Does or doesn't Freemasonry deal in Spirituality?
Does or doesn't Freemasonry deal in Spirituality?
Hereafter you have the text of an email I received sometime ago by Julian Rees - a well-known Masonic writer.
Your opinion and comments are welcome
PS Review of Freemasonry
*** *** *** *** ***
I am sending this email to many masonic friends and persons who might be interested, because I believe its contents represent such a seismic shift in what United Grand Lodge of England is, and what it does, that it should not pass unnoticed. It concerns a speech made in Grand Lodge made by the third most senior Freemason in the Obedience, and can thus not be ignored or simply pushed to one side as an irrelevance.
The whole speech can be read on http://www.ugle.org.uk/
and click on ‘Quarterly Communication Speeches’ and then ‘Address by the RW The Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence’.
Extract from speech by Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence to UGLE 14 Sept 2011.
We need to be absolutely clear when we discuss our Pure Antient Masonry that we belong to a secular organisation, that is to say a non-religious organisation. This was a point made very eloquently by the Grand Chaplain in his interview. It is, however, a secular organisation that is supportive of religion: it is an absolute requirement for all our members to believe in a Supreme Being. As the late and sadly missed Dean Neil Collings so eloquently put it, this gives “a context and background to the individual’s way of life as they seek to live it”. Freemasonry itself, as we all know, is neither a substitute for nor an alternative to religion. It certainly does not deal in spirituality
; it does not have any sacraments; or, indeed, offer or claim to offer any type of salvation. Freemasonry, in fact, absolutely fails to meet any of the tests of what it is to be a religion, set by the late Reverend Professor John MacQuarrie, former Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford. The fact that men from different faiths can meet easily in harmony and friendship, without compromising their particular religious beliefs, demonstrates that one of the greatest strengths of the Craft, dating from its earliest beginnings, is that of Tolerance. To ensure this tolerance remains untroubled, of course, discussions of religion like discussions of politics are strictly prohibited!
The following is the text of a reply I made to him by letter
I read with interest your speech to Grand Lodge
You are of course right to say that Freemasonry is neither a substitute for nor an alternative to religion. But I was disconcerted, and I know others are also, that you say that Freemasonry ‘certainly does not deal in spirituality’. Perhaps the long-held belief that Freemasonry is non-dogmatic no longer holds sway. I, in common with many others, will not find your statement in harmony with what we do. First and foremost we say prayers to the Great Architect, which it would be difficult, if not false, to do without the intervention of our own spirit.
Our ritual abounds with injunctions to matters spiritual. Where else does the centre abide if not in our spirit? And when we pray that a man may be able to unfold the beauties of true godliness, from where will he unfold them if not from within his own spirit? Where were we first prepared to be made a Mason? In our heart. That is the crux of the matter, since the heart is the centre, that still space within us where the spirit resides. And when we finally stand in the sanctum sanctorum, can we avoid the conclusion that we there stand face to face with God? The spirit, that ‘vital and immortal principle’ which enables us to trample the king of terrors beneath our feet, cannot be ignored, and Freemasonry calls us to attention there.
And what of light? When we invite the aspirant to tell us ‘what is the predominant wish of your heart?’ do we mean material light? Of course we do not. The French Grand Orient ritual puts it far more clearly: Prepare yourself to receive the light, not only that light which only falls on the eyes, but a light more pure, which enlightens the spirit and enlivens the conscience.
I am wondering if perhaps we are not understanding, as in Et lux lucet in tenebris, et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt.
We have become surrounded with the outer forms of Freemasonry. We have become immunised by the words, like the clergyman who intones the words in a declamatory and slightly pompous style ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son Jesus Christ, that all who believe on him may not perish but have everlasting life’. I have heard those words declaimed so often in a totally meaningless way, that I have to then repeat them to myself word by word until I can see their monumental import in my heart. And we seem to have gone there also with our ritual, to the point where allegory and insight are ignored, where a Brother is not invited to explore those insights and de-code them for himself.
Apart from anything else, proclaiming that Freemasonry does not deal in spirituality, sets us in direct opposition to many, many other Grand Lodges in the world, who I am sure will view your words with alarm. Even the much-maligned GLNF, presently in its death-throes, has promoted the spiritual dimension in Freemasonry.
I have long been suspicious of US Freemasonry, with its emphasis on civic duty, social responsibility and – of late – mass initiations. But I find to my amazement and great pleasure that the younger Masons across the pond are crying out for matters spiritual in their Craft. I was invited to give the keynote address to the Masonic Restoration Foundation in Alexandria Virginia last month, and found that my talk, The Spiritual Path of Freemasonry, was very well received and supported not only by the delegates but also by the other speakers. Indeed, the Editor of the Philalethes magazine, Shawn Eyer, who has conducted research into what young men in Freemasonry are seeking, came to this conclusion:
Although much of the rhetoric within Freemasonry during the past several decades has focused upon ways in which the Masonic ritual and overall Lodge experience might be streamlined or minimised in an attempt to appeal to the perceived desires of a modern audience, it soon becomes evident that the defining characteristic of twenty-first century Freemasons was that they tend to desire more, not less, from the Craft. If anything, today’s candidate for our fraternity has grown increasingly interested in a deeper experience of Masonic symbolism. Now, Brethren seek a Craft that is more relevant in their lives, and more challenging to their hearts and minds.
Knowing you to be an open-minded man, may I ask you to read the text of my talk enclosed with this letter? Read it with your heart, and tell me, if you can, where I have gone wrong.
*** *** ***
VOTE MASONIC POLL
*** **** ****