An often heard objection of so-called “regular” Freemasons against mixed gender Freemasonry is that it admits atheists. Therefor co-Masonry is ‘doubly “irregular”‘, both women and atheists are forbidden in many Grand Lodges. Actually, it is not that clear cut.
Georges Martin (1844-1916) had two problems with Freemasonry: the absence of women and the presence of the Bible. He wrote very short rituals based on the “symbolic” Grand Lodge that he had founded before and which rituals also contained no reference to the Grand Architect of the Universe and -hence- used no Bible. A little bit of history.
In 1872 the Grand Orient of Belgium was the first Grand Lodge to allow complete freedom of thought by removing the obligation to believe in ‘something higher’. References to the GAOTU were removed from the rituals so that ‘atheists’ would also be able to enjoy the rituals. Somewhat later also the Bible as symbol of the Book of Sacred Law was removed. More famously, in 1882, the Grand Orient of France did the same. It is not like these Grand Lodges became ‘atheist’, but people without any faith were from then on allowed to join. Not all other Grand Lodges were pleased and “recognition” was withdrawn by many Grand Lodges world wide.
There have been (Grand) lodges that have developed into anticlerical thinking groups even disallowing people of faith to join, but there are also those in which ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’ are both members.
Georges Martin came from such a Grand Lodge, but he wanted more reforms and then again more: the initiation of women.
Like I said, Martin’s rituals are ‘atheistic’ and the new organisation, Le Droit Humain, initiated women. For a few years the new Grand Lodge grew in France, but not as rapidly as Martin had hoped and almost entirely not abroad. This changed when he joined forces with Annie Besant (1847-1933).
Besant was -at the time- head of the Theosophical Society and was looking for a system of initiation for ‘her’ members. As I said, she came in contact with Georges Martin and the two decided to cooperate. Bessant had one condition: she didn’t want to use the atheistic rituals of Georges Martin. Besant wrote her own rituals, allegedly based on one of the rituals of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, added a bit of a Theosophical sauce and the result was a ‘very theistic’ system.
Under Besant co-Masonry exploded. She founded hundreds and hundreds of lodges all over the world. All these lodges used her ritual. Later many lodges started to revise these rituals, often based on the current rituals of the main Masonic organisation of the country where the lodge resided. Others went along with revisions of for example Charles Leadbeater (1854-1934) and James Wedgwood (1883-1951) and yet other wanted to use something more like the rituals of Georges Martin.
What you see if that the rituals of mixed gender lodges often largely mirror those of the Masonic majority in a country. In a country such as Belgium and France where Freemasonry is largely ‘atheistic’ also mixed gender lodges are largely so. In countries where the largest Masonic organisation is “regular”, also mixed gender lodges often have ‘theistic’ rituals.
A closing point. Over the years many mixed gender Grand Lodges and federations have started to use different rituals. All the above (and more) can be in use in different lodges of the same Grand Lodge or federation. Therefor it is very well possible that one mixed gender Grand Lodge has lodges which indeed accept atheists while another lodge does not. On the other hand, you also see lodges that have a ritual with GAOTU and Bible and who are not so strict in obliging a belief in ‘something higher’. The only requirement being that the candidate should not oppose these elements as that would damage the harmony of the lodge.
So is mixed gender Freemasonry a bunch of atheists? Not in the majority!