflation of Freemasonry with the Illuminati is seen within the text of Humanum Genus itself. The document claims:

There are several organized bodies which, though differing in name, in ceremonial, in form and origin, are nevertheless so bound together by community of purpose and by the similarity of their main opinions, as to make in fact one thing with the sect of the Freemasons, which is a kind of center whence they all go forth, and whither they all return. [9]

No evidence is produced to support this claim. Of course, simply making such a claim does not make it so. This is a good example of a certain type of weak circular argument: the Masons are claimed to be Naturalists, and are condemned on the grounds whereby theistic religion condemns Naturalism. But although Humanum Genus produces arguments to condemn Naturalism, it produces no evidence to support the more fundamental claim, that Masons are Naturalists to start with. How very unfortunate.

This would not be the last time that Pope Leo XIII was misled by rumors about Freemasonry. It must be remembered that, shortly after promulgating Humanum Genus, the Pope was taken in by that most masterful of anti-Masonic fakers, the hoaxer Léo Taxil, who convinced the Pope and much of Europe regarding the diabolical character of Freemasonry, on the basis of a lurid set of forged documents and stories regarding a Satanic cult supposedly embedded within the Fraternity. (To those interested in learning more about the Taxil hoax, I very strongly recommend Chapter 2 and Appendix 1 of the excellent book by brothers Arturo de Hoyos & S. Brent Morris, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? [New York: M. Evans, 2004].)


Humanum Genus presents a severely distorted image of Freemasonry, which the document conflates with the Bavarian Illuminati of the late 18th century and, perhaps, revolutionary Marxists of the late 19th century. As such, Humanum Genus’s criticism of Freemasonry as a Naturalist organization that denies the importance of divine revelation in human life is highly misplaced. Freemasonry affirms the importance of divine revelation; not only does it not seek to destroy religion, Masonry seeks to instill in its members an awareness of the need to fulfill their duties to God.

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

[The image of Adam Weishaupt is in the public domain. It was obtained through Wikipedia.]

Two Salt Lake Tribune Articles on The Lost Symbol Highlight Freemasonry and Raise Questions

Two articles by Ms. Peggy Fletcher Stack in the Friday, October 16, 2009 issue of The Salt Lake Tribune discuss Dan Brown's novel The Lost Symbol, and along the way highlight Freemasonry and controversial aspects of Masonic history.

Some Piercing Questions for Freemasons

In one article, “Psst! Let’s Talk About Masons,” Ms. Stack writes about Freemasonry as it is depicted in The Lost Symbol, and describes aspects of her visit to the Salt Lake Masonic Temple. She quotes R.W. John Liley (Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Utah), Mr. Dan Burstein (editor of the forthcoming Secrets of The Lost Symbol), and myself. The article features an interesting photograph of a staircase in the Salt Lake Masonic Temple, a staircase of 3, 5, and 7 steps, each step labeled, for example, “LOGIC.” (No information was provided concerning whether this staircase is ever used for ritual purposes.)

In one section of her article, Ms. Stack asks a couple of questions that she does not then go on to answer—but that we should. After quoting Dan Brown’s letter of October 6 to the Scottish Rite, she writes:

Sure, Freemasonry was once among the most common bands of brothers, where men met for "instruction" and networking. If it really is the humanistic haven Brown describes, why has the membership declined so dramatically in the past few decades? (It's down to fewer than 1. 5 million in the United States, from a high of 4.1 million in 1959, and fewer than 2,000 in Utah, from a high of about 6,000 in the mid-1960s.) Are its theatrical presentations, complete with bloodthirsty threats, really the way to enlightenment?

As one of the people interviewed for this piece, I wish that Ms. Stack had asked me these particular questions, which I would have been glad to address. I would have pointed out the following:

  • Membership in a movement is not a measure of the movement’s value, nor even of its success.

  • Our membership, of course, dropped a great deal when men of the late Sixties and Seventies generations largely eschewed involvement with Freemasonry, through its being identified with the “establishment.” Now, simple mortality is depleting our numbers of the brethren who became Freemasons in the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties. However, a new generation is showing a great deal of interest in Freemasonry.

  • As Ms. Stack herself quoted me as stating in the article, our penalties are not threats made by men, but promises made by God.

However, the most important thing about this passage has to do with a couple of interesting word choices. She states that Dan Brown characterizes Freemasonry as a “humanistic haven,” and then implies that Freemasonry portrays itself as “the way to enlightenment.”

Are these good characterizations of Freemasonry? I consider these appropriate aspirations. Heaven knows that not every lodge embodies Masonic values, and no lodge does so perfectly or all the time, but at its heart Masonry is supposed to be a “humanistic haven,” in the sense of showing forth important Enlightenment-era values: egalitarianism (being ‘on the level’), devotion to the search for truth and self-improvement, and toleration of different religions and political viewpoints. At the same time, Masonry does have ties to important pre-Enlightenment values: the fulfillment of one’s duty to the Divine; being (literally) centered on the teachings of the Volume of the Sacred Law; the entire notion of keeping sacred obligations.

Ms. Stack seems to imply that if this were really true of the Lodge, then we would not have suffered membership decline. Perhaps this is so. Ultimately, though, the main concern I have is that the typical Masonic lodge really should embody the values that Dan Brown says we do. We need to live up to the standards of our best selves and highest aspirations.

As far as enlightenment is concerned: Different traditions define what is meant by ‘enlightenment’ in different ways. To make a very broad distinction, one may consider a spiritual enlightenment, on the one hand, and an intellectual enlightenment on the other. It may well be that Freemasonry can contribute to each one (perhaps the topic for future blog posts). However, if it is to make that contribution, then certainly some of the work of the Lodge at our Stated Communications must be to foster that enlightenment, through education in the meaning of our esoteric symbolism (not just in the performance of our esoteric ritual). If we provide that kind of access to enlightenment, on a consistent basis, then issues of retention, certainly, will evaporate.

The Mason-Mormon Connection

In another article, “Mormons Off the Hook in Brown’s Book,” Ms. Stack notes that a major theme of The Lost Symbol, apotheosis, or the potential for human beings to become gods, is an echo of the Latter-day Saint (‘Mormon’) doctrine of exaltation. (I consider this matter in some detail in a post on another blog.) I am quoted in this article, as well.

Ms. Stack touches briefly on the complicated history of relations between the Latter-day Saints and the Grand Lodge of Illinois in the early 1840s. She mentions one of the great hairy issues still unresolved from the period, the matter of the relationship between the Masonic rituals of initiation and the Latter-day Saint temple endowment ceremony.

Perhaps it’s just me—I’m sensitized to both sides of the issue, being a Latter-day Saint Freemason, or a Masonic Mormon, take your pick—but I think I’ve seen the profile of this issue slowly rising over the last decade or so. The LDS have seen a 50% increase in membership during this period, and the Masonic Lodge has seen an increase in the number of new petitions, as well; perhaps that is why a variety of people—anti-Masons, anti-Mormons, Masons and LDS, and the curious John Q. Public—have shown more interest in the whole Mason-Mormon thing.

I have been writing a book on this issue for some time. Perhaps I need to blog about it as well. It’s a complicated issue, but one concerning which it would be wise for Freemasons to educate themselves, given the certainly rising profile of Freemasonry and the Latter-day Saints, and the possibly rising profile of their long-ago association. For the record I’ll just throw out a few points:

  • The LDS prophet, Joseph Smith, had on several occasions encountered some spiritual text, and then received a vision that represented a major development of LDS doctrine and/or practice. Thus, his reading of the letter of James in the New Testament preceded his cataclysmic First Vision of the Father and the Son; his study of a passage in the Gospels preceded his Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory; his viewing of some Egyptian papyri, as these were traveling the country as part of an exhibition, preceded his vision of the Book of Abraham. In my opinion, his exposure to Masonic rituals preceded a vision in which he received the LDS Temple endowment.

  • The Masonic rituals of initiation and the LDS temple rituals differ in purpose, form, and guiding mythology. What similarities there are, are minimal. Joseph Smith did not steal from the Lodge to give to the LDS Temple.

  • The politics of Illinois during this period provoked all sorts of anti-LDS violence. There may well have been Masons in the crowd that assassinated Smith. However, overall, the Lodge is not inherently anti-Mormon, either.

I must say, I have been stunned to read the virulently anti-Mormon tone of some early-to-mid-20th century Masonic writers. I would hope that, as these two growing organizations more frequently bump into one another in this shrinking world, we’ll see less of that.

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Part 8: Humanum Genus: Introduction and Overview
(Series: The Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry)

In earlier parts of this series (all available through links at this post), I considered the main points raised against Freemasonry by the German [Roman Catholic] Bishops’ Conference in 1980. However, the points that the German Bishops raised were not what we might call the “classical” objections that the Catholic Church has raised against Freemasonry. Those points were put across forcefully in a Papal encyclical promulgated by Pope Leo XIII (pictured) on April 20, 1884, known by the first words of its Latin text, Humanum Genus (“the race of man” or “the human race”). It is to these more classical objections that I would now like to turn.

It is important for Freemasons to understand Humanum Genus, its claims and its flaws. For well over a century, Humanum Genus contained the primary statement of the justifications underlying the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to Freemasonry. Although the specific points raised by the German Bishops have gotten a lot more press in the last generation, it is important to understand that the real basis of Catholic teaching has much more to do with Papal teaching than the statements of the German bishops. I suspect that many Catholics think that what the German bishops said was basically what Pope Leo XIII had said about a century earlier. This is entirely incorrect. Thus, to respond productively to the Catholic position on Freemasonry, one must not only respond to the currently popular German Bishops’ statement, but also to the older and much more important document, Humanum Genus.

In this post, I shall consider what kind of document Humanum Genus is, and I will summarize its main objections to Freemasonry. In future posts, I shall respond to these objections.

What Kind of Document is Humanum Genus?

There are many kinds of documents by which a Pope may communicate teachings to Catholics. Roughly in descending order of authority, these documents include the following:

(The terms “Papal bull” and “Papal brief” are more a statement of the format of the pronouncement rather than the rank of the statement in its authority. Papal bulls are more formal, and the most authoritative statements tend to be in that format.)

Knowing what kind of document a given pronouncement is has implications for the nature of ‘the line being drawn in the sand,’ as it were. Humanum Genus is a Papal encyclical. As such, although important, the teachings in Humanum Genus are not of such a nature as to invoke necessarily the Catholic notion of papal infallibility.

This is a crucial point in discussions of Roman Catholicism, Humanum Genus, and Freemasonry. By the strictest interpretation, Humanum Genus is not a statement that falls under the umbrella of Papal infallibility. As such, it can be revised, corrected, or even abandoned and disowned by subsequent Popes.

Such things have occurred during Roman Catholic history. The Jesuit order was disbanded by Papal order in the late 18th century, and reconstituted about fifty years later. The Knights Templar were officially disbanded seven centuries ago, although they were declared not guilty of heresy (in a document lost until recently).

As I shall demonstrate in the next few posts of this series, there are excellent grounds on which Roman Catholic authorities could decide, essentially, to abandon Humanum Genus. This would have a great impact, both on Masonic brothers who are Roman Catholic, and on the many faithful Catholic gentlemen who are wondering how to consider Freemasonry.

A Summary of Humanum Genus

[Note: The text of Humanum Genus below is quoted from the English translation of the official Vatican website. The numbers in square brackets refer to the paragraph numbers given on that website.]

In Humanum Genus, Pope Leo XIII stated that the human race was divided into two opposing parties, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. In saying this, the Pope was not stating anything controversial; this division goes back at least to Augustine’s 5th century work, The City of God, which, indeed, the Pope quoted near the beginning of Humanum Genus. Shortly after quoting Augustine, however, the Pope made this remarkable statement:

At this period, however, the partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons. No longer making any secret of their purposes, they are now boldly rising up against God Himself. They are planning the destruction of holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom, if it were possible, of the blessings obtained for us through Jesus Christ our Saviour. [2]
All of this is by way of prelude, as it were. Pope Leo XIII made it his business to deal with Freemasonry in a comprehensive way in Humanum Genus. He stated his specific objective in this letter as follows:

It is now Our intention, following the example of Our predecessors, directly to treat of the masonic society itself, of its whole teaching, of its aims, and of its manner of thinking and acting, in order to bring more and more into the light its power for evil, and to do what We can to arrest the contagion of this fatal plague. [8]

In Humanum Genus, the Pope raised several specific objections against Freemasonry. These may be summarized as follows:

1. Masonry has as its aim, “the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order of the world which the Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which the foundations and laws shall be drawn from mere naturalism” [10].

2. Masons “contend that Church and State ought to be altogether disunited” [13], that is, Masons support separation of Church and State.

3. Masons have opposed the Pope himself, so that the Pope “was … thrust out from the bulwark of his liberty and of his right, the civil princedom” [15].

4. Masons argue “that the sacred power of the Pontiffs must be abolished, and that the papacy itself … must be utterly destroyed” [15].

5. Masonic toleration of different religions has a secret agenda. “Again, as all who offer themselves [that is, as candidates for Freemasonry] are received whatever may be their form of religion, they [that is, the Masons] thereby teach the great error of this age—that a regard for religion should be held as an indifferent matter, and that all religions are alike. This manner of reasoning is calculated to bring about the ruin of all forms of religion, and especially of the Catholic religion, which, as it is the only one that is true, cannot, without great injustice, be regarded as merely equal to other religions” [16].

6. Masonry permits its members to either believe or disbelieve in God [17].

7. Backing away from the existence of God, the Masons have an uncertain morality [19].

8. “[T]he … Freemasons, having no faith in those things which we have learned by the revelation of God, deny that our first parents sinned, and consequently think that free will is not at all weakened and inclined to evil” [20].

9. Masons declare that “marriage belongs to the genus of commercial contracts, which can rightly be revoked by the will of those who made them.” [21].

10. Masons declare that “in the education of youth nothing is to be taught in the matter of religion as of certain and fixed opinion” [21].

11. Masons declare that, when it comes to religion, “each one must be left at liberty to follow, when he comes of age, whatever he may prefer,” that is, Masons support freedom of choice of religion [21].

12. Masons support the idea of a government of the people [22].

13. Masons support the idea of a state in which no specific religion is favored [22].

As I shall show in subsequent posts, a close analysis of these claims provides many grounds by which the Roman Catholic hierarchy could decide to reverse the traditional Catholic position on Freemasonry. This is because either (a) the claims are outright false, being based on other organizations than Freemasonry, or (b) the claims no longer reflect something that is offensive to official Catholic doctrine (such as freedom of choice of religion).

Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

[The image of Pope Leo XIII is in the public domain. It was obtained on Wikipedia.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Mark Master Degree (#1 in a series: The Degrees of the York Rite

During the October 2009—June 2010 Masonic meeting season, I am posting reflections on the York Rite degrees. The index with links to all posts of this series is here.

The Mark Master degree is the first of the “capitular” degrees, so called because these degrees are conferred by a Royal Arch body called a “chapter” (Latin, capitulum). The capitular degrees are administered by one of the three bodies that comprise the York Rite: the Royal Arch Masons. For the most part, these degrees have as their guiding myth the final phases of the construction and the dedication of the Temple built by the biblical King Solomon. The official York Rite website in the United States describes the Mark Master degree as follows:

A Degree that emphasizes the lessons of regularity, discipline, and integrity. It is a most impressive Degree centered on the story of the Fellowcraft of the quarry and their role in the building of the Temple.

Using a very traditional vocabulary, as one is said to be“raised” a Master Mason, so too one is said to be “congratulated” a Mark Master Mason. In England, there are entire Mark Master Mason lodges.

In reflecting on this degree, I was struck by two things.

One is the emphasis that is placed on the worker creating creditable work. On several occasions during the degree, a prop representing a stonemason’s work is presented before an inspector, who pronounces his judgment upon it. The very name of the degree comes from the actual customs of the medieval stonemasons, whose stones each carried the “mark” of the stonemason who worked upon it. Every piece of work was carefully crafted, knowing that it would be individually inspected before being accepted for placement into a building—and the work product was always associated with a specific worker. In the degree, this matter of craftsmanship was all the more charged because this stonework was to be incorporated into the House of God.

Compared to the work standards of the medieval stonemason, the work standards of modern life leave a lot to be desired. One popular saying regarding work product that is marginally acceptable describes the product as “good enough for government work”—which evidentally is not very good. One component of that phrase—“good enough”—is used so often in describing work product.

And yet so often the work is not good enough. Whether we are considering a physical product, a software product, or a service, so often what is produced is not even acceptable. The service person is surly, sloppy, or does not listen well; the physical product is shoddy; the software has bugs in it; all of this is excused on the grounds of the pressures involved in modern business and production, pressures that rush software out of beta testing (if there even was beta testing) and into production, and so forth.

Opposed to this, the Mark Master degree encourages us to take real pride in our work, to make it the kind of product that we could present with confidence before a diligent inspector. Certainly this has a great deal of relevance to real life on a surface level of interpretation. (Perhaps, within the context of a modern-day company, we need to make sure that the workload that we put upon our employees is such that they actually could put care into their work.)

Beyond that, there is another, more spiritual interpretation to consider. We learn in the Blue Lodge a symbolism where each life is a stone in “that spiritual Temple, not built with hands.” In this symbolism, each of our lives is such a stone. The Mark Master degree teaches us that we are not to think that this stone is acceptable as is; rather, the stone is to be worked, carefully worked, worked well enough to fit exacting standards of inspection. (The Blue Lodge has some comparable symbolism, but the Mark Master degree presents this point quite vividly.)

What kind of habits do I have that I should change? What rough spots need to be smoothed out to make my life a stone fit for the Divine House? What new habits should I incorporate into my life? Operative stonemasons worked with stone; the Freemason works with the material of his own life.

The second point that stood out for me in this degree involved the matter of charity. A lot of emphasis is put on addressing the needs of a Mason who needs a hand. At the current moment, with the global economy being in recession (not to say “meltdown”), there are a lot of Masons who really need a hand. Perhaps there are few of us who could turn that around completely for a brother. But maybe we could spot the brother a meal or two for him and his family. Maybe we can scrape up a day or two’s work for him to do. Surely we can all give encouragement, and the price of a newspaper with the want ads.

Being a Mason means being a grown-up. Being a grown-up means facing real difficulties, like unemployment. Being a brother means taking the position that we are all in this together.

Please note that these reflections are purely my own responsibility, and are neither sanctioned, sponsored, reviewed, nor approved by any Masonic body.

Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

[The image above illustrates a 19th century rendition of the traditional symbol of the Mark Master degree, taken from a public domain source.]

Index to Series: Reflections on the York Rite Degrees

The York Rite of Freemasonry is an appendant or “high degree” organization that offers further degrees of initiation to enhance the Masonic experience of men who are already Master Masons. Some basic information about the York Rite for individuals curious about Freemasonry is available in this Wikipedia article. A video and PowerPoint with general information about the York Rite for Freemasons is available at the bottom of a webpage that is maintained by the American leadership of the Grand York Rite Bodies in the United States; detailed descriptions of the York Rite, its degrees, and its own appendant and allied bodies, appear earlier on the same webpage.

During the 2009-2010 Masonic meeting season, I hope to attend again all the degrees of the York Rite of Freemasonry, through the courtesy of Ancient Chapter #1 Royal Arch Masons, Columbia Council #1 Royal and Select Masters (Mother Council of the World), and Morton Commandery #4 Knights Templar, all of which meet at the magnificent Chapter Room of Masonic Hall in New York City (in-person tour info here; virtual tour here). A day or so following each of the degree ceremonies, I plan to post my reflections on this blog. Because those reflections will be spread out from October through June, I will place links to those reflections on this post.

Of course, I will not be revealing anything about the ritual itself. However, my hope is that my reflections will help to enhance the experience of and reflection upon the ritual, for my brother York Rite Masons.

My thanks to the leaders of Ancient Chapter #1 RAM and their Companions, the leaders of Columbia Council #1 R&SM and their Companions, and the leaders of Morton Commandery #4 KT and their Sir Knights, for kindly showing Masonic hospitality to a visitor. My congratulations to the members of the York Rite class of 2009-2010 that is progressing through these degrees. And, a shout out to the Orlando (Florida) York Rite Bodies, where I originally received the degrees of the York Rite of Freemasonry, and of which I continue to be a member: I think of you often and fondly.

My reflections regarding the York Rite degrees are posted as follows:

The Capitular Degrees

• Mark Master: Observed on Wed. Oct. 14; reflections posted here.

• Past Master (Virtual) and Most Excellent Master: To be observed on Wed. Nov. 11.

• The Royal Arch: To be observed on Wed. Dec. 9.

The Cryptic Degrees

• Royal Master: To be observed on Wed. Jan. 13.

• Select Master: To be observed on Wed. Feb. 10.

• Super Excellent Master: To be observed on Wed. Mar. 10.

The Chivalric Orders

• Illustrious Order of the Red Cross: To be observed on Wed. Apr. 14.

• Order of Malta: To be observed on Wed. May 12.

• Order of the Temple: To be observed on Wed. June 9.

Please note that these reflections are purely my own responsibility, and are neither sanctioned, sponsored, reviewed, nor approved by any Masonic body.

Copyright 2009-2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

[The image illustrating the degrees of the York Rite as a ladder is widely available on the Internet. It is my belief that this image is in the public domain. Anyone with certain knowledge of the source of this image is invited to contact me.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Br. Koltko-Rivera to Appear on Discovery Channel Special,
"Hunting The Lost Symbol"

The Discovery Channel will broadcast a documentary special, "Hunting For The Lost Symbol," on Sunday, October 25, 8-10 pm Eastern time, with a rebroadcast beginning at 11 pm. The special, of course, will focus on Dan Brown's novel, The Lost Symbol. I appear in it, as do other, much more well-known Freemasons, such as Brother Christopher Hodapp, and some brethren from the House of the Temple.

I bring this to your attention a little early because it occurred to me that some readers may wish to mention this at the Stated Communications of their Lodges, and so forth.

Rumor has it that I figure nicely into the show. (Then again, they could edit me all out tomorrow.) I did address all sorts of things in two taping sessions, one before the novel's publication, one after. I look forward to seeing how the show deals with the novel myself.

And, for those of you who know me well: Yes, I have lost some weight. Thank you for noticing.

(Text Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

[The photo is by Ms. Katherine Finkelstein. Her work and contact information may be viewed at katherinefinkelstein.com .]

Templar Lessons for Today’s Masons, Part 1: What We Learn From the Templars’ Arrest

Today is a sad memorial, the 702nd anniversary of the arrest of the Knights Templar. It is a day for Freemasons everywhere to stop for a while and think of the example of the Templars, and the lessons that can be learned from their experience. Whether or not one believes the long-standing legends connecting the Templars and the Freemasons, there is no doubt that the Templars are held up as an important example to Masons within the York Rite (where the highest degree of the York Rite Commandery degrees is that of Knight Templar) and the Scottish Rite (several of whose degrees feature Knights Templar).

The history of the rise and fall of the Templars is well-known. After nearly two centuries of involvement with the Crusades and the protection of Christian pilgrims, the Knights Templar witnessed the recapture of Jerusalem by Saladin and, later, the Turks. Although thwarted in their main ambition, by this time the Templars had become wealthy, having invented an international banking system whereby they lent money to kings.

Their very wealth led to the downfall of the Templars. They had lent fortunes to King Philip IV of France, who, wishing to be free of his debt, and having his eyes on the Templar wealth, pressured Pope Clement V to use the accusations of a disgruntled expelled Templar to try to arrest the entire Templar Order and try all the Knights Templar for heresy. On Friday, October 13, 1307, by agreement with the Pope, Philip arrested as many Templar Knights as possible simultaneously throughout France. On November 22nd, Pope Clement, under pressure from Philip, issued the papal bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which instructed the Christian monarchs of Europe to arrest the Templars and seize their assets. (The bull was not promulgated in Scotland, whose leader at the time was excommunicated, and from which the Catholic sacraments were withdrawn.)

Under torture, many Templars--including their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay himself (pictured)--confessed to the most lurid charges of heresy and blasphemy. Although Pope Clement absolved the Templars of all heresies in 1308 (apparently in secret), when the Grand Master recanted his confession after being released from torture, he and another Knight who had done the same were declared guilty as relapsed heretics, and burnt alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314.

As reported in Wikipedia:
It is currently the Roman Catholic Church's position that the medieval persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust; that there was nothing inherently wrong with the Order or its Rule; and that Pope Clement was pressured into his actions by the magnitude of the public scandal and the dominating influence of King Philip IV. [Wikipedia notes as reference an article in an academic journal.]

There are many things one might want to say about the Templars and their lessons for today’s Mason. Today I will focus on one topic in particular.

Beware the Danger of Undue Influence Between State and Church

The travesty of justice that resulted in the arrest of the Templars was possible because of two things:

  • Influence of the State on the Church: The Pope was vulnerable to pressure by a political leader (here the King of France), who threatened military action unless the Pope complied with his wishes.

  • Influence of the Church on the State: The head of the dominant religious group of the time and place, the Pope, had great political power, so that he could pressure the heads of the various states of Europe to do his bidding under threat of excommunication.

These are aspects of undue influence, in both directions, between State and Church. The danger of such influence is one of the major lessons to be learned by the arrest of the Templars. Both types of undue influence are to be avoided.

Religious leaders and their groups should be permitted to practice their religions and preach their faiths as they see fit, without interference from the State. There are very few exceptions that should be made to this policy. (For example, practices that involve human sacrifice cannot be tolerated.) These exceptions should be rare. Governmental interference should not be imposed on religion merely for the sake of what seems respectable or what is comfortable to the public. (Hence, the rights of minority religious groups to conduct practices or preach teachings that make the public uncomfortable should be respected and protected.) Government influence on religion and religious leaders should be the rarest of things, done only out of nigh universally acknowledged necessity. King Philip of France could pressure the Pope to do his bidding; such must never be permitted to happen in a democracy. This is the principle of Freedom of Religion.

On the other hand, the open or de facto exercise of political power by religious groups is also not to be tolerated. Of course religious leaders may teach their followers that this is right, that wrong; although one may disagree with the content of another’s religious teachings, no one has the right to dictate another’s doctrine, in a free nation. However, for government to actually attempt to favor one religion over another, or to impose one religious doctrine or ruling over another, is abhorrent to democratic government. Pope Clement used his power as religious leader to force other political leaders in Europe into doing his will; such also must never be permitted to happen in a democracy. This is the principle of Separation of Church and State.

Why do I bring this up now? Is there some threat to religious freedom, on the one hand, or the separation of Church and State, on the other? Of course there is, every day that ends in the letter "–y." There is no particular case I have in mind at the moment. I don’t need to have a case in mind at the moment. As greater men than I have said, freedom is not free, and the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

I find it interesting that the Masonic Lodge has implemented both the principles I have mentioned above on the scale of the individual Lodge. In discussing a candidate for membership, we do not consider the candidate’s religion; indeed, in many jurisdictions, Masons are forbidden by Grand Lodge edict from even inquiring about the candidate’s religion. We have freedom of religion in the lodge. In addition, we forbid the discussion of matters of sectarian religion (or partisan politics) in the Lodge; we separate religious doctrine from lodge governance.

I think it no coincidence that the dual Masonic principles of religious freedom and separation of Church and State are written into the Bill of Rights as the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states in part:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ….

The arrest of the Templars reminds us of the dangers of laxity with regard to these principles. May we as Masons each seek to enthrone these principles in our own lives, in our Lodges, and in the lives of our communities.

(I have titled today’s post “Part 1” with the thought that I might return to the Templars periodically, perhaps annually on this date, or the anniversary of the execution of their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. Readers are welcome to suggest Templar-related topics. Readers are also welcome to comment, to become official “followers” of this blog, and to forward this post to others by e-mail through the use of the ‘envelope’ icon below.)

Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

[The image of Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay reportedly dates from the 19th century, as an illustration found in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. It is in the public domain, and was obtained from Wikipedia.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fantasies About Freemasonry, I:
Gary Osborn, Pyramids, Washington, and the Scottish Rite

Many of those who write about Freemasonry are not writing about real-life Freemasonry at all. Rather, they are writing about “Fantasy Freemasonry,” a Freemasonry mythical as the griffin (depicted) that never existed and certainly does not exist today. I see this in the 1980 German Bishops’ statement about Freemasonry, which declared Catholicism and Freemasonry to be incompatible on the basis of a deeply distorted and highly inaccurate perception of Freemasonry, a matter that I have addressed elsewhere. Lately, of course, I am seeing this in relation to the many things people are writing in relation to the publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Lost Symbol.

In the biggest of Big Pictures—the one where we seek to obtain and to propagate Strength, Wisdom, and Beauty in the world—it is important to correct such fantasies. One cannot place one’s pillars on the shifting sands of Falsehood and expect them to stand.

Even on a smaller scale, it is still important to correct false notions about Freemasonry. Such fantasies get in the way of Freemasons doing their real work in the world; people hear that you’re a Freemason, and (depending on the precise fantasy they hold), they either expect you to rule the world, slit their throats, or suck their brains right out of their heads like the alien celebrities on those Hulu commercials. In addition, such fantasies keep men who would be interested in the real thing from finding their way to the Western Gate. (Certainly that much has been accomplished for many men by the German Bishops’ statement.)

Thus, from time to time on this blog, I shall do what I can to correct fantasies about Freemasonry. Today’s entry involves the theories of a gentleman named Gary Osborn.

Mr. Osborn authors a website titled P A R A D I G M S H I F T. He recently commented on a post at another blog of mine, in which I was addressing the fact that, in The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown implies that the pyramid is an important symbol in Freemasonry (which, of course, is not true). Mr. Osborn invited the readers of my blog to look at a specific post on his website, a post titled, “The Pyramid of Washington DC and The Lost Symbol.”

There is a lot on Mr. Osborn’s post. Confining myself just to what was written about Freemasonry, I encountered there a full-blown Fantasy of Freemasonry. I attempted to respond within the limits of a comment on my own blog, but there was insufficient room. In addition, if I am encountering this sort of stuff, surely many other people are as well, and there is value to responding in a full-blown post here to this sort of Fantasy About Freemasonry.

Thus, below I respond to the major points about Freemasonry that I found on Gary Osborn’s post. I consider some points that are particular to what Mr. Osborn claims, and then I describe some general points that will be useful to people interested in learning about Freemasonry and evaluating what they read. My hope is that readers here will find this material useful enough to pass along to others.

Myths About George Washington and the 33rd Degree

Mr. Osborn states in his very first sentence that “As many of us know, the US Capital City is Washington DC, named after the first American President George Washington—a 33rd degree Freemason.”


At the risk of mentioning the obvious, George Washington was never a 33rd degree Freemason. Washington died on December 14, 1799. The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite—the body which confers the 33rd degree—was founded at Charleston, SC, on May 31, 1801, well over a year after Washington was dead and buried. The organizations that were predecessors to the Scottish Rite did not have 33 degrees. Consequently, there was no 33rd degree of Freemasonry for Washington to have received. There is certainly no evidence that I have ever seen presented to the contrary.

Why do people believe things like this? My guess is that it helps to support the Legend of the Mighty Thirty-Thirds, the myth that the holders of the 33° run the world. My sense is that there is a deep psychological need that is fulfilled by this belief—something of a pathological need, quite frankly—and the myth that the Father of our Country was one of the Mighty Thirty-Thirds helps to address that need.

The Street Layout of Washington, DC

Like many others before him, Mr. Osborn makes much of the geometry of the streets of Washington, DC. However, what he already knows about the source of this geometry should be enough to tell him not to read too much into the patterns of triangles that emerges from the layout of the DC streets.

Mr. Osborn notes, correctly, that the streets of DC radiate out from the White House and the Capitol. If one creates a street plan based around streets radiating out from two or more central points, it is inevitable that triangles of various sorts shall show up. It is geometrically unavoidable, in fact.

Masonic Involvement in the Design of Washington, DC

Mr. Osborn says that that it is “officially denied” that Jefferson and L'Enfant were Masons. This subtle choice of wording is actually quite misleading.

There is no centralized authority for Freemasonry, no central registry of all Freemasons that could issue an “official denial.” There is no Masonic equivalent of the White House Press Secretary that could issue an “official denial.” However, to state that something about Masonry has been “officially denied” is to play into the widespread and essentially paranoid fantasy that there is One Über-Lodge to Rule Them All. This simply is not so. Sure, there are various Masonic organizations that may make statements, but none of them is empowered to issue an “official denial” on behalf of Freemasonry.

For the record, neither Jefferson nor L'Enfant were Masons. People who claim otherwise should either cough up the evidence or give up the assertion. This playing about, as Mr. Osborn does, with phrases like “it's likely that so-and-so was a Mason” is just so much twaddle. As it happens, I have taught over a dozen class sections of statistics at the university level: I know from “likely.” I see no evidence to support such an assertion. On what basis is this claim of “likely” being made?

Mr. Osborn states that “there is no question that many of the new city’s [that is, Washington, DC’s] architects were Freemasons.” Actually, there certainly is such a question—and I am raising it. What evidence does anyone have for this assertion? Of course, the real issue is, what evidence does Mr. Osborn have that any of the people who laid out the capital city—not just any architects working in DC, but the people who actually laid out the streets of the city itself—were Masons?

The Scottish Rite, the House of the Temple, and Washington, DC

There are times, I must say, when I wish the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite were headquartered in Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Bayonne, Brooklyn, anywhere but a mile directly north of the White House, a location that cannot but help to feed the paranoid fantasies that make the Mighty Thirty-Thirds The Rulers of The World. As it is, Mr. Osborn implies that Washington, DC, is built around the headquarters of the Southern Jurisdiction, the beautiful House of the Temple, which Mr. Osborn describes as the “Temple of Freemasonry.”

The simple fact that the Scottish Rite did not exist until 1801 should suggest that Washington, DC was not designed around, let alone at the behest of, the Scottish Rite. The city was founded in 1790. Congress held its first session in DC in November 1800. The Scottish Rite had its headquarters in Charleston, SC, when it was established in May 1801, and there it remained until 1870, when the headquarters moved to DC. The Supreme Council met at several locations until the House of the Temple was constructed, a process which lasted from 1911 to 1915, a full century after DC was laid out; DC was clearly not designed around the House of the Temple.

It is important for people to understand that the Scottish Rite is only one of several "rites" of Freemasonry, and does not run or command Freemasonry as a whole, a matter I described at length in another Dan Brown-related post. The Scottish Rite has no authority whatsoever over the Masons of the Blue Lodge, the York Rite—anyone at all except other Freemasons of the Scottish Rite (who themselves are divided into two separate Jurisdictions in the United States alone). The House of the Temple is, strictly speaking, of administrative importance only to the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, not even to other Scottish Rite Freemasons, let alone other Freemasons; it is lovely and impressive, but it is not the “Temple of Freemasonry.”

Pyramid Symbolism and Freemasonry

Like many other people uninformed about the Fraternity, Mr. Osborn insists that the Pyramid is an important symbol to Freemasonry. As I demonstrate elsewhere, there are a few distant echoes of pyramid symbolism in Freemasonry, but the pyramid certainly is nothing important among the many symbols of Freemasonry as these have been recorded over the last three centuries. If some person is so sure that the Pyramid is an important symbol in Freemasonry, then that person should please tell us where exactly the symbol occurs within the ritual or symbolism of contemporary or historic Freemasonry.

Freemasonry and the Illuminati

Mr. Osborn seems to lend support to those who conflate the Freemasons and the Illuminati. As I explained elsewhere on my Dan Brown-related blog, the Illuminati was a very different organization that had very different ideals than Freemasonry. In addition, although the Illuminati did infiltrate Masonic lodges on the Continent, they were unsuccessful in infiltrating Masonic lodges in either Great Britain or North America. Conflating the Masons and the Illuminati is the province of the proponents of some extremely irrational and even pathologically paranoid conspiracy theories. One would not wish to put oneself in the company of people like David Icke, Jim Marrs, or Texe Marrs. And, yes, any Gentle Reader who happens to know any of these gentlemen is welcome to quote me to him or them directly.

(Messrs. Icke and Marrs: if you don't like what I have to say here, you can reach me through my home page. I would delight in debating any one of you—or all three together—in public in New York City. Three writers given to fantasy versus one who insists on evidence: I’d say that the odds favor me.)

The Use of Horrifically Unreliable Sources About Freemasonry

Mr. Osborn mentions the late Reverend Jim Shaw's book, The Deadly Deception, as if it were a reliable source of information about Freemasonry. The nicest thing that one can say about this book is that its late author was a fraud and a liar; my only regret in saying this is that he is no longer alive for me to say this to his face.

I strongly suggest that anyone confronted by this book read Chapter 8 of the book by Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? (New York: Evans, 2004), which is available not only through Amazon but simply off the shelf at many major bookstores; their book demonstrates that the late Rev. Shaw lied extensively about his involvement with Freemasonry.

There are fine sources to use to learn about Freemasonry. I mention several of them in a basic post about Freemasonry. The sources are easy to obtain.

Now it is time to step back from the specifics of Mr. Osborn's claims and consider some general principles.

Basic Principle #1: We Can and Should Tell People That They Simply Don’t Know Much About Freemasonry

The first basic principle that comes to mind is that we should be kind, we should be gracious, but we should also be quite direct in telling people who make wildly inaccurate statements about our Fraternity that they simply do not know that much about real-life Freemasonry.

Yes, I know that, in this feel-good age, that all just seems so very rude.

So be it.

At public and private universities in the Northeast and Southeast, I have taught literally thousands of students, many among them including future physicians, nurses, psychologists, counselors—people who will hold other people’s very lives in their hands some day. I have taught them subjects like statistics, where there are right and wrong answers, and counseling, where right answers are in short supply, but wrong answers abound throughout the kingdom. I have always found that, when these people err, the most merciful way to help these people and their future patients is to tell them, nicely but extremely directly, that they are just plain wrong, and why.

Freemasonry is a real set of principles with a real history. It is not just a matter of someone’s opinion. (Contrary to what many people seem to believe these days, let me state quite clearly: “God was not elected. Truth is not a matter of opinion.”) And yet every day there are people teaching nonsense about Freemasonry—perhaps because the process of actual study and reflection and critical thinking is so challenging. These spun fantasies become so much more rubbish obstructing the way to the Western Wall. Beyond that, every unchallenged Fantasy is another message to the youth of America and the world that The Truth Does Not Really Matter—Just Make It All Up! Not a good message to send, brethren. Remember: these are the people who will be running your nursing home and performing your surgeries some day. (Now that is a scary thought.)

Basic Principle #2: Use Simple But Powerful Logical Principles to Evaluate Claims

This would be a long topic by itself to handle well. For now, it will have to suffice to note that so much wild writing about Freemasonry uses weak logic, as evidenced by phrases like “there is no doubt that,” or “it is likely that.” By contrast, a strong thinker both presents and asks for specific evidence. In addition, as put by Carl Sagan (in paraphrasing Marcello Truzzi): Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For example:

  • You want to claim that so-and-so was a Freemason? Fine. Show me a dues card, a signature on a lodge register, a private diary entry or a letter where the writer claims membership. Rumors or traditions simply don’t count.

  • You want to claim that some Masons actually murdered someone? Okay, I’ll listen. But show me a body, first of all. Show me a reliable eyewitness who is disinterested in the case, who can through personal experience connect persons A, B, and C with crimes X, Y, and Z. Video would be nice. Show me the kind of evidence that you would need to convict someone, if not in criminal court (where one must prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt), then at least in civil court (where a mere preponderance of the evidence will do).

  • You want to claim that Masons run some sort of conspiracy? Hey, I’m all in—like my wife asks, “where’s my gold bar?” But show me documents, video, signed confessions and affidavits. Show me bank records, travel records, phone records, e-mails, telephone recordings. (“Follow the money,” Deep Throat said to Woodward and Bernstein. Here was a man near the top of a conspiracy run from the office of the President of the United States, the veritable Leader of the Free World. You did not hear him suggest that Woodward and Bernstein settle for rumor, did you? No, you heard him push for hard evidence.)

  • You want to claim that the Masons are run by shape-shifting aliens who drink human blood? Hey, it’s all good, baby. But you’d better be ready to show me tissue samples collected in the Lodge, video recordings from the Lodge, satellite imagery of their craft, ground radar showing their underground bases. I want samples of scales, alien blood, extraterrestrial implants--all collected from within the Lodge. At this level, simple personal testimony is no longer good enough.

Yet, what we see so often in the world is that, the more outrageous the claim, the less evidence is presented. What we get instead are excuses. It’s as if somehow lack of evidence was itself evidence.

Well, here’s a tip for all those on the fringe of the Fantasy Theories: Lack of evidence is not evidence. Lack of evidence may actually mean there is no evidence—because there is nothing to have evidence about. Lack of evidence should inspire increasing skepticism, not wide-eyed devotion.

Do I sound a little cranky here? I’m sure I do. But there is a reason for crankiness like this. The older one gets, the shorter the days become, and the more one resents having to put up with nonsense. Perhaps now there will be just a little less nonsense to put up with in the world.

Mr. Osborn, I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is intended. I am actually trying to help you. For if there is any bit of Masonic symbolism that should be known to the public at large, it should be this: to really make one’s way in the world, one needs the light of true knowledge, not the darkness of ignorance. Not to put too fine a point on it, but statements such as you have made betray a profound ignorance of real-life Freemasonry. If you intend to connect Freemasonry to your theories, you really ought to learn a great deal more about it, from reliable sources.

[The photo of a Griffin at Kasteel de Haar, in Holland, was taken by Ellywa on 20 July 2003. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and appears here by license under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.]

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Comments to This Blog

I'm sorry to have gotten so behind in responding to comments. I've responded to everything commented to posts from September 1 on, and I'll try to stay current hereafter.

Thank You, Maureen Dowd, for Attacking Freemasonry

[Photo by Denise Williams. Distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.]

As reported recently on Brother Christopher Hodapp’s blog, the Sunday, October 11, 2009 edition of The New York Times Book Review will publish a review of Dan Brown’s novel, The Lost Symbol. This review is in large part an attack on Freemasonry by the review’s author, Ms. Maureen Dowd (pictured). That review is available right now on-line, here.

Ms. Dowd’s review is a badly written piece of trash that would have been poor as an op-ed piece (which is what she’s used to writing). She spreads rumors as truth, gives a highly skewed view of Freemasonry, and spreads total inaccuracies about millions of brothers in the Fraternity using such solid sources of information as her chats with her non-Mason father. (Given the two references to her father that appear in the review, which are apropos of almost nothing, I’d have to say that when she points to The Lost Symbol as having an Oedipal aspect, she needs to remember that old saying to the effect that, when we point a finger at someone else, three other fingers are pointing back . . .)

So: Ms. Dowd ridicules the Fraternity, spreads inaccuracies about it, and generally shows a prejudiced attitude that hides behind a snarky persona, where the ability to make a smartmouth remark is more important than getting the facts right.

And I thank her for this, from the bottom of my heart.

The many inaccuracies that Ms. Dowd spreads about Freemasonry are a superb opportunity to spread the truth about the Fraternity. I have started a new series on Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Blog, just to address the many mistakes about Freemasonry that Ms. Dowd makes in her lousy, badly researched review. To paraphrase the late President John F. Kennedy: It is better to write one blog post than to curse the snarkness. (The index post, which has links to all the posts in the series, is here.)

Is this all just much ado about nothing? Well, The New York Times has a daily circulation of about 1.1 million readers; the Sunday Book Review (a section of the Sunday edition of the Times) is probably the most important source of book reviews for the general reader published in the United States. Ms. Dowd’s review—inaccurate as it is, not to mention poorly researched, even prejudiced—will help form the image of Freemasonry held by maybe a million or more people, including many of the better educated opinion makers in the United States. To me, that’s important enough to justify doing something.

So, what might the Brothers of the Craft do about this? I suggest the following:

1. Read Ms. Dowd's review itself. You can’t defend the Craft without knowing the specific inaccuracies being spread about it.

2. Read my responses in my blog, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Blog. Feel free to comment on my responses. Feel free to refer your friends to this blog, as well, should they bring up anything related to Ms. Dowd’s review.

3. You might wish to suggest to the powers-that-be at the Times that comments like Ms. Dowd’s belong more appropriately in an op-ed column than in a book review. Frankly, it is beneath a paper of the Times’ stature to publish badly researched pieces like this.

Correspondence may be addressed as follows:

  • Editor of the Book Review: Include your name, address, and telephone number, whether you submit your letter by postal mail or by e-mail. (Neither your address nor telephone number will appear in print.) You may send postal mail to The Editor, The New York Times Book Review, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018-1405. You may send e-mail to this address: books@nytimes.com .

  • Letters to the CEO and Publisher (below) may be of any length, and will not be considered for publication. They may be addressed to the CEO and Publisher at the postal address given above (620 Eighth), which is probably the only way to be absolutely sure that your comments reach their intended recipients. Brethren who communicate only by fax or e-mail may take a chance on a somewhat iffier approach, and address their remarks as follows (in a separate message to each of the recipients):
Ms. Janet L. Robinson
Chief Executive Officer
The New York Times

Mr. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.
Chairman and Publisher
The New York Times

Fax: 212-556-3622
E-mail: letters@nytimes.com

Points to keep in mind in your letters:
  • Ms. Dowd is welcome to her opinion about the Fraternity. The problem lies in her portraying her poorly-researched, uninformed, and inaccurate opinion about the fraternity as fact.

  • Ms. Dowd chose to attack Freemasonry in her review. In doing so, she was not only inaccurate in many important details (which I mention in my Dan Brown-related blog, should you care to mention specifics), but she also showed a very prejudiced attitude that would not have been tolerated in a book review if it were directed towards a religious or ethnic group. The same prejudice should not have been tolerated in being directed at Freemasonry.

  • Ms. Dowd chose to attack Freemasonry—her journalistic right—but she did so in a book review, which allows those whom she attacked very little room for response. Her ‘review’ did not belong in a book review, but in an op-ed column, where there is more room available for those whom she attacks to respond.
Truly is it said that there is no bad publicity. Let’s make the most of this interesting opportunity, provided—however unintentionally—by Ms. Dowd.

[The image is a photo of Maureen Dowd taken by Denise Williams at the Democratic Debate in Philadelphia, PA on April 16, 2008. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and appears here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.]

Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.