Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Personal Theology

Freemasonry is not a religion.  Discussion of sectarian religion is not appropriate or allowed inside Lodge. In order to become a Freemason, one has to profess a belief in a Supreme Being.  This last statement has been made with several different words, each of which, I believe, convey a different meaning.  In place of the words "Supreme Being", I have heard the words "Deity", "God", and others. I believe Masons are trusted to interpret these words as basically interchangeable.  Regardless of one's interpretation of any of these words, each individual is charged to consider their beliefs carefully, and confirm that they acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

Masons are not required to belong to any particular religion, nor are they prohibited from belonging to any particular religion.  While interpretations are as diverse as memberships in lodges throughout the world, it is generally agreed upon that any religion is acceptable, as is no religion at all.  However, atheism is explicitly prohibited, although I have heard masons arguing the finer points of this prohibition.

Everything I have said above is with words chosen very carefully.  Don't be fooled that there is a single casual statement written thus far.  According to tradition and in some cases explicit rule, "discussion" of "sectarian" religion is forbidden "in Lodge".  As an acknowledged generalization, this basically means that while a group of masons are "at labor" or meeting as a "Lodge", religion as a subject or topic is not to be discussed.  This does not mean that masons are prohibited from discussions of religion while not engaged in the Labor of Lodge.

In practice, most Lodges have found that choosing not to discuss religion even when not in Lodge usually works out for the best as well. Freemasons are faced with some tricky challenges because of these practices, because a good amount of masonic science and philosophy is difficult to distinguish from religion or theology.

Personally, I feel that masons and lodges unnecessarily delude themselves in an incorrect belief that the line between freemasonry and religion is wider or brighter than it really is.  This is, I believe, the result of immaturity in spiritual development (I have just offended several Masons) and weakness in practicing the important exercises of masonic development (I have just offended the remaining masons).

In reality, a given Lodge of Freemasons may be filled with individuals who are not particularly "religious".  An individual might hold a basic acknowledgement of the "existence" of a God, but may not be institutionally active in a Church, Mosque, Temple, or other organization.  Indeed, no one can be a freemason for long without a healthy respect and appreciation for all other religions.  For many, it is difficult to balance a set of specific religious beliefs with an acceptance of the legitimacy of an alternative set of religious beliefs.  Therefore, many masons consider themselves eternal seekers after the truth, and not willing to assume they have yet found it.

Yet, in order to even become a freemason, an individual has had to have acknowledged the existence of a Supreme Being.  Masonry does not ask an individual to describe, validate, or otherwise line up with any known designation for the Supreme Being. Interestingly, Freemasonry appears to assume that the beliefs it has required its members to hold will not manifest in any particular religious practices outside of Lodge.  Freemasonry appears to assume that all members are something like they individual described above.

I have several conflicts with Freemasonry around religion specifically.  At present I am able to resolve all of these conflicts in complete harmony.  I am able to do so however, by adopting a personal masonic philosophy which is more akin to my interpretation of the masonic practices of a hundred years ago, or two hundred years ago, and not to those I hear being described in contemporary lodges or discussion groups.

What follows is my personal beliefs.  I am writing them for the following reasons.

1. I am not in lodge, and I believe it is healthy and useful to explore these questions, not ignore them.

2. This blog is my space for personal expression.  some of what I write here may be of some interest to others, but it reflects nothing more than my personal thoughts, and so should have no particular impact.

3. I want to get these things off my chest.  As I've said, I experience many conflicts and this is one of my methods of working them out.

4. I find masons unwilling or unable to discuss these things.  There may be other individuals who are experiencing similar conflicts who may find my personal resolutions useful in their own seeking.

In reading masonic writing of over a century ago, I find open discussions of religion, spirituality, and personal development proliferating.  The thinkers of the past certainly disagreed with each other, but none seemed to have any problem discussing these things in civility and in masonic context.  I have not found any discussions of religion and freemasonry in a masonic context today, apart from those appendant masonic bodies which explicitly allow for sectarian practice.  These don't count.  I am concerned specifically about Craft Masonry and organized sectarian religion.

I feel it is naive and silly to allow members of any religion to enter freemasonry, complete with the inclusion of any particular holy book as the version of the volume of Sacred Law, while simultaneously prohibiting the discussion or exploration of the teachings, history, or details of the religion represented by those sacred writings.  Masons may now say, none of this is forbidden.  I speak more of de facto practice.  Lodges avoid any discussion of any religion, topic sparked by any religion, or lesson informed by any religion, since we are not mature enough to be able to hold MASONIC conversations informed by religion.  This is one conflict of mine.

I will also say that I am a Christian.  I define being a Christian as acknowledging and accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I profess Christ, and I profess the Apostles Creed.  Oddly enough, for many, many freemasons, I have just disqualified myself for truly being a Freemason, and for many Christians, I have just disqualified myself for truly being a Christian.  In the context of freemasonry, according to what I consider to be an incorrect interpretation, I must not discuss the fact that I personally am a Christian, as this would be a discussion of sectarian religion.  I know I am over-reacting.  Certainly masons can identify themselves.  However, this is not far from the place of discomfort, depending on what kind of masonic jurisdiction you are a part of.

I have a conflict with this.  I believe the beauty of our fraternity is our ability to bring together members of different religious belief, not the requirement that we each deny our personal beliefs, or otherwise suppress them so as not to offend others.

As a Christian and a Freemason, I must state that I am a Christian first and a Mason second.  Ultimately, I feel no particular conflict between these affiliations.  However, if ever a conflict should arise, and it should come down to my being consistent with my masonic beliefs and my Christian beliefs, I am true to my Christian beliefs.  Wherever and if ever, I am presented with anything within freemasonry that conflicts with my religious beliefs, I will reject it.  And I have.  I have no problem with this, and my conflicts are resolved harmoniously.  Freemasonry is not a religion.  Rejecting any particular interpretation is not dangerous or perilous to my eternal soul.  I believe that everything I can hope to accomplish spiritually through masonic practices, I will ultimately accomplish through my religion regardless of whether I am a Mason or not.

So here's one of my conflicts.  My religious experience has been greatly improved and enhanced through my masonic experience.  And my masonic experience has been greatly informed and advanced by my religious experience.  I don't consider this to be unique.  My interpretation of Masonic philosophy is that this is by design.  This is what is supposed to happen.  It is not a coincidence.  I did not get lucky.  I imagine that this should be the case with anyone's religion.  I do not need to know the finer points of the religion of the mason sitting next to me in lodge to hope that he is getting as much out of the experience as I am.  But how much greater will both of our experiences be if we could explore what each of us are learning, and how each of our experiences are being enhanced, advanced, informed, and improved by what we brought in the door with us.

Many believe Christians are closed minded.  This is well deserved. Many of my Gay friends won't interact with me knowing my religion.  Many of them share my religion, but it is just too much trouble to try to unravel someone's bigotry.  This pains me.  But it is what it is.  I belong to a religion whose louder adherents attempt to speak for the rest of us.  It is a rare thing to find a devout Christian who is perfectly comfortable discussing comparative religion.  But see, actually, it's not that rare.  But that cross, that Bible, that use of the word "Jesus" just seems to get everyone's hackles up.  People get defensive.  I understand this and the need to avoid the disharmony.  I do not need to discuss Christianity specific things in open Lodge.  But I need to be able to be openly Christian, to express myself as such, without other masons being defensive about my personal religious choices.

My obligation (personally) is to not discuss this in Lodge.  I need others to understand that though I say I am a Christian, I am not making any further statement than that. I would prefer to explore the religion of others.  This helps me moderate my language so I can express myself in a way that does not send signals I am not aware I am sending.  This is the only way to achieve this I believe.

Many believe Masons are worshiping foreign gods.  This is also well deserved.  I understand why people would believe this.  I am personally offended by some of the things anti-masons say.  However, I am also concerned about the ignorance with which some masons approach these accusations.  Many are chalked up to ignorance and religious bigotry.  In fact, many masons appear to be completely unaware of the overtly religious acts they are participating in.  Our ignorance of these things leaves us open to exploitation by others whose knowledge of these matters may be greater than our own, while their understanding is the weaker.

The pressure I feel is that one needs to choose between bad extremes. My development as a Christian, a Mason, and as a man, has allowed me to reject this choice.  I am perfectly comfortable within my religion.  I am a devout disciple of Christ.  I have no conflict.  I am a meticulous student of my religion and an enthusiastic worshiper.  I am fully capable of participating in freemasonry without bringing disharmony motivated by my religious beliefs.  Nothing I have done, am doing, or will do within freemasonry conflicts in any way with my religious discipleship.  I defy anyone to show otherwise.  I am perfectly comfortable within my masonic houses.  I am an enthusiastic student of masonic philosophy, ritual, and science.  No part of my religion conflicts with freemasonry.

Where I find conflict mostly is with other Christians and other Masons, who have preconceived notions of what each belief system is and does.  As I've said, I've found I am more in harmony with a traditional interpretation of masonic principles.  The old landmarks. The old writings.

I feel that freemasonry will crumble if it does not welcome individuals who are enthusiastically religious.  Not that it welcomes religious expression within Masonic contexts, but that it attracts and welcomes individuals who bring with them a strong enthusiasm for religious "work".  Such individuals are ideal for the lessons of masonic science.  I likewise feel that religions that attempt to outlaw, excommunicate, or shun individuals who are enthusiastic seekers after universal truths that are not found within a particular religion, are acting out of harmony with their own principles.

I pray that we can learn to feel more comfortable with cross-pollination.  Activities inside Churches, Mosques, and Temples.  Activities inside Masonic Temples. I pray that we can break the ice of suspicion and mistrust that I feel has formed between freemasonry and religion.  If we can do this, there may be hope of achieving the universal brotherhood above religions, above races, above nations, sects, and cultures, that we as freemasons claim to promote.  For a fraternity founded upon principles of tolerance, acceptance, and brotherhood, we have a lot of work to do even within our own basic practice.


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