Are We Stuck in a Medieval World?
"Are we stuck in a medieval world?" may seem like a foolish question at first, but upon close inspection the question may be valid.
Granted we have made great advancements in sciences, technologies, food production, water sanitation, and various fields which allow most of us live a much more comfortable life than our medieval ancestors, but have our belief systems progressed?
With all this advancement has our idea of God advanced beyond the confines of the medieval or middle age mind?
In most cases I tend to think not, all you need to do is turn on Sunday morning television, or even the news to see people speaking of a medieval god.
BEFORE YOU READ BEYOND THIS POINT even though I consider 'Purposely Hoodwinked' primarily a Masonic blog, what follows is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the tradition to which I belong.
The reason for the disclaimer is the sensitive nature of certain individual's belief systems, something few are willing to examine, often fearing some imagined retribution either from above, or below, call it what you may but that's medieval thinking!
Lets journey back a bit, back to the medieval period in Europe where we find Christianity was the major religion and religion was everything.
Although most citizens had surely had seen a bible few could actually read one, relying on the monks and priests to interpret what the book contained, that's providing they themselves were literate. The fact was the majority of the population couldn’t read at all, considering that during this time bible itself was written in Latin the only way to be ‘literate’ was if a person could read Latin. Literacy in other languages didn’t count.
In Medieval England, birthplace of Freemasonry, the Church dominated every body's life. No matter your status in the pecking order, surfs, townspeople, or royalty, all believed in the catholic envisioned omnipotent judgmental God, Heaven, Hell, and sin. The only way to heaven was through the church, if not you we eternally dammed to a fiery pit. Admit openly to question the church's position or beliefs would guarantee an agonizing existence in Hell.
The Church had total control over your thoughts and actions, many we forced to labor for free for the Church while still maintaining their own land, gardens, and livestock, all the time tithing ten percent of everything they earned to the church.
Even if you didn't work you were going to pay up, farmers almost always had to pay in seeds, harvested grain, animals etc. This usually caused a peasant a lot of hardship as seeds, for example, would be needed to feed a family the following year.
What the Church got in tithes was kept in huge tithe barns and not shared with the serfs. A failure to pay tithes, the peasants were told by the Church, would lead to their souls going to Hell.
If that wasn't bad enough, for every church service you required you were going to pay, pay for baptisms, a required ritual in order to avoid Hell, pray for marriage, because fornication outside marriage was sinful in the eyes of God, and pay for burial, especially if you were buried on holy ground which assured you safe passage to heaven.
As history tells us for those educated individuals that dared question or deviate from the dogma, penalties varied, and as time went they became more and more barbaric, beheading, torture, burning at the stake, all punishments handed out by servants of all powerful God that couldn't seem to keep his flock in check.
Now don't think this suppression was just a short period of time, in fact this went on for centuries in various counties across so called civilized Europe. That is until 1621 when a new word is uttered, deism.
FREEMASONS TAKE NOTE
In the 17th century arose the so-called deism of England, under the leadership of Herbert of Cherbury and Thomas Hobbes, contemporaneously with Descartes on the Continent and Spinoza with his destructive criticism and with his pantheistic philosophy.
This deism compounded with the dawning of the Age of Enlightenment would create great pains for Christianity. The deistic unbelievers not only professed to believe in one God, but also sought to show that no special revelation is necessary to man, but that he can learn both God and duty from the light of nature.
Ouch, no revelation, no miracles, what was a church to do?
The English deism passed over into France and Germany, and, coming in aid of the movement in philosophy and criticism led by Descartes and Spinoza, gave origin there to the movement which finally culminated in the so-called Rationalism, Naturalism, and Positivism. You could safely say the deists were ridding themselves of the medieval concept of God.
"I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho' some of the Dogmas of the Persuasion, such as the Eternal Decrees of God, Election, Reprobation, &c. appear'd to me unintelligible, others doubtful, & I early absented myself from the Public Assemblies of the Sect, Sunday being my Studying-Day, I never was without some religious Principles; I never doubted, for instance, the Existence of the Deity, that he made the World, & govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable Service of God was the doing of Good to Man; that our Souls are immortal; and that all Crime will be punished & Virtue rewarded either here or hereafter; these I esteem'd the Essentials of every Religion, and being found in all the Religions we had in our Country I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of Respect as I found them more or less mix'd with other Articles which without any Tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm Morality, serv'd principally to divide us & make us unfriendly to one another.".. Brother Ben Franklin
Before we continue allow me to share a few definitions for those that find this territory unfamiliar.
Deism is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge. Many early deists were actually intellectuals raised as Christians who believed in one god, but found fault with organized religion and did not believe in supernatural events such as miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures, or the Trinity. Lets not forget many of these early deists knew the history of the church and the atrocities committed in the name of God, and many of these individuals were Freemasons.
Rationalism is the philosophy that reason alone is a source of knowledge and is independent of experience.
In theological rationalism human reason is unaided by divine revelation and is an adequate or the sole guide to all attainable religious truth.
Naturalism is the idea or belief that only natural as opposed to supernatural or spiritual laws and forces operate in the world. It is the belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world.
Positivism is philosophy that posits that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge and that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences
As you can see all for of these philosophies would be problematic for those that believed in an intervening anthropomorphic god.
As to why I brought up these various modes of thought, I find history slowly rewriting itself to suit the individual, and often time certain groups. Such is the case of Brother George Washington, many claim him to be a deist, which I tend to agree, and others claiming him to be a Christian. Who's right depends on the historian telling his story, he very rarely spoke openly of religion or philosophy, he very rarely attended Sunday service, didn't partake in the sacrament, and did not request a minister on his death bed.
Try making the case that many of our founding fathers were actually deists and the wrath of angry medieval thinkers will surely follow.
Take for instance Thomas Jefferson, since Jefferson openly discussed his beliefs, and even even compiled a reformed version of the gospels to rescue the philosophy of Jesus and the "pure principles which he taught," from the "corruptions and artificial vestments" which were established as "instruments of riches and power" for church patriarchs.
Jefferson concluded that Jesus never claimed to be God, and he regarded much of the New Testament as corrupted with "palpable interpolations and falsifications." In other words, Jefferson separated ethical and true teachings from the religious doctrine and dogma and other fictional supernatural elements that were intermixed in the gospels between the mid-first century and the fourth century when the Christian Bible was compiled and edited. Jefferson called his book "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels." He didn’t publish it, because he regarded religious beliefs as a private matter. But now people know it as The Jefferson Bible. Yet even though Jefferson tells it like it is others still claim him to be a Christian, a history slowly changing.
In the case of Freemasonry many of our early brothers were deists, in fact you would be surprised at the amount. It's no wonder many at one time believed Freemasonry to be a deist organization and thus an enemy to the dogmatic church and its medieval belief system.
I found this paragraph from Wikipedia interesting: "One of the persistent Catholic criticisms of Freemasonry is that it advocates a deist or naturalist view of creation. Freemasonry in fact requires of its members no specific view of a supreme being, as Deism would do, but rather a simple belief in a supreme being."
My response to that statement is that in fact Freemasonry does not require its members to specify their view of God. I'm not asserting that Freemasonry is deist in nature but since the deist believes in a non-intervening god his entrance should not be challenged. As for the naturalist view of creation, it may be hidden in the rituals of Freemasonry but that is for the individual brother to ascertain himself, I'm not saying either way.
As the paragraph continues on; "Whilst it is recognized that Masonry is not atheistic, UGLE aligned Masons are asked if they believe in God before joining, its use of the expression, "Supreme Architect of the Universe", a term attributed to the Protestant theologian John Calvin—is seen by some Christian critics as indicating Deism, although Calvin was not a Deist."
My response to the above paragraph; it wouldn't be unusual to find a deist title like 'Supreme Architect of the Universe' considering this could easily apply to a creator god, a 'watch maker' of sorts, that creates the universe and peopled it with thinking human beings, and then dissociated himself from his creation. It should also be noted that Anderson's Constitutions of 1723, which every brother should be familiar with, was penned by a Presbyterian minister who would of been very familiar with the words of John Calvin. Reverend Anderson himself saw Freemasonry as universal in nature not confined to one belief system. In the Constitutions of 1723 we find a very revealing charge:
"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." Within that brief passage we find the heart and soul of Freemasonry. First we find a charge to 'obey the moral law', and how is that moral law defined? According the Merriam-Webster dictionary the 'moral law' is defined as: a general rule of right living; esp: such a rule or group of rules conceived as universal and unchanging and as having the sanction of God's will, of conscience, of man's moral nature, or of natural justice as revealed to human reason, the basic protection of rights is the moral law based on man's dignity.
Notice in the definition of moral law 'natural justice' and 'reason' being referred to, both principles found in deism where the individual is guided by natural God given reason as to what is right and what is wrong, laws are revealed through reason not revelation.
If we look once again at the passage: "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.", what may we ask is the "Art" Dr. Anderson is referring to?
This I believe refers to the esoteric aspect of Freemasonry, the truths as revealed through the rituals and symbolism of the degrees. For many these truths remain veiled even to those in Freemasonry, not purposely but because they are not sought out by the brothers themselves. I also believe the genius of Freemasonry included symbols which can interpreted morally as well as esoterically.
The paragraph continues: "But although in ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was,". Personally I take this to mean its better to blend in than to stand out, many of us are on our own personal search for truth. As history has shown it wasn't always wise to question or go against the grain, and in many countries this may still be the case. Just from that small charge you can see why some people confuse the belief systems of deist brothers who attended Christian services during the founding of America.
As Dr. Anderson's charge ends we find a push towards reconciliation between differing religions and a push towards a universal approach. We also see a statement of fact, religious proselytizing is discouraged and the moral path is something that should be the cornerstone of our life. "tis 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 Honor and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions 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."
Those familiar with my writing know I believe Freemasonry to be a creation of Isaac Newton's inner circle, heavily influenced by Brother John Theophilus Desaguliers, the experimental assistant to Isaac himself.
"The history of the organization that has relevance for the Enlightenment begins in 1717, when four London Masonic lodges united to create the Grand Lodge of London. Its early leaders were drawn from the ranks of philosophers and pastors committed to spreading the ideas of Isaac Newton, of mechanical philosophy, and of deism. The Grand Lodge quickly established power over English lodges, but the Scottish and Irish lodges refused to recognize its claims to dominance.
One of the earliest grand masters (highest leaders) of the London lodge was John Theophilus Desaguliers, the experimental scientist who was curator and demonstrator for the Royal Society of London. With J. Anderson, Desaguliers drafted the first constitution of the Freemasons, published in 1723 as The Constitutions of the Free-Masons containing the History, Charges, Regulations, etc., of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity, For the Use of the Lodges.
The Constitutions of the Free-Masons provides a mythologized history of the organization that traces it back to the first man, Adam, and to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. This "history" illustrates the strong links between Freemasonry and deism, especially in the vision of God as the architect of the universe."...Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Facts on File Library of World History Series)
The fact is Newton was an ardent anti-trinitarian; "Isaac Newton was no Christian in any orthodox sense, and his heretical views could have cost him dearly. During his Cambridge University years, Newton denied the divinity of the Trinity and the co-equal status of Jesus with God the Father. Newton kept quiet about his growing commitment to this Arian heresy, but even so it nearly lost him his job. . . ."...Thomas Levenson, Isaac Newton in his time, and Ours, Boston Globe Op-Ed July 28, 2007
It didn't take long before Isaac Newton began to indirectly support Lord Herbert's deism.
The physical world, according to Newton, was explicable in terms of “insurmountable and uniform natural laws” that could be discovered by observation and formulated mathematically. By mastering these laws human reason could explain cosmic events that had previously been ascribed to divine intervention. The beauty and variety of the system, Newton believed, was irrefutable evidence that it had been designed and produced by an intelligent and powerful Creator. Close though he was to deism, Newton differed from the strict deists insofar as he invoked God as a special physical cause to keep the planets in stable orbits. He believed in biblical prophecies, but rejected the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation as irrational.
"The last and most decisive element which helped to bring about the change of Masonry was the intellectual movement which is known by the name of English Deism, a tendency which boldly discarded the theory of Revelation and all dogma, and carried everything before it under the victorious banner of reason and criticism. It cannot be denied that there is some connection between this movement and the later league of Freemasonry."...Findel, Geschichte dcr Freimaurerd (Third Edition), p. 135.
The question then becomes, is Freemasonry at its core promoting a deist philosophy? Only the brother willing to delve in will find out, I'm not saying yes or no.
One last note, although deism seemed to disappear over the years as of late deism is raising its head again, especially in scientific circles. One could make the case that the chief reason for this stems primarily from the arguments of Intelligent Design, the virtually impossible-to-believe statistical likelihood the the intricacies, complexity, and interrelationships that exist at all levels of nature from the subatomic to the astrophysical are the product of random happenings governed by nothing more than mere chance.