Freemasonry is a social and service club that has attracted attention for as long as it has existed. Members must believe in a Supreme Being and agree to abide by the moral laws of society and government, but these beliefs have long attracted opposition from many sources. Two of the most vocal groups have been those opposed to the group’s political influence, and religious groups who actively discourage their members from joining.
The fact that many political leaders in the United States have been Masons is one reason for the opposition to the brotherhood. The first lodge in the United States was established in Philadelphia in 1730. Some of the nation’s earliest leaders including Paul Revere, Ben Franklin, and George Washington were Masons, as well as thirteen past Presidents and many Congressmen.
The official Anti-Masonic movement in the U.S. began with the disappearance of William Morgan in 1826. A former Mason in New York, he had written a book that was said to reveal the secrets of the Freemasons. The organizers of the Anti-Masonic party accused Masons of murdering him, and despite any evidence to back up their claims, local organizations would no longer back Masonic candidates for office. The party appealed to largely poorer classes and eventually spread to influence many local elections.
Christian groups oppose Freemasons for words and rituals that they see as not compatible with their beliefs. The term “Worshipful Master” which is used for some leaders as well as referring to lodges as “mosques”, “shrines”, or “temples” is seen as sacrilegious. They object to the swearing of oaths on the bible in Masonic rituals and feel that in order to pursue higher Masonic degrees, candidates engage in readings of works that explore religions and philosophies which Christians feel are occult or pagan. One prime objection that Christians have is the Masonic belief that salvation can be attained by good works, not simply through belief in Jesus Christ.
Masons are required to meet as equals, regardless of their political or religious beliefs. This has helped spark the conflict between Freemasons and the Catholic Church that goes back centuries. Masons disagree with the basic structure of the Church, which demands unquestioning acceptance of clerical authority. Totalitarian states often ban Freemasonry outright. It was eradicated in Italy, Austria, and Germany under Nazism and there are no lodges in China.
Freemasonry is the largest social service club in the world, and has been surrounded by controversy since its inception. Because of its perceived secrecy and political influence, Masonry will continue to attract opposition for years to come.