Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Shrine and the Blue Lodge Come to a Crossroads

For some time now tension has been building between the Shrine and various Grand Lodges of Craft Masonry, around the issue of the Shrine permitting Masons expelled from their Blue Lodges to continue as Shriners. The basis of the problem, of course, is that, from the Grand Lodge point of view, the Shrine only has authority to initiate Master Masons as Shriners because the Grand Lodge permits this practice. It seems near-universal among Grand Lodges in the U.S. and elsewhere that Grand Lodges claim the privilege of permitting--or withholding permission from--any organization within their boundaries that restricts its membership to Master Masons. This privilege has been the unquestioned perquisite of a Grand Lodge within its own boundaries for well over a century. (I would welcome verifiable information regarding the history of this practice.) Because of this privilege, the Grand Lodge point of view--often codified in Masonic law within a Grand Lodge jurisdiction--is that expulsion from Freemasonry automatically results in expulsion from all other groups requiring Masonic membership, which are called typically "appendant" orders and organizations. It seems that, as of this month, the Shrine has taken a definitive stance against this long-held practice.

I received today, courtesy of W.'. Brother Cliff Porter, a reproduction of a letter dated December 20, 2012, addressed to the MWGM of South Carolina from Alan W. Madsen, the Imperial Potentate of Shriners International. (The two-page letter is shown above; click on a page for a copy that can be adjusted by size. A .pdf of the letter is available here.)

In this letter, the Imperial Potentate of the Shrine indicates that he is limited in what he can do by Shrine Law. Among these limitations, he states, is that he can only expel a Freemason from the Shrine for violating Shrine Law, or conducting himself in a manner unbecoming a Noble of the Order. The Imperial Potentate explicitly states that "there is no authority for an Imperial Potentate to remove expelled Masons from the rolls of Shriners International." The clear implication is that the Shrine simply does not recognize the authority of the Grand Lodge to insist that expelled Masons are automatically expelled from all Mason-exclusive organizations.

It gets better.

The Imperial Potentate explicitly states on the second page of the letter that the Shrine is not an appendant body, but is sovereign and independent in its own right. The Imperial Potentate then writes that "Shriners International respectfully requests the Grand Lodge of South Carolina to discontinue ... the use of the words 'appendant' or 'appendant body' to describe the relationship it has with Shriners International."

This letter was copied to all Grand Lodges, as well as all Shrine temples and all Imperial officers and trustees.

Well, alrighty then. There seem to be only four possible solutions to this situation:
  1. Grand Lodges could drop their claim to final authority over any organization that requires being a Master Mason for membership. This would represent a change in the way that Grand Lodges have thought of themselves for, I would guess, the entire history of Grand Lodge Freemasonry. I think this solution to be about as likely to be implemented as we are likely to see a planet-busting shower of asteroids during the next fifteen minutes or so.
  2. The Shrine International could change its bylaws, in such a way as to submit itself to the authority of a Grand Lodge within that Grand Lodge's jurisdiction. However, given this letter from the Imperial Potentate, I do not think the requisite change in the Shrine's attitude is at all likely to occur.
  3. Neither side budging, the Grand Lodges could simply ban the Shrine from their jurisdictions, and expel Freemasons who continued as Shriners. This is the "everyone loses" scenario, as some Freemasons would resign from Masonry, while others would resign from the Shrine.
  4. The Shrine could simply drop its century-long requirement that membership as a Freemason is a prerequisite to being a Shriner.
If anyone sees some resolution to this situation beyond these four choices, they are welcome to mention it in the Comments. For my part, I think that these choices are all we've got.

My preference: Door Number Four. Yes, some people would leave the Shrine without its Masonic connection, but those individuals would leave under Choice #3 anyway, and Choices #1 and #2 are simply not going to be taken. Yes, some brethren would probably leave their Lodges to be free of the burden of their lodge dues while they continue in the Shrine, but these individuals are only making a token contribution to their lodges anyway. Masons would be free to be Shriners, the same way that they are free to also be members of the Lions Club or Rotary. And one more unproductive point of controversy within Freemasonry will have been resolved, once and for all.

Copyright 2012 Mark Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and circulate this content, with full attribution of the author, in non-commercial contexts only.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Resolution to Revoke Florida's
Ruling and Decision No. 3

The Landmarks are important.

I am very sorry that it has come to this.

In an earlier post, I described the Ruling and Decision No. 3 issued late in November by the MW GM of Florida. This edict essentially bans members of certain minority religions (Pagans generally; Wiccans and Odinists in particular; Gnostics) as well as Agnostics from being Freemasonry. This is a problem for me and many other Florida Masons, because it violates not only the letter of Florida Masonic law (Regulation 31.16, to be precise), but also the longstanding Landmark of Craft Freemasonry under which Masons simply do not inquire into the specifics of the particular religion of a candidate or a brother Mason. What matters is whether or not he believes in God; beyond that, we do not, as Masons, have requirements or conduct inquiry. This practice is foundational for establishing the atmosphere of religious toleration that is part and parcel of regular Freemasonry in North America and Great Britain.

Over the two weeks since I posted my detailed objections to the Ruling and Decision No. 3 on December 7, I have received a great deal of support for the idea of revoking R&D3—private comments by e-mail, largely—but no word has emerged from the Grand Lodge of Florida regarding changing this policy. Consequently, as a matter of conscience, I must take things to the next level.

Below, I give the text of a Resolution that I will present to the Grand Lodge, for a vote of the Craft at the next meeting of Grand Lodge (scheduled, I believe, in late May 2013).

Any Master Mason with membership within the Grand Lodge of Florida, F&AM, may co-sign this Resolution. Eligible brethren who wish to do so should do the following:

  1. On a piece of paper, please write or type the words, “I co-sponsor this Resolution.”
  2. Sign your full name in ink. (Only statements with original signatures are acceptable to Grand Lodge.)
  3. Print or type your name, your Lodge’s name, and your Lodge’s number. (If you are a WM, PM, or hold another Craft Masonry office, you may indicate that status after your name.)
  4. Send your signed statement to the following address:
                        Mark Koltko-Rivera
                        PO Box 20223
                        New York, NY 10023

I must receive co-sponsor's original signed statements—which will be submitted to Grand Lodge with the Resolution—by Thursday, December 27, 2012. (Grand Lodge must receive everything from me by Dec. 31st.) If a signed statement is mailed to me from a Florida Post Office even as late as Monday December 24th by 12 noon, via regular mail, it is likely to reach me in time.

UPDATE (Fri. 12/28/12): Florida Masons who wish to co-sign at this late date may do so by printing out the resolution itself (only the resolution itself!), signing it in ink, printing their names, lodges, and title (for example, "WM John Smith," or "William Jones, PDDGM"), and sending it on Saturday December 29th from a Florida Post Office to:

     MW Richard E. Lynn, PGM
     Grand Secretary
     The MW Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons
          of the State of Florida
     PO Box 1020
     Jacksonville, FL 32201-1020

I hope to receive signed statements from many eligible co-signers.


WHEREAS, “The Grand Lodge … is … the supreme head and authority of Ancient Craft Masonry in this jurisdiction” (Constitution, Article V, Section 1), and,

WHEREAS, “The Constitution and Regulations of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida as set forth and contained in this Digest [that is, the Digest of Masonic Law of Florida F. & A. M.] … with the amendments, changes, alterations and additions thereto which may hereafter be made by jurisdiction of Grand Lodge, are declared to be the supreme Masonic Law of this Grand Jurisdiction” (Regulation 1.01), and,

WHEREAS, the Most Worshipful Grand Master is delimited in his power, in that he “may do, order and direct all matters and things which in his wisdom and judgment may tend to the prosperity of the Craft, not in violation of this Constitution and the Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry” (Constitution, Article VI, Section 6, emphasis added), and that fraternal matters “shall be subject to supervision, direction, and control of the Grand Master, subject to provisions of the Landmarks of Freemasonry and the Constitutions and Regulations of the Grand Lodge” (Constitution Article I, Section 7, emphasis added), and,

WHEREAS, the Most Worshipful Grand Master is delimited in his power in relation to the issuance of Edicts, given that “issuance of Edicts, Proclamations, Executive Orders, and Dispensations and all such Fraternal matters … shall be under exclusive control and direction of the Grand Master,” but said issuance is explicitly “subject to the provisions of the Constitution and Regulations of the Grand Lodge” (Constitution, Article I, Section 8, emphasis added), and,

WHEREAS, the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Freemasons in Florida, Jorge L. Aladro, did issue on or about November 28, 2012 the Ruling and Decision No. 3, and,

WHEREAS, the Ruling and Decision No. 3 states that, in relation to “Paganism, Wiccan [sic] and Odinism, and … Agnosticism and Gnosticism,” that “none of the above mentioned beliefs and practices are compatible with Freemasonry since they do not believe or practice one or more of the prerequisites to be a candidate for Masonry”; and,

WHEREAS, the Ruling and Decision No. 3 stipulates that “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”; and,

WHEREAS, Florida Masonic Law clearly stipulates that “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” (Regulation 31.16, emphasis added); and,

WHEREAS, Pagans, Wiccans, Odinists, Gnostics, and even many so-called Agnostics in fact believe in God, and all of these groups recognize a moral law; and,

WHEREAS the Ruling and Decision No. 3 violates Regulation 31.16 by making further religious prerequisites of a candidate beyond the stipulations of Regulation 31.16, and

WHEREAS the Ruling and Decision No. 3 violates a Landmark of Freemasonry by inquiring into the specifics of a candidate’s or a Mason’s particular religion,  


1.      that Ruling and Decision No. 3 be, and be declared, hereby revoked, rescinded, repealed, and of no force and effect; and,

2.      that all Masonic Trial Commissions currently in progress pursuant to Ruling and Decision No. 3 be immediately and forthwith dissolved; and,

3.      that all those who were expelled from Freemasonry by Masonic Trial Commissions pursuant to Ruling and Decision No. 3 are hereby and herewith restored to the rights, benefits, and privileges of Freemasonry, subject to the unanimous consent of each such individual’s respective Lodge, as in cases of a ballot for membership, per our Constitution (Constitution Article V, Section 3), but without need for the Lodge to convene an Investigation Committee, or conduct a criminal background investigation, or require payment of any fees but dues; and,

4.      that all those who resigned from Freemasonry pursuant to Ruling and Decision No. 3 be permitted without prejudice to petition for readmission to their respective Lodges, subject to the unanimous consent of each such individual’s respective Lodge, as in cases of a ballot for membership, but without need for the Lodge to convene an Investigation Committee, or conduct a criminal background investigation, or require payment of any fees but dues; and,

5.      that Florida Masonry hereby declares its eternal devotion to the religious toleration that is one of the immoveable and Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry, never to be changed by any man or group of men.

Respectfully submitted,


Bro. Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, M\M\ Winter Park Masonic Lodge No. 239 F. & A. M.

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[The image shows a landmark or boundary stone in Popadia, within Gorgany, on the pre-World War II border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. It is a photo taken by Tomasz Kuran (a.k.a. Meteor017) on August 16, 2006. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and appears here under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.]

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

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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I discuss the basics of Freemasonry in my book, Freemasonry: An Introduction, published by Tarcher/Penguin. (Described here, available here, and Facebook page here)

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

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


Friday, February 3, 2012

Brother Mark the Featured Guest on 21st Century Radio

I am the featured guest on Dr. Bob Hieronymous' 21st Century Radio show this Sunday, February 5th, 8 pm-10 pm (Eastern). The show is broadcast live, and can be listened to over the Internet at . The topics for the evening; Freemasonry and the Statue of Liberty, and conspiracy theories concerning them. We'll also discuss those friendly folks at the New Apostolic Reformation, some of whom wish to demolish the Statue as a 'pagan idol.' (No, I'm not making this up.)

Come tune in. Shows are archived, so you can also listen in later.