Friday, April 5, 2013

Rough Ashlar No. 8

A matter of a simple statement poorly understood.

We have a situation today where in various obediences, many people, among them even a few with good intentions, maintain that the "ancient landmarks" claim that one must believe in God, and as we have seen unfortunately of late, some go so far as to further interpret that to mean "my version of God."

In fact, the 1723 constitutions which have been used as a justification for this interpretation and subsequently quite literally, 21st century witch hunts, says nothing of the sort. What Anderson did say was:

 "A Mason is Obliged by his Tenure, to obey the moral law, and if I Rightly Understand the Art, I will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons Were charged in every country to be of the religion of That Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving private Their Opinions to Themselves: that is, to be Good men and True, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion They may be distinguished, whereby Masonry Becomes the Centre of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons That must have Remained at a perpetual distance."

After a number of very free reinterpretations of his words by various sources, in masonic institutions whose members, especially in the case of Ireland, were engaged in what amounted to sectarian warfare,  at times intellectually and at others with guns, we end up with the constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England. Along the way, some injudicious editor, or perhaps political schemer, changed the wording from "if I rightly understand the art, I will never be a stupid atheist, etc." to "if He rightly understand the art, He will never be a stupid atheist, etc." That represents a small editorial change but one with vast implications for the scope and interpretation of intent.  We thus end up with a highly political, negotiated, and to my mind severely compromised version which states:

A Mason is obliged by his tenure, to obey the moral law, and, if rightly understands the Art, will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine. He, of all people, should understand that God does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. A Freemason, therefore, in particular, will never be forced to act against his conscience. Let a man have the religion or worship you can, and not be excluded from the order provided he believes in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality.

By charting the changes, from what once was the personal opinion stated by Anderson with a minimal requirement for ethical behavior squarely positioning religious belief to be a private concern of the mason,  to an inviolable rule with a very different implication in the constitution of the UGLE, we can see 18th Century English social and religious politics in action.

Really, why should any mason be ruled by the poor interpretation of one man's expression of personal opinion? Anderson said that if he understands the art rightly he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. However, he also states quite clearly that the only religion the fraternity requires is that a mason be good and true, or of honor and honesty and on the subject of religious affiliation that they "keep their opinions to themselves."

Seems to me that however much the followers of the UGLE dislike it, the correct interpretation comes from the GOdF and not the UGLE. 

NB: As masons, if Anderson was correct, my religious views are none of your business. For the record though, I am neither a stupid  atheist nor an irreligious libertine.  I will note that there can and are intelligent atheists and religious libertines. Now, those who object to the use of reason, and who are mired in more negative and rigid worldviews will define Libertine as "one devoid of most moral restraints, which are seen as unnecessary or undesirable, especially one who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behaviour sanctified by the larger society. "  However, a more accurate interpretation is "one who is a freethinker especially in religious matters." It should go without saying that just because a particular moral position is sanctified by the larger society does not make it correct. At one time, the larger society even sanctified slavery.

I have friends who are atheists, and though I disagree with them, and view them as unenlightened on matters of the spirit, I have no qualms about sitting at lodge with them. Like, Anderson, I believe that if I rightly understand the art I will never be an atheist nor irreligious. I also think that by admitting an atheist to my lodge, I open the door to his gaining a different view, should he or she so be inspired by a personal understanding of the art. However, like Anderson, in relation to my fellow lodge members, I am wise enough to keep my opinion to myself. To do otherwise is simply not masonic. 

As for myself, some might consider me to be a religious libertine, as opposed to an irreligious one. Who am I to disagree?

Gracias a Victor Guerra por las ideas metido aquí.

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