The prominence of some Masons, and the interest piqued by the privacy of many of our rites has led to speculation and curiosity. Some of this speculation has mixed with conspiracy theories to produce some major misconceptions about the Lodge. In the interest of protecting our image, here are some of the most common mistaken ideas about Freemasons and a response to each.
Masons are a Secret Society
The way we always respond to this misconception is by saying we are not a secret society, but rather a society with secrets. You can find us in the phone book, and you can usually find a sign outside of our Lodge buildings. Masons wear jewelry with our symbols on them, and often put decals on their automobiles. We keep private our means of identification and some of our rituals to thwart con artists and prevent confusion.
All US Presidents Have Been Masons
In fact, only 14 US Presidents have been Masons. The last US President who was part of the Lodge was Gerald Ford; before him Lyndon Johnson had been initiated into the First Degree, but went no further. There have been rumors spread that Barack Obama is a Prince Hall Mason, but this is not true, the product of conspiracy theorists. Some presidents have been friendly to the Lodge without ever having joined—these include Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. There have also been presidents who have been critical of the Lodge: John Quincy Adams embraced Anti-Masonic feelings prominent at the time, in large part due to opposition to his major political foe, Andrew Jackson, a Mason.
The Masonic Lodge is a Religion, Has Its Own Holy Book, and Its Own God
This is a persistent and deeply mistaken idea. The Lodge requires all of its members to believe in a Higher Power, which we call “The Great Architect of the Universe” in order to allow different faiths room under this requirement. Some anti-Masonic writers have abbreviated this saying as GAOTU and claimed that this is our god, or that we worship ancient gods. The Lodge has always said “we are neither a religion, nor a substitute for religion.” We expect our members to show reverence in their own way, and local Lodges typically forbid discussion of religion in order to preserve peace.
Each Lodge displays a “Volume of the Sacred Law,” which in Christian nations is usually the Holy Bible. In Muslim nations it is usually a Qur’an, and in Lodges with a diversity of faiths, multiple books will often be displayed. We respect each man’s conscience, and we wish to help each honor God in his own way.
You Have to Be Powerful to Be a Mason
People believe that the Lodge exists to help Masons get jobs, get out of trouble, win elections or otherwise gain power. This is simply not true—while we work to help one another, our main purpose is to find brotherhood and spiritual growth. We do have prominent people among our members, but we also have laborers, small business owners, farmers, public servants and other mundane types. We look for powerful consciences, not resumes.
Masons Use Violence to Protect Their Secrets
This is also a lie, as the vast number of “exposes” of supposed Masonic secrets should prove. In truth, most of our passwords and rituals vary a bit from place to place and over time, so any exposure is of little lasting significance. We are sworn to respect the law, and any retaliation of the sort imagined by our detractors would be a violation of our oath on top of the exposer’s betrayal.