Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Exclusions in Freemasonry

Is it appropriate to exclude certain men from Masonry? This question was implied in a discussion I read recently, and its asking provided me something to think about. Within this document I focus on the excluding of others specifically as it relates to Freemasonry. Although the term may invoke a sense of unfairness, I argue that exclusion is a required component to grouping. If nothing were excluded, what would distinguish the group?

Some groups are naturally defined because of obvious traits. For example, a group of green stones are such because the stones are green. However, some groups are defined based on acquired traits; some combine the two. I believe Masonry is a group defined by both pre-existing qualities and ones that challenge men to become something better than they are alone. Exclusions are one of the inevitable results from the act of grouping. How does this relate to the fraternity of Freemasonry? Some have questioned the difference of excluding one man because of a physical trait compared to excluding a man for choices he has made. Although I understand the point attempted, I argue that the differences are significant. Exclusions are necessary in order for a group to exist; some exclusions are more appropriate than others.
I believe that exclusions are appropriate when they are (1) based on characteristics of which a man has control over or (2) when the criteria is essential for defining the group. Once an obtainable standard is defined, a man is free to decide if the group is worth the effort for any change that may be required. For example, followers of blue fairies may reject someone who professes no belief in fairies, and one man works hard to be called an accomplished sculptor.

It is, therefore, reasonable to accept that a group is justified in defining its parameters. I think a problem arises in Masonry if the parameters set are beyond a man’s control. To say, for example, than only men who are blue-eyed can belong is in my opinion out of step with the tenets of the Craft (and I am only using this as a ridiculous example; I am not aware of anyone excluding brown-eyed men from being raised). Our FC charge states that, “it is the internal, not the external, qualifications of a man that Masonry regards.” Certainly, behavioral characteristics are manifestations of internal qualifies; the color of a man’s skin is not.

Masonry requires the belief in a Supreme Being. There is no expectation that the method one follows to seek and understand that being is either ancient or modern. It is easy for many to impress personal beliefs into the Craft. That is, in large part, because the Craft is such a personal experience for each brother. In a Western culture dominated with various Christian ideals, many believe that any reference to God implies the God of the Christian bible. However, one needs to be careful to reserve his personal interpretation. I have heard it asked, “which of the biblical laws should we obey” as a means to call into question some of the actions of our brothers. One needs to remember that the bible is not the law book of Masonry. It may be the standard by which one man keeps his life in check, but that is not true for every man.  In this regard, we each have standards that we hold for ourselves. If one believes it is important to wear a hat on Tuesdays, then by all means, he should do so. That belief should not extend to others. Masonic law, however, does regulate Freemasonry. As an example, the belief in deity is required to ensure at least two important fundamentals: (1) that oaths are made with appropriate reverence, and (2) that only men are admitted who share a common understanding; there is more to this life than himself.

Our brothers live all over the world. We gain the most by learning from each other and respecting the wide variety of beliefs. We need to remember that Masonry is not a religion, and one man’s standard will not apply to all brothers regardless of how strongly one might believe it should. Truth is not decided by majority.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Wholesome Harvest.

After a recent conversation with a close brother, I had an epiphany. While I am certain the thought has already occurred to many, like any new discovery, original or not, it inspired me-- 

One, if not the, reason the Craft has suffered membership over the past 40 years is directly because of its members lack of attention in esoteric or philosophical depth. Without the deeper thought, without fostering that spiritual and philosophical growth, the body becomes an empty shell. Without pondering deeper truths, without searching for "that which was lost," the Craft, much like unseasoned foods, becomes bland and unappealing to many beyond its initial novelty. Without the enthusiasm that accompanies self-actualized growth and nourishment, fewer are attracted. 

The Craft seems naturally defended, over time, against the superficial diluting of its deeper truths. It has, in essence, a natural economy (an "invisible hand" so to speak) that guides its long, winding course. As in nature, natural selection wins over time. We may have simply experienced an influx of members joining  for less meaningful reasons. Although it is understandable, the seeking only of comradeship, honesty, and good cheer does not provide the substance for longevity. They who desire only the most obvious and convenient soon grow tired. In a short amount of time, they wither like bad fruit. However, it is not the Craft that was experiencing loss; reality is the opposite. Pruning is a natural process demonstrated in nature resulting in a more wholesome and resilient harvest over time...

We are now in the observable stages of that wholesome harvest. We are raising brothers from their 20s-40s all across the country with an insatiable thirst for truth. These brothers seem less interested in the continuation of traditional social dogmas, and are increasingly open-minded in regard to spiritual belief, philosophy, and cultural diversity.

It is an exciting time, and I challenge brothers to dig deeper. In this age, we have ready access to such an incredible store of information and knowledge. The number of books cheaply available is mind boggling alone, and online access provides ability to read thousands of books for free. I challenge my brothers to look past the mere social aspects of our fraternity, look beyond family tradition, and see past the coffee and cake. There exists a replenishing spring of knowledge for the thirsty; it is woven within the rituals, preserved in writing, and dripping from the discussions among more enlightened men.

Ours is not intended as a mere social club. As we regain that passion for self-improvement and enlightenment among men, we will attract and grow the most fruitful harvest. We may even change the world.

pax et lumen,

Nehpetsmai K.