Is Freemasonry a Cult?

Is Freemasonry a Cult?

As one of the largest organizations in the world, Freemasonry has weathered its share of criticism. In America, questions have been raised as to whether the fraternal organization qualifies as a “cult.” The Oxford Dictionary defines cult as “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” However, another definition describes a cult as “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” Obviously, the definition utilized makes maxwebera difference as to which organizations fit the term “cult.”  Is Freemasonry a cult?

 Sociological Analysis of Cults

The German political economist and sociologist Max Weber is considered to be a founder of Sociology:  the scientific study of social behavior, including its origins, development, organization, and institutions. In his book Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Weber describes the role charismatic leaders play in the formation and operations of extreme groups such as cults.

Weber writes about charismatic leaders as possessing a “certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” Weber established a way to distinguish different religious organizations, such as churches, sects, and cults. Utilizing a continuum along which religions fall, Sociologists differentiate between protest-like orientation of sects to the equilibrium maintaining churches. The diagram below illustrates a church-sect typology continuum.

ReligionChurchSectCultBeginning in the 1930s, Sociology was utilized to explore cults within the context of the study of religious behavior. In the sociological classifications of religious movements, a cult is a group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices. Sociologist Roy Wallis argued that cults are “oriented towards the problems of individuals, loosely structured, tolerant, non-exclusive” without possessing a “clear distinction between members and non-members” and having “a rapid turnover of membership.”

By sociological typology, cults are new religious groups representing a radical rejection of the teachings and beliefs of established faith traditions. Often resulting during periods of social turmoil, cults tend to operate within a distinct period of time before either collapsing or amalgamating into another larger religious group. Three main characteristics are often used in defining the “cult” status of an organization:

  1. Founded by a charismatic leader, as described by Max Weber
  2. Claim a new revelation or insight from God that deviates from traditional faiths
  3. Viewed with extreme suspicion by society and dominant religionstao-te-ching

Freemasonry and Religion

Freemasonry is an ancient system designed to impart morality and ethics and teach mutual service to its members. Utilizing the matrix enumerated above, we can examine whether the organization qualifies as a cult by sociological metrics. Modern Freemasonry is generally traced back to the early 1700s although some groups claim it existed prior to the 18th century and was not founded by a single leader. Furthermore, Masonry is founded upon traditional faiths and does not espouse any new revelations. Within a Masonic Lodge, many holy texts are revered including the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, and the Hindu Vedas. All of these books provide examples of moral truths, such as the Golden Rule, and constitute ethical guidelet-there-be-lights to teach individuals.

Expanding beyond sociology, general definitions of a cult, as listed at the beginning of this article, are tied to whether or not the organization is a religion. Although Masonry expresses a belief in a Supreme Deity and the immortality of the human soul, Freemasonry is not a religion. Each individual is entitled to hold their own view about the nature of God. Within Freemasonry there are Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. In order to join Freemasonry, individuals must believe in God, but they are left to their own choice as to the attributes of God. The renown Free Masonic scholar, Albert Mackey, wrote describing the religious inclusivity of the fraternity by stating: “God is equally present with the pious Hindu in the Temple, the Jew in the Synagogue, the Mohammedan in the Mosque, and the Christian in Church.”

The-Four-vedas-of-HinduismTo qualify as a “Religion,” Academic Scholars have established characteristics including, but not limited to:

  1. A Plan of Salvation
  2. A Theology
  3. Dogmas
  4. Sacraments
  5. Clergy

Freemasonry contains none of these tenets which define an organization as a “Religion.” Instead Masonry seeks to make good individuals better through self-improvement, service, and brotherhood. Masonry is a fraternal organization that encourages morality, charity, and philosophical studies. It has no clergy, no sacraments, abible-lightnd does not promise salvation to its members. Moreover, Masonry rejects dogma and inspires individuals to utilize reason to search for Truth.

In Masonic Lodges, discussions and debates on social, philosophical, or religious questions have no other purpose than the intellectual enlightenment of its members. Such discussion enable all members to reach for a greater understanding of themselves and Humanity in the pursuit of fulfilling their duties as Freemasons. In American Co-Masonry, those duties include: to think high, to do well, to be tolerant to others, to search after truth, and to practice liberty under law, fraternal equality, justice and solidarity. Utilizing builders’ tools as symbols, Freemasonry teaches basic moral truths that enable individuals to meet in harmony and be charitable.

Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

In 1971, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice debuted the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The musical began as a rock opera concept album which was released in 1970, and a film adaptation of the musical was released in 1973. The narrative is based on the New Testament Gospels’ account of the final week of Jesus’ life: spanning from the preparation of Jesus and his disciples prior to their arrival in Jerusalem to Jesus’ crucifixion. A worldwide phenomenon, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been professionally produced in forty-two countries and has grossed more than $205 million dollars since 1970.

The Final Seven DaysJudas1

The Rock Opera begins focused on the Apostle, Judas Iscariot as he watches Jesus with a group.  Judas expresses his growing concerns that Jesus and the disciples will be perceived as a threat to the Roman Empire and will receive deadly retribution.  In somber tones, he reflects his premonition “My mind is clearer now. At last all too well, I can see where we all soon will be.” As the pragmatist of the drama, Judas sees Jesus’ current behavior as reckless, foolish, and selfish.

Thinking that Jesus has put his own stardom above the safety of the group and the Jewish people, Judas pleads with Jesus with a series of questions. Has Jesus forgotten how put down the Jewish people are by the Romans? Has Jesus forgotten that the Empire has enormous power and could crush them if they are not careful? Does Jesus not see how close he is to ending all the good they have accomplished in the last three years?

More than anything, Judas wants to be heard and wants Jesus to listen to reason. He raises a series of valid points as to why Jesus should abandon his super-stardom and keep a low profile, so that the group can continue to spread tJudasheir message and help the people. It is important to note that at this point in history there were dozens of men claiming to be the Messiah: the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies. Each one of the “supposed” messiah has his own group of followers and message. To Judas, this Messiah role was never a part of his group’s trajectory, and he is concerned that the public mistakenly believes that their movement is based on his Jesus being the Jewish Messiah. Clearly confused by this turn of events, he demands that Jesus answer if he believes that he is the Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah, Judas feels entitled to that information considering his dedication and service to their cause. The musical does an uncanny job of allowing Judas to serve as a “placeholder” for all Christians who are questioning their faith in Jesus. Jesus remains an enigma both to Judas and the questioning audience. Just what was he thinking in the week leading up to his crucifixion? 

The High Priest, Caiaphas and his associate Annas, echo Judas’ concern that Jesus’ popularity will bring down the wrath of the Romans. The Priests’ Council determines that Jesucaiaphass and his movement must be crushed, and that Jesus must be killed, sharing the fate of John the Baptist. Undeterred by the danger involved, Jesus and his disciples triumphantly enter into Jerusalem, surrounded by cheering, palm waving crowds singing, “Hosanna.” Finding the Temple overrun by money lenders and unsavory merchants, Jesus lashes out and angrily throws them out of the Temple. At this point, Judas decides that Jesus has lost his mind, and he feels obligated to do something to stop the impending Roman attack on the disciples and the Jewish people. He is driven by fear, trying to protect those he cares about and himself.  What he does to stop the Romans is for the good of all, he believes, and it is not because he seeks “blood money.” He is aware enough to realize that he may be “damned for all time,” but he acts because he feels he has no choice otherwise. Judas goes to the Romans and tells them that Jesus will be at the Garden of Gethsemane the following night and receives thirty silver pieces in return for the information. JesusChristSuperstar Last Supper

The next night at the Garden, the audience witnesses the famous last supper. When Jesus announces that one of his followers will betray him, an angry Judas jumps up and retorts “cut the dramatics you know very well who!…To think I’d admired you,” Judas lashes out. “Well now I despise you!” Jesus responds by calling him “a liar” and tells him to go. The two men, teacher and pupil, share a final embrace, and the audience can see the pain, compassion, and regret exhibited on both sides. “Every time I look at you,” a frustrated Judas sings, “I don’t understand, why you let the things you did get so out of hand.” He then flees to retrieve the Roman soldiers and identifies Jesus with a kiss. Jesus is arrested, sent to a series of inquisitions: first with Caiaphas, the High Priest; second, with the Roman Pontius Pilate; and third, with King Herod.

In the performance, Pontius Pilate serves as another questioning archetype, compassionate and full of reason. Pilate argues Jesus’ innocence before the crowds, only to have Jesus’ supporters retort, “we have no king but Caesar.” The angry mob now threatens to end Pilate’s career if he does not fulfill his duty and crucify Jesus. Pilate knows Jesus’ innocence and entreats Jesus to save his own life, but Jesus declares the future to be fixed. Responding with disgust, Pilate declares Jesus a fool, sentences Jesus to death, and exclaims “die if you want to, you misguided martyr.” With the crowds screaming, “Crucify him,” Jesus is whipped, sentenced, and condemned to death on the cross. 

Judas and Jesus: Pragmatism and Idealism for the same Cause

“We made him a type of Everyman. Judas did not think of himself as a traitor. He did what he did, not because he was basically evil, but because he was intelligent. He could see Christ becoming something he considered harmful to the Jews. Judas felt that they had been persecuted enough. As far as what Christ was saying, general principles of how human beings should live together, Judas approved of this. What Judas was worried about was that as Christ got bigger and bigger and more popular, people began switching their attentions from what Christ was saying to Christ himself… Judas reckoned that if the movement got too big and people began worshiping Christ as a god, the Romans who were occupyingJesusChristCross Israel would come down and clobber them.” – “Jesus Christ Superstar” Lyricist Tim Rice

Jesus, Judas, and the rest of the disciples share a belief in the philosophy of love, peace, and brotherhood. They dedicate their lives to serving humanity, but they maintain very different beliefs in what choices the group should make in the final days of Jesus’ life. The dichotomy between Judas and Jesus is a fascinating one. Judas is the practical one, concerned with image, message, public opinion, money, etc. Jesus is concerned only with the Message. That central relationship shows us a mammoth tug-of-war between pragmatism, represented by Judas, and ideas, represented by Jesus. Judas finds himself constantly frustrated and confused by Jesus’ refusal to look at the practical side of their situation, as verbalized in many songs from the Rock Opera, including “Heaven On Their Minds” and “Superstar.” They fight because they both care passionately about the cause and about each other. There are three main arguments that break out between them, during the songs “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright,” as well as, at the Last Supper. Judas acts as a kind of business agent and PR man, concerned over the political message they’re sending out, the perceived inconsistencies in Jesus’ teachings, and the money wasted on Mary’s ointments and oils.superstarcarlanderson

Questioning Religion and Freemasonry’s Role

Freemasonry is not a religion, but it requires its members to believe in God, whatever name they choose to give him. Masonry embraces all world religions, rejects dogmatic teachings, and teaches its members to question their beliefs. Those who have studied comparative religion will find that many facets of Christianity, including the Genesis story, the sacrifice and resurrection hero myth, and the miracles performed by Jesus were present in other world religious texts long before Jesus was born. While these similarities do not discount all of Christianity for many believers, they do raise questions that are voiced in Jesus Christ Superstar.  In the song “Superstar,” Judas questions Jesus about Christianity’s relationship with other world religions and whether all religions are essentially one. He sings, “Tell me what you think about your friends at the top. Who’d you think besides yourself’s the pick of the crop? Buddha, was he where’s it at, is he where you are? Could Mahomet move a mountain or was that just PR?” A Mason is at liberty to practice any religion in the worship of God, but Freemasonry does obligate him to question his beliefs in an effort to better know himself and his God.