What is Freemasonry?

Is it a club, a corporation, a religious cult, a PAC, a philanthropy, or a fraternity?

In the many years I have been a member, I have always found it fascinating how people perceive the institution of Freemasonry. Some say it is a club, others see it as a philanthropy, but very few seem to understand the concept of fraternity. Further, when we investigate candidates for membership, we normally ask what they are looking for, but rarely do people comprehend precisely what they are joining. This is a compelling argument, one I’ve debated on more than one occasion.

Some of our members see Freemasonry as nothing more than a club, such as a garden club, sports club, country club, etc., an institution we join with some common activity or goal. Clubs are typically run by a set of officers who participate in order to receive some notoriety for their position. This, of course, leads to politics involving backscratching, deceit, backstabbing, and one-up-man-ship. It is not uncommon to find people in such positions who have done nothing of substance in their professional lives and now relish the opportunity to control others. In Freemasonry, we are taught members are all equal in terms of position and opinion. The officers in a Lodge represent a network of duties and responsibilities designed to be implemented by many people, not just one, thereby encouraging teamwork, and eliminating the need for autocratic rule.

There are those who see Freemasonry as a corporation. The problem here is that a corporation is designed to be profitable in nature, Freemasonry is not. True, there are advantages to running any institution like a business, particularly by the state who requires all organizations to run as such, but Freemasonry certainly has no mercenary objectives other than the betterment of its members.

Despite the warnings of conspiracy theorists, Freemasonry does not preach dogma, nor practice religion. A person must believe in a Supreme Being to become a Mason, but his choice of religion is his business, not the Masons. As such, it is not uncommon to sit in a Masonic Lodge with men of many different faiths, thereby promoting religious tolerance.

Freemasonry is not a Political Action Committee (PAC). In order to maintain harmony in the Lodge, politics and religion are two topics forbidden from discussion. Like religion, men of different political beliefs sit in Lodge together in harmony. If anything, Freemasonry promotes the concept of citizenship to the community and patriotism to the country. Those who violate the law and believe in the overthrow of the government by force are not permitted to become Masons. Masons are law-abiding citizens who are taught to use peaceful means to change the government if necessary. As such, Masons hope to become role models for the community.

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that Freemasonry is a philanthropy. It is true Masons give generously to help others in distress, but this is a peripheral goal. It is not intended to spend countless hours on fund raisers or to shake down the Brethren for every available penny. Masons help others if it is within their capacity to do so. Otherwise there is no mandate in Freemasonry to perform philanthropic work. If Masons spend more time on philanthropy than fraternity, then they are subverting the intent of the institution.

Instead, Freemasonry is a fraternity; the original fraternity, and the model for others who came much later, such as college fraternities. The term “fraternity” comes from the Latin word “frater,” meaning “brother.” Fraternity, therefore, is a brotherhood, an environment of companionship dedicated to the social development of its members. The basic tenets of Freemasonry are “Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love.” As such, it is designed to build character, devotion, and encourage its members to lead an honorable life. Attending a Masonic Lodge meeting is intended to act as a fortress of solitude for its members, both local and visiting Masons, where they can meet and find solace away from the vermin and troubles of the world. It is a place where men seek understanding, compassion, and to be treated fairly and honestly.

Education is of significant importance in a Masonic Lodge, where Brothers ponder past, present and future problems of morality, responsibility, compassion, and civility. We refer to this as seeking “further light.”

Freemasonry, therefore, is not a club, a philanthropy, a religion, or a PAC. Using symbols from ancient operative Masonry, Freemasonry is a place where men meet “on the level” (to promote equality), act “by the plumb” (rectitude of conduct), and part upon “the square” (to practice morality). For many centuries, Freemasonry is the fraternity where men of character have naturally gravitated to, simply because they yearn for such simple treatment.

Those who think of or practice Freemasonry any other way are missing the boat.

Keep the Faith!

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Read A Response to Tim Bryce’s What is Freemasonry?  and A Response to Tim Bryce & Greg Stewart

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com

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Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant who writes commentaries about the times we live in be it in the corporate world, the Masonic world, or our personal lives. His writings are well known on the Internet and are humorous, educational, and at times controversial. You won’t always agree with him, but Tim will definitely get you thinking.

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  1. Nailed it!

    That’s about the best, short exposition on what Freemasonry is and what it is not that I’ve ever seen in print. The sad thing—or, perhaps, I should say the saddest thing, considering the many misconceptions that abound regarding the fraternity—is that you are correct, Brother Bryce, in the observation that “very few seem to understand the concept of fraternity.” Whether that has commonly been the case or is more a product of ‘modern times,’ with today’s emphasis upon the superficial and the temporary, I cannot determine. However, my suspicions run strongly toward the latter view.

    Purely from the Lodge’s perspective, it is especially telling that “we normally ask what they are looking for, but rarely do people comprehend precisely what they are joining.” That is tragic! At the very point in time at which a prospective member might be most amenable to the education that he is owed by the fraternity, the Lodge so often fails him: explaining every other aspect of his membership—from the mundane to the profound—yet neglecting to inculcate the essence of what the Craft must come to mean to him in order for him to optimize his Masonic experience. In even the more traditional Lodges, we so often make ‘members’ rather than Masons. Then we puzzle over the result, as we see our Brothers make of their Masonic careers no more than one would of his most casual affiliations.

  2. Bro. Achbach –

    Many thanks. I heard from an older Mason today who said the fraternity has changed substantially since he entered it back in the 1960’s. I am sure this is true as I have seen many such changes over the last two decades.

    All the Best,
    Tim Bryce

  3. Bro. Bryce –
    Excellent piece of work. This is why many mainstream lodges are failing to attract new members. Many prospective members like the “idea” of being a Mason, but do not understand, or willing to put in the time and effort to become a true Mason. The alternative lodges, many from Europe offer a more traditional, older way of thinking, especially the history of the craft, as well as continuing masonic education. The fact that U.S. lodges find them irregular or even clandestine is unfortunate, as there is a true alternative to the mainstream.

  4. Of course, whether any Lodge is considered irregular or clandestine is still a matter, first, of whether it is sanctioned by its jurisdictional Grand Lodge and, second, by the question of that Grand Lodge’s status vis-a-vis others. To my mind, that’s a piece of masonic jurisprudence, ultimately, that protects us all. If a “Lodge” establishes itself, organizes or conducts its business or ceremonies in such a manner as to be outside that sanction, then we are all well advised, in the vast majority of cases, to steer clear. Yes, masonic history includes examples of cases in which simple justice and logic suffered at the hands of traditional authority (the shame and tragedy of the Prince Hall division, of course, being the most obvious). Nevertheless, those closest to the circumstances of the Lodge in question are, with few exceptions, the most capable of judging its ‘regularity,’ and that is a matter in which I am more than willing to defer to the judgment of that authority.

    As I am familiar with the term ‘alternative lodges,’ it is a reference to ‘masonry’ on the continent of Europe or elsewhere that are recognized by the Grand Orient of France and/or a couple of other organizations. These are not in fraternal communication with the Grand Lodge of England, for what appears to be one or more very justifiable reasons: the absence of a requirement that candidates profess a belief in Deity (and, indeed, many atheists do join) and the allowance of political debate, discussion and involvement within lodges. The sacrifice, simultaneously, of the greatest unifying feature of our Craft and that tradition most likely to foster continuing accord within it seem, again to this observer, to justify the label of ‘irregular’ or ‘clandestine.’

    So this ‘alternative lodges’ reference does not seem to refer at all to those Lodges under the banner of Traditional Observance. TO Lodges, so far as I am aware (at least here in the US) are scrupulous in conformity to the forms and procedures of their Grand jurisdictions, either in terms of actual conformity or in seeking necessary permission/dispensation for whatever departs from the norm. Generally speaking, our Brethren in Britain and in European Lodges in communication with the United Grand Lodge of England find the term ‘traditional observance’ rather puzzling, since Lodges there tend not to have strayed so far from the tenets and forms of the fraternity in the first place. To a considerable degree, proponents of the TO movement are of the opinion that this is an artificial distinction and that what is actually in practice in Traditional Observance Lodges is nothing more than, simply, Freemasonry.

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