On Sunday, October 11, 2009, The New York Times Book Review will publish a review by Maureen Dowd of Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol. That review is available on-line here. (The weekday edition of the Times previously published a review of The Lost Symbol by Janet Maslin; that review, which appeared on Monday, September 14, is available here.)
Ms. Dowd’s review contains much inaccurate or misleading information about Freemasonry. This blog post is one of a series in which I address the inaccuracies about Freemasonry that occur in Ms. Dowd’s review. Links to the rest of the posts in the series may be found here.
What Ms. Dowd Has to Say
At one point in her review, Ms. Dowd states the following:
My dad always said in his day that the Masons were not welcoming to Catholics. The Catholic Church once considered the Masons so anti-Catholic, Catholics who joined were threatened with excommunication.
Is this true? Are Masons unwelcoming to Catholics? Are Masons anti-Catholic, in any way?
Masons Are Entirely Welcoming to Catholics
I would have a very hard time finding any evidence in my own experience for the proposition that Masons were somehow ‘unwelcoming’ to Catholics. This is because the Master of my home Lodge when I became a Master Mason—the senior executive officer, as it were, of my home Lodge—is himself a Roman Catholic. The Master in my home Lodge changes every year at the annual elections (often the case in Masonic lodges; some lodges do give two-year terms to their Masters). At least one of the Masters that my home Lodge has had in subsequent years is a Roman Catholic, as well.
Freemasonry forbids Masons to consider someone’s religious affiliation when deciding whether to admit that person to the Fraternity. In fact, in most Masonic jurisdictions (certainly every one with which I am familiar), it is actually forbidden for Masons even to ask about the religious affiliation of a candidate. Yes, it is a strict and absolute requirement that a successful candidate for Freemasonry must believe in a Supreme Being. (In many jurisdictions, the precise requirement is a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, and a belief in the immortality of the human soul.) However, candidates are free to believe whatever they wish about that Supreme Being, without jeopardizing their candidacy for Freemasonry. Candidates are also free to hold any religious affiliation that they wish, or none at all—Freemasonry simply considers such things a matter of individual conscience.
Indeed, Freemasonry forbids any discussion of sectarian religion or partisan politics in the Lodge. (I am speaking of North American lodges; some Masonic organizations in other parts of the world have different practices.)
In sum: Freemasonry is entirely welcoming to Catholics, whether they seek to learn more about Freemasonry or not.
Masons Are Not Anti-Catholic in Any Way
What does it mean to be ‘anti-Catholic’? Let’s consider some possibilities.
- Would it be anti-Catholic to teach that Catholic doctrine is incorrect? That seems a bit harsh as a judgment, given that different people will have different beliefs, but it really does not matter: Freemasonry does not do this. Any discussion, pro or con, regarding sectarian religious doctrine is forbidden in the Lodge. Freemasonry takes no position on the truth or falsehood of specific religious doctrines, beyond a basic belief in the existence of a Supreme Being and a belief in the immortality of the human soul. (Of course, individual Freemasons are welcome to their own opinions—something that is the very essence of freedom of conscience—although they are to keep those opinions to themselves, in the Lodge.)
- Would it be anti-Catholic to try to restrict the freedom of Catholics to practice their faith? Would it be anti-Catholic to discriminate against Catholics in terms of civil rights? Certainly either of these practices would be anti-Catholic—but Freemasonry does not do either of these things. In an indirect way, 18th century American Freemasons—through their support of the Bill of Rights—showed a strong support for freedom of religion in the United States. That’s just the Masonic way.
- Would it be anti-Catholic to discriminate against Catholics who wish to become Masons? Sure it would be—but Freemasonry does not do this. As I mentioned in the previous section of this post, Freemasons are actually forbidden to consider a candidate’s religious affiliation in making decisions about admitting someone to the Fraternity.
- Would it be anti-Catholic to teach religious doctrine that is un-Catholic—that is, simply different than what Catholicism teaches? That also seems a bit harsh as a judgment, given that freedom of religion should not be considered a threat to Catholicism, but it really does not matter: Freemasonry does not do this, either. Freemasonry teaches no specific religious doctrines in the Lodge. Contrary to an opinion that one sometimes comes upon, Freemasonry does not teach Deism, which is a non-Catholic form of religion. This is a point I explain comprehensively in a post on another blog, which you may read here.
It is true that Freemasonry, by and large, has shown a great deal of support for public education. In both Europe and the United States, one can come up with several examples of either Masonic Lodges or prominent individual Freemasons founding or supporting institutions of public education. However, support for public education is a long way off from anti-Catholicism, by any rational measure.
In sum: Freemasonry is not anti-Catholic. Rather, Freemasonry is entirely neutral with regards to Catholicism. (Of course, if a person thinks that religious neutrality or freedom of conscience are somehow ‘anti-Catholic’—well, then, we all have a more serious problem to deal with than the religious stance of Freemasonry.)
Ms. Dowd is simply wrong, plain and simple, about the stance of Freemasonry towards Catholics and Catholicism. Although I mean no disrespect to Ms. Dowd’s father, it seems that he was poorly informed about Freemasonry to start with. It is unfortunate that Ms. Dowd—a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who, frankly, ought to know better—simply seems to have accepted her father’s statements at face value, without checking into the facts of the matter.
Of course, this all raises the question of why Ms. Dowd’s father would have had these misconceptions about Freemasonry to start with. I shall deal with that in my next post, in which I will discuss the roots of the inaccurate perceptions that some people have had over the years regarding Freemasonry, specifically in relation to Roman Catholicism.
Basic questions about Freemasonry can be addressed to the author through the "Freemasonry 101" blog.
I discuss the basics of Freemasonry in my book, Freemasonry: An Introduction, which will shortly be available again through Amazon; interested readers may ask to be notified of this availability through sending me an e-mail at email@example.com .
I shall have a great deal to say about Freemasonry as it is depicted by The Lost Symbol in two places:
- one of my two chapters in the forthcoming book edited by Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer, Secrets of The Lost Symbol, which you can read about here;
- my own forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: Magic, Masonry, Noetic Science, and the Idea that We Can Become Gods. (Publishers’ and agents’ inquiries are welcome!)
[The photo of Whitby Abbey, at Whitby, North Yorkshire, England, was taken on January 28, 2008, by Stephen McCulloch. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and is used here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)