SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.X April, 1932 No.4
THE STUPID ATHEIST
The first of the Old Charges, "Concerning God and Religion " begins:
"A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and, if he
rightly understands the art, will never be a stupid atheist***. "
That all petitioners for the degrees express a belief in Deity is a
That all elected candidates who receive the entered Apprentice degree
publicly express a belief in deity is a fundamental requirement.
No lodge would accept the petition of any man unwilling to profess
his faith in Deity.
We are taught tat no atheist can be made a Mason, and the reason
usually assigned is that, lacking a belief in Deity, no obligation
can be considered binding.
The real reasons for the non-acceptance of atheists into the
Fraternity goes much deeper. We are not entirely accurate when we
say that no obligation can be binding without taking an oath. Our
courts of law permit a Quaker to "affirm " instead of taking an oath
to tell the truth, inasmuch as a Quaker’s religious belief does not
permit him to swear. Yet a Quaker who tells an untruth after his
affirmation is as subject to the penalty for perjury as the devout
believer in God who first swears to tell the truth, and then fails to
do so. The law holds a man truthful who affirms, as well as one who
swears to tell the truth.
No atheist can be made a Mason, far less from lack of binding power
of the obligation taken by such a disbeliever, than from
Freemasonry’s knowledge that an atheist can never be a Mason "in his
heart. " Our whole symbolism is founded on the erection of a Temple
to the Most High. Our teachings are of the Fatherhood of God, the
brotherhood of man founded on that fatherhood, and the immortality of
the soul in a life to come. A disbeliever in all these could by no
possible chance be happy or contented in our organization.
What is an atheist?
The question has plagued many a Masonic scholar and thousands of men
less wise. It is still a matter of perplexity to many a man who
fears that the friend who has asked him to sign his petition is an
It is possible to spin long-winded theories about the word, draw fine
distinctions, quote learned encyclopedias and produce a fog of
uncertainty as to the meaning of "atheist " as hopeless as it is
stupid, From Freemasonry’s standpoint an atheist is a man who does
not believe in Deity.
Which immediately brings out the far more perplexing question: "What
is this Deity in which a man must believe? "
Here is where all the trouble and the worry comes on the scene.
Man’s idea of God differs with the man, his education, his early
religious training. To some, the mental picture of God is that of a
commanding, venerable figure with flowing white hair and beard - the
great artist Dore so pictured God in his marvelous illustrated Bible.
Such a conception fits naturally in a heaven of golden streets,
flowing with milk and honey. White clothed angels make heavenly
music on golden harps, the while Deity judges between the good and
Such an anthropomorphic God, derived from descriptive passages in the
Bible, added to by the drawings of artists and crystallized in an age
of simple faith, have given such a conception to many who find it
Others conceive of Deity as a Bright Spirit, who moves through the
universe with the speed of light, who is "without form " because
without body, yet who is all love, intelligence, mercy and
The man who believes in the anthropomorphic God describes his
conception, then asks the brother who believes in a Bright Spirit:
"Do you believe in my God? " If the answer is in the negative, the
questioner may honestly believe him who answers to be an atheist.
The Deity of a scientist, a mathematician, a student of the cosmos
via the telescope and the testimony of geology, may be neither
anthropomorphic nor Bright Spirit, but a universally pervading power
which some call Nature; others Great First Cause; still others Cosmic
Such a man believes not in the anthropomorphic God, not in God as a
Bright Spirit. Shall he call his brethren who do so believe,
atheists? Have they the right so to denominate him?
To the geologist, the very handwriting of God is in the rocks and
earth. To the fundamentalist, the only handwriting of God is in the
Bible. Inasmuch as the geologist does not believe in the chronology
of the life of the earth as set forth in the Bible, the
fundamentalist may call the geologist an atheist. Per contra, the
geologist, certain that God has written the story of the earth in the
rocks, not in the Book, may call the fundamentalist an atheist
because he denies the plain testimony of science.
One is a right, and each is as wrong, as the other! Neither is an
atheist, "because each believes in the God which satisfies him! "
You shall search Freemasonry from Regius Poem, our oldest document,
to the most recent pronouncement of the youngest Grand Lodge; you
shall read every decision, every law, every edict of every Grand
Master who ever occupied the Exalted East, and nowhere find an ukase
that any brother must believe in the God of some other man.
Nowhere in Freemasonry in England, its Provinces, or the United
States and its dependent Jurisdictions, will you find any God
described, cataloged, limited in which a petitioner must express a
belief before his petition may be accepted.
For Masonry is very wise, she is old, old and wisdom comes with age!
She knows, as few religions and no other Fraternity has ever known,
of the power of the bond which lies in the conception of an unlimited
A witty Frenchman was asked once: "Do you believe in God? "
He answered: "What do you mean by God? Nay, do not answer. For if
you answer, you define God. A God defined is a God limited, and a
limited God is no God! "
From Freemasonry’s gentle standpoint, a God defined and limited is
not the Great Architect of the Universe. Only God unlimited by
definition; God without meets and bounds;
God under any name, by any conception, is the fundamental concept of
the Fraternity, and to believe in Whom is the fundamental requirement
In her Fellowcraft Degree Freemasonry teaches of the importance of
Logic. It is perfectly logical to say that the finite cannot
comprehend the infinite; a truism as exact as to say that light and
darkness cannot exist in the same place at the same time, or that
sound and silence cannot be experienced at the same moment. A mind
which can comprehend infinity is not finite. That which can be
comprehended by a finite mind is not infinite.
Therefore it is logical to say that no man can comprehend God, since
the only mind he has is finite.
But if a man cannot comprehend the God in Whom he must express a
belief in order to be a Freemason, it is obviously the very height of
folly to judge his belief by any finite comprehension of Deity.
Which is the best of reasons why Freemasonry makes no attempt at
definition. She does not say: "Thus and such and this and that is
my conception of God, do you believe in HIM? She says nothing,
allowing each petitioner to think of Him as finitely or as infinitely
as he will.
The agnostic frankly says: "I do not know in what God I believe, or
how he may be formed or exist. I only know that I believe in
Freemasonry does not ask him to describe his "something. " If it is
to him that which may be named God, no matter how utterly different
from the God of the man who hands him the petition, Freemasonry asks
nothing more. He must "believe. " How he names his God, how he
defines or limits Him, what powers he gives Him - Freemasonry cares
It is probable that the majority of those who profess atheism are
mistaken in their reading of their own thoughts. An atheist may be
an honest man, a good husband and father, a law abiding, charitable,
upstanding citizen. If so, his whole life contradicts what his lips
say. In the words of the poet:
"He lives by the faith his lips deny, God knoweth why! "
Many a man has reasoned about faith, heaven, infinity and God until
his brain reeled at the impossibility of comprehending the infinite
with the finite, and ended by saying in despair: "I cannot believe
in God! " Then he has taken his wife or his child in his arms and
there found happiness, completely oblivious to the most profound, as
the most simple fact of all faiths and all religions; where love is,
there is also God!
But Freemasonry does not go behind the spoken or written word. With
a full understanding that many a man who defiantly denies the
existence of God is actually not an atheist "in his heart " our Order
nevertheless insists upon a plain declaration of belief. There is no
compromise in Freemasonry; her requirement are neither many nor
difficult, but they are strict.
Having accepted the declaration, however, Freemasonry asks no
"Nor should any of us question a declaration. "
It is not for us to let our hearts be troubled, because a
petitioner’s conception of Deity is not ours. It is not for us to
worry because he thinks of his God in a way which would not satisfy
us. Freemasonry asks only for a belief in a Deity unqualified,
unlimited, undefined. Her sons cannot, Fraternally, do less.
When the great schism in Freemasonry ended in 1813, and the two rival
Grand Lodges, the moderns (who were the older) and the Ancients (who
were the younger, Schismatic body) came together on St. John’s Day to
form the United Grand Lodge, they laid down a firm foundation on this
point for all time to come. It was later declared to all by this,
the primary, Mother Grand Lodge of all the Masonic World:
"Lets any man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not
excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious
Architect of Heaven and Earth, and practices the sacred duties of
What a Mason thinks about the glorious Architect, by what name he
calls Him. how he defines or conceives of Him, so far as Freemasonry
is concerned may be a secret between Deity and brother, kept forever,
"in his heart! "