Monday, April 21, 2014

One Book to Bind Them

The Altar at my Lodge
I have been giving thought to religious tests. The United States Constitution forbids the use of religious tests to be an elected official for federal office. Sadly though, we may not allow them de jure, I have sensed that the public demands a de facto religious test, at least for the office of president but I digress.

Our own Masonic Fraternity turned away from a religious test, at least through the Moderns, when the first edition of Anderson's Constitutions of 1723 were approved by the Premier Grand Lodge of England. The very first charge reads:
  • 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. But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves: that is, to be Good men and True, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.
This was a fascinating addition to Masonry. It also began a strongly heated battle for supremacy in English Masonry. The Antients took great offense over the removal of Christian symbols in favor of a religion in which all men agree. In fact, the Antients were appalled that the Moderns allowed non-Christians to become Masons at all. The religious nature of Freemasonry was a major bone of contention which led to the disagreement.

I have wondered if we, even now, carry on this strange Antient versus Moderns fight, of where religion may exist, of whom may or may not be a brother. I think it is safe to assume, particularly after reading a few letters to the editor in the KT Magazine, that some brothers would rather see Masonry be a single, homogeneous group, dedicated to the worship of Christ alone and not to that religion that all men agree.

Is there a solution? I was noodling this idea. In using a VSL for our brothers to swear an oath on, we allow whatever holy book would bind him to his oath. Instead of focusing on the exact nature of what he is swearing on, what if we standardized one book to be used in all obligations? All lodges would be required to swear candidates only on the King James Version of the Bible.

Whoa?! Didn't he just say that we shouldn't Christianize the Craft?

Now stick with me. The thing is that when we ask a candidate what book he would like to be sworn on, it immediately calls the question of what religion he is. The Volume of Sacred Law is a symbol just like everything else. By viewing the KJV Bible as just a symbol in the Work, we remove the religious distinction from the candidate.

Furthermore, those candidates that profess a belief in God but remain unaffiliated to any particular religion will not be required to then declare one. It also increases the anonymity of faith, allowing all brothers to meet on the level, without distinction as to politics and religion.

On the other hand, by restricting candidates to one VSL, he may feel that his oath is not legitimate because he is not swearing on the book he holds dear. It also may lead to the same belief that I see in the Knight Templar magazine, that Masonry is a Christian organization that was kind enough to allow other men. Personally, I prefer the idea of the cultural mosaic over the melting pot. When we place different VSLs on the altar, we are making a quilt of connection, sewn together as much by our differences as our similarities.

It's difficult to weigh both the desire for inclusiveness without distinction. I'm not sure what the answer is but I fear the Antients and the Moderns are still fighting to this day. Perhaps the future will be different.

What do you think? Should we use only one VSL or should each candidate be allowed to choose based on his religious belief?


Raconteur said...

When Keith Ellison was elected to congress and wanted to take his oath on a Koran I was in the camp that he should have stuck with the Bible.

I supported the argument that the Bible was the best symbol of what values we founded our country on, and that's been the tradition, so you're swearing to uphold our values and traditions.

Of course, people disagree with whether or not we're a judeo-christian country, but I think it's a better argument than the converse, which seems to imply that unless you promise touching a specific book, your word is somehow invalid, which is insulting to religions.

Overall, though, I don't think we should worry so much about this stuff.

Jim Goltz said...

Ask yourself if you would feel the same if he one book we all use were the Quran, or the Bhagavad Gita.

Millennial Freemason said...

To be honest, I'd actually be okay with any holy book. My obligation is to God and my conscience.

Jason said...

I think that perhaps, in time, the act of asking a petitioner which VSL he would prefer to use may help to remind and reinforce the fact that we are not an organization that is, or should be viewed as, primarily Christian.

Great post, Brother.

Unknown said...

As one who grew up in church but has chosen not to be a Christian, and who, having studied the holy books of all the major world religions, I can confidently say there is major overlap and that morality is hard-wired in our brain and is taught in our scriptures. Being the case, I advocate a KJV because when taking an obligation on the same book as everyone else, it binds you to them and by insisting on your own book you drive a wedge between you and your brothers unintentionally.

Unknown said...

I vote NO. NEVER. EVER. A new candidate enters your Lodge. He asks if you will accept him as he is: a good, upright, just man who just happens to be non-Christian. You tell him "Yes, we will accept you as an equal Brother, but you have to check your Volume of the Sacred Law at the Door and swear all your obligations upon *our* VOSL". Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Masonry is not a Christian organization (that's why it's a Global fraternity). Anyone who tries to make it such is just a redneck who is forgetting our first Constitution and trying to promote his own religion in Lodge.

And to all those who say "Well, I would have no problem with it" and who are Christian...seriously? If you have sufficient empathy, then think of how you would feel (as Brother Goltz illustrated) if you were forced to take all your obligations on a Qu'ran? Probably a little tick'd off.

In our Lodge we have several VOSLs on our altar: Bible, Qu'ran, Guru Granth Sahib, Buddhist Scriptures, and I think something else on there somewhere. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Masonry is universal. Men looking for a Christian club should go join one.

Amicus said...

Since I see two books on your alter, can I guess that one is the Holy Bible and the other some other book? In CA - just found your site - the Bible never leaves the alter. Another holy book may accompany it, but not replace it. Since this distinction is awarded only to the Bible, what does that say about its place? Should all Masons be obligated upon it? Certainly not. Leave the choice to the individual brother. But let's not pretend that we are utterly without favor or bias.

David said...

As a Jew, I would not feel comfortable using a book containing the New Testament in any kind of oath ceremony.

Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for a religion. Each brother chooses how he forms his relationship with the Grand Architect.

The Knights Templar is a Christian organization. The Blue Lodge should never be viewed as one.

Jeff said...

I was given the choice of which book to take my oath on. As a Deist I chose the bible but my pledge was inline with my beliefs of my Grand Architect. Also, looking back I chose the bible because as a new member would I be welcomed as much as if I had stated went against the norm.

Anyways, great blog! I just discovered it and now I have some catching up to do.

Togeika said...

I was happy to see at Cataract Lodge #2's Installation on Sunday, that with the Bible, the Koran and the Tanakh were also placed on the altar for the ceremony. But then, our Lodge is pretty diverse too. You can see our new officers here: