The question whether Freemasonry is
still relevant in our ever-changing modern society is often brought up in
Masonic forums and by non-Masons. It indicates that it is of importance to many,
mostly brethren. Furthermore, it is often raised when discussing the conditions
in which our lodges presently are; maybe even a despair from what seems to be
the future of the Craft. In my opinion, this is a rather limited aspect of 'relevancy',
that is: the ability to positively contribute to the solution of problems or
issues facing the Craft and the brethren as such in their daily life.
The Webster dictionary
defines 'relevant' as follows:
Mediaeval Latin relevant-,
Latin, present participle of relevare to raise up. 1.
Having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand. 2.
Affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under
discussion <relevant testimony> 3. Having social relevance. 4. The quality or state of being
relevant; pertinency; applicability."
For the purposes of this
paper, I would stress the last two definitions. After all, we want to be sure
that what we do is worth our efforts!
I shall try to deal with
this issue mainly from its' moral aspects. However, it would be nearly
impossible to present a complete treatise in any article. A full discussion
needs proof of every claim or statement, which is beyond the scope of my present
musings. What remains is an effort to point out briefly several possible angles
of 'relevancy' and leave the readers to further develop these issues.
When discussing the 'relevancy'
of our being Freemasons to our lives, we should distinguish between four main
a. Is Freemasonry relevant to my daily
b. Do other people regard my being a
Mason as affecting my attitudes
and actions, which proves it's relevance to me?
c. Has Freemasonry as an
organization any relevance to present
in which it exists?
d. Does society regard our Masonic body
as relevant to solving the
present or the future problems of human society?
In the following passage
I will try to deal only with the first aspect above. It seems to me that what
other people think of us as Freemasons or of our organization does not cause any
doubts of our relevancy among brethren. It is we ourselves that have to be
convinced that our belonging to the Craft is of value to us as individuals.
Most of us have faced expressions of
doubt or even of ridicule at our Craft. At times, we may also doubt the
relevancy of our ancient Craft to our rapidly ever-changing society. When we use
the phrase "A peculiar system of Morality” do we regard the moral
teachings of our system as relevant to our life and the moral judgments we have
to make, or is it all passeé? In order to answer this question,
we should go back to our great-grand ancestors, who met in order to spiritualize
or moralize as they used to call their philosophyzing. It seems that
we should ask ourselves four questions:
Has man’s need to socialize with others changed?
b. Has the need for close fraternal
feelings completely give way to a
need of personal achievement only?
c. Has the need to discuss or ponder on
moral issues cease to exist?
d. Do all these changes necessitate a
change of our moral principles?
Let us try to examine
these four questions.
Man's need to socialize.
to the first question, I hope you’ll agree with me that man’s need to
socialize has certainly not disappeared. The reasons may have changed,
maybe the targets for socializing with others serve other ends as well,
but the actual need of the individual still exists. Man remained a social
animal and in spite of modern means of communication, we still need a
direct human contact.
the same time we should understand the implications of the emphasis on being a
fraternity; of retaining fraternal relationships. Without a long discussion of
the sociological meanings, it can safely be said that such a relationship is
based on an emotional tie. It lies in the sphere of familial
interrelations and can exist only when there is a personal involvement. When we
meet a stranger for the first time, we all know what we feel as soon as
we discover this stranger is a 'Brother'. Think how soon we open up to each
other, sharing experiences. In my view, this is a proof of the importance we
attach to our belonging to our ancient fraternity and its system of moral
Competitiveness versus fraternity.
doubt in modern Western democracies we live in a competitive society; an
achievement-orientated society. I hope you'll agree with me that these aspects
of our modern life do not nullify in any way our need to socialize. Modern
society has made us more competitive and with a clear need to prove ourselves in
what we do, yet we should ask ourselves if personal achievements have in all
cases become more important than a personal (emotional) touch? Has it become
predominant in our daily activities, overriding all else? In my view the answer
is: NO. We still have the need to belong.
the same time, we should realize that when we use the term ‘brother’ we
signify an emotional attachment, typical of small groups like our nuclear family
cell. Without delving at length into sociological theories concerning small
I hope it is clear to all from their personal experiences, that in such small
social groups, forces enhancing the cohesion are regarded as legitimate and are
to be strengthened, whereas competition inside such a small group is considered
illegitimate and is strongly censored. Not only is it regarded as illegitimate
but it also gives rise to very strong emotional antagonism. It follows, that as
soon as there arises a raw competition among brethren inside a lodge, it gives
rise to very strong emotional reactions. It can tear a lodge apart. A typical
characteristic of small groups is that they are monolithic and do not allow
diversity. As opposed to this, our modern society is based on diversity. Why
else do we preach tolerance and temperance? We certainly expect brethren to keep
their antagonisms outside the lodge doors, so as to retain harmony.
what I have just said we should realize that there exists an inherent tension
between our competitiveness and achievement-oriented behavior outside the lodge,
and the fraternal involvement between us as brethren in the lodge and as Masons.
Furthermore, it may indicate why competition within our lodges often arouses
strong tensions and why it is opposed to what we regard as fraternal relations.
The need to discuss general issues.
we have undertaken not to discuss politics and religion (Faith) in the lodges,
it seems to me that exchanging views on moral issues is still a need of modern
men. It may even be one of the attractions of our Craft. To 'moralize' as
our forefathers did.
What seems to me to be of
paramount importance is that we enter a lodge and the Craft in order to fulfill other
needs. A new Initiate usually feels that he has sufficient opportunities to
compete outside Freemasonry and the lodge. It seems that when all is said and
done, after having taken care of our material needs, after having seen to all
our personal and family needs, we still need to satisfy our social and spiritual
needs. This is what we aimed at achieving by becoming brethren of this mystic
tie. Of becoming Freemasons.
In my view, one of the
factors influencing the strength or weakness of Freemasonry today is our
realization that we need to satisfy this need, or lose the interest of many a
young brother. Those who come for an intellectual intercourse – at least as an
additional factor – will get disappointed and soon drop out. This is why I
regard satisfying intellectual needs as an important part of the activities of
d. Should we change our
principles of morality?
Let us now turn to the question of
moral principles and whether they, too, change rapidly at the pace modern
society does. Let us start by agreeing that not only does human society change
in time, but that the rate of change has increased immensely, creating new
conditions and problems. The situation we call "The Global Village"
with its modern means of communications, has no doubt changed many aspects of
our lives. However, I hope you will agree with me that basic principles of
morality remain unchanged, even though their applications may have
changed in time.
Let us consider a couple
of examples. The issue of equality is the first principle that comes to my mind.
In the 18th century, “All men are born equal” meant only the
nobility; then it included the bourgoisie, and finally all men were included,
yet women were not considered 'equals'; they were the last to be included.
It is most probable that
we were the originators of the right of self- determination, which has slowly
become applicable to national rights in the 19th century and later,
and the rights of nations influenced the issues of minorities and their rights.
As we can see, the principle was started as applicable only to a part of
society, and was slowly widened to engulf all human beings.
These are only two
examples. The principle of equality was discussed in Masonic lodges and was
adopted by social reformers. It started with equality of rights (political and
judicial) but it is now applied as equality of opportunities to all,
irrespective of race, religion and gender. The idea of welfare state is a direct
descendent of moral principles first adopted by Freemasons. Now, as Freemasons
who 'meet on the level' do we believe it applies only to us brethren, or do we
accept the wider applicability of the principle of equality? As Masons, do we
have anything to say about inequality in the society outside our lodge? Do we
have what to say about abuses of minority rights? Isn't this relevant to us as
I hope you’ll agree
with me, that what we have just said means that the need to discuss moral issues
with others has remained unchanged. I’ll even go a step further and say, that
it is a need to constantly evaluate one’s own principles and adjust them when
necessary to new situations. In other words: when we add the principle of
majority rule, also predominant in Masonry, we are actually discussing Masonic
moral principles which typify any democratic system of life. It is the constant
need of a democratic citizen to check the limits of his freedom against those of
his neighbor’s; his rights against those of others; the limits that should be
put to majority rule. So, here again, we should conclude that the principles of
our 'peculiar system of Morality' are still as valid as they were decades ago.
Our system is 'peculiar' in the way it is taught by symbols and allegories. That
is the sole peculiarity of our system.
So, is Fremasonry still relevant?
What has all the above to do with
Freemasonry? Everything! Freemasonry
is a system of morality, which helps us to re-shape ourselves in accordance with
ideal moral principles. To do what Socrates called “living the good
life”, meaning: the only life worth living; a life in accordance with
one’s moral principles. Do we all succeed? Do we always succeed? Certainly not!
Being normal human beings - at least I hope we are - we have human weaknesses.
We do not always live up to our expectations, but at least we have undertaken to
try to get nearer to this goal. Isn’t it a better state, even if only by just
a little bit?
It is interesting, that
Freemasonry flourishes in societies in which men have deep beliefs and a sense
of commitment. An atmosphere in which one regarded it his duty to fight for
causes he believes in. Freemasonry cannot flourish in a society in which there
exists an atmosphere of apathy due to the view that nothing can be done to
change injustice, nor where man feels alienation.
One should perhaps
realize that new movements of ideological and religious extremists, of
fundamentalism, have arisen all over the globe and are trying to gain supremacy.
What do we, as Freemasons, have to say on this, based on our moral principles?
Do I need to say more? It
seems to me that in every modern society, Freemasonry can contribute to a better
social atmosphere and a greater sensitivity to the needs of all members of that
society. Especially the weak and the needy. As Freemasons, we should be proud of
As an organization, we refrain from
getting involved in political and religious affairs, but Freemasons - as private
people - are a part of an international fraternity of men who have expressed
their commitment to certain moral principles and to upholding them at all times.
Of men who could influence society by giving a good example. We do not preach,
nor do we publicize our contributions. On the other hand, we have undertaken to
check and re-check ourselves constantly and to try to be fit of the title “homo
sapience”. Are we ready to be - at least part of the time - more attentive
to others and more critical of ourselves, not of others? Will our own life
become richer as a result of our being Freemasons in deed and in thought?
Well, I leave this to
each one of you to think it over.
See any book on small social groups, in particular Emile