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
Winter 2006

by Bro. Gerald Reilly


“…a sad parody… a poor pastiche.”


We do not need to know why the Editor has kindly set this problematic for consideration. Perhaps it was from a joy bubbling-over after a fulfilling Masonic meeting; perhaps, it emanated from some measure of Masonic disappointment!


Without a doubt, the term “contemporary Freemasonry” provides a dilemma:  perhaps a dichotomy; even a full-bodied dialectic. That is to say, there cannot be a difference between “Freemasonry” and “contemporary Freemasonry”? Surely it must be accepted that Freemasonry is a social phenomenon arising from a cultural milieu. It represents the hopes and aspirations of its generation to pursue its vision for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, the only Freemasonry that can be real is “contemporary Freemasonry”; that is to say, if the contemporary practice of Freemasonry is not in accord with the spirit of the age then it is but a sad parody of Freemasonry - a poor pastiche.


“…Freemasonry is for the morally upwardly mobile…”


What is best about contemporary Freemasonry is three-fold. Firstly that it is ontological – it is! Secondly, it has the epistemology to build the buildings that are fit for today’s purposes - it has the knowledge. And thirdly , eschatology – it gives us hope to build for the future.


Freemasonry exists – Rejoice! Its potential, possibilities and promise are there residing, in some form, in each mason. Perhaps it is but embryonic – perhaps encumbered with much ado about nothing – perhaps awaiting an energisation through inspiration.  However, whilst there is (life) there is hope. It has to be accepted that Freemasonry is for the morally upwardly mobile; those whose existence is important because through daily Masonic advancement are as beacons of enlightenment, illuminating the building of a world order of material sufficiency. This is one where food, clothing and shelter are distributed with equity, in harmony with the natural world, recognising that we and the planet are one in sharing sustainable coexistence.  It is time for Freemasons to wake up, the eleventh hour alarm is sounding. It is time to realise that we are not merely creatures of habit whose progress consists in learning ritual by rote. Freemasons are not stimulus and response mechanisms existing as but ritualistic automatons. Rather; we live, move, breath and have our being as individuals, in harmony with others, for the benefit of all.


“A Masonic lecture must be something that regenerates a wasteland…”


Of course, we are not advocating zeal without knowledge. Freemasonry is a celebration of the education ethic - centuries before lifelong learning became, fashionable and recognised as a serious human need. And, it is here that we must perhaps pause and ponder. It may well be the case that the most serious failure of Freemasonry, for far longer than is decent, has been the wanton neglect of providing meaningful education for members. Over the last decades, Masonic lectures have degenerated into, the unknowing - reading the not-understood - to the unfulfilled. Our members deserve, and are entitled to, better. Owing to this, the “Masonic lecture” has become a term of derision, something wheeled out at last resort and about which there are no positive expectations or outcomes. 


The reason for this is that Freemasonry, out of fear of being involved in politics, has opted out of the real world in the manner of an exclusive fundamentalist sect. To believe that something as important as Freemasonry can be outside of, beyond, or unengaged with the decision making process in the real world is to condemn Freemasonry to an irrelevance. 


Masonic lectures must be delivered by those who are apt to teach. Substantial longevity of service or Masonic honours does not necessarily bestow such aptitude. Masonic lectures must not be seen as a last resort to mitigate a dearth of initiates. Their delivery must not be held to be the right of rank. If provided by the committed with inspiration they will ensure that there is no shortage of the right people coming forward for initiation.   A Masonic lecture must be something that regenerates a wasteland into a site that is levelled for the construction of a building that is fit for contemporary purposes and meeting contemporary needs. 


This is of course an allegorical building but none the less real for that. It is about building communities; it is about rebuilding trust between people; it is about engaging and involvement with the political process and the decisions that impact on our daily lives.


What is best about contemporary freemasonry…


Perhaps what is the worst of contemporary Freemasonry is that, largely, it is without sustainability. That is to say, it is not addressing the human world as it is, not meeting contemporary needs and is therefore without a role for the future – without hope. Perhaps Freemasonry is then already failing the future; the allegorical building is in dilapidation because it is not being up-graded to meet current building specifications – not fit for purpose. When constructed, a building should surely be state of the art thereby fit for purpose and able to serve its generation. But, what people require, need and demand from the built environment develops over time and the specification of yester years is an affront to an emerging generation.


Sustainability, that is to say, futureproofing, is about a Masonic vision of a horizon ahead - not hindsight. Yes of course we build upon sure foundations, respect for humankind, social justice and life sciences but the realisation must be that the here and now are different from what they were and that the future will be different again. They must be designed for the right here, the right now and a realistic way forward. A dream is with the eyes closed - a vision is with the eyes open.


What is best about contemporary Freemasonry is that it is; that there are within its numbers people who are committed, in practice, to work, education, citizenship and social justice. These are the people of the future who are fit for the purpose of building a better world; known allegorically among Freemasons, as building King Solomon’s Temple.  These Masons will break the shackles of obsolescence and deliver a future world that is the better for their contribution.

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