There was a thought-provoking thread on the r/freemasonry subreddit this week concerning “Discrimination towards Secularists.” Immediately, some of the redditors rejected this idea, calling it a conflation of atheism and secularism. One does not need to be an Atheist to be a Secularist, and vice versa. We find in Freemasonry all sorts of chaps from all walks of life. Some of these walks include a walk to a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, and some of them walk to the remote to turn on sports. I don’t do either. I used to call myself a Secular Humanist, because I thought the religious argument of who is right and who is wrong was unimportant. I just wanted to help people. None of that made me an Atheist. I was an Atheist at one time in my younger and less experienced life, so I know what that is. I am far from an Atheist now, but I’ll discuss my complex spirituality some other day.
The definition of Secularism according to Merriam-Webster is
the belief that religion should not play a role in government, education, or other public parts of society.
Now I don’t know about you, but that’s just someone who upholds the ideals of our founding fathers declaring a separation of church and state and upholds the first amendment “freedom of and from religion” clause
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
To me, Secularists would or should not be discriminated against whatsoever. They seem like good law-abiding folk, very much concerned with the constitutionality of law, equality, and liberty.
I brought up Humanism earlier. What about that? Would that be discriminated against within Freemasonry? Well, the definition of Humans according to good ol’ Merriam-Webster is
a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion
Well, heck. Isn’t that what Freemasonry is; a humanist group? We’re trying to solve some of the world’s problems using our values and beliefs that may derive from that “Golden Threat” of “Truth” underlying all spiritual paths, but it is not a religion. We use reason, we are a fraternity, and our morals and ethics are based on an understanding of principles and tenets we believe to be of the greatest import.
So, now let’s get to the dreaded Atheism. We make an obligation that we will not allow an Atheist to be a Freemason (at least in the USA). Atheism is currently defined in Merriam-Webster as
a disbelief in the existence of deity
But, this ban on Atheism occurred in centuries before this definition likely meant such a simple thing as disbelief. The term was applied to those people who were seen godless and wicked in the eyes of the “Righteous.” They were not allowed to have the same rights and benefits as those who lived according to such righteous dictates. They were equated with madmen and criminals. Likely, many of these so-called Atheists were simply people who did not believe in the mainstream religion of the area in which they lived (or were conquered). Those who would not be converted to the “True Religion” were obviously branded Atheists, as they did not accept the “One True God.”
But, should we allow Atheists to become Freemasons today, if that meaning has changed over time?
I’m not equipped to answer such a question, but the following posts may provide insight:
For No Atheist May Be Made a Freemason by Bro. Joshua L. Rubin 32° provides a moral argument, an historical perspective, and beyond.
A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves: that is, to be Good men and True, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.