Freemasonry is a way in which men across the world can live their lives to their full potential while following a specific moral code.
Today there are more than six million Freemasons worldwide, and the fraternity has grown at an incredible rate since its inception in the early eighteenth century. Freemasons follow a strict moral code and a fundamental belief in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humankind.
Freemasonry is perhaps the most well-known of the world’s secret societies, and outsiders view the brotherhood with an air of mystique and intrigue. Freemasonry’s existence has given birth to countless conspiracy theories over the years, most of which are way off the mark.
Related: 41 Myths Of Freemasonry
Indeed, many erroneously believe Freemasonry to be a religion. But in reality, it is far from a religion and doesn’t profess to be one. While a requirement of Freemasonry is for men to believe in a supreme being, there is no necessity to believe in the Abrahamic God of Christianity or Islam, or any other specific God for that matter.
Freemasonry pertains to be an inclusive society, welcoming men from all religions in different countries across the world. Having said that, the majority of Freemasons are Protestant Christians. It is also widely known that Freemasonry has a bad relationship with the Catholic church and has done so for generations.
Perhaps one of the main reasons why Catholicism views Freemasonry in such disregard is because it sees it as a threat. Indeed, with the decline of cathedral building in the early eighteenth century, it’s known that stonemasons began accepting honorary members into their lodges to boost their numbers.
It is widely believed it is from these early beginnings that Freemasonry, as we know it today, was born, as men from all walks of life were accepted into the lodges of the stonemasons.
At its very essence, Freemasonry is about uniting men of good character and moral virtue, regardless of their ethnic or social backgrounds. Freemasonry then helps shape its members’ beliefs and integrity and encourages them to live a full and honest life shaped by the Masonic values.
In this post, we’re going to explore the fundamental beliefs at the core of Freemasonry to understand better what it means to be a Mason.
What is the structure of Freemasonry?
Before delving straight into examining Freemasonry’s belief systems, we first need to take a look at the structure of the fraternity to understand how their beliefs permeate through the fraternity.
Although Freemasonry is organized and follows a strict code of operation, there isn’t any controlling authority over the different Masonic groups in operation. It’s not like the Catholic church, for instance, where the Pope is in charge and watches over all of the Catholic congregations across the world.
Freemasonry is organized locally, and brothers are members of lodges. It is within these lodges that Masons meet regularly with one another and conduct ceremonies and rituals to ensure they are living by the moral code expected of Masons.
While all lodges follow the same principles and deliver the same teachings to the brothers within, their activities can differ significantly.
Although it’s common practice for lodges within the same geographic region to follow a similar code, the same can’t be said for lodges in different countries. You often find that lodges in other parts of the world conduct their meetings and general business differently from one another.
Every lodge is structured in the same way, though. There are three succinct degrees within each lodge, namely:
The degrees of Freemasonry are the way in which brothers identify with one another. When they begin their Masonic journey, they start as an Entered Apprentice. All Masons aspire to progress through the degrees to become a Master Mason eventually.
Meetings that take place within lodges are usually either formal or business. Formal meetings are where brothers dress in much of Freemasonry’s ceremonial garb to conduct a particular ritual or ceremony.
Business meetings are more informal and usually discuss the lodge activities and update the members on news or events that are upcoming.
Masonic lodges also arrange social events for their members, many of which are associated with charitable giving, a key component of Freemasonry in the modern-day.
As you can see, although there is no centralized control of Freemasonry, lodges are well structured and organized to ensure the key messages of Freemasonry are delivered to brothers the world over. Let’s move on and look at some of the beliefs of Masons.
What are the fundamental beliefs of a Freemason?
There are many misconceptions widely circulated about Freemasonry that are untrue. Freemasonry is not a religion, and it isn’t trying to replace religion.
Having said that, in order to be welcomed into the fraternity, a man must profess his belief in God, or as Freemasonry puts it, a supreme being or Supreme Architect.
For this reason, agnostics and atheists are not welcomed into Freemasonry. This is perhaps where a lot of the misconception arises from. Because belief in God is a pre-requisite to join Freemasonry, many believe that it, therefore, must be a religion.
Yet Freemasonry isn’t a religion because it doesn’t have any core beliefs as such and doesn’t follow the teachings of a prescribed holy book. More generally, Freemasonry reminds its brothers of the importance of self, family, community, and God.
Freemasonry should be understood as a Fraternity above all else, in which like-minded men share a common interest and a belief in the prosperity of their fellow man. Masons reveal in the friendship and mutual support they receive from their fellow brothers.
There are three central principles of Freemasonry:
- Brotherly love
You will notice that we didn’t say there are three central ‘beliefs’ of Freemasonry; instead, they are principles that guide Masons’ lives the world over. Let’s take a look at each of these principles in greater detail.
Freemasons believe in the equality of humankind and believe that the whole human race is one big family. Central to this belief system is the Masonic principle of brotherly love, which is deep-rooted in Freemasonry’s very existence.
When becoming a Mason, you pledge allegiance with your fellow brothers within the fraternity and commit to being equal to them and supporting them wherever possible through difficult times.
Masons pledge to aid, support, protect, and love their brothers, which is the very crux of the Masonic bond. This is part of the Masonic definition of charity, which is the greatest of all virtues.
To be a virtuous Mason, you must dismiss your ego and live in harmony with your fellow brothers, as well as your wider community. Charity in the Masonic sense can be as simple as showing love and support to your fellow man and is not necessarily about grandiose gestures to the world’s most needy.
Within the brotherly love principle, Masons are expected not to view fellow men as rich or poor, but equal. They are then expected to show the same amount of love and respect to each man, regardless of their socioeconomic situation.
An important teaching within Freemasonry is that your brothers’ needs are more important than your own desires, and a virtuous Mason will put his desires on hold in order to support and help their fellow brothers.
The concept of brotherly love is widely shared in many of the world’s most prominent religions and isn’t a surprising element of Freemasonry. Loving your brother and promising to be a better man is the fundamental principle of Freemasonry.
The second critical principle of Freemasonry is relief. Fundamental to comprehending the Masonic principle of relief is understanding the difference between sympathy and empathy.
Too often, people confuse sympathy and empathy as the same thing. They, therefore, believe that relief is sympathy, which it isn’t. Sympathy only requires pity and is something most people are capable of with little effort.
On the other hand, empathy requires a much more in-depth consideration of your fellow man. It encourages you to put yourself in their position to try and understand their situation. This way, you try and feel how they are feeling and are motivated to help them as a result.
In Freemasonry, relief is equated with empathy and requires brothers to put themselves in the position of others in order to perceive the situation and its related circumstances better.
Moreover, in Freemasonry, relief doesn’t just relate to money. It has a much deeper meaning and is in reference to physical and emotional help. For some, giving money is actually much easier than giving your time to help a particular cause.
Therefore, Masons are expected to be willing to give their time to support others where possible. Having a charitable spirit is crucial to Freemasonry, and brothers are expected to exercise this virtue at every opportunity.
Although not all about money, Masons raise over $3 million every day to support charity, which is a remarkable statistic when you think about it. The principle of relief goes hand in hand with brotherly love and forms the Masonic persona’s crux. Let’s now look at the third Masonic principle, truth.
Of the three principles, truth is perhaps the most controversial and the most difficult to unpick. On entering the lodge, Masons believe you are seeking the light as you are in the darkness and blindfolded on the outside, due to many reasons.
Within Freemasonry, the concept of light has a spiritual meaning and is about seeking truth and garnering knowledge, which in turn makes you a better person.
Masons seek knowledge to improve themselves, their families, and their communities, and involvement in their lodge helps them do this. They can gain knowledge from their brothers and also by reading Masonic books.
In Freemasonry, knowledge isn’t bestowed upon you; you have to seek knowledge for yourself. You can’t just remain ignorant or unaware of the changing world around you, and in order to move up the degrees of Freemasonry, you must acquire knowledge and share it with your fellow brothers.
Regarding Freemasonry’s spiritual truth, this is something that directly clashes with the teachings of Christianity and is why the seeking of truth for Masons is a little controversial.
If you happen to be a Christian and a lodge member, you’re not permitted to talk of Christ. You need to put aside your religious beliefs and appreciate the entity you understand to be God, as the Great Architect of the Universe.
For this reason, above all others, Catholicism and other sects of Christianity condemn Freemasonry, as they believe the Masonic teachings to be in direct contrast to their belief systems.
Conclusion: what do Freemasons believe in?
As we have explored, there are three guiding principles of Freemasonry: brotherly love, relief, and truth. While every Mason will have his own beliefs, he must commit to following these guiding principles in order to live a virtuous life and live by the Masonic code.
However, as a pre-requisite of joining the Freemasons, a brother must profess belief in a supreme being, which they learn throughout their journey to be the Grand Architect of the Universe.
If a man does not believe in a supreme being, he is not welcomed into the fraternity. Moreover, once he is a Mason, he is not permitted to dilute his belief in the Supreme Being with traits from the world’s most established religions, as this is thought to detract from the essential Masonic teaching of living in harmony with fellow brothers.
As we have seen throughout this post, much of the rumor and speculation surrounding Masons’ beliefs are conspiratorial and are not found in any fact. Essentially, Masons are taught to live harmoniously with their fellow man, love their brothers, and be the best person they possibly can.