The Ethical Dilemma: Can I Be a Freemason and Atheist?

Experiencing an ethical dilemma? Need advice from a humanist perspective?

Send your questions to The Ethical Dilemma at (subject line: Ethical Dilemma).

All inquiries are kept confidential.

Freemasons, Not Freethinkers: I find myself in a precarious position. I began joining the Freemasons before I de-converted from Christianity. I find myself teetering between whether I am an atheist or an agnostic theist (one who believes that there may be a god, but that’s about it). The Freemasons, while respectful of other religious beliefs, are overtly Judeo-Christian and do not tolerate atheists.

Now that I am a full-on member, I really am enjoying my time with this fraternal organization, its members, history, and structure. But part of me feels like I am “in the closet” and so I’m not quite sure how I feel. Have you any good advice for someone in such an odd spot?

—What’s With the 3rd Degree?


Dear 3rd Degree,

I really don’t know much about the mostly-male and secretive Freemasons, but the Freemason website says, “You believe in a Supreme Being—no atheist can become a Mason—but we are not concerned with theological distinctions or your particular religious beliefs.” You were still a believer when you declared your belief in a supreme being, and even now, as you waver between atheist and agnostic theist, you retain a sliver of belief. So it sounds like you’re good, with or without god. (For readers not familiar with Freemasonry, check out the segment about it on CBS Sunday Morning.)

Could you discreetly probe what your group’s policy is toward members who (hypothetically, of course) lose their belief sometime after they are already members? Would such a person be honor-bound to leave the group, or would the group be compelled to eject such a person, even if he is in every other respect in good standing?

Regardless of the answer, if you are enjoying the organization, why not keep enjoying it and keep your doubts to yourself? The website states that Freemasons do not discuss religion, so now that you are long past the pledge stage, questions about your current state of belief shouldn’t even arise.

This may be naïve, but perhaps after you’ve been a member for some time, even if you were to fully embrace atheism, there might not be any repercussions if your non-belief became known. And probably even more naïve, perhaps one day you might lead a movement to alter the by-laws to include atheists. After all, it is called “Free” masons.