What’s the Alternative

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An order with secret rites, grotesque ceremonies, and fantastic costumes, which, originating in the reign of Charles II among working artisans in London, has been joined successively by the dead of past centuries in unbroken retrogression until now it embraces all the generations of man on the hither side of Adam and is drumming up distinguished recruits among the pre-Creational inhabitants of Chaos and the Formless Void.

 —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Many tribal peoples have both all-male and all-female secret societies, which help maintain the cultural values or reality-tunnel. Freemasonry is certainly the largest, probably the oldest, and still the most controversial of the all-male secret societies surviving in our world. No two scholars can even agree on how old it is, much less on how "good" or "evil" it is. (See "Born in Blood" for one book tracing it back to the Middle Ages; Masonic works of the last century traced it back much, much further, inspiring Bierce's sarcasm above.)

Although Masonry is often denounced as either a political or religious "conspiracy," Freemasons are forbidden to discuss either politics or religion within the lodge. Gary Dryfoos of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who maintains the best Masonic site on the web, always stresses these points and also offers personal testimony that after many years as a Mason, including high ranks, he has not yet been asked to engage in pagan or Satanic rituals or to plot for or against any political party. The only values taught in all Masonic lodges, Dryfoos and other Masons say, are charity, tolerance, and brotherhood. The more rabid anti-Masons, of course, dismiss such testimony as flat lies.

The enemies of Masonry, who are usually Roman Catholics or Fundamentalist Protestants, insist that the rites of the order contain "pagan" elements. This is probably true, but only to the extent that these religions themselves contain "pagan" elements, e.g., the Yule festival, the Spring Solstice festival, the dead-and-resurrected martyr (Jesus, allegedly historical, to Christians; Hiram, admittedly allegorical, to Masons). All these and many other elements in Christianity and Masonry have a long prehistory in paganism, as documented in the 12 volumes of Sir James George Frazer's Golden Bough.

The major offense of Masonry to orthodox churches is that it, like the First Amendment, encourages equal tolerance for all religions, and this tends, somewhat, to lessen dogmatic allegiance to any one religion. Those who insist you must accept their dogma fervently and renounce all others as devilish errors, correctly see this Masonic tendency as inimitable to their faith.