The Masonic Trowel

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by William R. Punt, PGM

"In preparing for these brief comments on the Philosophy of Freemasonry, I asked myself, 'Just how does a person go about telling someone else what Masonry is and is not?' I came to the conclusion that perhaps a starting point would be with a definition of Freemasonry. Actually, there were two that I ran across recently. The first said: 'Masonry is more than social good fellowship, more than ritual, more than organized charity. It is a way of living; a philosophy of life.' Another definition said: 'Freemasonry is a charitable, benevolent, educational, and religious society.' For the next few minutes, let's take these definitions apart and see what they really mean.

"First of all, many will say that Freemasonry is a secret organization.   Actually, its only secrets are in its methods of recognition and of symbolic instruction. We maintain secrecy but purely as a means of mutual identification. We take an oath but only after assurance that it 'will not improperly affect any duty we owe to God, our country, our neighbor, or ourselves.' We have forms and ceremonies and symbols but these are all external.

"Actually, the entire ritual is a symbolic representation of the course of a man through his life, leading him step by step from birth, through manhood, to old age, and leaving him with the hope of immortality. The first Degree, called the Entered Apprentice, represents man as he comes into life; helpless, ignorant and dependent, and carries his education through the period of his youth. The second, or Fellowcraft Degree, represents man in his middle age; and the third or Master Mason Degree takes him through old age and ends with a beautiful lesson in the unconquerable hope of immortality. Through the three degrees, the candidate is taught increasing wisdom in the art of upright living.

"Now let's look at that part of our definition dealing with religion.  Although in remote antiquity Freemasonry was affiliated with various religions, it has long since ceased to be a religion. It is the friend of every religious faith but is not itself a religion. Essentially, it is the practical applications of a philosophy of life or way of living.

"Not being the product of any one race or system of government, or economics, or philosophy, or religion, Freemasonry welcomes men of every race and creed if they have sufficient integrity of character to become good Masons and if they believe in Deity. Instead of trying to be a religion, Freemasonry deliberately seeks to provide a common meeting place where men of every religion can remain true to their own religions and yet, submerging their differences, can work together in harmony to manifest the finest fruits of all religions.

"While the emphasis of religion is often of intercession for forgiveness of shortcomings, the Masonic emphasis is essentially on the more positive side of seeking to measure up to one's obligations rather than on any theological doctrines of forgiveness. Similarly, Masonry stresses one's duties rather than his rights. Just as Freemasonry exhorts its members to be true and loyal citizens of whatever county is entitled to their allegiance, so, likewise, Freemasonry expects each of its members to be a true and loyal supporter of his chosen religion and of the church, synagogue, or other unit of its organizational worship.

"Now, let's look at other parts of our definition, first that of being a social organization. Freemasonry is a social organization only so far as it furnishes additional inducement that men may forgather in numbers, thereby providing more material for its primary work of education, of worship, and of charity.

"Through the improvement and strengthening of the character of the individual man, Freemasonry seeks to improve the community. Thus, it impresses upon its members the principles of personal righteousness and personal responsibility, enlightens them as to those things which make for human welfare, and inspires them with that feeling of charity, or good will, toward all mankind which will move them to translate principle and conviction into action.

"We believe that the Masonic life should be an orderly life, and that it should be a public spirited life. Furthermore, we believe it should be an industrious life in the pursuit of one's vocation and a physically sane life with due regard to bodily health. A sound body, orderly industry, public spirit, but primarily the building of character ---- to us these emerge as major laws of successful living.

"Just what, then, does Freemasonry say about man's relationship with God and with his fellowman?

  1. In a world of greed and force, it teaches self-restraint and reason.
  2. In a world permeated with the spirit of selfish rivalry, it teaches Universal Brotherhood.
  3. In a world of intolerance and bigotry it teaches tolerance and kindness.
  4. In a world of cynical disbelief it teaches reverence for Deity.
  5. In a world floundering in the depths of a great moral and spiritual depression it teaches industry and self-reliance and temperance and integrity.
  6. It aids and comforts and reassures and inspires individuals.
  7. It leaps the barriers of race and space to draw together the finest aspirations of all men and unite them in a Universal Brotherhood.

"And finally, we can say that purity of heart, sincerity, truthfulness, fidelity to duty, and similar qualities are emphasized over and over as necessary internal qualifications. The attainment of wisdom, prudence, temperance, justice, reason, self-reliance, strength and beauty are practical objectives. Self-restraint, upright conduct, and morality are worthy means toward the accomplishment of these objectives. These are typical of the Masonic Philosophy.

"Yes, Masonry is more than social good fellowship, more than ritual,
more than organized charity. It is a way of living; a Philosophy of Life.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014