In a closed Masonic discussion group someone asked whether we have read Leo Taxil’s famous exposé of Masonry.
Instead of giving a one-liner, I decided to make a longer post.
Most people, Masons included, have no idea who this gentleman was. Quick background: French journalist and author, who became infamous for mainly two of his works: The Amusing Bible and an exposé of Masonry at the end of the 19th century.
Two equally famous – or infamous? – books, and a lasting heritage for all. Catholics used to revere him, the Pope accorded him a private audience and when he confessed that all was a lie, the atheists celebrated him for the laughs his Amusing Bible interpretations caused.
My personal relationship with his works goes back decades in time. In the communist dictatorship where I was forced to grow up (because the Western powers servantly agreed to cede the Eastern part of the continent to Stalin’s Soviet Union) the Freemasons not only were inexistent – banned and outlawed – but they were not even mentioned. They were big on this kind of magical thinking: if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. However, in the fervent atheism, which became the quasi state religion of those lands, Taxil’s Amusing Bible was welcomed: it made fun of the logical controversies of the biblical stories and consequently it was a good tool to brainwash the young students and to keep them away from the Church’s influence.
Taxil used to be a staunch atheist and anti-clerical author until one day decided to pull his greatest scam. The phenomenon is worth to spend a few words on it: we are in France, in the second half of the 19th century and there was an enormous collision and fight between the Catholic Church and the “civil movements” militant forces to have a secular state and the separation of church and state. The Vatican was fiercely opposed to any such attempt to curtail their power and wealth… they just lost most of Italy to those pesky republican freedom-fighters and charcoal makers (Carbonari) lead by Garibaldi and Mazzini – high ranking Masons, by the way, fighting for unified republican Italy. And on top of that the progressive forces of the French society led by the intellectuals, as it happens often on the old continent, authors, writers, scientists, artists… want the Church out of the state’s business.
Having in mind such circumstances, where all the retrograde forces wanting to maintain the status quo inherited from the medieval times were all associated with the conservative Catholic Church, and the leading modernizing forces were against the social and economic power of the religious institutions – it is no wonder that so many personalities declared themselves rather “atheists” than to find themselves in the same camp with the prelates. This is the historical and social background of that great fight for the secularization (laïcité) of the French society, and with this backdrop, even the removal of the mandatory “belief in the Supreme Being” for Masons is easier to understand. It was a logical step for an organization that claims to be universal and open for members of all religions. (It never is this simple: for a full explanation of this vital Masonic issue, read the excellent article of Paul M. Bessel.)
The Church was desperate. And then here comes this renowned gentleman, repenting and claiming that he will reveal all the secret machinations and terrible orgies and rituals that Freemasons perform while riding the GOAT – and even he was surprised that the educated bishops and the Pope believed his totally confabulated stories. OK, if you have issues with complicated words: everything he wrote was a lie. Made up stories… and the Vatican took the bait! (And some Masons today think they need to read all those lies.)
A few years later Leo Taxil confessed publicly that nothing was true in what he wrote about Masons. Unfortunately, it happened exactly the same as it happens ever since when newspapers publish corrections of their previously sensationalist headlines and articles. Nobody reads them.
And then for more than 100 years, the conspiracy theorists have a heyday when quoting Taxil’s idiotic claims – he was surprised the most that people believed what he wrote because everything was so outrageously unbelievable. But conspiracy theorists liked him and quote those stories even today. Most of the time they are not even aware who and what was the original source of those crap stories. And what is even sadder: those idiocies are told and re-told even by uneducated and ignorant “Masons”. That’s my real concern! I’ve heard PMs talking to interested individuals asking questions about Freemasonry saying things that any Mason should be ashamed to ever mention. It sounded like a chapter from Leo Taxil. That’s why we don’t need enemies…
So, yes, I’ve read that his Amusing Bible as a teenager. Mediocre, I would say today. After becoming a Mason, for a while I was tempted to eventually look at those crazy things he wrote about the Freemasons. But then I’ve realized there are so many really interesting authors writing superb books based on documents and research about my favourite subject, the history of the early Masonry, that I shouldn’t waste time on centuries-old nonsenses. Or one can just read brilliant fiction, i.e. world class novel by Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery (highly recommended!)
Our gentle Craft sometimes seems to be frozen in times: the brothers read only 19th century authors, from the next, the 20th century they like and quote only fiction and fantasy taken mistakenly as “history”… so until we really stop making such men Masons, we are digging our own grave.
Actually, this was not Leo Taxil’s intent.