On a recent trip by train I ran into a friendly and helpful fellow, a native of France who had worked in the US. As we exchanged info and I identified my self as a Secular Humanist, he surprised me by saying, "Isn't that a bit like Free Masonry? " I hadn't made the connection and some early Mason statements do talk about a belief in God along with their three great benign principles:
- Brotherly Love – Every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures.
- Relief – Freemasons are taught to practice charity, and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving, and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals.
- Truth – Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives.but indeed a quick comparison of values confirmed that we both had an interest in a secular non-religious society, separation of church and state, equality, tolerance, and a general concern with individual liberties.
Tom Flynn's New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, does not have an entry for Free Masons. But my new traveling friend assured me that modern Free Masonry, at least in France is more secular and follows the post French Revolutionary idea of laïcité (which is discussed in the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief) a concept denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs.
As noted in one article at http://www.praxislodge.org/
humanism-secularism.html, generally there are some common key principles and values that show up in things Manifestos by the Mason and Secularists:
- Freedom of conscience of all people, and that it is an essential component of liberty, equality and fraternity
- Separation of religion and government, and religious and spiritual tolerance among all people.
- Freedom of the press as a necessary component of maintaining the inalienable rights of all human beings, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- The need for higher education and life-long learning
- An impartial judiciary system as essential to guaranteeing the preservation of human rights
- Arts and sciences as essential elements in the progress and evolution of humanity
- Efforts that work towards global environmental and ecological sustainability as essential to the survival of the human species
After the trip it took me only a little while to track down the history of position of Liberal European Freemasonry regarding religion. In 1877 the Grand Orient of France decided to abolish the requirement that a candidate profess a belief in God. A blog on Free Masonry discusses how they defined their position:
"Whereas Freemasonry is not a religion and has therefore no
doctrine or dogma to affirm in its constitution, this Assembly has
decided and decreed that the second paragraph of Article 1, of the
Constitution (requiring a belief in Deity) shall be erased, and that for the words
of the said article the following shall be substituted:
"Being an Institution essentially philanthropic, philosophic, and
progressive, Freemasonry has for its object, search after truth,
study of universal morality, science and arts, and the practice of
benevolence. It has for its principles absolute liberty of
conscience and human solidarity. It excludes no person on account
of his belief, and its motto is 'Liberty, Equality and
They went bit further discussing the freedom of beliefs in a January, 1918 statement that is attributed to a member of the Grand Orient of France in the article:
"The Grand Orient of France and the Three Great Lights" published in the Builder:
"The Grand Orient of France, while it respects all philosophical
beliefs, insists upon absolute liberty of belief. This does not
mean that we banish from our lodges the belief in God. The United
Grand Lodge of England on the contrary desires to make a belief in
God in some manner compulsory. The Grand Orient of France is much
more liberal, since in proclaiming the absolute liberty of belief
it permits to each one of its members the liberty to believe or not
to believe in God, and by so doing desires to respect its members
in their convictions, their doctrines and their beliefs."
Free Masons, like other freethinking groups, do have a continuum of people who tend to be non-religious but tolerate religious members. Some might say they are secular rather than anti-religious.
Trowel at Free Mason site: http://www.pearltrees.com/#/N-f=1_1037884&N-fa=1034623&N-p=6839215&N-play=0&N-s=1_1037884&N-u=1_94762
French Secularism: http://galliawatch.blogspot.com/2010/12/les-assises.html