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The Masonic and Orange Orders: Fraternal Twins or Public Misperception? (Guest Blog Post)

Guest blog post by Kenneth C. Jack. The following is an abridged version of an article which appeared in issue 39 of The Ashlar (posted with permission by Kenneth C. Jack).

Kenneth Jack resides in Perthshire, Scotland. He is active in a number of Masonic Orders, chairing a couple of  them. He also enjoys writing on various aspects of the ‘Craft’, and has been published in a range of Masonic periodicals throughout the world, including: The Ashlar; The Square; Philalethes JournalScottish Rite Journal; and Masonic Magazine (now defunct ). He has also had non-Masonic essays published in history periodicals in the USA, including: The California Territorial  Quarterly.


“Who’s the Mason in the Black?” shout the supporters of any football side (or soccer side for American readers) when the match referee awards what in their minds is a dubious decision in favour of the Scottish football club Glasgow Rangers.

Why “Mason in the Black?” Well apart from the fact referees used to invariably dress in black, there is a feeling abroad amongst supporters of other football clubs, that most football referees in Scotland are Freemasons; and as such, must naturally favour Glasgow Rangers because both are often perceived to be staunchly Protestant in their affiliations.

Glasgow Rangers are currently striving to fend off the suggestion which has been tabloid currency for many years, that they are a pro-Protestant, Anti-Catholic club, who are bigoted and discriminatory towards persons who practice Roman Catholicism. Rangers have not hidden their firm Protestant Unionist credentials from the public for a lengthy period, since their birth as a football club in 1872. The team traditionally play in the red, white, and blue colours of the Union flag, and an anti-Catholic bias has had the tacit – if not overt approval of those associated with the club for many years.

In 1912, Glasgow Merchant Sir John Ure Primrose became Chairman of the club. He was a fervent Unionist, staunchly anti-Catholic, and publicly allied Rangers to the Masonic cause. He also saw his clubs rivalry with Celtic as a money-making enterprise, and sectarianism catered to a large niche market.

Efforts to curb sectarian chanting by their supporters, is something Rangers FC has only recently addressed, their minds increasingly focused on the problem, due to pressure brought to bear by the Union of  European Football Associations (UEFA) in the latter’s crackdown on Sectarianism in Football.  

Rangers great and bitter rivals are of course Glasgow Celtic Football Club which has a strong Irish Republican, Roman Catholic tradition, stemming from the fact the club was formed by Irish Marist Priest, Brother Walfrid (Andrew Kearns) in 1888, and for whom a statue now stands proudly outside Celtic Park. The supporters of Celtic FC proudly emphasise their tradition by singing Irish songs and waving the Irish tricolour at matches. Notwithstanding, Celtic Football Club seemed to have more of a pro-Catholic bias as opposed to an anti-Protestant one, as evidenced by the number of Protestants who have played for them over the years; and of course, their most famous and successful Manager was the great Jock Stein, who was a Protestant and Freemason. In fairness, it also has to be said that Rangers have publicly employed Roman Catholic players and staff in recent years.

Nevertheless, both sides have had sectarian elements attached to them throughout their history, some of whom not only sing the praises of paramilitary organisations which existed during the political troubles in Northern Ireland, but have been members of these organisations, or have supported them financially. Rangers supporters not only sang the praises of King William of Orange and his famous defeat of Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, but also did the same for the various paramilitary Loyalist groups in Northern   Ireland. At the same time, Celtic supporters did likewise in their ballads praising the Pope and extolling the dubious virtues of Republican paramilitaries.

So, where does Freemasonry come into this? Well, the fact is it does not, or should not. In order to become a Freemason, a candidate needs to profess a belief in a supreme being. He has to be at least 21 years of age, free, and of good character. On that basis, good men of any religion can become Freemasons – and do. There are Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu Freemasons who all meet harmoniously within a Masonic Lodge. The chant “Who’s the Mason in the Black”? is therefore a misnomer, and leads to confusion for members of the public. But why is it that the public believe Freemasonry to be an exclusively Protestant organisation, with a bias against Roman Catholics? It is very simply because in the mind of many of them, Freemasonry is synonymous with Orangeism.

Many people believe Orangeism to be a shady, invidious ideal. The Orange Order is an unashamedly sectarian organisation; only Protestants can join the Order, and the main aim of the Order is to defend Protestantism as the dominant religion of their country. They swear to defend the faith, particularly against Papal encroachment, which they deem contrary to their core beliefs. Moreover, there has always been juxtaposition between some members of the Orange Order and Loyalist paramilitary groups.

Notwithstanding, the Orange Order is a lawful organisation, and the leaders of it point to the fact they are not anti-Catholic, but pro-Protestant; and that their beef, if they have one, is not with Roman Catholics as individuals, but the Papal Hierarchy; both in the way they choose to practice the worship of God, and their social and political ambitions.

But this does not explain why the public believe that Freemasons and Orangemen are cut from the same cloth. Although Freemasonry and Orangeism are two totally distinct Orders, that are not in amity or affiliated in any way, they do share a common history; and it is known that many men simultaneously enjoy membership of both organisations. The Orange Order came into existence in Northern Ireland in 1795; it is not the purpose of this paper to discuss the long and bloody history of Ireland and only a brief synopsis is required here concerning the origins of the Order.

In the 17th and 18th Century in Ireland, there were many local conflicts between Catholics and Protestants concerning the ownership of land, which occasionally boiled over into violence. This led to the formation of a number of secret agrarian groups. The Protestants formed the ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’ and the Catholics the ‘Defenders’. In a place called ‘Diamond’ in Loughall, there was situated an Inn, owned by a Dan Winter; which was used as a meeting place for the local ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’. The Inn was attacked by a group of ‘Defenders’ and the Inn burnt to the ground. Winter was a Freemason – as were a number of his associates, including James Wilson and James Sloan; with Wilson regarded as a particularly ardent member of the Craft. Following a previous conflict at Benburb in 1794, Wilson had approached his local Masonic lodge seeking assistance in combating such attacks. However, the plea fell on deaf ears, which given the well established non-sectarian and non-political principles of Freemasonry, could not have been an entirely surprising response. An angry Wilson withdrew from his local lodge and undertook to “light a star in the Dyan which would eclipse them [Freemasons] forever.”

In the wake of  the Battle of the Diamond – which in reality was a fifteen minute skirmish – Wilson, Winter, and Sloan resorted to form another society of men; this one exclusively for Protestants, who would be prepared to defend Protestant families from attack and persecution by the Roman Catholic ‘Defenders’. This new organisation was called the Orange Society in fond memory of the Protestant King William of Orange; and because the men who created it were well-informed and active Freemasons, the organisation was formed into Lodges on the Masonic model, with a neo-Masonic degree system which included: modes of recognition; pass grips; and words.

William of Orange

William of Orange

In years to come the Orange Order would add a number of other neo-Masonic Orders including the Royal Arch Purple and the Royal Black Institution, which were clearly modelled on the Masonic Royal Arch, and Order of the Temple. These additional Orders were seen by some Orangemen as ‘elitist’ and a blatant attempt to make the Orange Order more Masonic-like, and were resisted by them for many years. They are now considered to be part of mainstream Orangeism.  This writer recalls the first time he saw a ‘Black Walk’ on television; he was well aware of ‘Orange Walks’ of course, but was surprised to see that on this occasion, in addition to the standard bowler hat, the ‘Blacks’ were wearing Masonic style aprons adorned with Square and Compass jewels.

So, it appears that the fundamental difference between members of these Orders is, that a Freemason professes belief in an all-encompassing God; whereas, an Orangeman professes belief in a Protestant God and a Protestant God only. But, is there any reason to believe that Freemasonry over the years has been distinctly Protestant in character, such that it is not just the historical link and cosmetic likeness to Orangeism that leads people to believe this of it? Certainly, a number of authors over the years have pointedly referred to Masonic Lodges as “Protestant Sects” or an organisation for “middle class Protestants.” (For more on this, see Kenneth Jack, “Freemasonry, Social Cohesion and Social Progress in 19th and 20th Century California,” Masonic Magazine, issue 6, Winter 2006. In this article, Kenneth Jack quotes a number of writers who equate Freemasonry with Protestantism).

As Freemasons often suggest, perhaps the boot is on the other foot. There have been several Papal Bulls (Edicts) issued by Popes over the years in which the Church of Rome makes clear its opposition to Freemasonry and cautions their flock from joining so-called oath bound secret societies; which are not expressly their own oath bound secret societies! Masonic scholar Jessica Harland-Jacobs makes this point when discussing the situation in Ireland during the early 19th century: “The hostile attitude of the Catholic Church – which was so obviously out of the control of Masonic authorities – contributed to Masonry’s increasingly Protestant character.”  She continues: “The priests actions against Freemasons were not the sole reason for Catholics’ departure from the [Masonic] fraternity. Sometimes lodges with predominantly Protestant memberships either forced Catholic members out or prevented Catholics from joining in the first place. For example, during the 1820s Lodge No. 424, in County Antrim, instituted a rule requiring members and candidates to swear they had never “professed the Roman Catholic religion.” See Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs, Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 153-156.

It was for these reasons, that an impression gained ground both in Ireland and further afield, that Freemasonry and Orangeism were indistinguishable – and distinctly Protestant in character.


“Ludicrous, surreal” defence of G. K. Chesterton

A few days ago, Michael Coren reported a so-called “ludicrous, surreal episode” [1]. The episode in question was a Twitter discussion about a claim made in one of his books that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism. From the language employed, one might imagine a particularly bitter exchange, for Coren uses phrases such as the following to describe – and presumably to deter – those who dare to criticise Chesterton: “monomania, wrapped in the last acceptable prejudice of anti-Catholicism,” “the fundamentalism of those so committed to damaging Chesterton’s reputation,” and “the most extreme, bizarre lengths to have their way” [1]. The ad hominem tactic of dismissing out of hand the critics of Chesterton as “anti-Catholic” is regrettable and unfounded (especially as the discussion in question focused on Chesterton and the Wiener Library and not Chesterton’s Catholicism). Speaking for myself, I harbour no hostility for Catholics or Catholicism, and my concerns about Chesterton end with his hostile stereotypes and caricatures (about Jews and other “Others”). If I harbour a prejudice it is – to use a phrase once used by Chesterton to describe the sentiments of Americans – “a prejudice against Anti-Semitism; a prejudice of Anti-Anti-Semitism” [2].

But back to the article. Coren points out that he devoted a chapter to the issue of Chesterton’s discourse about Jews, and that only “one brief passage concerned London’s Wiener Library, a small institution devoted to the study of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.” He stated that: “I spent a morning there in 1985 and discussed my research with a librarian. He told me that Chesterton was never seriously anti-Semitic. ‘He was not an enemy, and when the real testing time came along he showed what side he was on.’” Coren then expresses his indignation that “a self-published writer in Britain” – a reference to my recent examination of Chesterton’s stereotyping in Chesterton’s Jews – “demanded a name, proof, a reference.” “Sorry, mate: no name, no proof, and it was, as I say, a quarter of a century ago,” Coren replies. [1]

If Coren had originally stated merely that he had discussed his research with “a librarian” and that this librarian had defended Chesterton, then this would indeed be a relative non-issue (though a source citation would still have been useful). However, in the New Statesman in 1986 he attributed the defence of Chesterton to “the Wiener Institute” [3]. And in his biography of Chesterton the statement in defence of Chesterton is attributed to “the Wiener Library” [4]. There is of course a world of difference between the personal sentiment of an unnamed librarian and the position of the Wiener Library. Interestingly, he now describes the Wiener Library as “a small institution,” whereas back in 1986 when he was citing the Wiener Library in defence of Chesterton, he described the Wiener Library as “the best monitors of anti-semitism in Britain” [3].

The real issue is not Coren’s book per se – as he acknowledges, there have been plenty of subsequent biographies of Chesterton, and “some of them, frankly, rather better” than his [1]. However, subsequent authors have taken Coren’s earlier claim that the Wiener Library defended Chesterton at face value, and have repeated it in books, articles and web sites. As Ben Barkow, the current director of the Wiener Library states, “numerous websites cite a made-up quotation by the Library stating that Chesterton was not antisemitic. Our efforts to have these false attributions removed have largely failed” [5]. As a result, the myth that the Wiener Library defends Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism has acquired currency, when according to Coren’s latest article, he only discussed his research with an unnamed librarian he once met there [1] [6].

Turning to Coren’s other main point, he observes that Chesterton was “an early anti-Nazi” [1]. Here Coren is on safer – which is not to say solid – ground, and many of Chesterton’s defenders make the same point. Chesterton was anti-Nazi and it would be unfair to equate his particular brand of anti-Jewish discourse with Nazi antisemitism. However, if we are going to be fair and balanced, we should also point out that often in the very same articles in which Chesterton criticised Nazi antisemitism, he also repeated the stereotypes and caricatures of Jews that he had maintained before the 1930s. His defence of Jews was therefore not without its equivocation. Let’s look at a few examples. In March 1933, he criticised Hitler’s antisemitism, but then repeated his old claim that the English were never allowed to hear that “Dreyfus had got leave to go to Italy and used it to go to Germany; or that he was seen in German uniform at the German manoeuvres” [7]. In July 1933, he criticised “Hitlerism”, but then observed that it was “only just to Hitler” to point out that the Jews “have been too powerful in Germany.” He stated that “it is but just to Hitlerism to say that the Jews did infect Germany with a good many things less harmless than the lyrics of Heine or the melodies of Mendelssohn. It is true that many Jews toiled at that obscure conspiracy against Christendom, which some of them can never abandon; and sometimes it was marked not be obscurity but obscenity. It is true that they were financiers, or in other words usurers; it is true that they fattened on the worst forms of Capitalism; and it is inevitable that, on losing these advantages of Capitalism, they naturally took refuge in its other form, which is Communism” [8]. In November 1934, he criticised “the Hitlerites”, but then stated that: “There is a Jewish problem; there is certainly a Jewish culture; and I am inclined to think that it really was too prevalent in Germany. For here we have the Hitlerites themselves, in plain words, saying they are a Chosen Race. Where could they have got that notion? Where could they even have got that phrase, except from the Jews?” [9].  (For more on Chesterton’s discourse about Hitler and the Jews, see G. K. Chesterton discussing Hitler and the Jews, 1933-1936).

Coren concludes that he would rather be in the “valley with Gilbert than the peak with his critics,” because according to Chesterton it is possible to see “only small things from the peak” [1]. If viewing Chesterton’s discourse from the valley means missing such “small” details as these, then I am happy to occupy “the peak with his critics.”


Notes for “Ludicrous, surreal” defence of G. K. Chesterton

1. Michael Coren, “‘Ludicrous, surreal episode’ against G. K. Chesterton returns,” The B.C. Catholic, 13 September 2013, http://bcc.rcav.org/opinion-and-editorial/3069-canonization-attempt-resurrects-anti-semitic-claim (downloaded 17 September 2013).

2. G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922), 140-142.

3. Michael Coren, “Just bad friends,” review of G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, by Michael Ffinch, New Statesman, 8 August 1986, 30.

4. Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989), 209-210.

5. Ben Barkow, “Director’s Letter,” Wiener Library News, Winter 2010, 2.

6. For an examination of this resilient myth, see Simon Mayers, “The resilient myth that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism,” 1 September 2013, https://simonmayers.com/2013/09/01/the-resilient-myth-that-the-wiener-library-defends-g-k-chesterton-from-the-charge-of-antisemitism/ (downloaded 17 September 2013).

7. G. K. Chesterton, “The Horse and the Hedge,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 30 March 1933, 55.

8. G. K. Chesterton, “The Judaism of Hitler,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 20 July 1933, 311-312.

9. G. K. Chesterton, “A Queer Choice,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 29 November 1934, 207.