Review of Freemasonry

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by R.W. Bro. Daniel Doron 33°
PM Reuven Lodge No. 1 of Free Ancient & Accepted Masons
PM of Gwill Lodge of Research
Chairman of GL Ceremonial Committee
DC of Supreme RA Chapter
The Grand Lodge of the State of Israel

      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:

"Etymology: Mediaeval Latin relevant-, relevans, from 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 aspects:

      a. Is Freemasonry relevant to my daily life?

      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
             societies 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:

      a.  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.

a. Man's need to socialize.

As 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.

At 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 principles.   

b. Competitiveness versus fraternity.

No 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.

At 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 groups,[i] 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.

From 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.

c. The need to discuss general issues.

Although 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 our lodges.

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 citizens?

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 this.

      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.

[i]  See any book on small social groups, in particular Emile Durkheim's works.

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