The Heart of Freemasonry

VW Thomas Parson DDGM 3.

While Freemasonry is known for its charitable works, and the relative halo of mystery that shines from its inner workings, it should not be ignored that among the underpinnings of this fraternity lies a spiritual quest that drives and supports most of its members.

When we consider that spirituality is a quality of the individual and not of a group or society, we should not confuse spirituality with religion. A religion, is an organization of belief at a supra-individual level, linking sometimes vast numbers of individuals in a common way of worship and acceptance of the nature of deity. Polytheisms and monotheisms alike, share the fact that they developed into overarching structures that offered their devotees an understanding and method of interacting “en masse” with the world, or worlds, of the divine.

But what about the singular believer, how can he or she envisage spirituality?

One of the few things that are among the prerequisites to be considered as a candidate when applying to a lodge is to acknowledge, or profess, a belief in a “supreme being”. What the nature of that supreme being is to the petitioner, and how he chooses to live and manifest that belief, is not of any concern to the members of the lodge he is petitioning. This leads to the preliminary conclusion that what is important is that the foundation of spirituality (belief) is present within the petitioner, and therefore that Freemasonry might just be a manifestation of something more profound: a distinctive (or personal) approach to religion – the interaction with divinity. This is because it is undeniable that belief is a necessary condition for a spiritual life. For as we shall see: belief is in fact the target for the spiritual activity. Now is the opportune moment to stress that as an organization Freemasonry in all its forms and jurisdictions does not prescribe any one form of belief, nor is it a religion.

Could it in fact be a “distinctive approach to religion”? Spirituality finds its roots, part of its nourishment, in belief, but it then grows into something more developed, infinitely more personal. After all belief refers to the act of accepting something as true or real based on a trust in a form of authority, something external to the believer. It does not necessarily imply or require a deeper or personal connection to the object or subject of belief. Belief demands acceptance “up front” …

pirituality, on the other hand, is the appropriation of ones inherited beliefs by transforming them into personal beliefs through a questioning process. It is the deepening of understanding of one’s connection to the object of belief. What makes Freemasonry special in this respect, as far as I’m concerned, is that it does not pretend to have answers to the questions, nor does it even ask the questions. All of these are left up to the individual Mason. What Freemasonry offers is a toolbox for the individual Mason to define his questions and pursue his interrogations until he might find an answer. When a petitioner is asked if he believes in a supreme being this is the first time Freemasonry will invite him to consider truly what he believes and sets up the context for a future in which he will be encouraged to develop an understanding as to the mechanisms at work within his set of beliefs.
Spirituality questions what a faith is founded upon, without necessarily questioning the source of that belief. It can be that after a close examination, the searcher finds that his beliefs – his faith – is grounded on what will have been found to be stable foundations, and therefore the connection he has with his object of belief will be stronger. It could also happen that after the same examination, the foundations of the searcher’s belief be found weak, errored, or simply not what the searcher thought they were. Then, depending upon the questions that spring to his mind, his original beliefs might be requalified in some form or another to become a personal approach to his relationship with divinity.

This does however require effort. A belief can, but does not necessarily, require certain manifestations of its existence, or conformity to certain behavioral prescriptions. It remains passive in comparison to the depth of research and introspection that a spiritual enquiry demands of those driven to do so.
Spirituality therefore can be seen as a litmus test of belief: does it fuel the belief by providing greater context and understanding, or does it put the searcher in the position of having to re-evaluate his beliefs even to the point of adopting new ones? Both outcomes are possible. Here is one of the key imports of spirituality within freemasonry: while individual beliefs are held to be inviolable and worthy of respect, to be free within our beliefs we should examine them carefully. Knowing what the belief is founded upon, how it came into being, what it means to the believer, is possibly one of the most powerful psychological liberations that anyone could hope for.
For this is the great strength of spirituality: it offers the possibility to free belief from the grip of institutions and dogma, it allows to reconsider one’s own position relative to the concept of the divine without feeling the obligation to conform to any one form of belief. More importantly, spirituality of any kind does not necessarily require outward manifestations, and therefore it is out of the reach of judgement, attack, or discrimination.
This short work has barely scratched the surface of the question originally posed, and therefore should be considered an invitation to think and search further on the topic. In closing let me leave you with a temporary conclusion: “spirituality can be seen as a tool of investigative action into oneself, and one of the keys to freedom for the soul”. This is the definition that I propose: question it for yourself…

DISCLAIMER: it must be recognized that this question of the place of spirituality within Masonry risks opening up the age old squabble between “regular” and “irregular” (or “clandestine”) Masonry. That however will have to wait for another time. In this article I will be writing only of what I have seen to be applicable, even true, within the boundaries of “regular” Masonry and its avatars.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Share with your friends

Follow by Email