Monday, September 21, 2015

Homosexuality and the Craft of Freemasonry

Well, I was trying to keep a low profile and not make waves, but the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Georgia just decided to make homosexuality a front-and-center issue in our Fraternity, so I think it's time that we had a frank and open conversation. First off, I want to stress that this is not a political topic. This is a Masonic topic. I won't get into the politics of how homosexuality is integrated into our society (or not) because this isn't the place for that.

But we have a problem in Freemasonry, and it's right here in the edict that the Grand Master issued:
Grand Lodge of Georgia edict
on Freemasonry via reddit.

Okay, so what's wrong with it? Here's the relevant bit: "... the Grand Architect of the Universe, the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ..." This is incorrect and any Freemason who believes this to be true must be corrected. The Grand Architect is not the God of Abraham. The Grand Architect is not the deistic invention or syncretism that anti-Masons would have you believe it is, either. The Grand Architect is a symbol and that symbol must be evaluated in the context of an individual Brother's faith.

To the Jew, the Grand Architect is the G-d of the Torah. To the Trinitarian Christian the Grand Architect is the Trinity. To the Muslim Allah. To the Hindu, the Trimurti. To the theistic Buddhist, the ultimate reality of the universe as deity. To the deist, it is simply the creative source of our existence.[1]

But it is not within the power of any Mason to draw that conclusion for any other Mason. It is precisely this which enables our great Fraternity to be universal. Now, that might sometimes put us in a position of having Brothers who believe things that we find uncomfortable, but we exhibit the Masonic virtues of tolerance, and brotherly love in order to come to terms with our discomfort and see our Brothers for the equals that they are.

There is nothing in the Masonic initiation that compels a man not to have sex with another man and there is no requirement that a Mason apply the Law of a specific faith outside of those elements referenced in the initiation. Nothing. And, as it is not in the power of any man or body of men to make innovations in the body of Masonry, [2] we can immediately determine that this edict was made in error, by exercising powers not afforded to any Mason, even the Grand Master of a sovereign jurisdiction.

Omnis innovatio plus nontate perturbat quam utilitate prodest...

[1] The individual interpretation of the identity of the Grand Architect is attributed in so many Masonic sources as to be undeniable, but one particularly significant example to me is the discussion of Eastern religions within Freemasonry in the Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 1915 (pp. 379-388): "It seems clear that monotheists may follow the ethical teachings of Confucius even if sceptics may do so likewise and the former only will be elected to receive the mysteries of Freemasonry."


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why do we have to believe in a Supreme Being?

[What follows is my own personal opinion, and may not be shared by my Lodge, Chapter or Valley, much less any of the broader jurisdictions in which they reside.]

There have been many answers to this question over the years, and you may have already heard some of them: that the obligation would be meaningless and non-binding for an atheist; that our ceremonies are in deference to deity and this would be uncomfortable for an atheist; etc.

But these all ring a bit hollow to me. We swear in judges and politicians who are atheists and Unitarian churches often have atheists in their congregations, attending services that are very deferential to deity. So, is the whole thing nonsense? Should we drop that requirement? Well, no.

There are two reasons that I consider most important that we require men to believe:

  1. It's one of the Landmarks, and our system of regularity depends on universally supporting those Landmarks. We can't change them in one nation without losing recognition from all of the others, and belief in a Supreme Being is a pretty major item on that list.
  2. The degrees are, as I've only realized in the past 6 months or so, far more condensed than most freshly minted Master Masons realize. They depend for the conveyance of key points on the exact conditions under which they are conveyed. If you read the degrees in a book, they would not convey the same information because you are a part of their presentation. They also depend on certain ideas being already present: a willingness to seek your own better self; a belief in a Supreme Being; the entire baggage of the male psyche; etc.

So, why don't we just rewrite the degrees and agree on the new version with all of the other Grand Lodges? Who do you know who's capable of such a thing? Is it even possible to convey the same ideas and subtle context in another way? Is there any way to get every Grand Lodge in the world to agree to such changes even if they were possible? My inclination is to say, "no" on all of those points.

And that is why one must believe in a Supreme Being in order to become a Freemason. We aren't just a social club. We perform a specific task and in order to perform it, we need our candidates to be ready to perform it with us. In other words, we are not a religion, but our ceremonies are religious, and that's not just a matter of paying lip-service, it is integral to the process of initiation.