Ever since I published a DMC Newsletter bringing attention to a proposed bill to be considered at Sovereign Grand Lodge this year which, if enacted, would foster charges and trials where one member can accuse another member of lack of faith, insincere faith, or insufficient faith – my email has been inundated with concerns raised by Brothers and Sisters.
Are we really ready to usher in an era of accusations, charges and “heresy” trials in Odd Fellowship? How will such a process affect membership, both current membership and prospective membership? And how will the public’s perspective and perception of Odd Fellowship change if this bill is enacted?
Below is an example of the sorts of correspondence I have been receiving as members slowly become aware of this divisive proposed legislation. I am withholding the name of the Brother who wrote this and the identify of his Lodge. Now, this is a highly charged and controversial subject and I’m sure not everyone will agree with the author of the article below. But many will agree with the sentiments expressed, and it’s important to hear diverse voices and opinions on this subject, to openly discuss and debate the proposed amendment to our Odd Fellows Law, and to consider how this will affect our membership.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
It has come to my attention that a bill has been proposed to the Sovereign Grand Lodge by representatives Hillberry and Adams regarding an amendment concerning the necessity of the belief of a Supreme Being for membership in the Order.
It is proposed that the Code of General Laws be amended to assert that “belief in the existence of a Supreme Being who is the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, is an integral requirement to hold membership in the Order” and that “Atheism and Agnosticism…are incompatible with membership in the Order”. It asserts, further, that “loss of belief in the existence of a Supreme Being is sufficient cause for suspension or expulsion of a member”.
I am adamantly opposed to this amendment and ask that the Sovereign Grand Lodge NOT enact it for the following reasons:
1. I can see no reason (and none is offered) to assert that belief in such a being is integral in any way to Odd Fellowship.
It is doubtful the first lodges required such. Indeed, as products of the Enlightenment, there is every reason to suppose that they would make no such requirement. Even if they did, the question remains: why should we follow them in this? The mere (and dubious) fact that it has always been so, is insufficient. Society as a whole, along with our Order, has jettisoned and repudiated many long-held racist and sexist beliefs because they came to realize that such beliefs were unjustified. Mere tradition is no argument. There must be another justification.
Is it to be seriously maintained that integrity, good moral character, genuine reverence for Friendship, Love and Truth necessitate “belief in a “creator and preserver of the universe”? My fellow lodge members undeniably possess admirable moral traits, but I have no idea whether they believe in a creator God. There is no necessary connection between moral goodness and how the cosmos came to exist. They are logically and metaphysically independent of each other. This should be apparent to any sufficiently thoughtful person. Is it to be believed that we can’t discern a genuinely good person absent knowing their answers to metaphysical questions about the creation of the universe? What do beliefs about the origin of the Milky Way have to do with “visiting the sick, relieving the distressed, burying the dead or educating the orphan”?
It might be objected that any satisfactory moral code (i.e. one that is not merely relative to a person or culture) requires a supernatural moral lawgiver as its creator. A universal Moral Law, in other words, is part of God’s creation. It may be true that God is the author (and enforcer) of the Moral Law. But maybe not. Compelling reasons can be given for rejecting the view that the Moral Law has its origins in and is dependent on a supreme being. Indeed, many theologians hold that there is a Moral Law that even God himself is bound by. I leave unaddressed the question of whether one is justified in believing in the existence of a “supreme” being. Even if God exists, and even if God is the author of the Moral Law, this is irrelevant to whether belief in such a being is essential to Odd Fellowship.
What is essential, I would argue, is that Odd Fellowship requires that one commit oneself to the idea that there is a universally binding Moral Law, a moral law that is independent of any particular individual’s or society’s beliefs; a moral standard that holds across individuals and cultures. Philosophers and theologians might investigate the origins of the Moral Law, but that question need not be answered before one can set the conditions for being an Odd Fellow. Whatever its origins or foundation, it is this commitment to the Moral Law that is directly relevant to the core principles of Odd Fellowship, not belief in a Supreme Being.
2. The proposed amendment blatantly contradicts other avowed core principles of Odd Fellowship.
It is asserted, with rightful pride, that our Order is non-sectarian. To require belief in a supreme being (whatever “supreme” means) that is “creator of the universe” and “preserver of the universe” is utterly and irredeemably sectarian. Many believe in supreme beings that have neither of these attributes. Indeed, nowhere in the proposed amendment is any reference made to whether the “creator and preserver” is morally good or not. Is this attribute irrelevant to the principles of Odd Fellowship?
Nonetheless, to require any “orthodox” view of this Supreme Being is inherently sectarian. It betrays a pernicious and cavalier disregard for Truth. No view can be true which contradicts itself by requiring that it both be sectarian and not be sectarian.
One might claim that those who join the Order “know what they are getting into” when they affirm, on the application form, their belief in a “Supreme Being”. But is this true? Prior to being initiated into the Mysteries of the Order, the initiate is told that ours is a non-sectarian fraternity. Only once initiated does the member become aware that the Holy Bible is required to be prominently displayed and hear the Lord’s Prayer intoned. The initiation ceremony and subsequent advancement through the degrees is swathed in sectarian references. Can the initiate be blamed for feeling betrayed by this bait and switch? How could they not, when our whole ritual betrays that non-sectarian promise and shamelessly manifests naked hypocrisy in its demand that one believe sectarian tenets? The proposed amendment is inimical and contrary to our core values.
3. Adopting the amendment would have adverse consequences which would certainly wound, and perhaps be lethal to, the Order.
It cannot be doubted that our Order is on life-support. Membership has diminished to alarming levels and the remaining membership consists primarily of inert members who seem only motivated to fight against change. Some lodges are struggling against this moribund trend, but it is a balancing act. The Order needs to regain its place as a focus for fraternity and working toward the communal good, while at the same time maintaining its core mission and principles. The proposed amendment works against both. By requiring sectarian irrelevant beliefs about Supreme Beings it excludes good people from our bonds of fraternity who are motivated to attain our mission. It also cuts against our claims to be non-sectarian and inclusive and makes us appear to be either a cult or hypocrites (or both). This would smother any attempt to reconstitute and reenergize our Order.
It is difficult to see how, as a practical matter, this amendment would be enforced. How are charges of heresy to be implemented? What is one to do with a believing member who, for whatever reason, begins to have even the slightest doubt, and hence is “not certain” in the belief in a Supreme Being? Trial? Summary dismissal? The practical problems, only hinted at here, seem insurmountable as well as corrosive to fraternal bonds. Adopting the proposed amendment would assure the destruction of the Order from within.
Please give serious consideration to my worries about the dire effects the adoption of the amendment would have on our beloved Order.
Yours in Friendship, Love, and Truth,