As the third writer on Freemason Information I’ll jump in with both feet and take a stab at this question. Both Tim & Greg have attempted to define Freemasonry as an intellectual enterprise of definition devoid of the feelings of individual Freemasons. And it is precisely those feelings that help define the Craft. Sometimes what counts is not reality but perception. One needs to get a sense of what motivates a person to join Freemasonry. Those reasons shed a lot of light on how Freemasonry is perceived, and how it is perceived is really what it is to flesh and bone human beings. The Craft then becomes not what one wants it to be but what it really is to its practitioners.
That is not to take to task my fellow writers for I do not disagree with their conclusions. I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him, which is a little twist on a famous quote. I just don’t think they take their cases far enough. Stewart tells us:
“As a fraternity, Tim’s conclusion is that while not a club, philanthropy, religion or political action committee, Freemasonry is a place where, and I’m paraphrasing here, moral men meet on common ground to act rightly to one another. He concludes saying that men gathered like this for no more reason than to associate so.”
“While I can’t find a disagreement on that conclusion, one has to ask gather to for what end?”
That’s a good question I will ask again and answer later. I don’t think Stewart ever really answered it. But first I would point out, as I have done many times before, that Freemasons are on different levels of Masonic development and practice. What one Freemason sees in the Craft another does not. What one man practices in Freemasonry another shuns. Some see Freemasonry as a philosophical society, some as a social organization, some as just a means to networking, some as a claim to prestige, some as a way of life and some as a bonding of like thinking human beings. I think what Stewart was saying is that they are all right.
What we perceive is shaped greatly by our personal experiences, our environment. I have had the pleasure to experience Prince Hall Freemasonry, unlike Bryce and Stewart who have not. And in that experience I have had the joy of some very tight bonding. Brothers in Prince Hall hug or embrace each other, always and often. There is a real concern for a Brother’s well being. We not only pray for a Brother in distress or mourning but we do the same for our sisters in OES and HOJ. We will not hesitate to provide direct aid. We tend to work together on projects outside of Freemasonry. There is one big word to describe this experience – FAMILY. In Prince Hall we are all family.
Now I am by no means putting down Mainstream Freemasonry in this regard. I am sure there is the same concern there. But to me and for me its “stiff upper lip” standoffness is a sharp contrast in demonstration of that concern.
I am at once reminded of the words of H.L. Haywood:
“Freemasonry does not exist in a world where brotherhood is a mere dream flying along the sky; it exists in a world of which brotherhood is the law of human life. Its function is not to bring brotherhood into existence just as a hot-house gardener may at last coax into bloom a frail flower, though the climate is most unfriendly, but to lead men to understand that brotherhood is already a reality, a law, and that it is not until we come to know it as such, and practice it, that we can ever find happiness, together. Freemasonry does not create something too fine and good for this rough world; it “reveals” something that is as much a part of the world as roughness itself. In other words, it removes the hoodwink of jealousy, hatred, unkindness, and all the other myriad forms of unbrotherliness in order that a man may see and thus come to know how good and pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. The hoodwink of cloth or leather that is bound over a man’s eyes is not the real hoodwink at all, but only the symbol thereof; the real hoodwink, and it is that which Freemasonry undertakes to remove from a man’s eyes, is all that anti-social and unhuman spirit out of which grow the things that make life unkind and unhappy. “Brotherhood is heaven; the lack of brotherhood is hell.”
So Freemasonry is a brotherhood with camaraderie. OK, but what difference does it make what it is, isn’t it really all about what it does, especially for the individual Freemason? So what does Freemasonry provide to its members?
My answer is that it provides Community. Everybody needs Community, from the gangbanger to the single mother with 3 children to the Freemason. It is an inherent need of all humankind, the social animals that we are. If you have read Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, Timeless Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth you know what I am talking about. In case you haven’t Peck has a brief explanation of Community for us.
- Inclusivity, commitment and consensus: Members accept and embrace each other, celebrating their individuality and transcending their differences. They commit themselves to the effort and the people involved. They make decisions and reconcile their differences through consensus.
- Realism: Members bring together multiple perspectives to better understand the whole context of the situation. Decisions are more well-rounded and humble, rather than one-sided and arrogant.
- Contemplation: Members examine themselves. They are individually and collectively self-aware of the world outside themselves, the world inside themselves, and the relationship between the two.
- A safe place: Members allow others to share their vulnerability, heal themselves, and express who they truly are.
- A laboratory for personal disarmament: Members experientially discover the rules for peacemaking and embrace its virtues. They feel and express compassion and respect for each other as fellow human beings.
- A group that can fight gracefully: Members resolve conflicts with wisdom and grace. They listen and understand, respect each others’ gifts, accept each others’ limitations, celebrate their differences, bind each others’ wounds, and commit to a struggle together rather than against each other.
- A group of all leaders: Members harness the “flow of leadership” to make decisions and set a course of action. It is the spirit of community itself that leads and not any single individual.
I think Bryce & Stewart are trying to make the symptoms the disease.
So if Freemasonry is Community we are back to Stewart’s question we promised to answer, for what purpose? First of all to be Community. That’s enough of an explanation in itself. But to personalize it more to Freemasonry, to be a very special Community of morality and purpose with a message, to practice all of the above – all that has been written in all 3 articles on this subject.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts on what Freemasonry is in the comments below.