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Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Masonic Response to Stupid Atheism

This article was originally written and published in Living Stones Magazine.  I have had a number of Brothers ask me about the magazine and what my articles are about and what the other articles are all about.  I received permission from the editor to share this article written and published in this months issue.  I highly recommend the magazine which you can subscribe to at www.livingstonesmagazine.com 


A Masonic Response to Stupid Atheism


A belief in Deity is required to be a Freemason, and is considered one of the Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry.  Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723 provide that a Mason was once encouraged to simply blend to the religion of his land, similar in exactitude to the teachings of the Druze, but changed here by Anderson influenced by Enlightenment Europeans to read:
“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.”
The explanation given new candidates for a need in the generic belief in Deity and the exclusion of these “stupid Atheist” often the statement that the oath of an atheist is not binding
, since the oath itself is taken upon a Bible or other Volume of Sacred Law depending the faith of the particular candidate or the standard Masonic practices for the man taking the oath. 
I will contend the following:
1.  The assertion that the oath of an atheist is not binding is preposterous and the reason for the exclusion of atheist is important, but their oath not being binding is not the reason.  
2.  The symbols of Masonry point to an ancient truth and provide a better explanation for the reason atheist are excluded from the Craft
3.  The reason for the exclusion gives us a hint to origins of Masonic Philosophy.
We only need to examine a list of famous atheist who were in every way more wonderful than a list of believers to make the historical argument that an atheist will keep his word.  
One of my favorite atheist Andrew Carnegie, the famous builder of the largest  steel empire in the United States of America.  He was also one of the world’s most giving philanthropist.  He list writers such as famous Freemason Robert Burns as his heros, respected religious freedom, and even supported his wife in her Presbyterian beliefs by attending church with her.  By almost every standard, a man with whom Masonry would find itself at home; less his atheism.  
Carnegie went so far as to declare a belief,  “an Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.”As       Masons we might be tempted to declare for Carnegie a faith.   Yet, it is unfair to classify a man’s faith for him and Carnegie himself made a declaration concerning his faith saying, “I don’t believe in God. My god is patriotism. Teach a man to be a good citizen and you have solved the problem of life.”
It would be difficult to argue that Carnegie was not a man of his word, philanthropic, or intelligent.  Nor is Carnegie an isolated incident in the history of atheism.  
The list of decent and good atheist is as long as the list of terrible and seemingly irreligious men of God, who, at first appearances would be very welcomed to the Craft given the limited face value requirements for admission into this valuable Fraternity.
As to point one as well, we should be able that the converse of the argument is true.  If the oath of an atheist is not binding, then the oath of a believer should be.  Nonetheless, we find a list of horrible men who are Christians, Jews, Muslims, and believers of every kind who violate their oaths.  We find list of foresworn Freemasons easy to find, even recently with the violent acts of Anders Behring Breivik.

We might be tempted to claim that none of these oath-breakers “truly” believed or were “truly” Freemasons.  The word “truly” being thrown around as the excuse of the morally self-righteous.  The fact is list of perfect men filling the ranks of Freemasonry, if extant, is short; more likely it has never existed.  
It would stand to reason that if the oath of a believer is easily breakable as provable by history, and if the oath of an atheist is easily keepable as provable by history, there might be another reason for the exclusion of atheist, or the reason for their exclusion must be superfluous.  
It is my contention that there is little in Masonic ritual or ancient customs that is superfluous and, that when the seemingly absurd is found within the ranks of our ancient teachings a great truth is often hidden within.  The absurd is ofttimes a road marker for hidden wisdom upon the path of Freemasonry.  The monitorial portion of the degrees of the Scottish Rite and our most Illustrious Brother Albert Pike would agree stating ofttimes that the symbol and rituals of the Craft intentionally conceal the true meaning of a thing and are designed to do just that.  Initiation, being a degreed system or graduated system reveals the truth in stages.  Likewise, the real secrets of Masonry seem more internal than external.  The most esoteric teachings of the Craft become so, it would seem, because of their ineffable nature.
This ineffability of the nature of our secrets gives way to the first hint of the authentic nature of the exclusion of atheist.  What would initially appear a Christian innovation or intolerant invention becomes an important safety mechanism that should adhered to in every instance for the spiritual safety of the practitioner as well for the preservation of the reputation of the institution.  
When Masonry is relegated to coronations, collars, and back slapping there is little room for an argument of great spiritual sagacity for the prohibition of atheist.  When Masonic meetings are little more than minutes and self-aggrandizing minutia the genuine reason for excluding atheist seems more of a personal preference that our devolution into a “look how great I am club.”  The state of our Fraternity and our participation in its less than humble or giving activities is a matter of personal embarrassment when witnessed by non-believers.  For the non-believer, it would be better that they were kept in the dark as to our personal needs of over elevation for little accomplished, as we would like to keep the public image of a humble souled philanthropist with a devote faith in God.  Better to be a working tool of the Divine in the eyes of the damned than a hypocrite with human failings and little humility.
But, if Masonry is more than a dressed up fish-fry or a dressed down Star and Garter, then we must answer the difficult question of what Masonry “is.”  This is no small task within the confines of a Masonic culture in which it is more popular to declare Masonry undefinable, because to define it takes work and labor.  It is much easier, albeit intellectually dishonest, to declare Masonry all things to all men so that we need not study and work to come up with a definition and, therefore, application in our daily lives.  Also, to define the Craft beyond a good old boys club carries the risk of upsetting the good old boys.  Masonry is relegated to a two hour block of time in a lodge room, instead of a philosophy of such depth and greatness it changes lives and simultaneously the world.
For the sake of this paper, we will define the “IS” of Masonry through the language of Masonry; it symbols.
The 47th Problem of Euclide is a common symbol within several of the Masonic rites whose first appearance within Masonic ritual dates back to at least the 17th century. 
We read in General Ahiman Rezon of 1868 by Daniel Sickels
 the following description of the symbol and its place in Masonry:
“THE FORTY-SEVENTH PROBLEM OF EUCLID.
This was an invention of our ancient friend and brother, the great Pythagoras, who, in his travels through Asia, Africa, and Europe, was initiated into the several orders of priesthood. and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. This wise philosopher enriched his mind abundantly in a general knowledge of things and more especially in Geometry, or Masonry. On this subject he drew out many problems and theorems; and, among the most distinguished, he erected this, which, in the joy of his heart, he called EUREKA, in the Grecian language signifying I have found it; and upon the discovery of which he is said to have sacrificed a hecatomb. It teaches Masons to be general lovers of the arts and sciences.”
This description is common it or some version similar or nearing it can be found within most of the lectures of the third degree in the United States of America, Emulation Ritual, and within several Scottish Lodges.
By 1723 the 47th Problem of Euclid was so entrenched in Speculative Masonry, that it was made part of Anderson’s Constitutions.  Much attention has been given this “Pythagorean Theorem,” and Bromwell goes so far as to provide the triangle is the only important symbol, the squares being only for illustrative purposes.  Bromwell was mistaken.
The illusion is multi-fold.  The cube is the symbol of man.  Metatron’s Cube, the cube as a platonic solid, and many of the great mystical traditions provide the cube as both the basic building material of matter and a geometric representation of man.  The true building block of the inner and outer temple, the real and spiritual architecture of the universe.

We see see Pharaoh seated upon a cube as an allusion to this very fact.  Hindu gods are depicted as standing upon a cube as a symbol of the Divine over man.  It is not uncommon to see the cube tied directly to this idea both in religion and in architecture.  As noted by Tiffany Whitmire in her article on the topic relates the following:
 “2. The Hindus

Before the Hindus erect any type of building, large or small, for religious purposes they first perform a simple geometric construction on the ground. This means that they construct a square from establishing due East and West. It is from this square that they lay out the entire building. The geometric construction is associated by prayers and religious observances.
3. The Christians

The cross is used as the major emblem for the Christian religion. In geometrical terms the cross, elaborated in the Medieval period, is the form of an unfolded cube. It was also associated with kingship. Many of the Gothic chuches were built by proportions derived from the geometry inherent in the cube or the double-cube. Many Christian churches are still built in this form today.
4. The Ancient Egyptians

The ancient Egyptians used regular polygons in their construction, but discovered that these polygons could be increased while keeping the ratio of their sides by the addition of a strictly constructed area. This was named the "gnomon" by the Greeks. The god Osiris was given the recognition for the concept of the ratio-retaining expansion of a rectangular area. Egyptians also used the square as a symbol of kingship.”
So it is unlikely the square or cube as used to illustrate the 47th Problem of Euclide means nothing.  It is unnecessary to draw more than a line to illustrate the triangle and the more common way of illustrating the theorem is circle, not a series of squares.  So again, it is unlikely the square or cube mean nothing.  Further, whenever the number three appears in Masonry, it is intentional.  We must give some attention to the fact that it is three squares or cubes that define the triangle in illustrative measure.
The metaphysical nature of Pythagoras and his disciples is in little question.  Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any symbols used or created by Pythagoras or his followers had no spiritual value or connotation.  To the contrary, Pythagoras was revered more the metaphysical nature of his work, than the purely geometric nature of it.  In ancient times it is likely the stiffly drawn lines in our present day culture were not as defined.
We find ourselves as Masons faced with the obvious conclusions.  First, that Masonry is philosophical, is special and is designed to impart a truth.  Masonry reveres Pythagoras and this theorem for the same reasons Plato and Aristotle did, he was a spiritual leader and teacher.  A philosopher of the greatest kind that would give birth to a new metaphysical culture.
Since we have nothing written from the hand of Pythagoras himself, we must examine what is known about him and of him in order to form some level of conclusion.  In this regard, deduction of the symbols becomes the surest way to decipher their meaning.
Breaking Down the Symbol
1.  The cube since the most ancient of periods has been associated with man and the material. 
2.  The cube appears three times as part of the common Masonic symbol of the 47th Problem of Euclid.  
3.  Man persuades (and lies) in threes.
4.  The triangle is a symbol of the Divine in many cultures.

5.  The right triangle has been used in ancient architecture and building for thousands of years and is associated, likewise with the Divine.
The 47th Problem of Euclid is a roadmap for the Divine and, in turn, gives us a clue to the origins of our own Masonic philosophies.  
The three squares or cubes relate to the tripartite nature of man.  The fact that they illustrate the symbol of the Divine provides the message that man, the universe, and the nature of things can be understood by looking and discovering within man, that all truth and all things Divine can be discovered within man himself.  The search is in Masonry is an internal and not an external one.
Eureka, the term ascribed to Pythagoras in Masonic lore upon discover of this ancient truth stems from the Greek “heureka” and means, I have found it.”  Masonry could be hard to define for some, but it must be a search for light if our rituals contain any truth at all, as the candidate repeatedly declares his thirst for light and repeatedly is said to receive it.  Light is knowledge and I have failed to provide an endnote on this, for any man a Mason who declares that the light referred to in the degrees is other than this, we are so far apart in our agreement on the issue, and they so far outside of a realistic understanding of degrees, there is nothing I can write for him to bring to said light.  Go linger in the darkness, this article is not for you.
The light of Masonry is a Divine Light, and that light is now illustrated to exist within the tripartite nature of man as illustrated by our symbols.
Eureka!  I also declare, for we have found it and it is within us!
The journey of Masonry is a Gnostic one.  It is an Enlightenment Era invention predicated on the ancient mystery schools that declare, “I warn you, whoever you are.  Oh, you who wish to probe the arcanes of nature, if you do not find within yourself that which you seek, neither shall you be able to find it outside.  If you ignore the excellencies of your own house, how do you intend to find other excellencies?  In you is hidden the treasure of treasures. Oh, man, know thyself and thou shall know the Universe and the Gods!”
The Enlightenment had ushered in an Era of Reason, so much so, that it threatened to dislodge the spiritual from its rightful place in the balanced life of a man.  The pendulum was beginning to swing so violently away from the Age of Superstition, that even dreams were disregarded as irrational and intellectuals were made to feel less so for having had them.
Masonry served and serves as a mystical tradition that inculcates balance and instructs the candidate that the Divine is within.  This approach could be identified as Hermetic or relating to the teaching of Hermes, who is sometimes associated with Hiram.

This is partially mistaken and does not take into the account the distinctly Christian flavor of the Enlightenment in Europe or the overtly Christian references purposely removed from Masonic ritual during the unification of the modern and antient grand lodges in England.  It was at this time that the Craft was purposely demystified to some degree in hopes of making it more appear more overtly universal.

The belief that the degrees were less than universal at the time comes from the misunderstanding of the mystical or Gnostic Christian references as literal.  When taken in the Gnostic manner in which they were intended, the true beauty of the ritual can be understood.
The Swedish Rite of Freemasonry is a perfect example of how a purely Gnostic tradition contains direct Christian references that in no way require a belief in a literal Christ and, in some regards, are harmed by such a literal approach to their interpretation.  In many ways, it is quite sad that this beautiful tradition has been closed Christians alone.  
Hiram himself is purposely modeled after Jesus in the Gnostic sense.  This being the only logical conclusion when all the other aspects of the Craft are Judaic in nature.  The messianic portion must be Christian in flair.  This, in turn, is Gnostic.
Gnosticism is nothing more Christianized Hermeticism.  Freemasonry is the Enlightenment Era mysticism with Christian overtones, resulting in its Gnostic message in lieu of the pagan Hermetic one.  The Gnostic message, heretical as it was in Enlightenment Era Europe, was still more acceptable in nature than the pre-Christian Hermetic one.
The frightening truth of this message is that it is distinctly not in keeping with the current evangelical message of Christian fundamentalist which have rightly identified Masonry as an enemy.  Masonry seeks to provide a path to the Divine within, and removes all pretense and ceremony the church would have you believe is necessary for salvation.
Masonic salvation comes in the form of a moral and just life, and exist for the candidate in the here and now; Masonry is not a religion, because the existence of of organized worship is superstitious in comparison to Gnosticism.  
Within Gnosticism, God is within you and all around you all the time and the false perception of the fall of man, or the absence of the presence of God is a false one.  So just as the triangle of Pythagoras is within the squares, so to God dwells within.  Yet, he can be seen throughout everything everywhere.  One might say the wisdom of God can be traced through the whole of nature and His glory firmly established by simply experiencing nature and life.
Which brings us to our “stupid atheist.”  
If the point of the journey is to find the Divine nature of man, then the atheist can not complete this journey; for at the end of it, he must slump exhausted and have no faith to rely on.  
The man who begins the journey, the profane, is said to be in denial of his true Divine nature.  If the end of the journey is designed to reveal this truth, what good would the journey do for man whose label requires him to deny this.
The word stupid derives from the Latin stupidus and means confounded.  Confounded derives from the same origins as damned, or damaged.
  This is an apt description of what happens or could happen to a man exposed to the truth for which he is ill prepared.
Within the mystical traditions there is a belief that those ill prepared to confront their Divine nature, or confront it before they are initiated will be driven mad, or produce the opposite effect of wisdom.
Our very own Masonic first Grand Master, King Solomon himself, was said to be driven to madness.  This comes after using the high truth of the nature of things to build his Temple.  Harnessing the wisdom of demons, he grows arrogant, and is subsequently driven mad.  
The exclusion of atheist is a safety mechanism built in to a Gnostic tradition.  The atheist, living an out of balance life, much like the fundamentalist on the other end of the scale, is deemed “not ready” to confront his nature, much more than he is deemed unfit.

1 Albert G. Mackey, A Textbook of Masonic Jurisprudence, (New York: Macoy, 1858)
2 Reverend James Anderson D.D., Constitutions of Freemasonry 1723, (Whitefish: Kessinger, 2004)
3 Rabie Jarmakani. Personal Interview. 4 July 2011.
4 John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration and early Enlightenment Culture, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)
5 H.L. Haywood, The Newly-Made Mason:  What He and Every Mason Should Know About Masonry, (Chicago: The Masonic History Company, 1948)
6 David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie, (New York: Penguin, 2007)
7 David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie, (New York: Penguin, 2007)
8 Andrew Carnegie, The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and The Gospel of Wealth, (Seattle:  Createspace, 2010)
9 Chris Hodapp, “More on the Norway Killer’s Masonic and Templar Connections,” Freemasonry for Dummies, 28 July 2011.
10 Daniel Sickels, General Ahiman Rezon, (New York:  Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing Company, 1868)
11 Reverend James Anderson D.D., Constitutions of Freemasonry 1723, (Whitefish:  Kessinger, 2004)
12 Henry P.H. Bromwell, Restorations of Masonic Geometry and Symbolry, (Denver:  Henry P.H. Bromwell Masonic Publishing Company, 1905)
13 Stephen Skinner, Sacred Geometry:  Deciphering the Code, (New York:  Sterling, 2009)
14 Tiffany Whitmire, “Sacred Geometry,”  Sweet Briar College, September 1998 .
15 Huffman, Carl, "Pythagoras", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =
16 Cliff Porter, The Secret Psychology of Freemasonry, (Colorado:  Starr Publishing, 2011)
17 “A Study in Graphic Symbolism,” The Shrine of Wisdom, Volume 30 (Surrey, England:  Fintry Trust, 1926)
18 Douglas Harper, “Eureka,”  Online Etymology Dictionary,
19 William J. Broad, The Oracle:  Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets, (New York:  Penguin, 2007)
20 John Gascoigne, Science, Philosophy and Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, (London:  Ashgate Variorum Publishing, 2010)
21 Manly P. Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, (Los Angeles:  Hall Publishing, 1924) 
22 Julian Rees, “Through Ritual To Enlightenment,” Pietre-Stones:  Review of Freemasonry, 20 March 2003,
23 Douglas Harper, “Damn,”  Online Etymology Dictionary,
24 F. F. Fleck, Wissenschaftliche Reise durch das südliche Deutschland, Italien, Sicilien und Frankreick,(Leipzig, 1837)

3 comments:

gnocis said...

An interesting and thoughtful article. I agree with much of it, but I question several propositions, however. As to the agreements, it seems likely that the origins of Freemasonry are linked with Gnostic heterodoxy, the mystery schools and the Pythagorean mystery school in particular (and hence the focus on geometry, numbers, and symbols). I suspect that there is likely also some relationship with the Templars as a vehicle of or mingling with heterodox views, likely of a Gnostic nature. This much seems reasonable.

I would also agree that it would be wrong to say that the oath of an atheist cannot be relied upon, however I am not sure that ancient brethren would have similarly enlightened views on the matter. Atheists have been barred from giving testimony in courts and from holding public office. Such laws are allegedly still on the books in some of the United States. So there is precedent in the barring atheist oaths, particularly given the formula of Masonic oaths which invoke Deity.
Additionally, I would argue that the bar against unbelievers cannot be to prevent mental illness or futile labor in the Craft. While there are many laudable aspects to the Craft, I suspect that in general there is rather a dearth of gnostic adepts notably laboring at any given time in even the most illustrious and active lodges. This is to say that there are rather a lot of folks who join a lodge, and do not contemplate the symbolism or meaning of the rituals. An atheist would be no worse off, and no less or more enlightened in such a lodge than would be rather a lot of believing brothers. In fact, one might argue, a thoughtful atheist brother would potentially benefit from contemplation of the Craft's symbolism and ritual to an even greater degree (pun unintended) than believing brothers. Masonry encourages and celebrates virtuous action, self-reflection, community service and various other laudable goals.

Furthermore, if one accepts your premise (which I do not) that an atheist, per se, is living an imbalanced life, then one excellent consequence of an atheist brother would be exposure to the enlightenment values and the attempt at rational and universalized, non-sectarian religious attitude that Freemasonry embodies.

gnocis said...

I do think that the prohibition, as it is stated, means what it states. The prohibition is against "stupid atheist or irreligious libertine." The two categories thus prohibited appear, in my entirely nonbinding opinion, to be against men so stupid as to be incapable of believing in Deity (or likely many other concepts) and those who do not believe in Deity because they would prefer to avoid sanctions against their own behavior (the "antitheist"). The former would include those whose attitude is "I only believe in that which I can sense with my 5 senses," and the former would be those whose attitude is "I don't care to contemplate such things, as belief would interfere with my ability to freely engage in my favored forms of debauchery." Neither of these are principled, reasoned, or thoughtful positions, rather they are brutish, sensational and cynical positions... in the more classic meanings of these words.


The existence of the prohibition against atheists, much like the prohibition against initiating women into Freemasonry, does speak to an apparent long-standing desire by these groups to gain admittance. I do not think either prohibition speaks to either group being unfit for Masonic symbolism or Gnostic mysteries. Pythagoras, in fact, did have women among his adherents, and in some of the Christian Gnostic religions women were admitted to priesthood. Furthermore, the article does not address the interpreted modern extension of the prohibition to include Deists. It seems rather odd that while Masonry has redefined de facto polytheistic religions (Hinduism and Mormonism being the two that come to mind) as "legally monotheistic," it seems to have gone the other way in declaring Deism as insufficient for admittance to the craft. Considering that the forms and rituals of Freemasonry are entirely consistent with Deism, this seems peculiar to me. Perhaps you have a different perspective on the matter. However, even in the sublime degree the prayer is more adulation and encouragement than petition, and leads not to a miracle, but rather to experimentation and the exercise of rational thought to solve what is in essence a physics problem. One might, in fact, call the ritual a "non-miracle play."


Given the outward progression of the candidate from the first question to the final close of the second half of the third degree, one might actually argue quite the opposite position to the one your article suggests. The thoughtful atheist might be said to have already derived the tenets attested to by the Masonic rituals--rationality, experimentation and self-reliance without anticipation of miraculous intervention. The rational atheist might therefore be unfit for initiation because he has already learned the principles inculcated within the rituals! :)
I would be most interested in your responses.

Sean Sadel-Stevens said...

I enjoyed both the article and Gnocis's comments as I think I may be classifiable as an atheist or anti-theist myself. Though I am increasingly aware of the structural beauty of this universe and the part of it that is my consciousness. There is certainly a fractal like quality to everything an alpha to omega mirroring of sorts. I think my lack of dogma would be virtuous.