“Freemasonry may rightfully claim to be called a religious institution. Closely and accurately examined, it will be found to answer to any one of the requirements of either of these three definitions. So much does it “include a belief in the being and perfections of God,” that the public profession of such a faith is essentially necessary to gain admission into the Order. No disbeliever in the existence of a God can be made a Freemason. The “revelation of his call to man” is technically called the “spiritual, moral, and Masonic Trestle-Board” of every Freemason, according to the rules and designs of which he is to erect the spiritual edifice of his eternal life.
A “state of reward and punishment” is necessarily included in the very idea of an obligation, which, without the belief in such a state, could be of no binding force or efficacy. And “true godliness or piety of life” is inculcated as the invariable duty of every Freemason, from the inception of the first to the end of the very last Degree that he takes. So, again, in reference to the second and third definitions, all this practical piety and performance of the duties we owe to God and to our fellow men arise from and are founded on a principle of obedience to the divine will. Else whence, or from what other will, could they have arisen?
It is the voice of the G. A. O. T. U. symbolized to us in every ceremony of our ritual and from every portion of the furniture of our Lodge, that speaks to the true Freemason, commanding him to fear God and to love the Brethren. It is idle to say that the Freemason does good simply in obedience to the Statutes of the Order. These very Statutes owe their Sanction to the Masonic idea of the nature and perfections of God, a belief that has come down to us from the earliest history of the Institution, and the promulgation of which idea was the very object and design of its origin.
But it must be confessed that the fourth definition does not appear to be strictly applicable to Freemasonry. It has no pretension to assume a place among the religions of the world as a sectarian “system of faith and worship,” in the sense in which we distinguish Christianity from Judaism, or Judaism from Mohammedanism. In this meaning of the word we do not and can not speak of the Masonic religion, nor say of a man that he is not a Christian, but a Freemason. Here it is that the opponents of Freemasonry have assumed mistaken ground in confounding the idea of a religious Institution with that of the Christian religion as a peculiar form of worship, and in supposing, because Freemasonry teaches religious truth, that it is offered as a substitute for Christian truth and Christian obligation. Its warmest and most enlightened friends have never advanced nor supported such a claim. Freemasonry is not Christianity, nor a substitute for it. It is not intended to supersede it nor any other form of worship or system of faith. It does not meddle with sectarian creeds or doctrines, but teaches fundamental religious truth— not enough to do away with the necessity of the Christian scheme of salvation, but more than enough to show, to demonstrate, that it is, in every philosophical sense of the word, a religious Institution, and one, too, in which the true Christian Freemason will find if he earnestly seeks for them, abundant types and shadows of his own exalted and divinely inspired faith.
The tendency of all true Freemasonry is toward religion. If it make any progress, its progress is to that holy end. Look at its ancient landmarks, its sublime ceremonies, its profound symbols and alle gories—all inculcating religious doctrine, commanding religious observance, and teaching religious truth, and who can deny that it is eminently a religious Institution? But, besides, Freemasonry is, in all its forms, thoroughly tinctured with a true devotional spirit. We open and close our Lodges with prayer; we invoke the blessing of the Most High upon all our labors; we demand of our neophytes a profession of trusting belief in the existence and the superintending eare of God; and we teach them to bow with humility and reverence at His awful name, while His Holy Law is widely opened upon our altars. Freemasonry is thus identified with religion; and although a man may be eminently religious without being a Freemason, it is impossible that a Freemason can be “true and trusty” to his Order unless he is a respecter of religion and an observer of religious principle.
But the religion of Freemasonry is not sectarian It admits men of every creed within its hospitable bosom, rejecting none and approving none for his peculiar faith. It is not Judaism, though there is nothing in it to offend a Jew; it is not Christianity, but there is nothing in it repugnant to the faith of a Christian. Its religion is that general one of nature and primitive revelation—handed down to us from some ancient and Patriarchal Priesthood—in which all men may agree and in which no men can differ. It inculcates the practise of virtue, but it supplies no scheme of redemption for sin. It points its disciples to the path of righteousness, but it does not claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” In so far, therefore, it cannot become a substitute for Christianity, but its tendency is thitherward; and, as the handmaid of religion, it may, and often does, act as the porch that introduces its votaries into the temple of divine truth. Freemasonry, then, is indeed a religious institution; and on this ground mainly, if not alone, should the religious Freemason defend it. ” – Albert Mackey Encylopedia of Freemasonry