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
Autumn 2006

by Bro. Gerald Reilly

"...essential Freemasonry is practiced by people who are exciting, ...",


The study of the historical role of Freemasons in Masonry is appropriate. For some decades now, it has excited some sections of academia. Why should it not also excite Freemasons?  Indeed, it could be suggested that essential Freemasonry is practiced by people who are exciting, who are doing exciting things and who are exciting others in the process. Also, and by virtue of this workmanship, the world is becoming an improving place.


This excitement is not about entertainment and festivity. Rather, it is about having the moral expansiveness to visualise a bigger human picture; to see ways forward and taking up the mantle of exciting and active personal participation. 


Perhaps an insight into this bigger picture would be to recognise three things that should be clear to any person with a Masonic awareness:- Firstly, there is a need for economic growth to ensure that each has sufficient food, clothing and shelter. But secondly, the achievement of this economic growth must be tempered by social justice thereby ensuring fair distribution and a commensurate reduction of disadvantage. Thirdly, this economic growth must be environmentally sustainable; that is to say, not taking from the planet more than can be replaced.


Who better than Freemasons to lead on this activity and why? Freemasonry is a cultural phenomenon and has certain definable characteristics. These include the work ethic, a valuing of education, participatory citizenship and charitablility. 


"Yes, a commensurability of square work and square life."


Surely every Freemason can unite in a celebration of square work; and, that in this life - we are what we do. Civilisation is only possible with material surplus. Wealth creation must do more than feed, cloth and shelter; that is to say, more than just support our animal existence. A surplus enables and facilitates morality and the arts - that which makes our humanity possible and by which it is defined. Therefore, we work to produce for ourselves, for our dependents, the deserving in need and human celebrations of form - the arts in all their manifestations. Yes, a commensurability of square work and square life.


In order to be able to produce and create we need the compass of education; by which means, we are rendered citizens that are fit for purpose. Masonic history teaches us that in the lodge scientifically gifted members shared the wonders of the newly-dawning Newtonian world-view. That the lodge could be a centre for the dissemination of new learning is surely an exciting thought.  Learning history is about neither sentiment nor nostalgia. It is about understanding the lessons of the past in order to guide, form, mould, and direct the future; again, shaping that improving place - and avoiding the mistakes of the past.


Such outcomes have often required direct action and may well require it again. There are polities that proscribe Freemasonry - such totalitarianism must be mitigated. We are always taken up with the "masonry" but let us not forget the "free". It is only through personal freedom that we can acquire the knowledge of ourselves, to thrive, and to hope that we can become, truly anthropos.  


" should be based upon providing education and empowerment."


It has been suggested that is only possible for Freemasons to be Charitable if they have created material surplus; thereby, on that basis, they can give without detriment to self or connections. Supporting a dependency culture is the antithesis of Freemasonry; giving must be sustainable - for both giver and receiver. Perhaps Masonic giving should be based upon providing education and empowerment.


"As Freemasons, where we are must be the better for us being there..."


If then the appropriate Masonic world-view is for equitable economic  growth within due environmental possibilities then the way forward is clear - we know what must be done. But, having thought globally and before we can think locally, we must engage personally. That is to say, we must understand Freemasonry as being a process of personal improvement for the benefit of those around us and whose lives we touch. As Freemasons, and where we are, must be the better for us being there. If not, our Masonry is more regalia than reality.


Our personal improvement, our ability to be more serviceable to humankind, can emanate from lodge meetings as well as from personal study, reflection and exchanges via e-communication.  It is helpful if the lead can come from the lodge. But there is the logistical problem - do we serve our own neighbourhood or do we serve the environs of the lodge. If the lodge is committed to be a beacon of humanity - where it is placed, then that is an expedient that should be grasped.


Of course it is much easier to pay for repairs to the cathedral roof!


The lodge building can be a centre within its community for education in many useful even essential things. This could include civic matters and the governance of the area. Why not invite the local politicians to hold public meetings in the lodge to consult on putative developments in the built environment and changes in how public services are going to be, or might be managed? If there are problems of anti-social behaviour, could not lodge members engage with such people, tease out underlying causes and advocate on their behalf? Perhaps teach poorer people financial management and provide debt counselling to those who can not see a way through.  Perhaps provide support for young parents who are without wider family networks. Of course it is much easier to pay for repairs to the cathedral roof!    


Masonic history teaches us that Freemasons have been active politically at both national and local levels. In those days Freemasonry thrived and why was that? It thrived because it was relevant, engaged in the then and there and wherever it touched lives a difference was made. In many parts of the world, people are not engaging with politics or religions; a black hole is opening up between the stratosphere of global government and the street corner of those being governed. The person in the state capital can not possibly understand the problems at the local level and has no idea of what programmes to initiate.


"...and the people natural for this exciting task will come forward..."


Who is there to meet the yearning, fill this black hole and reunite fragmented society? Surely it is people who can work and learn and communicate; and, who have been initiated into an organisation purposed for the improvement of mankind here on earth - right here and right now. Perhaps less festivity, less elitist worthy causes, less reinforcement of dependency culture and then people fit and natural for this exciting task might then be available to come forward; that is to say, Freemasons in Masonry.

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