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Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Universal Brotherhood and Guarding the Gate

One of the great balancing acts that faces – and has always faced – Freemasonry is the consideration of universal brotherhood while - at the same time – protecting the Craft from the initiation of those that could cause damage to the institution. This is often referred to by Masons as “guarding the West Gate.” There are probably few Freemasons who have not given thought to this subject in some fashion or another and such thoughts are more often than not of a very personal nature. The thoughts are often of a personal and intimate nature because they are usually manifested due to the petition or request for petition from a friend or family member.

But what is meant by universal brotherhood from a Masonic viewpoint? On the surface, universal brotherhood may bring forth visions of an almost Utopian concept of all men being able to enjoy the beauty and teachings of Freemasonry. However, what if it is universal Brotherhood – with a capital B? When used this way, it implies a universal nature of a Fraternity that is applicable only to the Order’s members and not necessarily to all of mankind. I submit that this latter interpretation is the accurate way of describing universal Brotherhood from a Masonic point of view.

With this description of universal Brotherhood in mind, it is now appropriate to examine who is eligible for membership into the Fraternity of Freemasonry. The qualifications as pertain to age, gender, and physical wholeness are so well known that no time will be devoted to these in this examination. Instead, one of the often stated purposes of Freemasonry – Making Good Men Better – will be used as a starting point for a deeper look into this subject, which will include a brief consideration of the religious qualification.

“Making Good Men Better” is a catchy phrase, but it does not explain what makes for a good man. Though there is no one-size-fits-all description of a good man, most Freemasons know of good men that would not be suitable material for the Craft. It may come as surprise for some to learn that – not less than approximately one hundred and sixty years ago – Freemasons have wrestled with this subject before.
Every candidate for initiation into the mysteries of Freemasonry must be a man of good moral character, of irreproachable reputation, and living, as our ritual expresses it, ‘under the tongue of good report.’ The Lodge which admits a member who has not these necessary qualifications, is bringing into our fold not a lamb, the emblem of innocence and purity, but a ravenous wolf who will inevitably destroy the flock. Neither is an ignorant or uneducated man desirable as a candidate for our mysteries. Without some intellectual culture, it is not likely that he would appreciate the symbolical character of our Institution, nor would he be capable of becoming a very useful or honorable member of the Craft. – from an encyclical letter issued from the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina on 5 December 1848
There is really only one proven method to determine whether a petitioner possesses good moral character. A thorough investigation must be conducted before an educated determination can be made as to a man’s moral character. Such an investigation must necessarily include an honest attempt to discover a man’s motivation that led him to petition. A man who petitions due to a less than honorable or pure motivation can not meet the moral qualification requirement.

The mention of “an ignorant or uneducated man” is worth further contemplation. As already mentioned, most Freemasons are familiar with good men that would not be suitable for the Fraternity. Many of this type of men are considered as undesirable for Masonic purposes due to their lack of ability to comprehend the beauty and lessons of the Craft. This is not meant to disparage these otherwise good men or to serve as a “Non-Geniuses Need Not Apply” sign. Most Freemasons can generally agree, however, that at least a basic intellectual capacity and educational background are necessary for a man to properly benefit from and serve the Fraternity. The initiation of the ignorant or uneducated would prove to be a disservice to the initiate and has the potential of causing real harm to a lodge and the Craft as a whole.

That same encyclical letter of 1848 also addressed the religious requirement.
As to religious qualifications, the action of some other Grand Lodges makes it expedient that we should impress upon you that no other religious test is necessary or proper in the candidate, except that he declare himself a firm believer in the existence of a Supreme Being.
Though this passage would seem to be rather finite, one must take into account that there are men in the world who have attached Supreme Being status to some rather irregular entities. A man that has adopted his pet goldfish, the spirit of Adolf Hitler, or Satan as his Supreme Being probably does not meet the religious qualification. Some amount of investigation must be used to make an educated determination about a man’s belief in a Supreme Being.

The encyclical letter of 1848 went on to attach even more importance to guarding the West Gate.
…let it always be remembered that in balloting for a candidate each Lodge is not acting for itself alone, but for the whole Order at large. It is not simply admitting a new associate into its own narrow circle, but is introducing a brother to the great Masonic family, whose virtuous or vicious conduct will affect the Institution in all parts of the world, for good or evil. Let no brother forget, that it is as sacred a duty to reject the worthless as it is to receive the worthy.
Without a doubt, men who are unworthy have at times been initiated into Freemasonry. These mistakes sometimes only cause disappointment for the initiated and wasted efforts on the part of a lodge – often leading to demission or suspension of the ones who should never have been accepted. There have been occasions, however, where the results were much more far-reaching and included such things as written exposés, fractured or darkened lodges, and damaged Grand Lodges. Ultimately, the needs and protection of the Fraternity outweigh the most well-intentioned desires to bring an individual into the fold.

Guard the West Gate of universal Brotherhood.

1 comment:

Frederic L. Milliken said...

You know we are not too far off. I think every Grand Lodge should set its standards and then adhere to them. I see nothing wrong in that. And I don't see anything wrong with a Grand Lodge excluding some for any moral reason they might have.

Where I would like to see the universality practiced more often is a co-operation between different Grand Lodges who have slightly diffferent definitions and standards. Each Grand Lodge can remain exclusive to its own traditions and Constitutions.

But that doesn't mean that outside tyled meetings that different interpretations of the Fraternity can't come together in social, charitable and fellowship activities.