Sectarianism and Freemasonry
By Bro. Geo. W. Warvelle
Being myself a Greek pagan of the New Academy, though not without a strong leaning toward the Stoics, I have always indulged in the utmost eclecticism in matters of religion. And because I am unbiased in this respect I have not only been tolerant of all men's religious opinions, but am enabled to see beauty and truth in many places where my more circumspect brethren see only idolatry, superstition and falsehood. In my writings I have always felt free to roam at my own sweet will through whatever pastures presented themselves and to cull the flowers that therein grew, without a thought as to their botanical significance. It is enough for me that they are beautiful. Therefore, whether uttered by Jesus, Buda or Mohamed, the message of truth is to me the same. But, I am digressing. However, that is a fault of my composition that, I doubt not, you have long since discovered.
Now, what is Freemasonry? Is it something apart from the world, or is it of it? By becoming Freemasons do we cease to possess individuality? A serious consideration of these cogent questions may not be unprofitable to us all. Again, is Freemasonry religious or is it only ethical? If the former, is it cast in any mould or does each one make his own creed? If the latter, is its morality subjective or objective? And if objective, then from what sources do we receive our morality ? A few more questions worthy of a little serious thought.
I have many times heard it stated, that inasmuch as the legend of the Royal Arch is Semitic, therefore the Old Testament canon should alone furnish the basis of our religious thought as Royal Arch Masons. Indeed, this seems to be a generally accepted principle by Grand High Priests, as is evidenced by the pious hortatorical introductions and fervent conclusions of their annual addresses in the terms of Old Testament theology. But, while it is true that the legend is Semitic it is not true that it is Scriptural. On the contrary, it is distinctly unscriptural. Not only is there not a line in the Old Testament that supports the legend, but it is opposed by all the known facts of history. The legend, then, is only a symbol and as such is compatible with all religions. Hence, there is, and can be, no sectarianism in Freemasonry, for each may interpret the symbol for himself and all will be right however much they may seem to disagree.
The Masonic fraternity of the United States is a composite of many races, with their differing views of morals and religion. It assumes, in theory at least, to reconcile these diverse and oftentimes antagonistic views by reducing them to a common formula which the old charges call, "The religion in which all men agree." It assumes to provide a common meeting ground for men of different races and religions, and thus to promote the harmony of friendship among those who otherwise "must have remained at a perpetual distance." But what is the religion "in which all men agree" ? Does such a thing exist outside of the fertile imaginations of ritual compilers? Who can define its essence or state its principles? As a matter of fact is it not a Utopian dream, that never did and never will become a reality? Notwithstanding that they are all Freemasons the Christian remains a Christian, the Jew a Jew, the Moslem a Moslem. They each adore an abstraction which they call God, but each has his own concept, and this concept utterly excludes that of the others. So has it ever been, so will it be while frail humanity retains its present mould.
There is, then, no religion "in which all men agree," but each of us who would truly and reverently worship the Deity "in spirit and in truth," must be left to form his own conceptions of that Deity, and of His essence and attributes. This, as I understand it, is what is meant by the Masonic doctrine of toleration. Not that we must all reduce ourselves to the dull level of an undefined world-extensive creed.
If this be true then what shall be classed as sectarianism in Freemasonry? If the Jew prays to Yahweh shall he then give offense to the Moslem who says there is no God but Allah, or if the Christian seeks his God through the mediation of Jesus, or perchance the intercession of the Saints, will he thereby become a stumbling block to the Jew? And how about the pagans, like your uncle, who look through nature up to nature's God? Must not our prayers, if they are sincere, be made through the channels of our own faith not those of another?
I think it may be safely asserted that the all-including universal church, without denomination, sect or cult, will never materialize. Indeed, the tendency of the times is in the opposite direction. Nor do I know that such a church is a consummation at all to be wished. In fact, it seems as though the religious nature of man requires this diversity; that creeds, sects and cults are necessary, and that even those which appear narrow, bigoted or even fantastic may yet afford outlet for the spiritual life of undeveloped souls.
And so, "let every man be persuaded in his own mind," we may still be brothers, or, at all events, we can be cousins. However much we may disagree in articles of faith we may yet be in unison respecting the import of the symbols.
-Source: The Builder April 1916