Monday, July 28, 2008

Sectarian & Partisan Freemasons Are Really Institutionalists

There is a way to differ with Palmetto Bug and his “Camping” essay. It’s with polite, quiet, respectful reason and logic.

For those Sectarian and Partisan Masons there is only one way to practice Freemasonry, their way – the way their Grand Lodge does or those associated Grand Lodges we refer to as Mainstream Masonry. And the way Freemasonry is practiced is very important to these people.

The Philosophical Masons are more interested in the net result not in the means and style used to get there. They ask, “What is the purpose of practicing Freemasonry?” The answer of course is to touch the mind, soul and character of the individual making him a better member of society and a better family man. And in the process for him to enjoy the fellowship of like-minded men and to express his born again spirit in giving back to humankind and asking for nothing in return. Any discipline or obedience that can accomplish that is worthy of our applause and our approval, say the Philosophical Masons.

But if it isn’t done a certain way according to established rules and traditions that have been handed down from the past, then it isn’t authentic says the former. And if it violates many of these rules and traditions while still keeping the name and pedigree, it isn’t authentic either says the latter.

You can see this argument played out in religion and politics also. Christian A practices his Christianity at his church and Christian B does the same at his church. But Christian A might say that Christian B is not really practicing Christianity the correct way and is therefore not going to be entitled to salvation. And he might add that his church was chartered in the First Century AD and Christian B’s is a latecomer to the scene. And Christian B might say that both practitioners are forming a close relationship with their Creator and are therefore both reaping the rewards of changed hearts. He also might say that it is Christianity and not the church that is the most influencing factor here. And there you have the two positions that you could play out between Democrats and Republicans also.

But I wouldn’t call these Sectarian & Partisan Freemasons Traditionalists. I would call them Institutionalists. They worship the Institution of Freemasonry as represented by its Grand Lodges and their Constitutions, By-Laws, Rules and Regulations. But Philosophical Freemasons would say that it is not the Institution that is most important; it is the body of thought that should take preeminence. It is not the rules and regulations of the Institution that require our strict adherence to first as much as it is our dedication to the ethics and virtues of Freemasonry.

You can see this kind of thinking in my church, The Roman Catholic church and as a member I feel I have a right to knock it when it deserves it. The church did not expose and remove Pedophile Priests for the fear of the harm it would do to the Institution of the church. Above all, Cardinals and Bishops said, the church must survive to teach and guide future generations. For that to happen some must suffer now in silence otherwise the good will be destroyed with the bad. Thus we have the cult of the Institution that is also demonstrated by many Freemasons.

This drama is played out Masonically over and over again and can be remembered in the recent machinations of the Mainstream Grand Lodge of West Virginia. The Institutionalists refused to criticize the Grand Lodge of West Virginia or its Grand Master because the Institution of Freemasonry must come under no reproach no matter what it does. Furthermore, these people say, you took an obligation to follow the rules and regulations of your Grand Lodge so neither you nor the Masons of West Virginia can try to reverse any action of a Grand Master of a Grand Lodge.

Therefore if your Grand Lodge says no Masonic discourse with what they call clandestine Freemasons, no association and no common programs then you are bound by your promise at the altar to follow those rules. Philosphical Freemasons maintain that the Institution of Freemasonry cannot violate human, civil and legal rights among them being free speech and association. Therefore they would welcome common cause, conversation and gatherings with any obedience that effectively furthers the worth of the individual.

Finally that is not to say that for Philosophical Masons there are no rules, at least not in the ones who adhere to an Obedience and abide within its walls of cooperation. I am sure there are those that Palmetto Bug describes as those for which -“Anybody can join and anything goes”. But these people are not in the field of play. Those others that you might discourse with and find mutual areas of involvement with outside the Lodge room you do not sit inside tyled doors with. Conversely most Institutionalists see the merit of emphasizing the virtues of Freemasonry as the Catholic Church does the Gospel. The difference is in how each strain prioritizes.


Gingerman said...

I agree in spirit with your essay. I still have an ongoing issue. To what extent are we expected to keep our agreements. Masonically, this is in the form of obligations; religiously, doctrine; socially, our laws.

All of us voted for these agreements, and took them on voluntarily. It may seem otherwise. "Wait a minute! When did I vote for a 55mph speed limit?" "When did I agree to the Doctrine of infallibility?"

You voted for it when you benefited by them. Maybe even when you were born into this country. Freemasonically, you voted for them when you stated that it was of your own free will and accord.

A measure of our attitude toward agreements is traffic laws. Many of us disagree with them. Our time is more important than your safety or the ecosystem or our economy. When was the last time you stayed, deliberately, beneath the speed limit? Have you parked in a handicapped space? Have you left your car running against a painted curb to just dash in and pick something up at the store?

These traffic laws are agreements we have with the other members of our community. Our obligations are agreements we have between ourselves and the other members of the Craft.

Many of us have taken on obligations to neither share Masonic information, or sit in irregular or clandestine lodges; to associate Masonically with certain people; to answer and obey the rules and regulations.

What is the importance of keeping our obligations? I don't have the answer. When I ask this, I often get detailed legalistic conversations about the wording of the obligation. Pooh!

It ain't about that. It's about integrity. To whom do we owe it (hint: look in the mirror) and what does it mean Masonically. The spirit of the thing, not the details.

Practice makes perfect; imperfect practice makes imperfection.

I agree with what you've said here, but should any of these things be considered? Does picking and choosing our obediences limit our growth?

The Palmetto Bug said...

Squire: Though your "Institutionalist" label is well thought out, I'll continue to lean toward the "Traditionalist" label.

I've said it before and you have also alluded to it: There are those that see Freemasonry as a philosophy and there are those that see Freemasonry as a society with a philosophy. That, my friend, is probably the single most, fundamental defining point.

Comparisons to religions and political parties mean very little since Freemasonry is neither. It is unique and can not, and should not, be compared to anything else. There is, in my opinion, nothing else really like it.

Squire Bentley said...

Nice comments, Brethren.

To answer your questions I obey all my obligations but with one proviso - that the Grand Lodge and the Grand Master are not owed unlimited blind obedience to whatever they want to dictate.

The problem is that many Masons can't buy that. They got to do whatever their Grand Master says because their Obligation says they will obey the Constitution and all laws, rules and regulations of their Grand Lodge.

The only being I owe unlimited blind obedience to is my Creater. Grand Masters cannot abridge the rights I have under the Constituion of The United States and the inalienable rights granted to me by my God.

So if I can talk to a perfect stranger lady at the grocery store generally about Freemasonry, I can say the same thing to a clandestine Mason.

Other than that one objection, I obey all the rules and regulations of my Grand Lodge and my obligations. I do not sit in clandestine Lodges or discuss the secrets of Freemasonry and I hold to the moral code.

Magus Masonica said...

This is a good post on a sad reality. I for the life of me do not see what good is being built by labeling one another and holding an bureaucracy over the time immemorial lessons of our gentle Craft.
Woe is the builder for his work is often forced to be practiced in solitude.


Magus Masonica said...

I have summed up all of my thoughts (for now)on this subject
on my latest blog: eMasonry Fight Club.