That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture

That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture

That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture

That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture

Synopsis

This powerful study weaves the story of Freemasonry into the narrative of American religious history. Freighted with the mythical legacies of stonemasons' guilds and the Newtonian revolution, English Freemasonry arrived in colonial America with a vast array of cultural baggage, which was drawn on, added to, and transformed during its sojourn through American culture. David G. Hackett argues that from the 1730s through the early twentieth century the religious worlds of an evolving American social order broadly appropriated the beliefs and initiatory practices of this all-male society. For much of American history, Freemasonry was both counter and complement to Protestant churches, as well as a forum for collective action among racial and ethnic groups outside the European American Protestant mainstream. Moreover, the cultural template of Freemasonry gave shape and content to the American "public sphere." By including a group not usually seen as a carrier of religious beliefs and rituals, Hackett expands and complicates the terrain of American religious history by showing how Freemasonry has contributed to a broader understanding of the multiple influences that have shaped religion in American culture.

Excerpt

Modern Freemasonry emerged from a milieu of early eighteenthcentury London clubs, salons, and similar societies that were coming into existence in private, outside the control of the state. In 1709 the influential British social theorist Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, wrote a letter to a friend describing the emergence of these new forms of social life. Gentlemen who had previously upheld the “Sacred Truths” of the royal court, he recounted, were now meeting in “private” societies. There they engaged in wide-ranging conversations, “unravelling or refuting any Argument” so that greater truths might prevail. These “polite” societies, the English theorist observed, provided a new social space where urban gentlemen were free to discuss all manner of subjects, bound by private friendships characterized by “reciprocal tenderness and affection” that kept a studied distance from the solemn orthodoxies of state and church. These conversations, Shaftesbury warned, could take place only in private among gentlemen who knew one another well. To have such free interchange in public was “above the common Reach.”

By embracing one another as brothers joined by love rather than obedience to an authoritarian father, the members of these new societies conducted social relations in new ways. New ideas, put forward most notably by the Earl of Shaftesbury, held that people naturally got along with one another and were genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of others. These innate sentiments could do naturally what the . . .

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