Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: What Is Freemasonry? by Gustavo Raffi

While searching Google some time back, I ran across What is Freemasonry? An Interview wirh Orient of Italy Grand Master Gustavo Raffi.  Coming in at only 111 pages, one would think it to be a quick read. Oh no. This is a very thorough, in-depth read with, well, lots of big words.  This book will require you to slow down, reflect, and study.  Not a bad thing, mind you.

Grand Master Raffi begins by explaining what, exactly Freemasonry is. He does so primarily by stating what Freemasonry is not. It is not a religion. It is not a political system. It is not in contention with Rome, Mecca, or any other faith-center.  "Well we already knew that" you say, fellow Freemason. Yes, but the arguments of GM Raffi are presented in a way that give them new life and light.  Consider the following, from page 51:
Freemasonry is not a religion and this is why we have neither a "Masonic God" nor a "Masonic Theology."  The Great Architect of the Universe is only a broad and universal concept that Freemasonry cannot and should not define because it is in itself inexpressible and indefinable in the context of an Institution that considers itself a place for diversity to meet.  This divine and supreme entity is a key concept that has to be individually interpreted by each Brother, according to his faith and conscience.  A Masonic God would instead be completely absurd because this would de facto impose a religious doctrine on all the members of the Masonic brotherhood, destroying each Brother's individual and different opinion about religion, theology, and philosophy.
A Masonic God cannot exist because He/She/It would violate the very principles Masonry espouses.  Given that Masonry explicitly prohibits one man from forcing his beliefs upon another, how could it then go on to expect its members to believe in its own concept of Deity? 
Clearly, every single Freemason has his own personal convictions, including his own religious beliefs, which he should always maintain.  Initiation does not corrupt his prior beliefs.  On the contrary, it is an opportunity to learn more thanks to the mutual differences and complexities of the members of the Lodge...  This brotherhood of imperfect beings working to make each other better is a magnum opus in the history of Humanity. (p. 53)
Masonry does not impose a system of religious belief upon its members.  Rather, it forces a system of tolerance and acceptance of differing views.  It, being a neutral party in all, requires its members to "leave differences at the door" and see others upon the level.

GM Raffi asks a number of philosophical questions, such as "what is happiness?"  Treated with the typical Masonic focus on the mortality of man, he concludes that it is not a hedonistic pleasure enjoyed at one's own will.  Rather, happiness, in its true sense, is freedom.  The freedom to live without hunger or need.  The freedom to live a meaningful life which isn't wasted.  The freedom to live a life which isn't exploited for the enrichment of another.  From page 82: long as we are alive, we should fight to protect life and the happiness and joy to which every living being has the right to aspire within the limits accorded him by fate and nature, but also with the potential and effective guarantees offered by science and reason.... we are Freemasons and expert builders.  We are not afraid of building great works even if we know and understand the difficulties.
We, as Freemasons, he states, are to ensure the construction of a free and open society.  The latter third of the book outlines what GM Raffi sees as a harmonious world, and what role he feels Freemasonry should take in establishing it.  He takes aim at globalization and the ways in which it exploits smaller, poorer nations.  He takes aim at religious fundamentalism and how it unnecessarily pits its followers against those of other belief systems.  He speaks harshly against public schooling which teaches any curriculum other than one which is free of religious dogma and indoctrination.

The modern-day American may be quick to toss this book aside and erroneously label it as a socialist manifesto.  It is anything but.  The goals and values outlined within are perfectly in line with the same philosophy which gave birth to America itself.  While it is exceptionally wordy, it is no worse than typical Masonic literature and has nothing to be unexpected in that regard.

While What is Freemasonry? does not advocate against any particular economic or political system, it is quick to state what the ideal Masonic alternative would be.  GM Raffi even states that perhaps Masons go too far in not being political, and should, essentially, stop being so worried about avoiding the topic completely.  He advocates an open, accepting place of discourse where views can be discussed by open-minded men looking for truth.  Rather than avoiding arguments in lodge by not broaching topics, we should talk about them while being big enough men to be offended.

While I don't entirely disagree with much of what What is Freemasonry? has to say regarding globalization, public education, and organized religion, I fear that some of the proposals put forth regarding Freemasonry taking an active role in the public sphere in these areas risk Freemasonry's reputation as an apolitical organization.  Freemasonry itself is not a force or organization for change.  The members of the Lodge, influenced by the goodwill and acceptance of their Brothers, should be the catalyst for change, not the Masonic hierarchy which oversees the organization.

All in all, this book is a good read for the experienced Mason who knows the ins, outs, and philosophies of Freemasonry.  I wouldn't recommend it for a new Mason who's yet to be steeped in Masonic instruction.  Nor would I recommend this book for a non-Mason, as the impression likely to be taken away will only confirm the conspiratorial pipe-dreams of one who sees Masonry as a global political conspiracy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On The "Secrets" of Masonry.

Ask anyone what Masonry is known for, and you'll likely hear outlandish stories of conspiracies and world domination.  Some will mention the Shriners and their parade activies.  Some with family members in the craft will speak of the good done by those in the fraternity.  All, regardless of whether their impressions of the craft are positive or negative will have one thing correct and in common:  Secrecy.

Unless one is a member, they will not know what goes on behind the tyled door of a lodge.  They will not know our rituals, actions, or lessons.  The only way for one to know these things is to be unanimously welcomed into our craft by a lodge of their choosing.  In order to know more about Masons, you must become a Mason.

Freemasonry is harshly critiqued by some for this.  "Why don't you disclose your ritual?" they ask.  "Why do you only allow men to join, and then swear them to secrecy?"  As our Entered Apprentice charge demands, we are simply to smile and not respond in kind.  It is not our job, nor are we even allowed, to argue with those who criticize us.  We are to be peacable citizens, not evangelistic crusaders of the craft.  "It's none of your business!" or "Don't worry about it, if we wanted you to know we'd tell you!" are not appropriate responses.

When I've been asked, I politely state that we aren't hiding anything which we are ashamed of.  Indeed, the very purpose of Masonry is to inculcate attitudes and mannerisms which inhibit embarrassing behavior.  We are no different than one's employer, church, or family.  We have some basic information that we don't wish to be known, and we strive to keep it so.

Consider my line of work, accounting.  I am privy to a wealth of information about my employer and their clients.  Am I participating in no-good, nefarious actions because I will not disclose their customer lists, business strategies, or pricing models?  Am I assisting in a world takeover by not releasing their methods for gaining business and pricing services?  Of course not.  I am simply remaining silent on matters I have no right to disclose.  As it is with Masons and the secrets we are sworn to keep.

Think of your family.  Are you being a dishonest citizen by not revealing all things known about every relative you have when questioned by any stranger on a street?  Are you being secretive by closing your blinds at night so neighbors and passers-by can't see in?  No, you're protecting your children, spouse, siblings, and parents by not making light things they don't want known.  As it is with Masons and the secrets of our Brothers.

Finally, if you are a member of one, consider your church.  Are you a bad church member because you don't make known everything your body of believers does?  Is the Deacon or Trustee committee plotting evil when they hold a members-only, closed-door meeting to discuss an important issue that cannot be disclosed?  Is the pastor up to no good if he closes his office door to take a phone call?  No, the Church is simply protecting itself and remaining private, as it should, for the sake of itself and its members.  As it is with Masons and the Lodge.

Masonry is no different than any other organization.  It has business which is public, and business which is private.  It is free to disclose and conceal the information it wishes and desires.  To accuse Freemasonry of being anything other than that which it professes to be, simply because Freemasonry does not disclose its rituals and practices, is an unfair criticism that any intelligent person should immediately disavow.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

This Fourth of July, Remember Freemasonry.

I once read a hypothetical along the lines of "What if Freemasons really did plot to create a new world order, and it began with America?"  When one truly puts some thought to it, the similarities are intriguing.

Freemasonry practices a social order with no classes and no lifetime rulers, save for those who've been duly nominated or elected.  It teaches that all men are creatures of the Great Architect, created equally, with all due right to live their own lives as they see fit.  It teaches that men should be able to choose their own religion, speak their own mind, associate with whom they wish, and that they should be able to do so all without fear of government reprisal or punishment.

In his book Solomon's Builders: Freemasons, Founding Fathers and the Secrets of Washington D.C., author Christopher Hoddap does an excellent job showing just how America and it's socio-political orders are concisely modeled after Masonic governance and structure.  I strongly recommended this book to anyone wishing further insight on the matter.

It's no secret that many of our nation's founders were Freemasons, most notably George Washington, whose portrait hangs in most every American Lodge.  Washington is quoted as saying, "The grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race."  It takes little faith to believe that his status as a Master Mason influenced his views on this matter, which are reflected in how he governed and influenced early America.

As any Mason could tell you, eight of the principle signers of the Declaration of Independence were Brothers.  Twenty-eight of the forty signers of the Constitution were or became Freemasons.  The Boston Tea Party was planned at the Green Dragon Tavern, which, coincidentally, was also where the area Brothers met to hold Lodge.  There can be no doubt that Freemasonry, more than any other organization or belief system, is to thank for the freedoms we now enjoy.

Whatever its airs of mystery and images of skulls, pyramids, and all-seeing eyes, Freemasonry's most radical, even dangerous, idea was the encouragement of different faiths within a single nation. Early in his first term, Washington communicated these ideals in a letter to the congregation of a Rhode Island synagogue: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens..." In other words, in this new nation minority religions were not just guests at the table, but full householders.
Washington and other early American Freemasons rejected a European past in which one overarching authority regulated the exchange of ideas. And this outlook is found in one of the greatest symbols associated with Freemasonry: The eye-and-pyramid of the Great Seal of the United States, familiar today from the back of the dollar bill. The Great Seal's design began on July 4th, 1776, on an order from the Continental Congress and under the direction of Benjamin Franklin (another Freemason), Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. The Latin maxim that surrounds the unfinished pyramid—Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum—can be roughly, if poetically, translated as: "God Smiles on Our New Order of the Ages." It is Masonic philosophy to the core: The pyramid, or worldly achievement, is incomplete without the blessing of Providence. And this polity of man and God, as Masonry saw it, required a break with the religious order of the Old World and a renewed search for universal truth. In its symbols and ideas, Masonry conveyed a sense that something new was being born in America: that the individual's conscience was beyond denominational affiliation or government command

The many freedoms we enjoy, be they speech, association, religion, or the others outlined in our Constitution, have their roots in Masonry and its principles.  Dare I say, were it not for Freemasonry, America as we know it wouldn't exist.  We'd likely still be subject to the whims of a ruler by inheritance, forced to worship with whichever body of belief they chose, our adorations aimed at whichever deity or deities they desired.  Thanks to Freemasonry, we don't have to be subject to monarchical whims of far-off royalty.  Nor are we subject to the religious edicts of Rabbi or Reverend, Pope or Patriarch, Mullah or Maharishi.

Thanks to Masonry and its influence on our founders, we are free.  Please remember that this Fourth of July.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Stones 'n' Bones: Drawing lines around my circle

I hadn't intended on reblogging the words of others when I drew up my (limited) plan of operations here.  If I like something, I tweet it.  Far too many blogs are mere echo chambers repeating what someone else wrote.  However, this was too excellent to not share.
One of the most useful tools in Freemasonry is the compass. Put simply, the compass has two points. You stand at one, and the other circumscribes a circle around you. These are the bounds in which you live. Don’t step over them.
Basically, don’t do stupid stuff. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Remember your responsibilities to yourself, your family, and mankind. It can sometimes be taken as a bit of a dream-killer, but here’s the thing about your circle. You draw it. You figure out how big it is, and what fits inside it. The symbolism is to remind you to be mindful of things. It’s to remind you that some things are out of your scope and control, but some things are in your control, and you should probably control them.
This is an excellent example of the "dot in a circle" symbol that so many of us need to learn.  The Masonic embodiment of 1 Corinthians 10:13: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." (KJV)  Matthew Henry's commentary expands upon this:
10:23-33 There were cases wherein Christians might eat what had been offered to idols, without sin. Such as when the flesh was sold in the market as common food, for the priest to whom it had been given. But a Christian must not merely consider what is lawful, but what is expedient, and to edify others. Christianity by no means forbids the common offices of kindness, or allows uncourteous behaviour to any, however they may differ from us in religious sentiments or practices. But this is not to be understood of religious festivals, partaking in idolatrous worship. According to this advice of the apostle, Christians should take care not to use their liberty to the hurt of others, or to their own reproach. In eating and drinking, and in all we do, we should aim at the glory of God, at pleasing and honouring him. This is the great end of all religion, and directs us where express rules are wanting. A holy, peaceable, and benevolent spirit, will disarm the greatest enemies.
As children of God created with a free will, we can do whatever we choose.  Good or evil, healthy or unhealthy.  It is not a question of can we do it, but one of should we do it.  Why yes, I could eat a jar of jalapeños, but should I?  Sure, I could probably have another beer, but should I?  For some brothers, yes, they could get away with a moral indiscretion while out of town, but should they?  Draw your boundaries and stick with them.  Learn what your limits of good, responsible behavior are, and stay within them.

Consider this quote from Season 11 The Simpsons episode Saddlesore Galactica:

Homer: See Marge? I told you they could deep fry my shirt.
Marge: I didn't say they couldn't. I said you shouldn't

 Pretty much sums it up, no?