M.W.Bro. Jorge L. Aladro, the Grand Master of Masons in Florida, has invited much criticism with his letter of November 28th. The Ruling and Decision No. 3 attacks "primarily Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism" and accuses all of them as being incompatible with Freemasonry. The wrongness of his statements is obvious to any who have paid attention to the history of Freemasonry and the lessons of its rituals, and are in plain violation of obligations which M.W.Bro. Aladro has taken at her altar. I am not going to break down his arguments and refute them individually; this has already been done excellently by Bro. Cliff Porter in his open letter. Instead, I will examine a trend in Freemasonry that I believe is actually a positive one.
Problems with religious discrimination in Freemasonry are not new. In fact, in the Spring of 2004, M.W.Bro. Stanley Thompson, then the Grand Master of Missouri, made disparaging remarks about non-Christian religions in public and inspired at least one truly excellent Mason to leave the fraternity. When Freemasonry first made its way to India via the British Empire, it took decades before the first Hindu was allowed to join a lodge. The first Jewish Masons were probably admitted in the 1720s, but even that is rather late. Ideas about tolerance and religious freedom have had to become increasingly expansive in the modern world as our awareness of various religions and society's attitudes towards acceptance have evolved.
In recent years, some parts of the country have seen a resurgence in interest in Freemasonry. This is great news for the Craft, but these new members tend to be younger men who are interested in the spiritual and ethical messages of Masonry, and as such, they are seekers. Many of them may consider themselves gnostic, pagan, or agnostic; but all Freemasonry needs to be concerned with is their belief in a supreme being and, depending on the jurisdiction, some form of immortality of the soul. It is not the right of any man to impose his views of religion and Deity on others. We are here to be tolerant, not to promote religious bigotry.
This wave of younger Masons interested in alternative spirituality and religion must be vexing for some of the so-called "old guard" of the Fraternity. It has been made clear repeatedly that there are members of grand lodges across the country who, in spite of the obligations they made before God, view Freemasonry as just another vehicle to practice religious discrimination. They view the Craft as strictly Christian and try to limit its vital message. And they are wrong.
"Freemasonry is a progressive science," we are taught in its ritual. Centuries ago, we were at the edge of social progressiveness, but over generations we fell behind. For a long time, the specters of bigotry and intolerance have overshadowed the vision of the fraternity, and only in the past few decades has this begun to be reversed. Sometimes intolerance will continue to rear its ugly head as it has in Florida, but those of us who believe in the messages of virtue and tolerance at the heart of Freemasonry need to remain strong and continue to act with patience, prudence and fortitude. If we can do so, we will see Freemasonry return to the forefront of progressive thought where it once stood.