I never normally blog about Freemasonry particularly on this, a political blog, because Freemasonry forbids discussion of religious or political issues within a Lodge room. However, I am breaking my usual rule of silence, having read an article in The Daily Telegraph by Graeme Archer about the language of diversity. In it, he says: “Where do you see the most natural mixing of all ages, races and classes in Britain? In our churches.” He goes on to say: “It is natural Tory language to say come together, in churches, PTAs, hiking groups, reading clubs or local political campaigns. “
While I applaud the sentiments he expresses, he has – through his own ignorance and Freemasonry’s excessive secrecy – omitted a society that practices an enviable inclusivity. It is the society of Freemasons. I recently visited a Lodge where a new member was Initiated as a Mason. He was a Moslem and he took his Obligation on the Koran. In the same Lodge room were other Moslems, Sikhs, Jews and Christians. No-one thought it in the least strange that this mixture of races and creeds should come together for a common purpose; in fact it is a common denominator of Freemasonry across the UK and beyond. Membership is open to men from all walks of life; there are plenty of working men, artisans, taxi drivers, policemen of all ranks, military and professionals. It is a microcosm of society and, no doubt due in part to a total ban on discussing politics or religion in the Lodge, it is almost always a harmonious and deeply caring society.
It is a male society, unashamedly so. There is a parallel Masonic organisation for women with similar principles and practices. No doubt some of the equality-at-any-price brigade will attack Masonry for its maleness but it is clear that the thousands of men who range under its banners are attracted to an opportunity for men to meet together with a common understanding and commitment to certain moral truths.
If you ask me what I derive from membership, I will answer three things:
- Enjoyment: Masonry is about men coming together with a common interest and a core moral code to enjoy one another’s company and to learn on a Masonic journey of knowledge that can bring something new and worthwhile every day.
- Self-improvement: Masonry is capable of helping men grow in confidence, self-esteem and social skills. I have seen young men lacking all of these become much better human beings because of the way in which we work and support one another.
- Benevolence: London Masonry raised £2.5 million pounds recently to buy a CyberKnife for use at Barts Hospital. Masonry funds many of the lifeboats in action around our coastline. Our charitable giving is for Masons and non-Masons alike and is a key part of our activity.
For historical reasons, Freemasons have been secretive about their membership as well as about their rituals. Although we are cautious not to disclose the nature of our ceremonies or our means of mutual recognition there is no reason for us to be secretive about our membership. Indeed, there is every reason for the world to know that a Mason is one to whom the burdened heart may pour forth its sorrow, the distressed may prefer their suit, whose hand is guided by justice and whose heart is expanded by benevolence.
Here are some words written by W Bro Ray V Denslow of Alnwick Masonic Centre. They epitomise in symbolical terms what Freemasons enjoy: I was born in antiquity, in the ancient days when men first dreamed of God. I have been tried through the ages and found true. The crossroads of the World bear the imprint of my feet and the cathedrals of all nations mark the skill of my hands. I strive for beauty and for symmetry. In my heart there is wisdom and strength and courage for those who ask. Upon my altars is the Book of Holy Writ and my prayers are to the One Omnipotent God. My sons work and pray together, without rank or discord, in the public mart and in the inner chamber. By signs and symbols I teach the lessons of life and death and the relationship of man with God and of man with man. My arms are widespread to receive those of lawful age and good report who seek me of their own free will. I accept them and teach them to use my tools in the building of men and, thereby, find direction in their own quest for perfection so much desired and so difficult to obtain. I lift up the fallen and shelter the sick. I hark to the orphan’s cry, the widow’s tears, the pain of the old and destitute. I am not Church; nor party; nor school; yet my sons bear a full share of my responsibility to God, to country, to neighbour and themselves. They are free men, tenacious of their liberties and alert to lurking danger. At the end I commit them as each one undertakes the journey beyond the veil into the Glory of everlasting life. I ponder the sand within the glass and think how small is a single life in the Eternal Universe. Always have I taught immortality and, even as I raise men from darkness into Light, I am a way of life. I am Freemasonry.