What do you say when people ask, “What is Freemasonry?” “ Masonry is more than social good fellowship, more than ritual, more than organized charity. It is a way of living; a philosophy of life. ” Another definition says: “ Freemasonry is a charitable, benevolent, educational, and religious society. ” What do these definitions imply?
Some have claimed that Freemasonry is a secret organization. But, in fact, its only secrets are in its methods of recognition and of symbolic instruction. We maintain secrecy but purely as a means of mutual identification. We take an oath but only after assurance that it “ will not improperly affect any duty we owe to God, our country, our neighbor and ourselves.” We have forms and symbols and ceremonies but these are all external.
Actually, the entire Ritual is a symbolic representation of the course of man through his life, leading him step by step from birth, through manhood, to old age, and leaving him with the hope of immortality. The First Degree, called the Entered Apprentice, represents man as he comes into life; helpless, ignorant and dependent. It carries his education through the period of his youth. The second, or Fellowcraft Degree, represents man in his middle age; and the third, or Master Mason Degree, takes him through old age and ends with a beautiful lesson in the unconquerable hope of immortality.
Through the three Degrees, the candidate is taught increasing wisdom in the art of upright living.
Freemasonry is the friend of every religious faith but is not itself a religion. Essentially, it is the practical application of a philosophy of life or way of living. Not being the product of any one race or system of government, or economics or philosophy or religion, Freemasonry welcomes men of every race and creed if they have sufficient integrity of character to become good Masons; in order to obtain membership, a man must believe in a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. Instead of trying to be a religion, Freemasonry deliberately seeks to provide a common meeting place where men of every monotheistic religion can remain true to their own religion and yet, submerging their differences, can work together in harmony to manifest the finest fruits of all religions.
The emphasis of religion is often on intercession for forgiveness of a person’s shortcomings. Masonic emphasis is on a more positive aspect. It teaches a Mason to measure up to his obligations rather than to deal with theological doctrines of forgiveness. Similarly, Masonry stresses a person’s duties rather than his rights.
Just as Freemasonry exhorts each member to be a true and loyal citizen of whatever country is entitled to his allegiance, so, likewise, Freemasonry expects each of its members to be a true and loyal supporter of his chosen religion and of the church, synagogue, or other unit of its organizational worship.
Freemasonry is a social organization only so far as it furnishes inducement and a setting for men to gather in numbers. Thus they can promote its primary work of education and charity.
Through the improvement and strengthening of the character of the individual man, Freemasonry seeks to improve the community. Thus, it impresses upon its members the principles of personal integrity and personal responsibility. It enlightens them as to those things which make for human welfare, and inspires them with that feeling of charity, or good will, toward all mankind which will move them to translate principle and conviction into action.
We believe that the Masonic life should be an orderly life, and that it should be a public-spirited life. Furthermore, we believe it should be an industrious life in the pursuit of one’s vocation and a physically sane life with due regard to bodily health. A sound body, orderly industry, public spirit, but primarily the building of character— to us these emerge as major laws of successful living.
What, then, does Freemasonry say about man’s relationship with God and with his fellow man?
- In a world of greed and force it teaches self-restraint and reason.
- In a world permeated with the spirit of selfish rivalry it teaches Universal Brotherhood.
- In a world of intolerance and bigotry it teaches tolerance and kindness.
- In a world of cynical disbelief it teaches reverence for Deity.
- In a world floundering in the depths of a great moral and spiritual depression it teaches industry, self-reliance, temperance and integrity.
- It aids and comforts and reassures and inspires individuals.
- It leaps the barriers of race and space to draw together the finest aspirations of all men and to unite them in a Universal Brotherhood.
And finally, we can say that purity of heart, sincerity, truthfulness, fidelity to duty and similar qualities are emphasized over and over as necessary internal qualifications. The attainment of wisdom, prudence, temperance, justice, reason, self-reliance, strength and beauty are practical objectives. Self-restraint, upright conduct, and morality are worthy means toward the accomplishment of these objectives.
Yes, Masonry is more than social good fellowship, more than ritual, more than organized charity. It is a way of living; a Philosophy of Life.
Prepared by Russell D. Martin, Professor Communication Arts. Cornell University.
- Pound, Roscoe. Masonic Addresses and Writings of Roscoe Pound. Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, New York and Supreme Council 330 AASR Northern Masonic Jurisdiction 1953.