True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Peculiar System of Morality, taught by allegory…

As Masons, we often hear this explanation: Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, illustrated by symbols. We hear it so often, in fact, that we have come to accept it without thinking about what it means. I am going to try to change that today.

A Peculiar system of morality…

What about the Masonic Morality is peculiar? To understand that, we first need to look at what Freemasonry teaches. As I mentioned in Masonic Principles, Morals and Ethics, Freemasonry teaches us a set of PRINCIPLES as a foundation upon which we can erect of future moral and Masonic edifice.

Principles are fundamental to human life, regardless of where or how the humans live, or what understanding they have of g-d. Our principles are like the very air we breathe, they are essential to any human society. One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of the principles is to simply consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites.

Masonic Principles

Masonic principles, as taught in the degrees, are, for instance: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Integrity, Silence, Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Hope, Faith, Charity, Freedom, Fervency, and Zeal. There has been a lot of discussion lately about morality, for morality, is, really, at the heart of whether a man is under the tongue of good report and can come well recommended.

There are some things upon which all of us can agree. Truth, integrity… do you say what you mean and do what you say? Faith, brotherly love, charity… these we can probably agree upon in broad strokes.

Masonic Morality

What about the sticky issues, the ones that an individual brother must grapple with in his soul, and find a position he can live with… for instance, abortion, gay rights, genetic engineering, giving a job to a brother mason instead of a stranger? Is it necessary that we agree upon every issue of morality for masonry to be an institution of morality?

I would argue that the answer is no, for we are a religious organization, without ascribing any one particular religious faith, but that faith upon which we can all agree… the fatherhood of god and the brotherhood of man. Morality, as much as religious faith, is matters of the individual brother.

Masonry takes no stand on the individual brother’s faith in god, how he knows Him, how he worships Him. However, morality, in many cases, is intricately intertwined with religious faith, dogma, and societal expectations and norms.

Defining Morality?

What and whose morality are we to use in making this decision? More fundamentally then, can we, as a fraternity, define morality? More to the point: SHOULD we, as a fraternity, even try to define morality? This is an intensely personal issue, and it seems to this writer, one of the peculiarities of the Masonic morality is that it is left to the individual brother to define for himself.

Culturally, at the time the lodges were forming, the prevailing opinion was that the church defined morality… and enforced it. The very idea that individuals, separate from the church could make and define their own morality and ethics was, to say the very least, threatening to the church, and very peculiar.

The lodges teach principles to her members and offers examples of morality, most notable that of Hiram Abiff and his death. An example of Masonic Morality is of restriction of political and religious discussion in lodges.

What is the Peculiar Morality of Freemasonry?

The explanation we are offered, that these are not allowed because they are divisive is indeed, a moral lesson. The Senior Warden notes: … harmony being essential to all societies, especially our own. This is a moral lesson. In fact, the peculiar morality of Freemasonry may very well be that we encourage free speech, free thought, freedom of religion, the freedom to ask questions.

The problem is, we have come so far away from the social and moral climate of the early 18th century that we have forgotten how important that peculiar morality of our was… and is, and what a difference it made on western society. Today, the very ideas freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of choice have become the very water and air of our society.

THAT is the change that Freemasonry’s peculiar morality has made, and is the morality of Freemasonry that we must preserve. Those who would impose their own personal morality, or their understanding of “societal morality” upon the fraternity revile and tarnish our ancient and honorable fraternity.

Freemasonry: It’s not about me changing them, it’s about me changing me.
May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every social and moral virtue, cement us!


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was a "peculiar system of morality".

not peculiar morality?

two different meanings?

Gary Kerkin said...

Or is it "peculiar" in that we obligate ourselves to not only adopt it, but to practise and develop it?
I prepare the Summons for my Lodge each month and I endeavour to find something educational, and hopefully inspirational, for each one. For those interested you can find them on my web page at www.kerkin.co.nz/freemason. At our November meeting we will be Raising a new Brother and in anticipation, under the heading "Is the Third Degree the Culmination of Freemasonry?" I included the following. (You will notice reference to a story by an anonymous author that, if I recall correctly, you published not so long ago).
The answer to this question really lies in the story of the travelling salesman which I quoted on a recent Summons. Do you wish to be like the salesman who asked the farmer “Did you help me because I am a Mason?”

Or do you wish to be like the farmer who replied “No! I helped you because I’m a Mason.”

We are all aware that each of the three Degree Ceremonies adds another element — a dimension perhaps — to our Masonic Journey.
The First Degree introduces us to the concept of a strong work ethic which involves labour, accuracy and perseverance.
The Second Degree introduces us to the necessity of supporting that work ethic by developing and honing our intellect in preparation for what is to come.
The Third Degree introduces us to the concept of a spirituality without which we can never really understand ourselves or the objectives of Freemasonry.
The First Degree, through the Tracing Board lays out for us the philosophy which we as Freemasons are expected to follow. It also reminds us that it is necessary to learn. The Second Degree also teaches us about equality within and without Freemasonry. The Third Degree expands on the concepts of integrity and self-knowledge.
But it does not stop there! A while back I quoted W.Bro. Ray Williams as saying that “Freemasonry does not stop when we lock up the Lodge after a meeting.” Nor does it stop when we “Lock up our secrets in the safe and sacred repository of our hearts.” It shouldn’t stop when we resign from the Order – or, at least, not if we have truly taken on board the lessons which Freemasonry can teach us. It may not even stop when we depart this transitory life — if we have lived a life that others will remember.
We, each of us, take on two obligations when we join Freemasonry: a collective responsibility to ensure the survival and longevity of the Order; and a personal responsibility to give of ourselves and attributes to the best of our abilities and resources to ensure the collective responsibility.
So does it all end with the Third Degree? No! Not if you truly wish to be known as a Freemason.

Gary Kerkin, Grand Lecturer, New Zealand

 
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