Other Religions Atheism and Agnosticism Conspiracy Theories: Masons and the New World Order Share Flipboard Email Print Ipankonin/wikimedia commons Other Religions Belief Systems Atheism and Agnosticism Logic Ethics Key Figures in Atheism Evolution Atheism Myths and Misconceptions By Austin Cline Atheism Expert M.A., Princeton University B.A., University of Pennsylvania Austin Cline, a former regional director for the Council for Secular Humanism, writes and lectures extensively about atheism and agnosticism. our editorial process Austin Cline Updated July 29, 2018 One of the most popular targets for conspiracy theories has long been Masonic Lodges and their administrative organizations. Masonry has at various times been viciously attacked for promoting subversive, anti-Christian and other nasty ideas. To a certain degree, this has been perhaps true. Masonry was subversive to traditional and orthodox authority because it encouraged a sense of equality among men (though not women). For many religious fundamentalists, Masonry's insistence in treating all religions (although not atheism) as equals is regarded as anti-Christian. This lack of respect for religious diversity and religious tolerance should be kept firmly in mind when considering Masonic conspiracy claims. Who Are the Freemasons? It is unfortunate that American conspiracy believers insist that Masonry is an attempt to undermine America because so many of America's early political leaders were themselves Masons. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were all active in their lodges, and it would not be stretch to say that the American Revolution and creation of a new republican was in part dependent upon a culture of equality fostered by Masonic Lodges. But to be fair, Masonry is a secretive order and secrecy breeds fear. They certainly have every right to hold meetings in private, away from the prying eyes of nonmembers. This is especially true since they make absolutely no claims for public funds, public recognition or official support. Unlike groups such as the Boy Scouts, they are truly private. But that genuine privacy causes them to be feared, and ignorant people are ready to imagine all manner of ills are attributable to a group to which they have not been invited to join Illuminati Another group which is somewhat related to the Masons and which has been the target of even more vociferous attacks has been the infamous Illuminati. The Illuminati was a real organization and appears to have been founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776 in Bavaria. A Jesuit, Weishaupt also supported Europe's intellectual renaissance of the time - a dangerous conflict of interests. So he founded a secret group of like-minded individuals who called themselves "Illuminati" or "bearers of light." Presumptuous to be sure, but hardly a threat to world peace so far. The group's ideology appears to have been based on a random mixing of Rosicrucianism, Cabalistic mysticism, Gnosticism, Jesuit organization, and even Masonry - which itself appears to have elements of Egyptian mysticism and Babylonian cosmology. The goal of the Illuminati was to make people happy, and people were supposed to be happy by becoming good. That, in turn, is supposed to be achieved by "enlightening" them and getting them to reject the domination of "superstition and prejudice." This was a very common attitude among leaders of the Enlightenment all over Europe, and so far Weishaupt is not proving to be especially unusual, at least if you exclude his devotion to secrecy. This is important to keep in mind because it would be hasty to assume that anyone holding similar beliefs was automatically a member of the Illuminati. Because these ideas were popular at the time, it is easy to see that a person might develop them quite independent of Illuminati influence. Critics alleged that this process of enlightening meant an elimination of Christianity and placing Illuminati leaders in charge of governments around the world. This may or may not have been true, although the organization does appear to have been driven by a few men's megalomanias, and such people might be capable of just such a goal. Unfortunately for Masonry, the Illuminati spread themselves by infiltrating Masonic Lodges - and thus the two became forever linked for conspiracy theorists. Many different things have been attributed to the Illuminati, such as the French Revolution. At one point, Thomas Jefferson was accused of being an Illuminati agent. It is probably true that at least some Illuminati ideas circulated among European revolutionaries, especially in France and America. But as previously mentioned, those ideas were not entirely unique to the Illuminati - so the existence of any sort of direct influence is difficult to argue. At the very least, it is highly unlikely the Illuminati as an organization managed to pull off anything quite so dramatic as the French Revolution or get an American President elected for the purpose of destroying Christianity. But just try telling that to a True Believer. Council on Foreign Relations It would be unusual to hear a contemporary conspiracy believer talk about the Illuminati operating today - but that's okay because a modern version has arisen in people's minds to take the Illuminati's place: The Council on Foreign Relations. The CFR has undoubtedly had a significant influence on American foreign policy, but the real question is whether it has been just a form for members to debate issues or if it has instead been what conspiracy believers claim: little more than a front for international cabals seeking world Satanic government. It is important to take note of the fact that groups like the CFR are not unique to America - in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, powerful members of Britain's social, political and economic circles met in an effort to discuss how the nation could protect its holdings and further its interests. These "roundtable" societies, as they came to be called, were essentially early versions of a think tank. Issues of the day were discussed with various solutions proposed and debated. It certainly wasn't true that members of these groups always agreed - although they all sought to preserve British influence in the world, they commonly disagreed on just how that might be achieved. In America, the CFR was officially incorporated in New York on July 29, 1921. It was part of an international effort, especially with Britain, to discuss mutual interests of English-speaking nations. The fact that they had the financial backing of very wealthy bankers quickly lead to speculation that it existed simply as a front for American banking interests. However, even a cursory examination of the documents they produce reveals that their agenda exists independently of either conservative or liberal ideologies. Members are drawn from all parts of the political spectrum. This, oddly enough, just fuels the fires of conspiracy believers. According to them, groups like the CFR act as a "hidden hand" operating behind all government administrations, regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal in ideology. In fact, the huge variety of political ideologies means that the CFR cannot possibly create enough unity among members to effectively topple governments and control the world. It is strange that among all the think tanks which exist in America the CFR would receive the most negative attention. One reason might be its age: its been around longer than any other. Another reason might be its secrecy: it does not make a habit of releasing internal documents to public scrutiny. The fact that it does not allow any sort of public oversight is a problem, but it has that right like any private organization. Another reason that it draws negative attention may be that it appears to exert more influence over American policy than other private groups. But this is a selective organization which only invites membership from the best and brightest people, and those are the ones who are more likely to end up in positions of influence. One might as well argue that there is a conspiracy among Ivy League universities to control the American government and use as evidence the fact that so many leaders and people in important positions happened to attend Ivy League institutions at some point. True Believers may try to charge the CFR with having instigated World War II merely to create popular demand for a world governing body, but such accusations are merely borne of desperation. No evidence for such ideas exists outside of deluded imaginations. All evidence does, however, point to the idea that the CFR works for world peace and security - and if that requires a world governing body, they will consider it. If it doesn't, that's fine too. The point, of course, is that the CFR is an intellectual body willing to consider all options in an effort to promote peace. It is a pity when simple open-mindedness is construed as a sinister attempt to promote a particular ideology no matter what the cost. New World Order A favorite theme among conspiracy believers is that some group, like the Council on Foreign Relations or the Masons or the Illuminati, is attempting to create a world government. This is a common refrain which you can hear from evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson, Jack Chick, and Jack Van Impe. This government would be designed to undermine all American freedoms, American democracy, and of course American Christianity. Ultimately, it will signal the coming of the Apocalypse. Foreign powers of Satan and evil will come to put Americans in gulags guarded by troops from the United Nations, Russia, Hong Kong or some other foreign nation. It is particularly curious that the United Nations should be attributed with expansive and detailed plans for taking over America and the world, considering how difficult it is for them to get absolutely anything done punctually or properly. The Legacy of American Conspiracies As bizarre as all of that sounds, it must first be kept in mind that American politics has, since the very beginning, been characterized by a deep mistrust of politicians, governments of all sorts, and even the political process itself. It is not without strong justification that American politics has been labeled a paranoid style of politics. Even Thomas Jefferson, an icon of American political and religious freedom, suffered from this and exuded paranoia of capitalized money interests and centralized governments. Unfortunately, some Americans go beyond simple and even justified suspicion or skepticism and proceed to the firm conviction that the government is controlled by forces aiming to wage war upon ordinary citizens. If a "New World Order" government spanning the entire globe is ever created, it won't be for a long time. Americans have great difficulty overcoming their own internal cultural, religious and political differences, and they have more experience at it than just about any group. It is unlikely that the rest of the world will be able to do a sufficiently successful job that would allow for a single world government. At one time the evil enemy of America was easy to identify: the Soviet Union and world communism. Paranoia was a hallmark of that struggle as well, something clearly evident early on when Sen. McCarthy held his investigative hearings to discover communists in entertainment, politics and anywhere he could think of. But once the Soviet Union abandoned communism, a new enemy had to be found. Then President George Bush gave a name to that enemy when he, in his 1991 State of the Union Address, outlined a vision for the future where nations work together against common enemies like Iraq. He called his vision a "New World Order" - and thus a new conspiracy was also born. Amazingly, UFOs have played a role in world government conspiracies. Instead of extra-terrestrial visitors, they represent secret government military projects aimed at observing and eventually attacking ordinary Americans, especially militia organizations. Modern Conspiracies Premillennialists anxiously awaiting the Second Coming of Jesus see all of this as neatly tying in with prophecies they think they find in the Bible, for example in the books of Daniel or Revelations. They imagine that there will be a unified, reborn Roman Empire which will fall under the control of the Antichrist (the European Union has become identified as a new "Roman Empire" now - it used to be NATO). Common to the people who go to such lengths in interpreting prophecy is a sort of eschatological hubris in which they make it clear that only they have access to the correct keys of interpretation. Others - including other Christians - are derided as being servants of evil or unwitting and ignorant dupes of forces supposedly arraigned against God. What ultimately becomes of all these conspiracies? Not much, usually, outside of perhaps fanciful Hollywood movies and TV shows. Conspiracy believers have a strong tendency to live in their own worlds and interact only with people who either already believe or who have shown a strong tendency to believe similar stories. Occasionally, they can result in violence, as with the case of the Oklahoma bombing which killed 167 people - the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil and the act of white-supremacist Christians who bought fully into the different conspiracies discussed in this article. Altogether the conspiracy theories tend to exert a profound influence upon the thinking and ultimately actions of the believers. Although they themselves don't constitute huge numbers, their attitudes towards government, minorities, and organizations have a habit of filtering through the rest of society. Even today, many people who are not otherwise given to thoughts of grand conspiracies and who don't identify themselves with the religious right can harbor vague suspicions towards groups like the Freemasons. This only serves to divide people into hostile factions and that, ironically enough, reinforces the Us vs. Them policies of conspiracy followers. Don't let them win by buying into insane ideas of groups vying for world domination.