"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

GM of Nevada Rules 'No Multiple Volumes of Sacred Law' in Lodges


Over a month ago, the Grand Master of Nevada, Most Worshipful Steven A. Robinson, Jr., issued an Order that declares the use of any other Volume of Sacred Law (VSL) or book of faith besides the Bible during lodge ceremonies, meetings or degrees is a violation of Nevada's Masonic code.

While the Old Testament of the Holy Bible is central to the origins and allegories of Masonic ritual, in recent decades most U.S. grand lodges have taken a broad approach (or turned a blind eye) to the use of alternative VSLs - especially when obligating new candidates who are not specifically Christian in their beliefs. According to GM Robison's Order, that is not permitted in the Grand Lodge F&AM of Nevada's Masonic Code.

Order No. 1, issued September 26, 2019, states, in part:
"It has been brought to my attention that several lodges are using, or are planning to use, books other than the Holy Bible on the Altar during Degrees or at other times during Masonic meetings.
"I've consulted with the Grand Lecturer concerning this practice. We are in agreement that this practice is not part of our approved and adopted Standard Work as found in our Nevada Masonic Code 4.350 (1). As our Grand Lecturer stated in his Ritual and Work Committee Report at the Annual Communication of 2017: 'Allowing the use of any other than the Holy Bible would be in violation of our Masonic Code, ritual and Work. Deviating from this could be considered a Masonic offense'..."
Click image to enlarge
James Anderson's 1723 Constitutions from which the Ancient Charges have almost uniformly been adopted throughout the regular, recognized Masonic world, let the camel's nose under the tent flap when he famously stated the following:
I. Concerning GOD and RELIGION.
A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly  understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.
That very first Ancient Charge gave Freemasonry in England a unique cachet, coming on the heels of the English Civil War in the 1640s. The Catholic Inquisitors were still at work in Spain and Portugal. The Protestant movements across Europe were all too frequently bloody ones. But Masonry was a torchbearer for the Enlightenment. It was the first organized, voluntary, associative society that specified faith as a membership requirement, but not the members' religious creed. Less than a century after Englishmen were executed for arguing about how many holy sacraments there were, or whose prayer book was hidden under their pillows, Masonry didn't care what religion you practiced, as long as you DID. That has not changed.

The Charges make no mention of the Holy Bible itself. Because of the way the Ancient Charges are phrased, Jews were permitted to join London lodges just ten years after the Constitutions were published - something that was unheard of at the time. As the British Empire sailed its way around the globe and spread its colonial power and influence to the corners of the Earth, Freemasonry was along for the ride, and the lodges became a way of bridging relationships between important native, local leaders and English colonial officials. Frequently, those local men were not Christian, but were welcomed into the lodge regardless, based on the Ancient Charges. As a result, while the Bible was always present on the lodge altars, it was also often accompanied by the Jewish Tanakh, the Islamic Quran, or other volume deemed to be sacred law by local members. (All three are on the altars of the Grand Lodge of Israel today because their members are Jews, Muslims and Christians.) Different VSLs were used at the very least when a non-Christian took the obligations of the three degrees, and for good reason. A man making an oath before God by placing his hand on a book that has nothing to do with his own faith is a completely hollow gesture, and is liable to cause the man to feel the ceremony violates his beliefs - or is at best, unbinding upon his heart and word. Making accommodations for such members today should not even be remotely controversial.



But I do understand and sympathize with Nevada's rule on the subject of multiple VSLs. Arguments have flared over the last century and longer about what constitutes an appropriate book or symbol to be obligated upon if the new Mason has no specific book in his religion. Feathers, bones and other objects have even been used. Some lodges in the world stack every holy book they can find on their altars like Congress does at their swearing in ceremonies as a symbol of their universality (or occasionally as a virtue signaling stunt). 

Some modern day Masons feel compelled to go through all sorts of ethical and legalistic gymnastics to sufficiently compel their lodges to comply with what is obviously someone being a smart ass tweaking at the fringes of our level of tolerance. In recent years, there's a certain strange development of men who show up with an almost defiant sense of pranksterism and demand their belief be specifically catered to, just as a test to see if Masons really do welcome all faiths. ("I'm a follower of Robespierre's French Revolution-era Cult of the Supreme Being. Neo-pagan-pan-theistic guys like me would join your lodge if I can be obligated on Rousseau, except I don't like organized religiousy sounding things.") 

It's possible to be too open minded to even take your own side in an argument. 

Part of what blew things up between the Grand Orient of France and the rest of the Masonic world over a century ago was their elimination of the Holy Bible on the altar or even a faith requirement at all, with a substitution of a blank, white book as a stand-in for ALL sacred books. So my guess is that Nevada's rule is a very old one, and was designed to draw a line in the sand before these fights got out of hand at a time when the men knocking at the door of their lodges were 98% Protestant Christian in beliefs. Like it or not, the makeup of the American population who espouses any religious or spiritual faith at all in 2019 is much smaller, very, very different and far more nuanced and diverse than even just 40 years ago. Masonry's very construct demands that we draw our membership from only the pool of such men, leaving the 'stupid' atheists, the 'irreligious libertines,' and even any 'smart atheists' out there to look elsewhere. 

Before indignant internet Masons erupt in some explosive insulting of Nevada, the Grand Master, Christians, or American Freemasonry in general, I would urge some major restraint. The wording of GM Robinson's Order No. 1 appears to simply be a clarification of the way Nevada's Masonic Code is written and the basic fact that the Holy Bible is the sole book permitted by it. That does not necessarily mean that he or the Grand Lecturer agree with it (even though they may). It simply means that this practice has to stop unless or until Nevada's Freemasons properly amend their Code to explicitly permit different or multiple VSLs.  Depending upon how strongly some of their lodge members feel on the subject, it's entirely possible that someone in Nevada right now is drafting a resolution for their next annual communication to attempt to change it. 

29 comments:

  1. The debate as to whether alternate VSLs can or should be used either alongside the Holy Bible or in place of the Holy Bible is a big debate in and of itself, but isn't it really somewhat moot here? If their constitution specifies that the Holy Bible is the only book to be used, then the GM and all under his jurisdiction are obligated to follow that rule, like it or not. If the rule is found to be "a bad one" then whatever means to change it must be followed. It CAN be changed. It just is generally a long and tedious process to alter a constitution. But it has always been intentional that making such changes be challenging so as to not make changes on a simple whim.

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  2. There is a serious caveat about which which Holy Bible. For example, some branches of the Mormon faith use the bible which Joseph Smith revised. Others do not. Christian Scientists use the King James version which Mary Baker Eddy used and which is tied to her teachings. With the newer editions such as the Revised Standard, other denominations have endorsed one or another because of the surprising changes that archaeology and linguistics have revealed. Ethical Culturists, Universalists, Unitarians and others no longer in many cases no longer use the bible per se but prefer to emphasize universal cultural books and continue to have a presence in the Craft. Certainly the various branches of Judaism have different views about scripture that is bound in the same book as the texts of other religions. The Catholic church's versions certainly include and exclude various materials not in the bible of other denominations. So should there be a variety of versions of the bible used?

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  3. i should have mentioned that of course there are many versions of the so-called King James version of the Bible. Many do not actively use the original King James Version of the Bible anymore, and only a minority use the 1611 form of it. The King James Version often used today was updated in 1769, with corrections and there were approximately and amazingly 100000 (one hundred thousand) changes! This partly was because of improved printing and changes in the English language. There have been numerous further versions of the King James, but the 1611 version has staunch adherents as does the 1769. So the question is which Bible and if one wants King James, which King James?

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  4. However, to say "this practice (allowing a man to use the book of his faith to be obliged on) is causing serious disharmony in some of our lodges"

    suggests, very easily, that the disharmony is about having members of other faiths be treated on the level. That bit comes very close to being evidence of bigotry and u Masonic conduct, regardless of the validity of the GM's anyone in enforcing the code.

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  5. I’m struggling with this. While if this interpretation of Nevada’s Code is correct, and I’m not a Masonic scholar by any means, I don’t think it conflicts with the Ancient Landmarks. However, I also don’t believe this decision falls within the spirit of freemasonry, and I wonder why it was brought to the forefront. If the Grand Master believes other VSL are appropriate, he could have used his powerful influence to attempt to codify it. If he doesn’t, then I think I understand his reasoning behind this order. In my humble opinion, diversity makes the fraternity strong and religious bias does not belong on our alter. Mike Donahue, Star in the East Lodge #33, Minnesota.

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  6. I wish the person that posted this would have put the whole story. This did not come up out of the blue. MW Robinson did not wake up and decide to do that. Long story short thete was disharmony with in a Lodge in Southern Nevada. MW Robinson squashed it the best way possible so that things would not get out of hand.

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    1. I'm aware of what was setting this specific situation off and why it was necessary. In not including that information I was trying to be as generic as I could and avoid citing that specific circumstance.

      Unfortunately, as newer Masons have called for greater latitude in accepting any claim of spiritual faith as suitable for lodge membership, there has been a rise in deliberate showboating and philosophical pranksterism. They are the real world version of online trolls who have done things like claiming to be a Wiccan and demanding to place a witch's hat and broomstick on the altar on which to be obligated.

      These are the lodge versions of inmates who tie up prison officials in legal knots by claiming the beheading of live chickens in their cells is a religious observance. They stretch the limits of both tolerance and credulity, and it's a sad extension of the current fad of declaring any whiff of hypocrisy to be the most damning of all human failings. They are doing nothing but daring Masons to call them on it so they can rear up and roar, "You said ANY BELIEF was welcome!"

      The GM was responding to just such a situation, and he fell back on the very best answer for the moment: the Bible alone is the existing law.

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    2. Sounds like the person that wrote it wanted to make MWGM Robinson to look bad. Why do this right before Grand Lodge. Maybe it is to cause confusion, and to get people to vote for and or against a few resolutions? Who knows. Instead of talking to the MWGM it appears as if someone wanted to try to make him look bad.

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    3. "They are the real world version of online trolls who have done things like claiming to be a Wiccan and demanding to place a witch's hat and broomstick on the altar on which to be obligated. "

      {{CITATION NEEDED}}

      And comparing the actions of a private organization with those of a governmental system like a prison is apples and oranges - as the government is bound by the 1st amendment to the constitution.

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    4. "Sounds like the person that wrote it wanted to make MWGM Robinson to look bad."

      If by "it" you mean this article, no, I was doing nothing of the kind. I merely reported what the decision was and some of the issues it was tied to, without wanting to splash the details of the individual situation online. I frankly believe MWGM Robinson handled this the very best way possible, by not creating new law by edict and by highlighting the existing rule, thereby giving Nevada Masons who wish to use multiple VSLs a goad to change the law instead of flouting it.

      "Why do this right before Grand Lodge."

      I have no idea when Nevada's annual communication takes place. The timing of this article was purely based upon when I received a copy of the Order, and I said right up front that I was a month late in hearing about it.

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  7. I might point out that the MAJORITY of Grand Jurisdictions within the USA use the KJV as their Great Light and have done so for hundreds of years. during those years, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and even MUSLIMS have taken their obligations on this book.

    As a side note: The Great Light is open on the page of the Lesson for the degree at hand. I am sure those who structured the craft that we know did not do this by accident. As such I would ask is such is the case, can the wording of the lessons which come form the Great Light be found with the same wording in "other" Volumes of Sacred Law? Not to my knowledge. Ergo the lessons taught are being reinforced by the Great Light and also acting as a reminder of the lesson. Just my personal thought.

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    1. Some Grand Lodges have, in fact, consulted with religious scholars of non Christian or Jewish faiths, in order to determine which passages in certain texts would be most appropriate to have open.

      http://freemasoninformation.com/masonic-education/esoterica/the-quran-in-the-craft-degrees/

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  8. Coming from Israel, where the practice of putting all main sacred books upon the alter is allowed. I can tell you, it did not create the peaceful effect you might have expected but created other arguments.
    For example, who gets to be on top? Where do you put the S&C? Put the Bible on top and the Muslim is offended, moreover, if he did not, other Jewish brothers are offended for him. Resulting in ridiculous al hands-on-deck playing “Teetering Tower” game during the ceremony. What would you do with a brother who belongs to the Druze faith were the access to its sacred laws is preserved for "the Knowledgeable Initiates” (wink-wink) …?
    There is a saying that a wise man does not enter places where a smart man knows his way out of. I think rev. James Anderson was wise.

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    1. James Anderson was wise? He was a fabulist. The first 25 or so pages of "The Constitutions" is historic revisionism at its most blatant and fanciful. He also introduced dissent within the Brotherhood by imposing an overtly Christian character upon an organization that was originally cosmopolitan.

      And Anderson was simply a bad writer. Here's just one example of how poorly crafted The Constitutions is, from the first paragraph of "The Charges": "A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine". So that must mean it's acceptable to be an "intelligent Atheist" or a "religious Libertine", right?

      Anyone who takes Anderson too seriously will have a poor grasp of what Freemasonry actually was, or should be.

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    2. "clicker" said:
      "James Anderson was wise? He was a fabulist. The first 25 or so pages of 'The Constitutions' is historic revisionism at its most blatant and fanciful."
      The "history" part of the constitutions was actually a synthesis of legends, myths, etcetera that had already been presented some time prior by others. You seem to believe that he made it up, when, in.fact, it was not he, but others (sometimes hundreds of years prior to his lifetime).

      Continued:
      "He also introduced dissent within the Brotherhood by imposing an overtly Christian character upon an organization that was originally cosmopolitan."
      Anderson did no such thing. The evidence is actually in favor of the inverse: that Freemasonry was much less cosmopolitan and became more so as time moved on. Besides, Anderson was in no position to make rules as he did not actually write the constitutions, and much of what is ascribed to him os the work of another.

      Continued:
      "And Anderson was simply a bad writer. Here's just one example of how poorly crafted The Constitutions is, from the first paragraph of 'The Charges': 'A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine'. So that must mean it's acceptable to be an 'intelligent Atheist' or a 'religious Libertine', right?"
      Anderson did not write this. Desaguilers did.

      Continued:
      "Anyone who takes Anderson too seriously will have a poor grasp of what Freemasonry actually was, or should be."
      Maybe you should do some better fact checking and research before you start insulting others' understanding on the topic.

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  9. TOLERANCE: the most egregious omission from the moral lessons taught in Freemasonry.

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  10. UGLE limits the altar books to no more than the Tanakh, the Quran and the Bible. I guess the question that arises (and Shirley did in the UGLE) is - where else would you stop? How many books on the altar are sufficient? Which ones? Can I quibble about WHICH Bible to use? Just within Islam there are loads of arguments as to which should be the proper edition of the Quran, and any translations from Arabic are frequently cited as woefully deficient and even improper. Should grand lodge have an approved list of sacred books, and who decides what's on it? Can I demand P.G. Wodehouse's Golf Omnibus? The Compleat Angler has been considered a spiritual guidebook for centuries, even though if only sounds like it's about fishing. How big a library must the lodge have to accommodate sacred books for literally anyone who might petition?

    Or should they have to?

    That's why UGLE's rule limits it to the three Abrahamic faiths, and that seems appropriate because they all share a common origin in the Tanakh/Old Testament books in which Solomon's Temple is described. Because our Masonic allegory of the spiritual temple, dedicated to God, and built by the hands of many men is shared by them, it's not a bad compromise. When this issue first arose a very long time ago, the three Abrahamic faiths were the most dominant ones that UGLE Masons encountered, and that also appealed to their sense of commonality of origin. And if I were the Universal Grand Pontiff of Worldwide Freemasonry, the codicil I'd toss in would be to ask the candidate if he has a sacred BOOK (NOT feather or spaghetti colander or witch's broom) he would prefer to be obligated upon. Anything else opens the door to an almost absurd pile of books on the altar, designed to show "universality" but in fact demonstrating nothing but chaos, difference and spiritual separation.

    Which was the very same argument that the Masons who created these Bible-only rules wrestled with a long time ago. They came to the same conclusion - that the Bible is the primary source of Western civilization's culture and wisdom, that it was most evocative to the overwhelming majority of men who would join such a fraternity at that time, and it was the closest thing to a single symbol of faith and belief they could muster up. Multiple books (or anything else on an altar) only detract from that single symbolic image. When I've seen seven, eight or nine books piled on an altar in some places, I'm not so sure they weren't right.

    But that's just me.

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    1. UGLE (United grand lodge of england)? no way. I am a EC member and we have the Bible, Quran, Vedas, and the Buddhism scripture (I forgot the name). some non EC lodges even has the Taoism scripture, no problem at all. You cannot simply ask someone to swear on a religion they are not into.

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  11. The new Museum of the Bible in Washington is certainly huge and animated and intensely interesting and well worth visits. See

    https://www.tiqets.com/en/washington-d-c-c79751/museum-of-the-bible-p981173?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=326419422&utm_content=1245747124396323&o&95d9cd646b311f01066c90a77ab063d0&msclkid=95d9cd646b311f01066c90a77ab063d0&utm_term=bible%20museum%20washington%20dc&gclid=CPPyiJKc1uUCFc_hswodhg0Eeg&gclsrc=ds

    As an aside, I attended a lodge in Mexico that had the theorems of Pythagoras on the altar. It had a considerable academic membership. Another lodge, which met in a computer store after hours and where all present had a computer, had a computer where the sacred book would usually be. Mexican Masonry is extraordinary in its varieties.

    I don't think the proponents of the various versions of the Bible would regard their use as a quibble. That the leadership doesn't approach these problems with resources and intelligence is another example about how . We drift towards extinction.

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  12. The Grand Master and his council has made a decision that works for them now, It maybe a bad one but it is his and his decision only. Now did they need to do some more research on the matter or are they not allowing other faiths in their Grand order and making the ones that are in fall in line with the rest it is His call for his term. Most Grand Lodges don’t follow the ancient landmarks anyway if we did we would not have the separation in the Masonic Order as we do in the U.S.A so if we going to change something’s lets start from the beginning. Just my opinion!

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    1. "Most Grand Lodges don’t follow the ancient landmarks anyway"

      Which ones? There's so many lists of them, not all agreeing with each other. To my knowledge, UGLE has never codified a list of landmarks.

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  13. I am all for diversity of VSLs on the altar. But also there are some things that surely don't qualify. If I wanted to take my obligation on a Bat Man comic book. Surely the lodge could so "no." As Brother Chris pointed out the "White Book" of the Grand Orient of France already is not considered to qualify. Everything has its proper uses and limits.

    Tim Bonney, PM
    Legacy Lodge No. 678
    Des Moines, Iowa

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  14. We sometimes forget that there is a higher authority than a Grand Master, and that is the Grand Lodge while in session. If this is written code from GL sessions of the past, what can the GM do but follow the rules? It puts him in a bad spot really. If this came from an internal dispute within a lodge, he has to side with the state code as ratified. This just needs to be changed at their next GL session. If that fails, then that would be newsworthy. As the story stands now, not so much.

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  15. Brother Bonney,

    It is easy to see that a heap of different books is an issue, and that some books would seem strange you and me. But for some years cemeteries including Arlington have faced the growing diversity -- https://www.stripes.com/news/wiccans-dedicate-grave-at-arlington-1.66176 . -- so we are already in a very pluralistic society. Satanic chapels, wiccan conclaves, sweat lodge churches -- well they now are in the forum along with much older churches that for two centuries have included snake handling and peyote smoking. They seem to be growing in some cases faster than heretofore more conventional religions. In any event, the disputes over which bible to use are important to some: at least five versions of the King James were circulating by 1769 -- 1611,1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769 -- and are used by different sects who are tied to one or another by their original foundings or disputes. Man y more versions would follow. I am not sure that taking a position on this is something lodges should do. The white book has a logic.

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  16. I should have added that while referring to the King James Bible is understandable, it perhaps is more precise to state which one. That leaves out the versions such as the Revised Standard, which in some cases have their own variety of editions, or very different ones like the Roman Catholic, Coptic, Eastern Orthodox and other strains.

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  17. It seems the forms and traditions of regular Freemasonry, supported by the Ancient landmarks, demand that a VSL is present on all Masonic altars.

    If you give it some thought, you may discover a good deeply esoteric reason why a VSL was chosen as an essential part of the 'furniture' of a Lodge, or you may not.

    Freemasonry is 'Speculative' but I do not consider it to be ambiguous (confused). The path is probably pretty clear before us, but we are men, after all, and men make mistakes.

    For example, we could have a friend who was the best man at our wedding, or an actual blood Brother, or he could be an excellent member of our community who is highly admired (a similar example of this actually happened in the Armed services many years ago), but if such a Man is an active member of the Church of Satan, I would argue he is NOT to be welcomed in any regular Masonic lodge, anywhere. Period.

    Why? Because even though the Armed services (Military) now recognizes members of the Church of Satan as members of a particular religious group, that does not extend to Masonic recognition or requirements.

    Why not? Because the current big man of the Church of Satan, High Priest, Peter Gilmore, has stated quite eloquently that the membership under his command consists of Atheists.

    So no, Freemasonry is not all inclusive and was never intended to allow everyone. And who said being a Grand Master Mason was easy? Hhhm?

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  18. I have a friend who is a Mason (and Rotarian) and belongs to the Satanic Church of Set. He says not all Satanic groups are atheists and that the Set church or temple he attends is theistic. He says Satan is an idea, not a person, and that since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the rights of prisoners to have Satanic worship in Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 thee are Set prison ministries. Apparently the Gilmore group's views have led in some cases to members leaving to form other Satanic movements.

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    1. True there are plenty of thestic Satanic groups.
      That he says that satan is an idea and not a person/entity is not a common wiew among satanist groups.

      Delete

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