What unites us
Picking and choosing which principles of Freemasonry apply, such as discussing religion or politics, risks undermining the very essence of the Craft, argues Director of Special Projects John Hamill
Recently I had the privilege of presenting a new Master Mason with his Grand Lodge certificate. The recipient, afterwards, asked me why I had emphasised that he should contact Freemasons’ Hall before attempting to visit lodges overseas and what exactly irregular Freemasons were.
I explained that overseas there are many organisations that call themselves Freemasons and in many ways follow our practices, but they differ in that they have rejected what we would regard as fundamental principles of the Craft. In particular, they do not require their candidates to have a belief in a Supreme Being and allow their lodges to discuss matters of religion and politics, as well as make public comment on politics and state policy. We therefore do not regard them as true Freemasons and bar our members from associating with them.
The subject of regularity has been much discussed at meetings of European Grand Masters and at the annual meetings of European Grand Secretaries and Grand Chancellors, as well as being a topic of conversation when masonic leaders attend each other’s Grand Lodges. The rules covering regularity were developed over a very long period and were codified by the United Grand Lodge of England in 1929 when we promulgated our Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition. They have since become the standard against which regular Grand Lodges measure new Grand Lodges seeking recognition.
So if there are rules, why does the subject have to be discussed? The short answer would be that Freemasons love to discuss and question long-held views. The more serious answer is that there are groups within regular Freemasonry who seek a more liberal interpretation of our fundamental principles and landmarks.
That, to my mind, is dangerous and will lead to there being no difference between regular and irregular Freemasonry. Regular Freemasonry has developed over a long period and imbues its members with a strong sense of morality combined with fairness and kindness to others. It seeks to bring people together so they can discover what they have in common, rather than what divides them, and how they can use that for the good of the community.
‘Freemasonry in no way replaces religious belief but its teachings of morality, tolerance, charity and kindness can support the individual’s personal faith.’
We insist that candidates have a belief in a Supreme Being because it is the one thing that unites us. Freemasonry draws its members from disparate backgrounds – the membership has always been a microcosm of the society in which it exists. The one thing we have in common is that we have a belief, however we practise it and whatever religion we may follow. Freemasonry in no way replaces that belief but its teachings of morality, tolerance, charity and kindness can support the individual’s personal faith.
The banning of religious and political discussion goes back to the earliest records. Most historians now believe that Freemasonry as we understand it developed in the seventeenth century, which was a period of intense religious and political turmoil. Those who developed Freemasonry were seeking to provide a setting in which men of goodwill could come together in peace. By knowing what divided them, they could discover what they had in common and use that for the good of the community.
Freemasonry became, in the words of the First Charge, ‘the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship among those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance’. That sentiment is worth defending.
Letters to the Editor - No. 29 Spring 2015
What unites us
I have always been an enthusiast for the papers of John Hamill, Director of Special Projects, and agree invariably with what he has written. His article, ‘What Unites Us’, in the winter issue of Freemasonry Today is no exception. He mentions: ‘The one thing we have in common is that we have a belief, however we practise it and whatever religion we may follow.’
Masonry is clearly not a religion but it does bear the imprimatur of religiosity.
It has long been my conviction that our beautiful rituals were written by clerics or men of a religious bent. If only the love and decency experienced in the lodge could be extended to the wider world, we would be giving a priceless gift to mankind.
Herbert Ewings, Septem Lodge, No. 5887, Surbiton, Surrey