Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Short Guide to Mormons and Masons

There is no question that I have been interested in the Temple and its meaning and purpose. Almost a full month was devoted to the question of what to get out of the experience and how to get it. Almost always when you talk of the LDS Temple, most likely someone will bring up Freemasonry and the supposed relations between the two. No doubt they are related, as Greg Kearney explains in Masonry and Mormonism -- An interview with Greg Kearney, The Message and the Messenger: Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry, and How Does One Explain Similarities between Masonic and Temple Ritual? where he tackles the associations. He is a Mason and a Mormon in good standing with both.

I asked him a few other questions from what he talked about above, and he was kind enough to provide some short answers. The first question is actually from "nitasmile" at
The Nauvoo Forum in the message Freemasonry and Current mormons where the subject first came to my attention for discussion. The other questions are my own:

Do any of you know of similarities between the shape of the CTR ring/shield and a simalarly shaped ring that Masons wear? Awhile ago, I worked w/a gentleman who wore a ring that had a shield w/a "G" in the middle. I asked him about it and he told me he was a Mason and that the G stood for God.

GK: As far as I know there is no relation between the CTR ring and the rings worn by some Masons which generally have the Masonic square and compasses with the letter G in the center. That motif is masonry's most visable symbol found on logdes and in a host of masonic jewelry and other related items.

Where do you think that the Mason rituals and brotherhood came from, since it didn't come from Solomon's time?

GK: Historians today, and I agree with them, say that Freemasonry
originated with medieval trade stone masons as an early form of trade union. The rituals are likely a form of passion play centered around the story of the building of Solomon's temple as recorded in scripture along with the Hiram Abiff story.

The Temple is "secret" because it is considered too sacred, but why do you think the Masons held and still hold to the secretive nature?

GK: Today, of course, the secretive nature of Freemasonry is simply a
tradition. Every aspect of the ritual and teachings of masonry have
been widely published even by masonic publishers. Originally it did
serve a purpose of protecting "trade secrets" of operative masons by
insuring that those hired to work as such were properly trained in the

How do the Masons use the Scriptures? Do they read them in the lodges, study them, or are they more placed on the alter as symbolic gesture? Do you know of any lodges that also include the Koran or other Holy Books?

GK: We use scripture in all the ways you sight above. My lodge here in Wyoming uses the Koran when raising a brother who is Muslim. Of course, lodges in Islamic nations use the Koran. In Israel the Torah is used. When I was raised, the standard works of the LDS Church were employed. The 21st Landmark of Freemasonry states as follows:

It is a Landmark, that a "Book of the Law" shall constitute an
indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge. I say advisedly, a Book of the Law, because it is not absolutely required that everywhere the Old and New Testaments shall be used. The "Book of the Law" is that volume which, by the religion of the country, is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the universe. Hence, in all Lodges in Christian countries, the Book of the Law is composed of the Old and New Testaments; in a country where Judaism was
the prevailing faith, the Old Testament alone would be sufficient; and in Mohammedan countries, and among Mohammedan Masons the Koran might be substituted. Masonry does not attempt to interfere with the peculiar religious faith of its disciples, except so far as relates to the belief in the existence of God, and what necessarily results from that belief." The Book of the Law is to the speculative Mason his spiritual Trestleboard; without this he cannot labor; whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestleboard, and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labor, to be the rule and guide of his conduct The Landmark, therefore, requires that a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form in essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.

How can a Latter-day Saint, without actually joining the group, learn more about Masonry?

GK: Any good library will have a host of books on the subject. I would
suggest A Pilgrim's Path: Freemasonry and the Religious Right, A Pilgrim's Path: One Man's Road to the Masonic Temple by Robinson and Duncan's Ritual of Freemasonry by Malcolm C. Duncan as starting points.

(Jettboy note: I added both Robinson books just to be sure of the correct one)

Why do you think that teaching by ritual is so shocking to Latter-day Saints?

GK: Unlike in Joseph Smith's day we no longer live in a world steeped in ritualistic teaching. The Saints of Nauvoo, many of whom were Masons, knew well this form of teaching. We are also not a ritual based faith unlike our Catholic brothers and sisters. So, when we are presented with worship in the ritual form, be it the endowment ritual or the Catholic mass, it seems alien to us.

(Jettboy note: I knew at least one Catholic, and have heard of others, that actually weren't as bothered by the LDS Temple rituals. In fact, I remember going to a Mass on my mission and recognizing minor similarities.)

The "Grips" in both Mormonism and Masonry are rather easy to interpret. The "Signs" are a little harder to interpret. Without giving out anything "secret" about both, how can we better understand the hand gestures? What is there purpose?

GK: In masonry the signs allude to the way the hands are placed on the volume of scripture when your obligations are taken with the various degrees. They are used to show that you were raised in a proper lodge. Originally they served as a means of identifying a fellow mason seeking work.

What you ask as rhetoric, would be nice to be answered. What is the purpose of having penalties? Obviously they aren't usually taken literally.

GK: The penalties, both masonic and LDS, were what you would rather have done to you rather than violate you commitments. They were never intended as a licence to commit murder.

(Jettboy note: i.e. I would say it would probably be something like, "cross my fingers and hope to die. Stick a thousand needles in my eye.")

There were some anti-masonic Mormons at the time of Joseph Smith, what happened to them? How did they generally react to the Temple experience?

GK: As far as can be ascertained; nothing. Perhaps the best known anti-mason in Nauvoo was Lucinda Morgan, Widow of James Morgan who's death sparked the anti masonic movement in the opening decades of the 19th century. She would become a plural wife of Joseph Smith. There is no record of what her impressions were of the temple endowment.

Can you expand on the idea of the "endowment" and the "Ritual" as seperate and related?

GK: The central idea of my thesis is that the ritual is used to teach the endowment. The ritual is the presentation of the endowment. It is not the endowment itself. The ritual has and will change to meet modern needs. The endowment, however, teaches eternal ideas and commitments.

You answered the question for yourself personally, but I would like to know generally speaking why you think a Mormon would want to become a Mason?

GK: I think there is a tendency for a Mormon to center their entire lives around the Church and other church members. They are never developing any kind of association with the wider community. This is to some degree understandable; we do not wish to be put into social situations which involve activities not in keeping with our standards.

Freemasonry does not force us to make such a choice. I have been able to make association with men I might never have otherwise done so in a institution which respects and supports my standards.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Importance of Israel’s War

The news has been non-stop in its presentation of a little war in a mostly undesirable part of the world that comprises a little more land than Rhode Island in the United States. Strangely, what happens in Israel can effect the whole world. Why? Because that tiny spot represents the religious history of very powerful religious groups. There are the Christians who formed from the Jewish heritage and rapidly grew. Muslims claim to be true inheritors of the “People of the Book” (i.e. in the Koran and not the Bible), with the others as apostates and enemies of truth. This combination of people laying claim to such a small territory is bound to cause trouble.

Right now the war is between the Jews and the Muslims, with Christians acting as some kind of back seat drivers. This is to be expected. Very powerful Muslim countries are itching for a fight between East and West, or in their view the Righteous and the Infidel. A no-holds bar war would draw the “Christian” nations in, if for no other reason than oil profits. There are those who say “curse on both your houses” against Muslims and Jews in the recent conflict, but that is wrong. Again and again the aggressor has been Muslims, with Israel as a ripe target for religious zealots. They don't want peace, but power of the ultimate kind.

Those who are for peace must stand with Israel if they believe in freedom, democracy, and civilization. That means more than railing against terrorists, but holding all Islamic countries responsible. Very few speak out against the terrorist acts of a few because they secretly, if not openly, support them. They consider it a struggle against infidels and want all people to worship Allah. It is not enough for simple missionary work (that is actually going well when it comes to Islamic growth), but they want to conquer the world. The problem is, there are groups like Israel and the United States that refuse to cooperate. And so, the sins of the terrorists are put on the heads of the defenders:

And whom do you blame for your plight? Logic would seem to dictate that the Hezbollah terrorists and their suppliers are to blame. If Iran and Syria weren’t funding, training, and supplying Hezbollah terrorists, none of this would have happened in the first place. If they weren’t launching missiles from your neighborhood, Israeli forces wouldn’t have bombed your neighborhood. Failing that, if terrorists hadn’t prevented your friends and family members from leaving, they wouldn’t have been hurt by Israeli bombs, even though, their homes and their possessions would have been destroyed as Israel worked to defend itself.

But, no, the blame falls squarely on the U.S. Why? Because the U.S. sells military weaponry to Israel. Because the U.S. is Israel’s ally. The U.S. doesn’t have to be within a thousand miles of the conflict to be at fault. There is no outrage expressed toward the Iranian mullahs and Syrian dictator that provide the missiles and war materiel that keep the conflict going after more than a month. There is no anger expressed toward the terrorists (brave martyrs, freedom fighters) that started and continue to pursue the war.

The solution to the Lebanese people featured in the article, of course, is to get rid of the Jews. One woman says, “They [Americans] have a big country, so why don't they give them [Jews] some land there so we can live in peace.” Another woman says, “I just wish I had a plane so I could destroy Israel, Bush and his dog Olmert.”

It is not as if Israel has, at least at this time in history, missed opportunities to reconcile with the Islamic world around them. They have made concessions that any other country would consider acts of treason. Yet, exactly what they have feared would happen with such concessions has happened. Instead of making things better, it only makes things worse. And if the Muslims finally do win and destroy Israel from off the Levant, it would be a mistake to think that is as far as they will go. They want us all and we shouldn't let them have it:

Israel has a right to exist, as much as anyone. You name a people and we could turn all those arguments against them. Heck at least the Jews paid for the land to begin with even if others feel that they can tell them what they own and what they don't.

It is more than enough time for the rest of us to DEMAND that Islam finally act like they keep claiming and start to be a people of peace. Israel has acted UNILATERALLY and still it is not enough, giving up the Gaza which of course now is where they are being hit from. . .

I don't want to be forced to live your religion, your sharia laws or the way you treat women. You can keep that garbage. None of it is worthy or of good report. If you want it STAY THERE! If you want peace, my first suggestion is that you let go of your bigotry against Jews.

An argument will inevitably be presented that says that not all Muslims are radicals or support them. I wish that were true (and for some few it might be), but it is their responsibility to clean up their religion and not the rest of us. It is this self-cleaning that has helped develop so many strains of Christianity and helped neutralize the more violent portion. In some ways it has sadly diluted the faith of Christ, but at least has opened up a dialogue that can be shared by individuals without much compulsion. Even the most radical “fundamentalist” groups are not blowing up hospitals and schools.

Compare what a few angry Christians say with what a leader of a powerful group who has shown they will do what they say, has said:

From The Intelligence Summit:
Iran’s Hizbollah, which claims links to the Lebanese group of the same name, said on Tuesday it stood ready to attack Israeli and U.S. interests worldwide.
“We have 2,000 volunteers who have registered since last year,” said Iranian Hizbollah’s spokesman Mojtaba Bigdeli, speaking by telephone from the central seminary city of Qom.
“They have been trained and they can become fully armed. We are ready to dispatch them to every corner of the world to jeopardise Israel and America’s interests. We are only waiting for the Supreme Leader’s green light to take action. If America wants to ignite World War Three … we welcome it,” he said.

Whoa, whoa whoa.. Hang on one sec. Does this sound to anybody else like this?:

And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word—Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them.
And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction.
I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct. (3 Nephi 3:3-4,8)

The answer to all of this might be disturbing, but it might also be the only answer. We must forget the “innocents” of the Muslim people and hold them all as responsible. They are upholding these evil men without either speaking out or fighting them. The wicked become heroes and “freedom fighters” instead of the violent Islamo-fascists they really are behind the curtain of protectors of the poor and downtrodden. Upholding the terrorists make them one of them with or without weapons. If they make peace than they are worthy and if they stand with the violent than they should accept their fate:

15 As the LORD commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses.

16 So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same;

17 Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them.

18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.

19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle.

20 For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Joshua 11: 15-20)

Israel spared those who would make peace. It was those who wanted war and domination (most of the people of the land of Canaan) who were annihilated. Most of all, the whole of a nation becomes worthy of such derision and destruction when it becomes hard to tell the wicked from the righteous:

37 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.

38 And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.

39 And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

40 And thus we see that they were in an awful state, and ripening for an everlasting destruction. (see Helaman 6: 21-23, 37-40)

Again, it is up to the people to clean house or others will do it for them as “the people” become part of the problem. It is for these reasons that decent people should stand with Israel and hold the Muslims (all of them) accountable for what is going on in their countries. It is true that both the West and Israel are not completely innocent. But, at least they are trying where the Muslims continue to make excuses, stand by terrorists, and do nothing without violent threats. This behavior must stop and wrongdoers held accountable before any lasting peace can be achieved.

This might not happen, according to prophecy, until the end comes and Jesus Christ returns. Too bad, for there is much to admire about Islam when it lives up to itself. Barbarism has made it unworthy of respect.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Bible, A Bible, I Want a New Bible

Recently I finished reading Misquoting Jesus by one of my favorite agnostic religious subject authors. Compared to his The Lost Christianities I found several religious and philosophical differences to my own. for instance, I don't believe that we can come to any real conclusions about the "original autographs" of the Biblical writers. At best we can come to an approximation, even using the earliest and "best" sources. On the more conservative side of the arguments, I don't believe that the KJV is not to be trusted over any other translation. At worst it is no better than the majority. Too often the author and textualists, if we are to believe he represents them, break their own rules. I especially don’t believe that the Bible needs to be perfect (as Bart D. Ehrman believes) in order to be divinely inspired. Where he sees human hands everywhere and God nowhere, I see God everywhere using imperfect human hands.

At any rate, the book has helped me become more interested in Biblical scholarship and interpretation. I must agree that the KJV is not the best source for accuracy in interpretation of the Bible. I still will argue that it is the best literary Bible ever produced. Another argument I also agree with is that the LDS Scriptural tradition is tied so intimately with the KJV that replacing it would do more harm than good. Theological teachings, revelations, and official sermons would lose too many coherencies.

Still, I do think that a reliable translation with more nuanced understanding of Biblical textual history should be encouraged. It is this reason that I have searched for a better Bible to read for study. I am not troubled by the many differences between many translations. This goes deeper than just a belief that the original autographs are unrecoverable, but today's text still inspired. From my own studies of the development of the Scriptures by Joseph Smith (especially the Doctrine and Covenants) Revelation is very flexible. Once they are on paper, it doesn't mean they are untouchable. Rather, they are open to changes, revisions and re-visions, clarifications, and etc. Revelations from 1830 could be, and sometimes are, different from readings of the same text in 1845. One of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon left the Church over this flexibility. The Bible, having many hands in the writing and preservation over centuries, is equally open to the same. Obviously, those who aren’t “Mormon” will not see it this way or trust the source of LDS inspiration.

Personally, I find “Mormons” ambivalent about the "inerrancy" idea, especially when talking with Christian evangilicals. Yet, in practice they are very literalist themselves - to a point. In other words, Mormons are very literalist with the stories and miracles. When questioned farther, they are usually very open about the non-binding nature of the text itself. It is a very careful viewpoint. That is why so many seem interested in learning Greek, Hebrew, and Latin yet disregard “Higher Criticism” that often sounds irreligious. They accept problems with its text and transmission and not its core history and theology.

And so I started a search for the most recent, "scientifically" produced (i.e. using all manuscripts available), English, and doctrinally sufficient Scriptural Translation. I am looking for, if one exists, a more accurate Scripture than the KJV. At the least, one that is closer to the Greek and Hebrew – with a little Latin – manuscripts, without a lot of theological tampering. So far I have gotten the most positive responses about the NEB, NRSV, and the Jerusalem Bible.

I have come to the conclusion that NET Bible is the closest to what I am searching for. I know others have suggested "Blue Letter Bible," but I refuse to support them. They are so openly anti-Mormon that it sickens me even to consider them. I am sure the sponsors of are equally bad with that, but at least I don't have to go to the front door with an unwelcome reminder. You can download it for free as well.