PS Review of Freemasonry

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voltaire writing
"If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?"
- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 6
Bro. Gerald Reilly
Summer 2009
by Bro. Gerald Reilly

 “...both moral and spiritual dimensions.” - B. Obama

 If an alien joined you in a large city’s entertainment centre, pointed to something on the side of a building and asked what it that... a reply could be made on the lines of, a thousand neon tubes, a thousand switches and some miles of cable. Perhaps not an entirely fulfilling description of an advertisement hording; yet, not inaccurate. Perhaps the description would need to be supplemented with explanations of materials, labour, markets and consumer choice. However descriptions, more extensive than the inadequately material, can be achieved without invoking inspiration from a putative “beyond” material.  

Perhaps it is not quite so easy when describing the opus of Mozart. Once beyond a description of his music being but vibrations - number in time - it is not difficult to think in terms of this composer being a conduit from an inspiration beyond the universe. Fortunately, the sound output from Stockhausen would remind us that descriptions of vibrations - number in time - may well be of the earth, earthy. When masonic ritual is performed well it is easy to be in transportation to a putative transcendent. When the IPM is overly busy, contemplation may well not extend beyond reviewing the career of the director of ceremonies.      

The terms “spiritual” and “spirituality” are in common use both within and without masonic communication. Perhaps the generality of their use militates against a clear understanding of what, if anything, is being usefully designated by the terms. Recently, during an address to a university audience, President Obama said, "Maybe we won't agree on...., but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.” In which layers might these two dimensions be located and how, if at all, are they able to interactively coexist for Freemasons both within and without the lodge?

”...Freemasons can have a shared understanding of spirituality...”

Indeed, Freemasonry is abroad chapel celebrating diversity, in all its richness, across the planet. Yet celebrations notwithstanding the purpose of this little article is, regardless of the moonshine and cobwebs of conventional notions of recognition and regularity, to begin to consider the possibility of something that is initially and fundamentally shared by all Freemasons although it may be individually further developed and explored. 

For some freemasons “the spiritual” is an alternative to “the material” and it requires, somehow, a necessary transcendence from the material to realise the spiritual. That is to say, a given situation cannot be both material and spiritual at the same time - spirituality is of a different paradigm - from a different place to that of the material. It is suggested that Freemasons can have a shared understanding of spirituality that is within space and time but that some may choose to extend beyond space and time albeit, hopefully, maintaining respect for those who prefer their spirituality to remain on and of terra firma.

We are united as members of a thinking/rational species and have a view (scientific) of nature based upon recognizing repetition and describing it in terms of prediction and control. From this, laws and rules of nature are “created”. Perhaps better just to stay with “repetition”, the logic of which is that “a” is followed by “b” where “a” is both necessary and sufficient for “b”. Our species being can be understood without subdivision into races as we are all related to the degree of fortieth cousin at least – fraternity indeed. It is trusted that we can agree that the concept of race as applied to our species  has no place in nature, is without philosophical foundation, and fails  analysis by scientific method. As a species we are united in a dependence on food, clothing and shelter; how these things are rough-hewn from the earth, smoothed and distributed over the planet is our story. That we can recognise repetition in nature and that production and distribution can be planned and organised indicates that we are capable of more than instant gratification and compulsive consumption. 

“...that which we share...knowingly following a rule.... the defining characteristic of our species...smoothed through Masonic improvement”

Indeed, this draws our attention to that which we share; that is to say, we have the capability of knowingly following a rule. We know what a rule is and our compliance or otherwise with it; this is the defining characteristic of our species being and is smoothed through Masonic improvement. Current British Parliamentary experience may shed some light on the President’s dichotomy of morality and spirituality. Perhaps to follow a rule is morality; to remain within the intention of a rule is spirituality. Yes, the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

Some of the British legislators are claiming not to have broken any rules and indeed may well not have – this is the moral layer; yet, are repaying substantial amounts of money. Is it in this need to repay that a spiritual layer can be identified and demonstrated? It may well be but surely no one is claiming that the rules governing British Parliamentary expenses and allowances have intended dimensions beyond space and time. St Paul wrote that all things are lawful but not expedient; perhaps a text with which to open the next session of the British Parliament.

“It is from obedience to constitutions that a freemason’s regularity takes its rise.”

A constitution is a set of rules that share a family resemblance. It defines and organises some human arrangements that are designed to meet a contemporary human opportunity and or need. Those who are included within a constitution and are in compliance therewith are called regular and are recognised as such.  In order to ensure that the aims of a particular organisation are achieved, there are consequences arising from non-compliance. A political entity such as a nation state has some form of constitution. A nation state is but a line drawn, often in human blood, on a politicians map.  

A constitution claims a right to make rules applicable within physical boarders and to some extent control the common wealth therein.  To claim that a supreme being might recognise such boarders is a tad chauvinistic. Freemasons are citizens of the world. Yet, a Freemason’s morality is realised through obedience to the rules of the political entity in which he or she resides, in obeying the rules of one’s grand lodge and in the distribution of some personal surplus wealth for those in worthy need. It is from obedience to constitutions that a freemason’s regularity takes its rise.  

However, during the preparation of this article the rules governing the financial claims that British legislators can make have been changed. The letter comes and goes but the spirit reflects more on-going intentions and objectives. Surely no one is claiming a transcendental origin from a supreme being for this change in the rules of the British Parliament - fascinating concept though it is. 

“...Freemasonry’s unique insight is that the values necessary for worthy material production can be applied to the rest of life.” 

Perhaps it is the case that the use of the term “spiritual” is not an alternative to “materialism” but rather, pertains to deeper layers of the material. Perhaps operative freemasonry is material and speculative freemasonry is spiritual. Above it has been suggested that among human beings it is in the shared production of food, clothing and shelter, that it is in the operative workplace, that rule making has its primacy; Freemasonry’s unique insight is that the values necessary for worthy material production can be applied to the rest of life.  And yes, that does seem to imply a material origin for morality. Some interpretations of Genesis III would indicate that the physical labouring for material existence is a consequence of The Fall. However, such as maybe, it does not entail that operative relationships and behaviours take their rise from other than the earth.

Freemasonry is a celebration of the work ethic, that roughing and smoothing process. Yes, these stones shall be made bread. A mason’s ontology can be understood as, I am what I do and I am excited by what I could become.  The smoothing process of distribution is separately energised by two forces; that of demand as market led and that of need as understood by society on behalf of those for whom the market is neither available nor suitable. This indicates more than species survival; natural selection does not usually favour those unable to acquire their own food, clothing and shelter. However, we share a layer, above the level of individual survival which takes its rise from the earth and our material needs. We are charged to relieve and befriend, with unhesitating cordiality, every brother that might need our assistance; however, those noble and generous sentiments must be extended as every human creature has a just claim to our kind offices. And yes, whilst this will demonstrate to the world the beneficial effects of our honourable and ancient institution that is not the motivation; it is a benign collateral. The “just” claim is the cry for the cause of humanity. As Freemasons we are citizens of the world and members of the family of mankind. It compels us to discharge, without forethought of recognition or reward, the claim of humanity upon us - for its own sake. How can it be more worthy to support those in need as a personal investment in a putative existence beyond space and time?

As freemasons we are not unthinkingly, materialistically, enslaved to rules; rather we evaluate their purposes and their intentions. If rules are for the cause of humanity, if they are to ensure a fairer distribution of food, clothing and shelter and if they are for the personal improvement of all people we can identify with them. Such is a demonstration of our spiritual dimension although it is of the earth, earthy and within space and time. We cannot subscribe to rules that promote privilege, discriminate or victimise; that also is a demonstration of our spiritual dimension, again of the earth, earthy and here in space and time. Yes, in considering the Presidents moral and spiritual dimensions, as Freemasons we can keep our feet on moral ground and can locate ourselves spiritually on the level of humanity.

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