Freemasons, Conspiracy Thinking, and Pat Robertson


Americans love conspiracies. From the early days of the republic to the latest Arbitron ratings, we have demonstrated a dramatic penchant for fearing hidden plots, cabals, secret agendas and cover-ups...Americans seem increasingly unable (and uninformed) to critically question many of these accounts. Part of this may be due to the fact that there ARE conspiracies, and that we know this because conspiracies often do not succeed...

Conspiracy theories often reflect a potent, albeit cumbersome attempt to impose some order on a world which often does not make sense and which we do not understand. Who wants to believe that Oswald might have been just plain lucky that day in Dealey Plaza? Or that AIDS is really part of a natural mutation process? There are no limits on how far these sorts of suspicion can go, since one can continually question the very facts which refute or contradict them.

The Masonic order, a fraternal group founded in the eighteenth century in England, has often figured in accounts of those who suggest that history is influenced, even controlled, by secret cabals. As a result, Freemasons have often found themselves outlawed in totalitarian societies. Masonic lodges were shut down after the Russian revolution, and the group was banned by the Nazis shortly after Adolph Hitler's rise to power. Its semi secret rituals, passwords, and an exotic history which mainstream historians dispute, has often proven to be tantalizing and fertile soil for all kinds of speculation.

The first organized opposition to Freemasonry came, not surprisingly, from the Roman Catholic Church. Papal Bulls, official declarations and other pronouncements from the Vatican have condemned the order which requires its members to have a belief in a supreme being, and takes an eclectic and tolerant approach to the world's various religions.

Some say that the involvement of intellectuals, many of them with anticlerical political and social philosophies, has contributed to the belief that the Masons were a revolutionary group threatening the stability of autocratic regimes and theocracies. Others feared the Masonic ideals of religious toleration and the notion of political liberty which percolated through 18th century culture through the Enlightenment.

Leading Enlightenment figures from Voltaire to D'Alambert were initiated into the lodges, along with scientists, writers, and freethinkers. Even some clergy joined, but the secrecy of the lodge meetings, along with peculiar rituals prompted some -- especially in Catholic countries -- to suspect what might be taking place under the mantle of Masonry. In 1739, Pope Clement condemned the order, and even into the twentieth century, the Vatican's Code of Canon Law prohibited church followers from joining "Masonic sects or any other similar associations which plot against the church."

In the United States, the first Masonic circles began to appear in 1733; by the time of the American Revolution, nearly 150 lodges existed throughout the colonies. Many masons were active participants in the uprising, and the Masonic ideals of tolerance, brotherhood and political liberty resonated in the institutions, documents and even the symbols which soon came to define the new American Republic.

Historian James Billington noted that Freemasonry was "a moral meritocracy -- implicitly subversive within any static society based on a traditionalist hierarchy." Today, American freemasonry represents nearly three-fourths of the total membership of over 6 million.

As official religions were "disestablished" in the new states of America, religious groups quickly saw Masonic order as a threat to clerical authority and orthodoxy. When a secret society in Bavaria, the Illuminati, were ostensibly exposed for plotting against the civil and religious order, fears quickly spread to the new world. Churchmen saw their own fate in the violent downfall of the "ancient regime" in France. In the early republic"s more conservative quarters, particularly the Federalist politicians and Congregationalist religious leaders, the Illuminati hysteria became virulent and contagious.

Suspect of democracy and the Enlightenment, the Congregationalists feared a mob uprising which would overthrow their "Standing Order," the church-state alliance of aristocrats and clergy. Alexander Hamilton proclaimed, "The people! The people is a great beast!" By 1789, anti-Masonic and anti-Illuminist tracts and books were circulating throughout the states.

The Rev. Jedediah Morse, a member of the Standing Order, promoted the dubious claims in works such as John Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy, and the even more lurid opinions in the Abbe Barruel's three volume treatise on the "anti-religious" conspiracy of Masonry, Illuminism and Jacobinism. President Adams ended up proclaiming a day of fasting and prayer for the new republic, and Rev. Morse warned his audience at the New North Church in Boston...

Anti-Masonic hysteria erupted again in 1821, when William Morgan, a Freemason who had threatened to reveal the secrets and beliefs of the group, was allegedly kidnapped by his fellows. An Anti-Masonic Party was formed, and by 1832 had grown sufficiently powerful to nominate a candidate, attorney William Wirt, for president. He was defeated by Andrew Jackson, a Freemason, but incredibly Wirt himself was purportedly a member of the order as well.

Into the nineteenth century and beyond, American Masonry became increasingly identified with political and social elites; the order has counted among its members dozens of presidents and other elected officials, as well as leading industrialists, bankers, and economic movers-and-shakers. Whatever revolutionary ideals the group once had have, at least in the United States, been subsumed by the rise of what sociologist C. Wright Mills termed "the power elite."

Masonry is known today as primarily a charitable institution and "country club" network, although it still carries on the tradition of quasi-secret signs, rituals, and an embellished history which, with considerable license, attempts to trace the origins of the order back to ancient times.

None of this has stopped the gnawing fear in some quarters of American society that "something" dark and sinister was really going on inside of Masonic lodges, that the antics of Shriners in miniature cars, the Order of the Eastern Star cake sales, or the charity works of the fraternity were simply camouflage for a political agenda in the service of Protestantism or, later, perhaps the devil himself...Pat Robertson, who never could resist a good tale no matter how ill-founded, and Art Bell - does he really believe this stuff? - have both pointed the finger of suspicion at those staid Lodge dudes in recent days.

Robertson is no amateur when it comes to, well, trying to scare the hell out of his followers. A week of watching "The 700 Club" sends a polarized message that while God "is working" to cure select medical maladies of some viewers, from gastritis to pains in the limbs, the world is about to careen out of control and into an abyss of the worst sort. Robertson informs us that tornados, earthquakes, climatic conditions, plagues and that all important spectre of nuclear confrontation in the Middle East is a sure sign that we are in the "last days", flirting with apocalypse.

Before Jesus and Lucifer slug it out on the plains of Armageddon, though, the faithful must endure the risk of the Great Tribulation. Already, hidden cabals are at work with their devious plans to erode American sovereignty and establish a One World government. For Robertson, the cold war and a host of other subsequent geopolitical events are just so much puppetry for the REAL masters lurking in such nefarious organizations as the United Nations, the Bildeberger group, or the Council on Foreign Relations.

Robertson's conspiracy theories have led critics to charge that he has drunk deeply at the same well waters as classical anti-semites who see a "Jewish plot" to control the world. Professor Berndt Ostendorf, Chair of American Studies at the University of Munich, says that the powerful American televangelist peddles fear to his audience, and "is a deeply religious anti-Semite." In a lecture to a college audience titled "Conspiracy Nation: The Fundamentalist Thought of Pat Robertson," Ostendorf identified five key areas which underpin his apocalyptic global view. They included:

  1. Fear of deviating from a core set of "Christian values."
  2. Fear of the possible decline of the United States as a global power, and its replacement by an amorphous "world government" run by a godless cabal.
  3. Fear of "Populist Centralism."
  4. Fear of multiculturalism
  5. Racism. Traditional ethnic targets might include Blacks or Jews, but recently Robertson has targeted UFO believers (he feels that they may qualify for the death penalty according to one report) and people with AIDS.

While Robertson eschews the hard-edged rhetoric of more extreme groups like the Christian Identity church or Aryan Nations, his Christian Broadcasting Company recently took a swipe at that old bugaboo of conspiracy paranoia, the Freemasons. On the Friday, April 24, 1998 installment of "The 700 Club," a CBN reporter presented the second of a three-part series titled "Secret Societies, Behind the Mask of Freemasonry."

"What goes on behind those bricked and shuttered windows? Why do men meet in private, wear costumes, and conduct ancient rituals? Why are Masonic secrets protected by violent blood oaths?" Pat Robertson defines a cult as , "any organization or group of people that embraces any kind of teaching that"s contrary to historic established Christianity, according to the Word of God..."

To quote, "We should note here that the very secret of Masonry makes it impossible for a good-standing Mason to explain or defend the Lodge"s practice in details." And there"s the admission that Freemasonry has had a "tremendous influence on U.S. History..." Famous Freemasons include George Washington.

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