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Secularism and Freemasonry

Critical Thinking - Secularism, Religion and Atheism

Source of the video: MOOC "Pensée critique" of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).

The lodge, a place of peace for believers and unbelievers:

For a renewal of the concept of secularism!

Secularism was imposed in the French constitution to promote the neutrality of the republican state with regard to different religions.

Secularism has thus become the fulfilment of this constitutional obligation, particularly in schools.

From an option for tolerance and respect for sensitivities, a more or less formalistic "guerilla war" was launched to ensure that religious debate did not pollute the civil service.

The commitment of the Freemasons to the promotion of the secular spirit unfortunately did not prevent secularism from appearing as a war machine against religions.

And yet, what other space allows such a great acceptance of differences as the Masonic space . Yesterday the confrontations were mainly between Christian groups, today it is an opposition between Jews and Muslims, and tomorrow it is likely that it will be an exacerbation of tensions between believers and non-believers.

If one understands that, in order to avoid tensions in the lodges, it was wished to proscribe religious and political debates, there is nothing to prevent the promotion of the lodge as a space of peace welcoming whether one is a believer or not and if one is a believer whatever deity (or deities) one wishes to honour.

Of course, the ideal would be to have a ritual less "marked" ideologically than those currently used but this is another debate.

By "forgetting" the secular conception of the State, and by promoting the secular behaviour of Freemasons in colloquiums or artistic events highlighting openness, tolerance and mutual respect, one could hope for a different view of public opinion on Masonic commitment to peace.

Relations with religions:

Freemasonry has from its inception been experienced as a threat by the Catholic Church, which instituted a procedure of excommunication; this is no longer proclaimed today, but the incompatibility is maintained with the notion of "grave sin" for Catholics who become Freemasons.

In the Muslim movement many fatwas have been issued against Freemasons.

Among the major religions, Protestantism, Buddhism, Orthodox and Hebrew do not see any objection to their members also belonging to a Masonic lodge.

One might be surprised at the passion that emerges when we approach this subject because they are two different and/or complementary approaches.

In fact the disputes arise mainly from the problem of the relationship between the State and religious power. Religious powers have historically been linked to political power and today many states still keep religious references in their constitutions.

When this is no longer the case, there is often still a willingness to invest in the workings of the state or to control certain societal positions.

It is customary to say that religious and political issues should not be discussed in lodges. This is a good principle that aims to avoid polemics and schisms that could arise on these issues. In reality, it is often difficult to prevent groupings by affinities; it is classic to catalogue lodges, obediences according to these criteria.

And yet the Masonic approach has the right answer: know how to respect each other, know how to listen to each other, know how to accept. It is normal that Freemasons, like any human being, have political and/or religious convictions. But in the Lodge, we are not there to proselytize; we are there to understand and build authentic and respectful relationships.

Do not confuse the secularism of the State and the Masonic secularism.

This is a mistake that is often made because it is tempting to try to mix things up.

The secular nature of the State is a consequence of the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State; its purpose is to clearly delimit the prerogatives of each in the organization and functioning of the Republic: schematically, the State guarantees freedom of worship and religions are prohibited from meddling in the affairs of the State and in particular from proselytizing in the various administrative structures.

Masonic secularism (even if the term has not been used) dates from the origin of the lodges and concerned the respect that each must show to the religion of the other; in the Grand Orient of France, since 1877, this respect has been extended to non-believers and atheists. This Masonic secularism, which some call tolerance, is accompanied by the absence of proselytism in the lodge and the mutual commitment to follow the same ritual.

Culture broth, the salt of secularism,

what dosage?

The problem

Conceptions and perceptions of secularism, with or without adjectives, diverge quite deeply.

This has always been the case at the GODF, but the course of current events, in addition to the past and often the liabilities of colonisation and its consequences on the arrival in France of people of immigrant origin, requires in-depth reflection in the Masonic context, but above all in the more general context of society.

There is a distinction between a conception of masonry that is essentially anti-religious, but does not often confess as such, and a conception of secularism that takes a vigilant look at any form of intervention in the political field by clerics, mainly religious, often linked to communitarian practices.

Let us also make a difference between open and closed communities, a sociological and political reality that it is futile to deny, and the articulation with the multiple facets of identity of most of its members.

Secular identity

But first we must begin by denouncing what I call secular identity, with its treacherously harmful aspects.

It is a conception that refers to the French exception: secularism would be a specifically French phenomenon, untranslatable and incomprehensible to other societies.

This conception is close to that which makes the genius of each people a specificity that separates it from other peoples, thus rendering the ideals of universalism of the French Revolution inoperative.

It is that of the opponents of the Enlightenment, which manifested itself as early as the Revolution, in France, with our brother Joseph de Maistre, and elsewhere, particularly in Great Britain with the philosopher Burke.

Such a conception prospers on sites such as Riposte Laïque and finds its full blossoming at the FN, which thus seeks to confiscate secularism, in a process where Islamophobia is the only real objective.

Anti-religious Secularism

This conception of secularism tends to consider any manifestation of religion as an expression of obscurantism that must be combated. It is therefore necessary to repress as much as possible any manifestation of it in the public sphere and to refuse all contact with people of religious conviction. It is currently finding new ground in the fight against Islamism, but it has older sources. During the debates that led to the 1905 law, its supporters, such as little Father Combes, wanted to ban the presence of cassocks in the streets. Fortunately, the long parliamentary debate led to a formulation wanted by Aristide Briand and Jean Jaurès. If the anti-religious conception had triumphed, the law would have been abolished or radically revised afterwards.

Such a conception may encourage a shift towards secular identity, considering Islamism as the most threatening religion for our society, taking over, as it were, the fight against the Catholic religion.

Vigilant secularism

It is a conception that is opposed to any form of clericalism aimed at imposing its own conceptions and values on society as a whole. It distinguishes between belief in a religion, which is not in itself a manisfestation of obscurantism, and the willingness of a religious authority to act in the political sphere, for example by exerting pressure to impose on society as a whole a law such as the refusal of abortion, when the majority of the members of society do not declare themselves to be following the precepts of that authority.

Communities, Identities and Religions

In order to fully understand the complexity of what is at stake and to take the right decisions, the Community phenomenon must be taken into account in all its dimensions.

The legislators of the 1905 Act were careful not to repeal the provisions of the Concordat concerning the interlocutor religious authorities of the State. But they have had a problem for 30 years with an undisputed interlocutor concerning the Muslim religion.

This is due to the fact that there is not one Muslim community, but a set of different communities on the conception of religion and original affiliations.

This is not a special case but a general case. Contrary to appearances, there is not one Catholic community united behind its hierarchy but multiple communities reflecting multiple and sometimes contradictory sensibilities.

When one visits the Bernardins, the Institut Catholique de Paris, the Centre de Sèvres one realizes that they have more than differences with movements such as the Manif pour tous or Sens Commun. They even fear these movements that overflow the fundamentalist communities they oppose.

It will be particularly beneficial to establish a dialogue between them and movements with a secular tradition, such as the GODF. It will be realized that there are possible convergences, while remaining vigilant about the clerical tropisms that are dormant.

It is the same in the Protestant world where the liberal reformers are very different from the evangelists; the same is true between the Jewish liberal movements and the Orthodox.

This confrontation including the multiple communities of the Muslim world will make it possible to consolidate a common reading of the 1905 law and an acceptance of recent provisions, such as those resulting from the Stasi commission in 2005. There will of course be divergences and confrontations, but we must be optimistic and willing.

This dialogue with the communities should be extended to other communities than the purely religious ones and this in a local territorial context, not only at the level of a national dialogue, of a concordant nature, between 'official' religious authorities.

There is and will be more and more recent and long-standing immigration into the territories of different communities.

It is important to ensure that these communities are open and accept the laws of the national community and renounce specific practices and customs outside the common law. Similarly, they must accept that their members may leave their community.

This is the case of apostasy as far as religions are concerned.

Full account must also be taken of the fact that more and more people have multiple identities. The notion of so-called "native-born" identity is a fantasy of xenophobic movements that has no reality. Because of our origins, we are all at the crossroads of diverse identities, to which must be added the membership of communities that we have chosen.

The important thing is to act so that these multiple facets in the same person are not

This is unfortunately the case, for example, for people of North African origin who do not enjoy their French citizenship well for a variety of reasons: confinement in neighbourhoods but also mistrust maintained by xenophobic tendencies.

We can thus see the new political dimension that secularism is taking on, extended to all aspects of the reality of communities and identities.

It is a question of making common law the basis of relations within a reconciled national community.

In addition to the action to be expected from the republican rule of law, citizens must take greater responsibility at local level.

The creation or enlargement of houses of fraternity is topical, taking up and developing for example a suggestion by Edgar Morin. This will make it possible to revitalize the committees or houses of lay action which are often dormant.

By establishing concrete exchanges and practices in conformity with the principle of secularity between communities of all kinds present on a territory, in liaison of course with the public authorities, this will lead us to live better, according to the principles of a Republic which is certainly One and Indivisible, but also plural.

French law on secularism in the life of associations

Answers from Gwénaële Calvès, jurist and professor at the University of Cergy, on the link between secularism and discrimination and discrimination and secularism (sources: CEMEA)


On the subject of secularism, read also :

  • on Mezetulle, Catherine Kintzler's article and comments on "Secularism comments attributed to President Macron"

  • Secularism or the turbulent history of a French concept

  • Uninhibited secularism

  • French-style secularism, a reductive secularism?

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