Observations on Freemasonry

| Staff Columnist

As Alan Liu detailed in a news article last week (“University architecture reflects freemason legacy,” Nov. 15), Masonic traditions hold a pervasive influence on University architecture. Building on this article, I did some research on the Freemasons and was surprised to find out that some very famous individuals were part of this fraternity­—people who I never thought would be. The fraternity includes amongst its members Voltaire, Irving Berlin, Simon Bolivar, Winston Churchill, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, Charles Lindbergh and Thurgood Marshall, to name a few.

Freemasonry bills itself, as Alan pointed out, not as a secret fraternity, but as a society whose secret handshakes and passwords are designed to symbolize the trustworthiness of each member of the lodge, or the gathering place. It is a fraternal organization that, although claiming descent from Ancient Greece and Egypt, most likely arose during the 16th and 17th centuries modeled on stonemasons who constructed the great cathedrals throughout Europe. Groups of these men would assemble at a meeting place, and form secret handshakes to identify fellow members of the craft.

Today, its membership is estimated at about 5 million, including about 2 million here in the United States and close to half a million in Great Britain. Throughout the history of this fraternity, Freemasonry has had its share of opposition, ranging from the Catholic Church’s strident opposition to radical Islamic arguments against it.

In fact, since Pope Clement XII’s papal bull in 1738, the Catholic Church has explicitly excommunicated Catholics who join the organization. Many Muslims argue that Freemasonry simply furthers the interest of Jews, and that one of its aims is the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to rebuild Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

With the release of Dan Brown’s latest book, “The Lost Symbol,” Freemasonry has once again been pushed into the limelight. Another notable example is the movie “National Treasure,” which postulated the existence of a treasure, hidden by the Founding Fathers, many of whom were Freemasons.

Within the annals of American history, there is one significant black mark on Freemasonry’s existence in this country, and that is the Morgan affair, which I did some research on. The very basics of the affair are that in 1826, William Morgan, who had attempted to join several lodges but was rejected, threatened to publicize the secret rituals within Masonic lodges in a new book.

Eventually, he was arrested, kidnapped and apparently killed. Of course, suspicion immediately fell on the Freemasons, and this actually spurred the creation of the Anti-Masonic (and anti-Andrew Jackson—who was a freemason as well—political party), which disbanded as time passed.

In the end, what do we make of Freemasonry? According to the fraternity, the truths it inculcates include brotherly love (Freemasonry accepts all people, as long as they have a belief in a Supreme Being), liberty, equality and freedom. Before making judgments about organizations, such as Freemasonry, we should take the time to investigate and subsequently decide for ourselves. My personal belief is that this is a very charitable organization, which expounds on truths in an abstract way with the ultimate goal of making good men into better ones.

Issac is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at iamon@wustl.edu.

  • john

    I know the author of this article, and he is a very good friend of mine. We all know that many American Presidents were freemasons as well, such as George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Theodore Roosevelt, to name just a few. I asked him to mention them, but his response was that many people know about the aforementioned individuals. Not many people know of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of South America, or Winston Churchill, the famous British PM etc. That is what he told me, and thus I thought it necessary to post for other people.

  • Bill A.

    It is good to see that someone is actually doing the research before putting pen to paper or just spouting what others have said before. Indeed Freemasons do have secrets. It is a treasure, but one that you cannot hold in your hand. During the Renaissance when Freemasonry as you see it today really evolved, many men of science and free thinkers were drawn to the Freemasons because that could speak freely in the lodge. In fact if you look into it, the Royal Society is a direct descendant of Freemasonry and the list of its small number of members is quite impressive if you value scientific thought and reason.
    Early architecture often was used to convey messages, due to the fact that may were illiterate. Symbols were used to convey ideas. This practice continued and continues today in architecture.
    In my lodge we have several men of college age and I for one appreciate their ideas and hope more will seek enlightenment. There is more to learn that what can be taught in a classroom.

  • The Architectural Promise
    The use of architecture for the purposes of propaganda, of any kind, must neither be understimated in value or obscured through vanity. Architecture has long been a recognised route through which politcal, religous or social doctrine might be espoused.
    Hitler recognised this fact early on in his career and employed the architect Albert Speer. As a consequence the 1939 Olympics were memorable not only for the political controversy they caused but also for the spectacle of the Olympic arena in which they were held.
    The Free Masons, as builders, have always enjoyed a working relationship with the financiers of public buildings, people who might well be Free Masons themselves. Moreover the Free Mason philosophy was long ago adopted both by designers and architects alike. It is therefore perfectly natural that we should expect to the ”hall marks’ of Free Masonry writ large upon all such enterprises.
    Finally it is worth bearing in mind, when considering the value of all such propoganda, it is only ever visible to those that care to see such things in the first place.