Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

In a recent conversation with a long-time Freemason, she mentioned that people misunderstand the meaning of being a Freemason, and what Freemasonry is really doing in the world. Deeper into the conversation, what she was talking about was the current trend of all this “personal journey” hubbub. A lot of people join Freemasonry to find a way to enlightenment or expand their consciousness or become a better person. When people join Freemasonry, they want to find something – spiritual awakenings, meaning, purpose, secrets, a way to some secret treasure, power, sometimes even a business partner. Some people want to join to find a mate or get rich. Yes, there’s every type of something out there that people are seeking. Yet, that’s not why Freemasonry exists. The tenets, rituals, symbols of Freemasonry do not speak to these personal journeys.

Freemasonry doesn’t exist for the individual. It exists for the individual collective. Taken another way, Freemasonry doesn’t care about your personal journey. Your personal path and reason for joining Freemasonry doesn’t matter. Really. It doesn’t.

Freemasonry’s goal is not to perfect the human. One stone a temple does not make. Freemasonry’s goal is to “perfect humanity.” To perfect humanity, it needs a group of individuals that are willing to work and abide by its principles. Freemasonry’s principles are not those of a specific individual, religion, or philosophy. These principles are moral and ethical in nature; morality and ethical behavior are for the collective and affect the collective. Religion, politics, civil obedience – these are preferences which affect the individual. There is a reason that individual preferences are kept out of the Lodge room; the individual ego and desire doesn’t have a “special snowflake” place within Freemasonry.

I hear the rustling in the columns now: “No, just hold on. We’re asked for opinions and thoughts. We are supposed to express our individual thoughts and develop our own ideas and strength of mind.” True enough. However, we are asked in a context of opinion to be shared with the whole, and discussion and healthy debate, which in turn illumines the mind. A mind stuck in dogma or rigid behavior finds a difficult path in Freemasonry. Dogma and rigidity are the ego speaking through the personality. They are not the collective working through the individual but the individual trying to work through the collective.

Another Freemason that I know is fond of saying “Freemasonry is an individual path in a group setting.” In discussing this idea, he thought I was crying foul on this statement. Actually, I’m not. What I am saying is that the individual path does not effect or affect Freemasonry. It is a fixed set of landmarks and rituals with guiding principles that the individual may interpret and apply to their own life. The individual’s life and purpose for joining the group does not impose itself on Freemasonry.

This is not to say that Freemasons should be automatons and blindly follow leadership. Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite: they should feel comfortable enough in their individuality to share it with the whole, taking what works for them and discarding, but img_0176-1not dismissing, the rest. Yet, in the end, they work toward the good of the collective, which in turn, works towards the good of Humanity.

The individual Freemason struggles sometimes to see himself as a part of something greater. Perhaps it gets easier as one progresses in Freemasonry, when the message is provided again and again about humanity, not the individual. We cannot divorce ourselves from being individuals – that is physically, emotionally, and mentally impossible. However, we can see ourselves as part of the greater society, taking our mind and emotions outside of our own comfort zone and do what is necessary for the greater – good, Lodge, group, whatever.

I was struck by a recent commercial for a popular TV show. The show was about police officers, and their dedication to their city, country, and community, to the point of putting their lives on the line for any and all of those things. Not all of us can do police work, or be fire fighters, or doctors and nurses. There is a deep dedication in these people that goes beyond a nine-to-five job. We applaud those people because they actually save lives – regardless of danger, pain, or even their own death.

But, who is to say something like Freemasonry is any different? Bold statement, to be sure. Yet, what happens if Freemasons, through their Lodge or Order, strive to make the world a more educated, thinking, devoted, and aspiring place? If that striving for education produces one more doctor where perhaps there was none before, haven’t we made humanity better? What if the work of an Order creates a publishing company, and one of those books inspires a young reader to go on to a career in science, and they create a cure for a devastating disease? What if a Lodge has an outreach campaign to their older members and they are able to bring some bright light to their fading days? What if their family sees this and recognizes compassion, and in turn, creates a foundation to help others with the same disease?

Sure, the individual can do all these things. In fact, these examples are all accomplished by individuals working with a collective mind, a collective heart, and a collective intention. The Lodge is an entity of individuals but it too is “a single mind.” It is an individual collective, like a brain filled with firing neurons. It is not the Borg, there is no assimilation or lack of individuality; it is a melting pot. It is a collection of living stones, all in the process of perfection to create something greater than themselves. We are not stones that stand alone. There is no purpose in that. It’s in the group, the collective, that we can build that place that “shelters humanity” and provides a place of advancement for the entire human race.

The Holy Qur’an

The Holy Qur’an

In a recent blog post, we discussed what a sacred text might be. In conversation, the idea that the West view the Qur’an as suspect deserves some further introspection. Most people is North or South America have not read nor understand what the Qur’an is, and make assumptions about different interpretations of texts. Christians should not have any trouble struggling with the idea of different interpretations of texts. As of this writing, Wikipedia lists 108 completed versions of the Bible in English and dozens more partial and unfinished versions. That’s just English. That does not count the different languages and their own idiosyncrasies of language which may change subtle meanings. Let’s just say that there is a wide variety of translations, interpretations, and commentary on meanings contained within the Bible, perhaps more so than any other “sacred text.”

Be that as it may, the Qur’an is a relatively new piece of literature in the consciousness of Western peoples, mainly due to global conflicts and media hype. The Quran or Qur’an is one of the world’s newer religious texts, having thought to been revealed to Muhammad beginning in 609 C.E. over the course of 23 years by the Angel Gabriel. The book itself is considered a miracle and is considered to be one of the foundational reasons for Muhammad’s prophethood. Margot Patterson, in her book “Islam Considered: The Christian View,” states: “The Quran is of inestimable importance in Islam, more important to Muslims than the Bible is to Christians, even fundamentalist Christians.”

Because of the timing of its delivery and the beginnings of wider literacy amongst people at that time, the Quran was completed in written form within 20 years of the Prophet’s death, by the third caliph, Uthman, in 654 C.E. Even with its relatively new nature, there are slight variations that have to do with the spread of Islam in the years after the Prophet’s death, especially as it moved throughout Arabia, Persia, and eastward.

The meaning of the word Quran is “that which is recited” or “the recitation.” The whole foundation and working of the Quran is complicated and challenging. While there are many, many translations into languages other than Arabic – upwards of 112 in 2010 were counted – there seems to be lesser variation on Arabic texts than there are for Biblical translations. Muslims generally believe that to understand the true meaning of the Quran, one must learn Arabic and, even better, ancient Arabic. This would not dissimilar to learning Aramaic to understand the original translations of many of the works attributed to contributing writers of the Bible. To be clear, when using the term “Bible,” the meaning is both the old and new testaments.

The recitations, or lessons, contained within the book trace from Adam through to Muhammad, all of which are told with a specific type of prose language. Indeed, when reciting the Quran for prayer, there are different, codified ways to recite the text, with different emphasis given to each method. The Quran is organized into chapters called suras but they are organized in no particular order. Even though it covers the revelations to Moses and Jesus, both considered to be Allah’s Prophets, they are not necessary sequential. One does not generally read the Quran from beginning to end.

All of this information is easily obtained and digested by the serious investigator. What is a little more difficult to digest is the differences in meaning between the Quran and other religious texts, like the Bible. The Bible is viewed by Christians as generally being the influence of the divine on its individual writers, all conveying the message as they understand it. It is divinely inspired, for the most part, but not actually divine itself.

Because the Quran is generally a single Prophet’s words, an illiterate Prophet, the words are seen as purer, as divine as if the hand of God had grasped a pen and wrote them. Christians see that God became manifest in Jesus. While Muslims do not see God manifest in the actual Quran, it’s as close as one might be able to get to having god speak to them directly. This difference, subtle as it may be, is profound when it comes to understanding how the words of each are held in regard.

Additionally, because of nature of the texts, the directives given therein, the challenge ongoing for humanity, Islam believes, is to incorporate the Quran’s doctrine into humanity’s ever changing Earth. This leads one to the discussion about Sharia Law. Christianity and indeed, the Bible, are not structured in such a way as to govern a community.

The Christian Church is the last living legacy of the Roman Empire, a government in and of itself. Judaism and Islam have both created a law-giving structure built off religious, sacred texts, in which to govern a community or far-flung communities. They were not tied to a central government much as the Christian Church was since its inception. It’s difficult for many modern Christians to get their heads around; many typically see religious law as a kind of impingement on their freedoms. What one must understand is that many people feel a higher judgement above the laws of man; many would submit themselves to religious laws before they submit them to an independent government, one which may not have the sanctity of their after-life in mind.

Halakhah and Sharia have many similarities. The word sharia comes from the word halakhah, the Jewish canonical law. The difference between Christian canonical law is that it generally comes from a single source – the Pope. In this community based law system, rabbis or imams are responsible for interpretations and their interpretations stand unless a council may be called to help with judgments. The misunderstanding comes from most American’s belief that Muslims or Jews in America would prefer canonical law rather than the country’s legal judgments. This is generally untrue. An excellent article on this is located in the Jewish Observer, here: https://thejewishobserver.com/2013/04/16/afraid-of-sharia/. While there outliers across religions – yes, there are Christians who oppose American law as well – observant Jews and Muslims follow the laws of the country in which they live, even if these laws impinge on their religious freedoms. As the article states, polygamy is legal under sharia but even in Arabic countries, it is still rarely practiced. It is not practiced in the United States because it is illegal here, for every religion.

There have been many interfaith conferences between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders. There will most likely need to be more. While this continues, the onus is on the rest of us, the believers of whatever faith we have, to learn more about the other people in this world, what they believe, how they act, what they find important. As the article in the Jewish Observer relates, we should not be afraid of any religion. We may need to work hard to understand the nature of religions and under and when something is mainstream and when it is fundamentalism. Just like political extremists, there is a great difference between the far ends of the spectrums of religions and a great deal in the middle. The edges is where extremists and fanaticism reside. This is where most people begin to go sideways in their understanding: believing the fundamentalism is the entirety of a religion.

Fundamentalism spans the globe. There are fundamentalist Buddhists, after all. Fundamentalism is a strict adherence to irreducible tenants of a religion. An example for Christians is the virgin birth of Jesus. In many cases, other Christians would not be seen as Christian because they do not necessarily believe in a virgin birth. Included in fundamentalism is the general literalness of translation. It is not enough to believe that Mary was “metaphorically” virgin; fundamentalist Christians believe that she was actually a virgin. There is no symbology in the meaning. The words of the sacred texts are interpreted literally, not symbolically. In general, fundamentalists are not militants unless they feel a fanaticism that is above all else. Militancy to faith also spans religions and it is born more from fear than from the religion itself. “Religious fanaticism is defined by blind faith, the persecution of dissents and the absence of reality.” In his book “Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk,” Neil Postman states that “the key to all fanatical beliefs is that they are self-confirming….(some beliefs are) fanatical not because they are ‘false’, but because they are expressed in such a way that they can never be shown to be false.” One cannot confuse Fundamentalism, Fanaticism, and Faith. They are very different and cannot be singularly tied to any one religion.

The best way to combat fanaticism is understanding and knowledge. The Freemason knows that there is a fundamental law that underlies human nature, and these texts really seek to make that divine law accessible to all human beings, regardless of where, when, and to whom they are born. The Quran is piece of that understanding. We might be seen as the generations that demonized Islam, much as other generations and countries have demonized Judaism and Christianity. Do we have to be? Seeking to learn is what sets the discerning, intelligent human apart. We can’t develop a better humanity if we can’t understand what is important to all of us, not just ourselves. There is beauty, grace, and knowledge everywhere, if we can be strong enough to listen.