Exploring their Values from a Unitarian Viewpoint
by Chris Vessey
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has been called "a beautiful system of morality, veiled in
allegory and illustrated by symbols" Most any Mason would
recognize these words immediately. They are a somewhat florid,
enigmatic and strangely succinct way to describe an organization
which is otherwise quite difficult to define and express, at least
for those who are not members.
seeks to teach its members how to live a moral and just life.
It has been said that, "Freemasonry makes good men better."
This is true, but the way in which this is done specifically relates
to moral teachings. In Masonry, we are taught to regard all humans,
regardless of their wealth or status in life, as valuable members
of our society. Whether weak, strong, rich, poor, sick, healthy,
popular or unpopular, each has something to contribute, something
of value, and each person is intrinsically valuable. Stripped
of his riches, worldly wealth, honours and medals, and the approval
and support of friends, the truly moral man can still hold his
head up high, knowing that his true value comes from within, not
utilize allegory as the basis of our moral teaching. Allegory
is, of course, nothing more than a story which illustrates a point.
Holy books of many religions utilize allegory. Since I am most
familiar with the Christian Bible, I quote the story of David
and Goliath. This story tells us that even a relatively weak and
helpless person can, through strength of will and faith, overcome
great obstacles. It is an allegory for the classic struggle of
the weak against the strong, but the concept veiled within that
allegory can be applied to any type of adversity where one is
made to feel subjugated. In a similar fashion, Freemasonry teaches
allegories are given in the form of a degree, or drama, some of
which directly involves the new members (called candidates), and
some of which is portrayed for their instruction. As with any
drama, it requires an open and willing mind on the part of the
candidate, as well as a lot of hard work and preparation on the
part of the Lodge members in presenting the work. This hard work
is just one of the benefits that we, as Masons, enjoy, for it
improves our minds and reinforces our own understanding of the
these allegories are illustrated by symbols. Symbolism is important
in virtually every major human organization, regardless of its
type. The International Red Cross / Red Crescent movement has
the two symbols which form its name, symbols which represent the
humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service,
unity and universality which are the essence of that organization.
The Unitarian faith has as a central symbol the Flaming Chalice,
and the Unitarian Universalist Association suggests that the chalice
represents sharing, generosity, sustenance, and love, among other
interpretations. The flame symbolizes witness, sacrifice, testing,
courage, illumination and more." In the end, true to its
nature, Unitarianism steadfastly refuses to assign to that symbol
a singular meaning – each must find it for themselves.
Freemasons, there are many symbols given to us. To go through
the multitude of them would be a lengthy exercise, and one I shall
spare you. The most prevalent symbol is the Square and Compasses
which enclose the letter G. The square is, of course, an instrument
used by operative stonemasons to make sure that the stones they
were finishing were square at all angles, thus ensuring the quality
and integrity of the structure to which they belong. Today, speculative
masons, or "freemasons", use that symbol to represent
the efforts of each member to make himself morally fit, so that
he may become a component of societal structure that is of high
quality and unquestionable integrity. The compasses were used
by stonemasons to inscribe circular boundaries, dividing space
into two regions: that within the circle, and that without –
this was often the case as specific ornaments were added to stones
within circular regions. For the freemason, the compasses are
a symbol of boundaries as well: they teach us to keep our passions
(such as anger, jealousy, and intolerance, to name a few) within
specific limits, so that we do not impose ourselves upon others,
or act basely towards them.
letter G refers to God, but not specifically in the Christian
sense: it refers to the supreme being or force which is the basis
of all world religions.
freemasonry is a method of teaching morality using drama and symbolism.
What are the requirements to join freemasonry?
of all, freemasonry is an ancient fraternity. The term "fraternity"
is defined as the quality or condition of being brothers"
or "brotherliness." In the ancient sense, a fraternity
was a mens' organization, and as freemasonry has grown from ancient
times, it is a mens' organization. Doubtless there are some who
would argue that it should be open to all, but there are equally
many ladies' organizations in the world as well. The custom of
having men only is not to exclude women from something special;
there are other groups that serve the same function for women.
Rather, it is to provide the opportunity for men to share something
special amongst themselves, to develop a mutual respect within
the context of one's gender. Any freemason would vehemently argue
for the equal treatment of his spouse, or any other woman, within
society, and would strenuously support women in pursuit of their
own sororal affiliation.
must be "free-born." This term exists from the days
of slavery in Europe and North America. No slave was permitted
to be made a freemason, because to be a freemason, one must be
able to be a free thinker. In those dark days of human bondage,
a man held in thrall could be coerced to think according to the
wishes of his master, and not his conscience. This coercion could
lead to immoral behaviour, and thus slaves could not be masons.
Today, the term is still intact in our ritualistic requirements,
but has no modern context in North America, at least.
petition a Lodge, one must be of "lawful age", which
is interpreted as 21 years. Until one is of lawful age, one does
not have the full ability to govern himself; he is not yet a full
member of society. Freemasons must also be free to govern themselves,
for without that freedom, the teachings of Masonry would have
little function. The very basis of Masonry is learning to govern
oneself in an acceptable manner.
last requirement is that a candidate for Masonry be "well
recommended." This means that he must be recommended for
membership by two Freemasons. Many men over the years have interpreted
this as meaning that Freemasonry is by invitation only. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Although a candidate must be
recommended, Freemasons are specifically prohibited from solicitation
for membership. A prospective candidate must ask to be recommended.
This differs greatly from several other organizations who accept
new members on an invitation-only basis.
was originally based upon the teachings of the Old Testament,
and remains so in North America and Europe. It uses the stories
of the building of King Solomon's Temple as its foundation. Nevertheless,
Freemasonry is not a religion. Other religious texts are considered
of equal value in our meditations upon morality. Masonry does
not prefer one religion over another – rather, it teaches
tolerance for all religions, and the recognition of truth wherever
it may be found.
do not pray to any specific deity; rather, we use the term "Supreme
Architect of the Universe" or "Great Architect of the
Universe" to refer to each man's individual relationship
with deity. We may pray together, but each prays, individually,
to his own concept of deity. No Mason is required to worship another's
deity, and there is no "god of Masonry" since Masonry
is not a religion.
is, however, religious in nature, and encourages each and every
member to be active in his own church, synagogue or temple. The
last principal requirement for a man to be a candidate for Masonry
is that of belief in a Supreme Being.
of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons is led by a Worshipful Master
– the term "worshipful" is an archaic word meaning
"honourable", used in the same sense as "his Worship
the Mayor". It has nothing to do with being worshiped. The
Master's two principal assistants are the Senior and Junior Wardens,
who help with the organization of Lodge events and activities.
There are also Deacons (who assist with the drama portrayals)
and Stewards (who assist with food and beverages), plus other
officers such as the Treasurer and Secretary. In short, with the
exception of the strange-sounding titles, it is organized much
like any other social club.
are, of course, other branches of Freemasonry. Principally, these
are broken into the York and Scottish Rites, and contain degrees
which expand upon the values already presented, and provide the
basis a more in-depth self-examination of the man who takes those
additional degrees. The principal aim of Masonry is introspection
and self-improvement, within the context of the society in which
is one further body worthy of mention. Although it has, as a qualification
for membership, a requirement to first be a Mason, this group
does not focus on self-development; it focuses on charity, one
of the laudable tenets that all Masons are expected to exemplify.
This organization, by its nature, is also well-known. Almost anyone
knows what a Shriner looks like, in terms of dress, and is familiar
with their sponsorship of hospitals for sick children. What many
do not know is that all Shriners must first become Masons; it
is upon the new moral foundation of Freemasonry that the charitable
reputation of the Shrine is built.
this point, we should now have enough information to form a basic
comparison of Unitarian beliefs and the philosophical aims and
goals of the Masonic fraternity.
as a religious choice, is similar in its philosophy to the personal
beliefs of Freemasons, remembering that Freemasonry itself is
not a religion. By its nature, Freemasonry encourages religious
tolerance and the acceptance of the individual based upon his
own merits and conduct, and not upon his religious beliefs or
worldly wealth or honours. We are more interested in what makes
a man "tick", than what possessions he has or what status
he holds in the community due to his station. We hold that all
people are created equal, and though our titles and offices sound
very intricate, we are all considered equals. Even the Master
is merely the temporary leader of a group of equals.
believe in the sanctity of life, and its preservation –
although we have degrees that are characterized by military orders
of bygone eras, those orders are symbolically used: they represent
the struggle against tyranny over mind and body, wherever found,
and the effort to relieve the world of the oppression of the weak
and helpless. We do not glorify armed conflict; we vilify it.
We seek, through the gradual tide of moral education, to eradicate
it at its source – by eliminating human iniquity and replacing
it with human equity.
is, however, highly structured. With all of those impressively-titled
offices comes an order which exceeds that found in many other
organizations, governments included. In some ways, I find Unitarianism
to be relatively unstructured, and this observation is meant in
the kindest sense. It is the ability to be spontaneous and adaptive
with its congregations that makes Unitarianism different - unique,
to be exact. I enjoy the rigorous requirements of Freemasonry,
but I also really like to relax amongst my friends in the Unitarian
my friends, is the crux of the matter - Fellowship. This simple
word is the focal point of all Masonic meetings. We are a band
or society of friends and brothers, and we meet to promote harmony
and fellowship among us. This is no different than Unitarianism,
at least as it is expressed here in Prince Edward Island. In this
aspect, there is no argument possible – fellowship, that
feeling of togetherness, belonging and family, is central and
essentially vital to both organizations. Should either ever lose
its fellowship aspect, then we would have lost a principal ideal
so fundamental that it would render either organization ineffectual.
Masons would not be Masons without fellowship; Unitarians would
be likewise without definition.
enough, I was drawn to Masonry first. I was a self-proclaimed
agnostic at the time when I sought information about Masonry.
I learned, through my fellowship with Masons, that my thoughts
and feelings were most important. I also learned that those that
were "fed" to me from a pulpit were of limited value
unless I actively meditated upon those ideas, sifting them as
I chose what to accept and reject. To simply accept all that was
said blindly would be a futile endeavour, for without free will
we, as humans, are nothing. Unitarianism gave me the outlet to
express this belief in a religious context. You could say that
Masonry prepared me to become a Unitarian.
honoured to be a member of the Masonic Fraternity. I have met
some truly excellent men in my travels through the brotherhood.
I am also honoured to be a member of the Unitarian congregation,
and I have met some truly extraordinary people there too.
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