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.