Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Everything Wrong With ... Freemasonry

The Masonic Square & Compasses
For many anti-Masons, a red flag
The title of this post is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the popular "Everything Wrong With..." movie reviews series on YouTube, but the topic could not be more serious. Often, especially online, you will see anti-Masons and conspiracy theorists bring up the same issues over and over again. They're almost all completely false, but some are confusingly close to truth and thus make it difficult for a reasonable person, even a Mason who knows better, to discern where they went awry. I'm going to clear up all of the most common examples, here, so that I can stop writing these sorts of responses over and over and over again...
One thing that I will warn of ahead of time is that I'm going to talk about general categories of concern over issues that might be believed to have some validity or basis. What I won't deal with are completely off the wall claims such as Freemasons being aliens or hiding the Holy Grail. None of that is terribly interesting to me as the general public isn't really in danger of believing those stories to be true.

Update: After some public comments by a Grand Orient de France member, I made some of the statements more specific in order to avoid some fallacies that he pointed out (thank you!) This document is not pro- or anti- any institution; only an attempt to explore the claims and realities of anti-Masonry.

  1. Claim: Freemasonry is just...
  2. Claim: Freemasonry is an oppressor
  3. Claim: Freemasonry is Luciferian / Satanic
  4. Claim: Masons don't learn the real secrets until the "upper levels"/33rd degree/etc.
  5. Claim: Freemasons are required to help their Brothers regardless of what crimes they commit or lies they tell
  6. Claim: Judges give a pass to Freemasons who come before them
  7. Claim: Freemasons control the [insert name here] industry
  8. Claim: Freemasons are part of a Jewish conspiracy
  9. Claim: Freemasonry is anti-[insert religion here]
  10. Claim: Freemasonry is a religion
  11. Claim: Freemasons Worship The Great Architect, which is a false/deistic God
  12. Claim: The First Freemason to reveal the secrets of the Fraternity was murdered
  13. Claim: Freemasonry is made of up of the elite
  14. Claim: Freemasons aren't or can't be Christians
  15. Claim: You have to be a Christian or you can't advance in the Fraternity
  16. Claim: Freemasons use a symbol that's associated with evil
  17. Claim: Many of the Presidents of the US were/are Freemasons and the Masonic All Seeing Eye appears in the Great Seal of the US
  18. Claim: Freemasons are Illuminati
  19. The Meta-Claims
  20. The Grand Orient de France, Continental Freemasonry and Irregular Lodges
  21. Grand Lodges

Claim: Freemasonry is just...

The Fraternity was constituted in more or less its current form about 300 years ago in 1717 with the founding of the first Grand Lodge (I'll get into Grand Lodges later). During the time since then millions of men have been Freemasons in recognized, regular Lodges (I'll get into those terms too). In any organization that is so large and has so much history, to say that it's "just" anything is bound to be wrong. Even if you're partially right (e.g. "Freemasonry is just philosophy" or "Freemasonry is just a social club") you'll be far more wrong than right, simply by omission. Worse, however, is the fact that people often draw a tenuous line between something the Craft or a Brother has done and something else that they consider unsavory and then conclude that "Freemasonry is just" that.

Here's some of the most tired examples:

  • The Order of the Eastern Star uses an "upside down" five-pointed star as its symbol, which (the conspiracy theorist claims) is satanic and OES is a Masonic group so Freemasonry is just Satanism (see the discussion of symbols, below).
  • Albert Pike, a prominent Freemason of the 19th century, mentioned Kabbalah in one of his books, so Freemasonry is just Jewish mysticism.
  • The founder of the Illuminati in 1776 later became a Freemason, so Freemasonry is just a political power structure aimed at creating a New World Order.
  • The irregular Grand Lodge, Grand Orient de France, became very political and organizationally if not ideologically anti-Catholic during the 19th century, resulting in its no longer being recognized as Masonic, so Freemasonry is just anti-Catholicism.

As you can see, the general theme here is that something happened that was or related to something else, so Freemasonry is just that something else. It doesn't matter that over 300 years you can find an example of everything you want for your conspiracy theories. It's still the very heart and soul of Freemasonry for purposes of these conspiracy theories.

Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorist, it actually is necessary, when using logic, to provide more than a correlation in the premise and also to maintain scope when asserting such equivalencies.

There are several related logical fallacies, here:

Claim: Freemasonry is an oppressor.

This one confuses me, but it keeps coming up. Mostly, it comes from Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, it seems, who think that separation of church and state, a common element of many Enlightenment-era philosophical takes on political structures, is inherently an idea put forward in order to justify oppression of their religious institutions, and that it's inherently Masonic.

The problem is that separation of church and state isn't an oppressive concept. Here in the US Baptists and Mormons and Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and Jews and Muslims get along reasonably well, and yet we have separation of Church and state encoded into our Constitution.

Regardless, this idea did not originate with Freemasonry. The modern idea of separation of church and state originated with Martin Luther and his Doctrine of Two Kingdoms. The idea was refined and further promoted by Enlightenment era philosophers such as John Locke who there is no evidence was a Freemason, though he obviously became a source of inspiration to the founding fathers of the US, many of whom were Freemasons. They even directly quote him in the Declaration of Independence.

But again, it's just not something that came from the Fraternity, and though many Masons might agree, many might not.

Claim: Freemasonry is Luciferian / Satanic

There are a few sources of this, all either misrepresentations or outright (and outrageous) hoaxes:

Poster related to
the Taxil Hoax
  • In the 19th century, Léo Taxil organized a rather intricate and long-running hoax where he claimed to reveal the "Luciferian secrets" of Freemasonry. He later revealed in a press conference that he was attempting to bait the Catholic Church with his gambit. The hoax, however, imprinted many aspects of the modern conspiracy theories relating to Freemasonry into the public consciousness, not the least of which was the image of the supposed idol of Masonic worship, Baphomet (see on right) which was a fictitious entity invented by the Inquisition during the torture of Knights Templar.
  • Albert Pike, a famous Freemason in the 19th century who was mentioned in the Taxil hoax, actually did write "Lucifer the Light bearer. Strange and mysterious name to give to the Spirit of Darkness. Lucifer the Son of the Morning. Is it he who bears the Light and with its splendors intolerable blinds feeble sensual or selfish souls? Doubt it not!" which is often misinterpreted as praise for Lucifer by anti-Masons. The actual meaning of the comment is in the penultimate sentence, however, "he who bears the Light and with its splendors intolerable blinds feeble sensual or selfish souls." In this, Pike is explaining the dangers of pursuing the Light of knowledge with impure purpose and warning that simply because Freemasons have rejected darkness, that doesn't mean that there aren't pitfalls awaiting the unwary. This theme that the pursuit of truth is a dangerous path when undertaken without caution and aid is repeated over and over in Pike's and many other Freemasons' work along with that of many other philosophers and sages. One need only look at the state of modern conspiracy theorist communities to validate this caution.
  • Manly Hall, another prominent Freemason, writes, "... he has learned the mystery of his Craft. The seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands and before he may step onward and upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy." Again, as with Pike, Hall is referring to Lucifer not with reverence, but as a caution. Hall is much more abstract and symbolic about it, but in essence he's restating the old adage: knowledge is power. The question is, what are you going to do with that power? Freemasonry teaches a system of morality, aimed at self-discipline and a love for all mankind as a way to help the student to apply his knowledge wisely, but there is always another (seemingly) easier path... that path is what Hall is cautioning the newly enlightened Mason of by using the metaphor of Lucifer, a powerful angel blinded by his own beauty and the pride it created.
  • In general, Freemasonry makes many references to Light, and "Fiat Lux," Latin for "Let there be Light!" is often seen in association with Masonic organizations. Many Christian anti-Masons attempt to link this use of the word "Light" with the name, "Lucifer," which literally means light bringer. It's a very flawed and tenuous connection, though, since the concept of light is mentioned hundreds of times in the Christian Bible, including the very phrase, "Let there be Light!" and in Jesus' own statements, making it difficult to assert that references to light would be exclusive to non-Christian or anti-Christian groups.
In any case, the critical feature is that Freemasonry doesn't worship, revere or seek any association with evil in any form. From Lucifer to Shaitan to Set to generic demons, jinn and hobgoblins... we are not a religion and most especially not a religion which worships evil.

Further reading: Pike & Lucifer (

Relevant logical fallacies:

Claim: Masons don't learn the real secrets until the "upper levels"/33rd degree/etc.

An actual intelligence agency
patch from the United States
First, let's explore the general idea. The conspiracy theorist is positing a clandestine and elite group within Freemasonry that is so well disguised that 6 million Freemasons don't know it exists, and yet it somehow manages to continue to guide the Fraternity even given its decentralized nature (see the section on Grand Lodges, below). Let's take this as given, even though it's not actually true... what's a bit shocking is that these same conspiracy theorists are convinced that the secret, elite group is known to nearly every conspiracy theorist in possession of a YouTube account... There's a contradiction there. They not only claim that the existence of such a group is known to them (but not to "low level" Freemasons) but that they know the details of their highly secret and nefarious plans! The contradictions continue to deepen as you look into these claims. Freemasons, it seems, must have very long necks in order to be able to bury them so far in the sands of willful ignorance!

However, let me also clear up this "33rd degree" thing. Non-Freemasons think there are some fixed number of "degrees" in Freemasonry that are like ranks. This is false. Freemasonry has a profusion of degrees that might, functionally be impossible to count because many of them are specific to a jurisdiction.  It is common for these degrees to either be numbered 1-3 (the first three introductory degrees almost always carried out in what is called a "Blue Lodge" of which there are several regional and historical variations) or for them to be numbered starting after the number of the degree which they have as a prerequisite.

These are not "ranks" for many reasons, but first and foremost among those reasons is the fact that all Master Masons are seen as equals. It's also a practical matter: would a 4th degree York Rite Mason be senior to or junior to a Scottish Rite 4th degree? As it turns out, there's no comparison made. In the Scottish Rite your progress in the York Rite degrees doesn't have any relevance. They're separate institutions within the body of Freemasonry.

So, whenever you hear someone talk about "higher levels" of Freemasonry, ask them exactly what they mean, and in what part of the organization. It's likely that they're simply demonstrating their ignorance of the basic structure of the Fraternity, and anyone who claims to know the best-hidden secrets of an organization that they don't even understand the structure of... is probably safe to ignore.

Further reading: The complex system of degrees as organized in Canadian Freemasonry ( and in the United States (

Claim: Freemasons are required to help their Brothers regardless of what crimes they commit or lies they tell.

This one is easily discarded. Freemasons are expelled from the Fraternity for failing to live up to the ideals set forth by the three degrees, one of which is a cheerful compliance with the laws of one's country. If you discard that obligation and commit a crime, then we're not obliged to help you to commit or get away with it, as that would be a violation of our own obligation.

There is a counterexample often used by conspiracy buffs from a 19th century showman and "exposer" of Freemasonry. He essentially just made up Masonic initiations on his own and "exposed" them. They were often based on the real initiation ceremonies with exciting new additions like promising to hide any crime one's Brothers committed, but these were fabrications made for audiences, not real Masonic initiations, the text of which had actually been published by that point and anyone who wanted to confirm that this huxter was lying could go visit the library and do so.

Claim: Judges give a pass to Freemasons who come before them.

Judges have a number of loyalties that they must set aside in order to serve their nation's judiciary. They must set aside their personal concerns, those of their culture and, in most nations, those of their religion. They must faithfully adjudicate the law and only the law. Do all judges live up to this lofty standard? Of course not, but I think Freemason judges are more equipped to deal with such ethical quandaries than most, and so I would certainly not expect to receive any different treatment from a Brother judge than any other. I would expect to be given the benefit of reasonable doubt and otherwise disposed of fairly.

I think that the assumption that Freemason judges aren't impartial toward Freemason defendants is an unfair accusation against all judges and their integrity. That said, I think that it would be common practice and a requirement of most civilized nations that a Judge who had direct ties to a Brother (e.g. someone from his Lodge) should recuse himself from any case involving him.

Claim: Freemasons control the [insert name here] industry.

There are some Freemasons who are successful businesspeople. However, claims that any organization controls any industry have to be backed up with more than just a demonstration that one or more successful members of that industry are members of that group.

And in every industry that I can think of, Freemasons certainly do exist, but they exist at every level, and aren't exclusively in charge of any subset of that industry.

Claim: Freemasons are part of a Jewish conspiracy.

WWII German anti-Freemasonry
poster claiming Jewish political
control of the Fraternity.
It's easy to see how this idea evolved. Freemasonry was founded in regions where it was a safe assumption that most people were some form of Christian with a few Jews and even fewer Muslims. Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, and various other faiths and non-faiths just weren't very widely represented, and so Freemasonry's symbols and allegory are built on the common elements of those three religious traditions. Those common elements are what Christians call the Old Testament.

Particularly, the story of the Temple of Solomon figures strongly in the allegory of the degrees of Freemasonry as a metaphor for the spiritual temple that a man constructs throughout his life, regardless of what faith he might subscribe to.

The Germans, during WWII, for example, took this to be sufficient evidence to herd tens of thousands (some estimates suggest over 100,000) Freemasons (both regular and irregular; as the enemies of Freemasonry don't particularly care about that distinction) into concentration camps and eventually murder them, but it's simply untrue that there's some sort of Jewish agenda in Freemasonry. Freemasonry is independent of and a complement to every religion. It is a set of moral, philosophical and social lessons which do not promote or conflict with any religious world view.

To quote Angel Millar, author of "The Crescent and the Compass,"

Belief that the Freemasons [secretly] control the world goes back through a line of conspiracy theories, all of which have been debunked, though it owes its popularity to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic fake ... the current fixation with “the Illuminati” emerged after the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, when claims, by various Christian groups, that there was a global criminal network of Satanists was discredited.

And on that note...

Claim: Freemasonry is anti-[insert religion here]

The only religions that Freemasonry would be opposed to would be those founded on hate and intolerance.  In practice, almost every religion has the potential to fall into these traps when practiced by those unwilling to let go of those qualities in themselves, but are not defined by them.

Many religions view Freemasonry with suspicion because we do not explicitly promote their dogma. This is true, but we also don't refute it or require (or even suggest) that our members do. Faith in any particular religion is a choice made by an individual (except in the presence of extreme fanaticism) and Freemasons do not tell other Freemasons how to make that choice. If a Freemason wants to preach their religion to a Brother, they are free to do so outside of the Lodge, but inside the Lodge or at official functions, there is no mention of sectarian religion because it's divisive. This isn't anti-religious.

Claim: Freemasonry is a religion.

There are many definitions of religion, but the most basic is a system of belief, acted on through ritual or observance, usually focusing on supernatural worship. Freemasonry does not have a system of belief. We have a system of morality that is predicated on the individual Brother's system of belief. That's absolutely key in understanding the difference. If you believe in the divinity of Jesus then no one in Freemasonry will ever tell you that you must discard or modify that belief. Instead, the moral principles of Freemasonry will fit into that belief. The same is true for members of any religion.

Claim: Freemasons Worship The Great Architect, which is a false/deistic God.

Masonic allegory refers to
but does not define the
Great Architect of the
The "Great (or Grand) Architect of the Universe," is a metaphorical phrase used by Freemasons, however, it does not refer to any specific deity. Instead, it refers to a common element of many faiths, and the core and only requirement of the Fraternity with respect to religion: you must believe in a Supreme Being. To a Jewish Freemason The Great Architect refers to the G-d of the Torah. To the Trinitarian Christian Freemason The Great Architect refers to the Holy Trinity. To the Hindu Freemason The Great Architect refers to Brahman.

Each Mason has their own beliefs and cultural context, but there is no "Masonic deity."

This claim also ties into many related claims such as Freemasonry being a deist organization or a syncretic organization. Both are subtly untrue. While some Freemasons (including this author) are deists, we are in the minority and our views are not that of any official body. We just have a belief system that happens to be among the many that are held by individual Freemasons.

As for syncretism, that's a subtler issue. The difference between, "you must be willing to sit in Lodge with and respectfully discuss elements of religious ideas with those of other faiths," and the syncretic idea that "all faiths are fundamentally equivalent and compatible," can be difficult for some people to see, but it's a very important line. The majority of Freemasons would not be comfortable at all with the latter statement, but are clearly willing to abide by the first.

See also, the "Freemasons aren't or cannot be Christians" section, below.

Claim: The First Freemason to reveal the secrets of the Fraternity was murdered.

William Morgan,
an anti-Masonic author who
was kidnapped and possibly
This is a reference to the William Morgan Affair. Morgan was a Freemason in New York State who decided to publish an expose on the inner workings of the Fraternity. After doing so, he was treated very poorly by his fellow Masons and eventually was whisked away from the jail where he was being held for an unpaid debt and allegedly either killed or forced to leave the country.

That said, here are some interesting facts that are often left out:
  1. Morgan was far from the first to publish such details. The first was over a century prior in the 18th century, and there had been many in between. The only reason we remember Morgan so acutely was the fact that he was treated so badly and possibly killed after doing so, not because he was the first. From this, we can reason that this was a highly unusual case and that the Masons who attacked Morgan were not behaving like the majority of Masons would and did act in similar cases.
  2. Morgan's assailants were denounced and their actions rejected as non-Masonic. While the Fraternity must take responsibility for having welcomed these wrongdoers into its midst, it is also not reasonable to paint the entire Fraternity of millions of men over hundreds of years with the brush of the actions of a handful of men in one incident.
  3. The Morgan affair happened nearly 200 years ago. It's very telling that in order to find such an egregious case of Masonic wrongdoing, we can't even rely on the past century, but must dip into the early days of US history to find an event universally decried by the vast majority of Masons.
  4. There are reports that Morgan was simply paid $500 and told to go back to his native Canada and never return. While I find this only mildly plausible and it doesn't excuse the other behavior, I refuse to convict anyone without evidence that is beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The last point that I should bring up is that the Morgan affair is most acutely remembered not because of the crime itself, but because it was the event which the Anti-Masonic Party (a national US political party) used to launch itself into the public eye and fuel outrage against any candidate not willing to renounce the Fraternity regardless of how vehemently they renounced the Morgan Affair itself. This kind of political witch hunt is unsavory at best, and certainly is not a useful basis for civilized discourse.

Further reading: The history of exposés of Masonic ritual (

Claim: Freemasonry is made of up of the elite.

This is mostly untrue. It is true that some Freemasons are rich. It's true that some Freemasons are powerful people in their own rights. But it's also true that such people are a dramatic minority, as they are in every other walk of life, who rarely have the time in their busy lives to do a great deal with the Fraternity.

What's more, the Fraternity is made up of millions of men from every walk of life, socio-economic status, political affiliation and so on, so if you want to talk about some elite cabal of control then you'd be headed back to the above "Masons don't find out the evil/world-controlling secrets..." myth.

Now, let's head on to some true, but perhaps misleading items:

Claim: Freemasons aren't or can't be Christians.

George Washington Truett,
Baptist and Freemason
The first half of this is true in that the Fraternity is not a Christian organization and Freemasons can be from any religion that meets our basic "Supreme Being" and moral criteria. However, this is often said with the implication that Freemasonry doesn't fall in line with Christian ethics or that you cannot be both a Christian and a Freemason. This is, of course, absurd, and is easily discounted by looking back at the long list of exemplary Christians who have been Freemasons.

As stated previously, Freemasonry is not a religion and does not seek to restrict or modify its members religious beliefs. It is a system of moral philosophy that can be employed in the lives of any good man, regardless of their faith, ethnicity, culture, age, etc.

There are many examples of men from all of the major denominations of Christianity who were Freemasons. Even Catholicism which officially rejects the Fraternity has had devout and active men join its ranks, including at least one young Bishop who would one day be Pope and for whom reasonably conclusive documentation is available (Pius IX Pope from 1846-1878, initiated 1839, expelled 1874).

Further reading: Conscience and the Craft, Ill. Dr. James Tresner. (

Claim: You have to be a Christian or you can't advance in the Fraternity.

Symbol of the
Masonic Knights Templar
This is highly misleading, but is based on a kernel of truth: there are two organizations you can't join if you're not a Christian: the Swedish Rite, which is Sweden's local, generic form of Freemasonry, but Christian-themed; and the Knights Templar, a group within the York Rite that only allows Christians by default, though exceptions are made in some areas if you are willing to take a Christian-themed oath.

Neither of these two are in any way necessary for advancement in the Fraternity (you can be Grand Master of Masons in your jurisdiction without being either.) The former is just a local oddity and the latter is a kind of a special-interest group for Christians in the Fraternity.

In general, the Fraternity stresses universality. That is, its principles must apply equally to all of its members. We cannot be a purely Christian organization because not all of our Brothers are Christians and it is as important that the Fraternity be relevant to them as it is for any member.

Further reading: The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts' decision to allow Buddhist and Confucianist applicants (; note: the stilted, archaic language here might seem very off-putting... we don't use words like "Chinaman" any more, but they were not considered prejudicial in 1915)

Claim: Freemasons use a symbol that's associated with evil.

Grand Chapter of Massachusetts,
Order of the Eastern Star
This is quite true. Many symbols of the Fraternity have come to be associated with evil at one point or another. For example, the five-pointed star, which appears in many older Masonic contexts and in the primary symbol of the Masonic-related Order of the Eastern Star, is many times associated in modern contexts with the occult and/or evil. However, these symbols trace their lineage back much further and have individual interpretations in every major religion, philosophy and initiatic tradition. That is why, for example, the five-pointed star was chosen in the late 19th century, well after the founding of the Fraternity and the Order, by an occult group to be a major symbol of their work and was, from there, chosen by Anton LaVey for his Satanic Bible.

But just as the Hindus were using the swastika (or svasti sign) since the Iron Age, which wasn't associated with evil until the mid-20th century when Germany's National Socialist Party took up its use, the various symbols of the Fraternity have, in some cases, been re-appropriated by nefarious groups as symbols of their own. This doesn't make their use historically or even in the modern day "evil." I think it's unreasonable to try to assert that a group somehow loses the privilege of using their own symbols as soon as some other group misuses them.

Freemasonry has used and continues to use many symbols which seem obscure or even frightening to those not aware of their historical significance and allegorical meanings, but they are in no way used to represent evil or wrongdoing within the Fraternity.

Claim: Many of the Presidents of the US were/are Freemasons and the Masonic All Seeing Eye appears in the Great Seal of the US

While these are both at least partly true, they're used to insinuate that there's some sort of Masonic control over the government in the US. This is not borne out from these details, as you will soon see...

The answer to this one is in three parts:

First, the Fraternity does not control the US government. There are Freemasons in politics, certainly, but I think the influence tends to go in the other direction, in such cases. Powerful people with powerful personalities tend to have a profound impact on the organizations that they join, and Freemasonry is no different. The Federal Government of the US, on the other hand, is a massive bureaucracy that it would be hard for any small group of people (even the million+ US Freemasons) to have more than a passing influence on.

Second, there have been 14 US Presidents who were Freemasons, which is not even close to half of them. There are also some outliers who we don't usually count, but if you want to go up to 16, you can include LBJ (initiated into the first degree, but never had time to follow up) and Bill Clinton who is not a Mason, but was in the Masonic youth organization, DeMolay. There have been claims of every President, except for the one or two overtly anti-Masonic ones, being Freemasons, but this is just fantasy, unsupported by even the most casual documentation. Usually, these assertions are based on association with a college frat that isn't Masonic (Freemasonry exists on many college campuses, and does not need crypto-Masonic stand-ins) or on some clumsy handshake (I've seen every kind of odd grip "exposed" as a Masonic handshake on conspiracy sites but none of them are terribly convincing evidence).

Further reading: United States Presidents (

The All Seeing Eye
or Eye of Providence
Third, the use of common symbols in US seals and symbolism within Freemasonry is not a clear indication of a direct connection and the All Seeing Eye or Eye of Providence is an excellent example of this. The Eye was a common symbol, prior to the 19th century, of the divine protection and guidance that the Declaration of Independence claims that people exercising self-rule are afforded. As such, it was a very common symbol in secular and religious contexts at the time. For context, it is useful to compare to the peace symbol in use today. That symbol came to represent many different movements from the countercultural hippies to the anti-Vietnam War movement to the nuclear disarmament movement and so on. But any group that uses that symbol is not revealing a system of hidden influence; they are simply taking advantage of a common cultural symbol which people will recognize.
Further reading: Eye in the Pyramid (

Claim: Freemasons are Illuminati

Adam Weishaupt, the
founder of the Illuminati
As mentioned above, the Illuminati were a briefly lived organization of men, some of whom were also Freemasons. This was not accidental. Adam Weishaupt joined the Freemasons one year after founding the Illuminati and used his membership in the Fraternity to attempt to recruit new members. Their ideas were certainly radical for the time: the people should run the government democratically; oppression is never right, even when there is a claimed divine mandate; etc. However, such a group formed today would be considered uninteresting except for the fact that he felt such developments must be forced on those who do not desire them. That said, the connection between the Fraternity and the Illuminati was tenuous at best, and when the Illuminati failed, that connection ended. Any other claim has nothing to do with Freemasonry.

However the phrase as used today most often refers to any powerful group with its own, hidden agenda, and not specifically to the Bavarian Illuminati of 1776. In that light, the Fraternity isn't really correctly identified by this term either. Freemasonry has, at its heart, one goal and that goal is clearly and publicly articulated: to aid the good men who come to its doors to make of themselves better men through a system of morality and philosophy.

The Meta-Claims

Looking back over this list of claims, one new claim might emerge: Freemasonry seems to attract an awful lot of negative attention. There must be something there, reasons the anti-Mason, which generates such claims. There must be some evil afoot which causes Freemasonry to elicit such fears!

Further reading: The burden of proof

It's true that there are many claims, here, and that Freemasonry has evoked much fear from some quarters, but it is relatively easy to dismiss this fear by simply asking: what good and what ill has the Fraternity done? Obviously, Freemasonry was a central theme among many of those good men who helped to found the United States of America and was a driving force in the establishment of individual liberty as a necessary human right. These are unquestionably (in my view) good things. However, there have been darker aspects. The Morgan Affair, mentioned above, is one of our darkest moments.

But we must remember that one cannot simply point out that good men sometimes do bad things or that bad men sometimes join good organizations. One must actually demonstrate, in order to validate the anti-Masons' claims, that Freemasonry is endemically tainted by these ills. This is a claim which I see no validation for within the Fraternity or without.

The other meta-claim is that none of the dire claims of the anti-Masons may be exactly true, but that that is not a valid defense of the Fraternity. This is most assuredly true, and a positive defense of the Fraternity is a project that I intend to take up in the future. I think many Freemasons have taken this on in the past, though, so if you want to look into that, I suggest the following sources:

On a side topic:

The Grand Orient de France, Continental Freemasonry and Irregular Lodges

You will often hear the claim that "Freemasonry thinks..." some particular thing or "Freemasons are trying to..." do whatever nefarious thing some anti-Mason wants to ascribe to us. The fact is that we're just not that monolithic. In fact, we're so non-monolithic that we're a model of semi-autonomous, democratic processes. So, first let me cover the structure of the Fraternity and then move on to some specifics that you'll often hear about from anti-Masons.

Grand Lodges

Coat of arms of the
United Grand Lodge
of England
In 1717, several Masonic Lodges which had been operating independently formed the United Grand Lodge of England. That Grand Lodge still exists today and is the central governing body of Freemasonry in England, Wales and the Channel Islands.
Further Reading: United Grand Lodge of England
The UGLE is still a very prominent body in modern Freemasonry, but that's all it is. It's not the seat of government of Freemasonry. So where is that? Well, it turns out there's no such thing. Instead, every Grand Lodge is autonomous. My Grand Lodge, The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, was the third Grand Lodge in the world and the first in the American Colonies. In the US, because of the colonial history, we have a Grand Lodge for every state and Washington D.C. But in most parts of the world, Grand Lodges are organized on the level of nation.

Each Grand Lodge's member Lodges elect a suite of officers including a Grand Master (who usually serves for 1-3 years depending on the jurisdiction) and they run the show.

Ah, but what if they decide that Freemasonry isn't really a philosophical and moral Fraternity, but a sports betting club or a knitting circle? That's where recognition comes in. Every Grand Lodge recognizes the "regularity" of every other Grand Lodge as long as they continue to keep to the traditions and history of the organization. If they don't then some or all Grand Lodges will stop recognizing them. This can mean many things, but most importantly, it will mean that their members can't travel to Lodges in other jurisdictions, join those Lodges if they move, or take part in any event that happens outside of their jurisdiction. In practice, this is almost always sufficient to keep Freemasonry on an even keel and prevents any kind of central bureaucracy from forming.

There is one problem, however, and it's a problem that can never really be fixed: Anyone can call themselves a Freemason. More importantly, a Lodge or Grand Lodge that is or becomes "irregular" (i.e. stops being recognized by other Lodges or Grand Lodges) can't be stopped from continuing to attract members and claim to be Masonic.

Such is the case in France where the Grand Orient de France broke away from the rest of the Fraternity in the 19th century. They began being much more political (backing individual candidates and agendas in open Lodges and as a matter of policy; something Freemasons cannot do elsewhere) and they began admitting atheists and women as members. After over 100 years of not being recognized, however, they still exist and they have grown distinctly anti-Catholic (in terms of politics and institutional opposition, though many Catholics are Grand Orient members). This reflects very poorly on Freemasonry, but we have no power to  change the situation other than by recognizing another French Masonic Grand Lodge such as the Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) which, in fact, is currently becoming the case.

Meanwhile many anti-Masonic claims stem from the actions of the Grand Orient de France. It's difficult to explain how these claims do not apply to the Fraternity as a whole when, as described above, there is no Fraternity as a whole. The most that can be said is that the Grand Orient de France's activities and views are not supported by or endorsed by the majority of Freemasonry.

Even more confusingly, there are a network of Masonic and Masonic-like bodies that recognize and, in some cases, are recognized by the Grand Orient de France. These are collectively referred to as "Continental Freemasonry," and as the name implies, are mostly located in continental Europe. Such organizations include Co-Masonry, Le Droit Humain and other, smaller groups. If you hear these names, just be aware that they're not what I would call "mainstream Freemasonry."

Additional sources and references

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