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It is characteristic of secret societies that are no longer secret that they are shrouded in mystery and consequently the subject of much speculation and vulnerable to public vilification.

Freemasonry is no exception. Recent publications attest to this. Instances are Born in Blood and The Lodge and the Temple.

What are the conditions of membership? Belief in a Supreme Being. Why not belief in God? Why allude to a Supreme Being? In the 18th Century (1700's) in Europe, where and when Freemasonry is supposed to have been officially constituted, Europe was predominantly Christian. Jews and Muslims, as well as Catholics themselves, had endured centuries of persecution by the Papacy, which then was not only a spiritual but also a temporal power. Why worry about how one referred to God?

Can an atheist be a Mason? The French Grand Lodge was put into darkness by the Grand Lodge of England for accepting an atheist as members of the Order. Why is belief in God a necessary condition of becoming a Mason? Some say because the oath of an atheist would be meaningless without a belief in God. The oath is taken on a sacred book, one which is supposed to contain divinely inspired teachings from God to man. Furthermore, that oath was to safeguard the life and security of each member of the Order and their families.

Can a non-Christian be a Mason? The Prussian Grand Lodge was investigated by the English Grand Lodge in 1846 for denying Jews entrance to lodge meetings. As a result, the Purssian Grand Lodge finally admitted Jews. They excluded Jews on the basis that they were non-Christians and non-Christian could not belong to the fraternity.

It is well to remember that the Old Charges of Ancient Freemasonry alluded to men who had differences of relious opinion at a time when both state and church law would tolerate no such differences. The Church at Rome was a powerful, unyielding militant force and persecuted people as heretics who did not fully accept and adhere to its teachings. Men at odds with the dogma of Rome would need to be protective of each other, since betrayal might cost him his life and disenfranchise his family. Church and state were intermeshed, even as late as the reign of Elizabeth I, when 300 Catholics were beheaded for staying with the Roman faith. The charge against them, however, was "treason against the crown." Religious freedom has always had a perilous path. Even today those who were persecuted for their religion in the past have restricted freedom of religion, thinking that by doing so they will preserve their religious heritage. The persecuted become the perscutor, perhaps without intending to. Religious persecution seems to be the natural proclivity of the theocratic state.

Is not Freemasonry a religion of sorts? In the Charges given to an initiate, the newly made Mason is advised not to engage in Lodge in discussion of relgion or politics. While this is not a subject of his oath, nor a Masonic law, or embedded in the Constitution of Grand Lodge, the Mason is charged to observe this practice as an important part of being a Mason, if not an essential characteristic of Masonic conduct. Such essential characteristics of Masonry are called "landmarks".

Historians of the origins of Masonry would do well to viewit in the context of the culture and era in which it came to light as a fraternal order. It provided a protection for those whose beliefs were at odds with the Church of Rome, and whose very life might be jeopardized because of their beliefs. A fraternal order, such as freemasonry became, would afford such people shelter from the Church of Rome, or any other political authority, which might be all-powerful and have the power of life and death over the people.

Today we still have nations where it is not safe to express one's politico-religious beliefs without threat of imprisonment and disenfranchisement. Western society, for the most part, is more accepting of people with differing religious beliefs. If we are not protective of this tolerance, we may yet descend to the depths of darkness which our forebears experienced in the 13, 14, 15 hundreds.

Does freemasonry condone all religious belief, all religious practice? What about Satanism? What value is freedom of belief by itself? Is this freedom a kind of intellectual permissiveness? Can I believe anything I want and expect people to tolerate my beliefs? What if no one knows what I truly believe? What if I keep my own counsel? Is our basic freedom simply to be able to ask questions, to imagine alternatives, to exercise human reason.

Is universal religion vital to orderly, efficient government? Yes, in an autocratic society.

In the 13th Century tens of thousands of all ages, both male and female, were butchered as Cathar heretics in the Albigensian Crusade in southern France. Before attacking the city of Beziers, the Commander asked how the troops could recognize heretics from the faithful. The papal legate replied: Kill them all. God will recognize his own. The slaughter lasted five years (1209-1244). From that pursuit of heretic Cathars, the Dominican Order was founded. Out of that movement came the Holy Office of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, an axymoron if ever there was one.

The greatest throught to freedom loving people everywhere is the demand that no one question the part line.

Are there not party lines in Freemasonry, in Political Parties, in Religious Sects, in Education, in Medicine, in Law, etc.

Suppressing doubt and inquiry is most likely to lead to a diminishing of personal dignity and to a physical oppresion of the human spirit. Freemasonry in such an environment would be a high risk proposition.

If you were a Templar in a relgious order under the direct command of the Pope and your knights, priests and sergeants of the order were rejected by the Pope, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, burned at the stake, what would you do?

You might reject allegiance to the Pope. Then, what kind of Christian would you be?

You might reject your allegiance to the King? Then, what kind of citizen would you be?

You might reject your belief in God? On the basis that rejection by the Pope meant rejection by God? Recall that these people were largely an illiterate and relatively uneducated people.

You might retain your belief in God, but reject the authority of the papacy and the teachings of the church about God.

You might reject the particular pope which had betrayed you, rather than rejecting the authority of the papacy. The basis: the pope had abused his authority.

You might reject the idea of the papacy altogether.

There may be no one answer what to do. But in common, there could be a desire to remain free, to get help to survive, to give help to others in like circumstances. Thus may have arisen the need for, and importance of, oaths sworn for mutual protection and succour. The oath was not that a Mason should punish another Mason who violated his oath, but to swear to God, saying may God bring to pass the punishment mentioned in the oath. This may smell of sophistry, but it is a point seldom, if ever, mentioned when the penalty of the oath is discussed in Masonic gatherings.