“Freemasonry as a Social Commitment; How the Values of the Craft can Change a Mason’s Life and how a Mason can Change Society."
M. W. Bro. Otwasuom _Osae _Nyampong VI
Grand Master of the Grand Lodge Of Ghana
I believe one can deal with this huge topic by attempting to answer the question; “What is freemasonry?” I bring information published by the websites of three independent Grand Lodges, namely the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Grand Lodge of South Australia, and a Grand Lodge of Mississippi, USA all in an attempt to answer this question.
From the website of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, www.grandlodgescotland.com it is Stated; this is rather like asking the question “what is a church?” or, “what is faith?” people who are asked such a question will give different answers, in their own words, based on their own perceptions, experience and education. The most common answer is “A peculiar system of morality, based on allegory and illustrated by symbols.” It is therefore a moral society which attempts to encourage men to be upright in family, in business and public life. All Freemasons are taught that any duties which they have as a freemason come only after their duties to family, work, and faith. Under no circumstance should their membership interfere with these aspects of their lives.
Another way of explaining what freemasonry is, is to detail what it is not. For example, it is not a religion, it has no theology and it offers no answers on matters of salvation as these are the preserve of churches. All freemasons are encouraged to find answers to such questions through their own faith, religion and church.
From the website of the Grand Lodge of South Australia www.freemasonryaust.org.au ; we are told, it is made up of men who are concerned with moral and spiritual values and who pursue a way of life that complement their religious, family and community affiliations. they seek a better way of life and treat all men as equal regardless of race, religion or social standing.
It states further; - every true Freemason:
- Seeks ways to share in building a better community
- Shows tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behaves with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures.
- Practices charity and cares for the community as well as his own family, through charitable giving and by voluntary work
- Strives for the truth, requires high moral standards and aims to achieve these in his own life.
- Freemasons believe these principles represent a way of achieving higher standards in life.
From the website of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi USA www.msgrandlodge.org we learn that freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity. Its history and tradition date to antiquity. Its singular purpose is to make good men better. Its bond of friendship, compassion and brotherly love have survived even the most divisive political, military and religious conflicts through the centuries. Freemasonry is neither a forum no a place for worship. Instead, it is a friend to all religions which are based on the belief in one God.
One of the most fascinating aspects of freemasonry has always been; how so many men, from so many different walks of life, can meet together in peace, never have any political or religious debates, always conduct their affairs in harmony and friendship and call each other“Brother”.
We learn that freemasonry
- Is a voluntary association of men
- Is a system of moral conduct
- Is a way of life
- Is a fraternal society
- Is religious in character
- Teaches the Golden Rule
- Seeks to make good men better men
- Teaches morality through symbolism
- Uses secret rites and ceremonies to instructits members
- Is based on a firm belief in the fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man and the immortality of the soul.
The purpose of freemasonry is to improve humanity as a whole, each freemason being charged to walk uprightly before God and man, and his rectitude of conduct, encouraging others to conduct themselves in like manner.
We learn what freemasonry is not:
- It is not an insurance or benefit society,
- It does no solicit members.
- It is neither a religion nor a need.
- It is not a charity organization.
- It dictates to no man his beliefs, either religious or secular.
- It seeks no advantages for its member through business or politics.
- It is not a forum for discussion of partisans affairs.
- It is not a secret society, as it does not conceal its existence, membership or purpose.
- Love and kindness in the house.
- Honesty and fairness in business or occupation.
- Courtesy in social contacts, help for the weak and unfortunate.
- Resistance to wickedness.
- Trust and confidence in good men.
- Forgiveness towards the penitent
- Love toward another.
- And above all, reverence for the Supreme Being.
Freemasonry is a fraternity which teaches members a code of ethics and a system of moral philosophy by means of a progression of ceremonies based on the work and practices and tools of stone masons.
It is clear from the above that there is a wide and diverse opinion of what freemasonry actually is. If the question “what is the central critical purpose of this (any) organization” is posed to a Board of Directors, a wide difference of opinions usually emerges. Most organizations can agree on a range of aims and objectives but universal agreement on the one central critical objective is rare. Why is this important? Well, how does it know who best to recruit, what decisions to make, and what course to chart? Organizations are, after all, a group of people pursuing common goals.
Over time, an organization’s aims and objectives can become blurred. Methods of achieving stated objectives become points of disagreement. For example, if the central critical purpose of freemasonry is to build an organization of men of high moral integrity, committed to self-development and developing like-minded men via a system based on initiation, then how the craft is explained to potential members would take a certain form and contain specific messages.
These messages would differ considerably from an organization whose central critical purpose is purely to raise membership, or large amounts of money to work for charitable purposes, or to become an exclusive dining club.
Knowing the central purpose of an organization is important because it sets expectations in the minds of new members. It is the cornerstone on which the superstructure rests. The main reason people leave any organization is that it fails to deliver against expectations.
Another aspect of the organization’s survival is its uniqueness. What can it offer the individual that is different? In the case of freemasonry the answer to this is easier to address. Does it seek to improve the morals of men in society? Yes. Is it inclusive of race, creed and colour? Does it seek to raise money and distribute it to good causes? Yes. But are any of these unique to freemasonry? No.
One does not have to engage in freemasonry to fulfill these aims. However, freemasonry does have something totally unique. In addition to the good works mentioned above, it is also a fantastically rich initiatory system of self-improvement of members who are coached through it by people who understand. And it doesn’t matter if a prospective has read the latest exposé in a book or on the web because it is the direct experience that matters.
How can a Mason Change Society? The Home Grand Lodges:- English, Scottish and Irish – had made the point that freemasonry per se had no role in society. Rather it is the individual, imbued with the principle of freemasonry, who could and should have an effect. They firmly believed that one of the great strengths of freemasonry is that it stands above political and sectarian interests.
One or two Grand Masters have wondered if we were too wide in our definitions of religious and political subjects. They believe that some of what we saw as being religious/political matters were, in fact, moral or ethnic problems which should be discussed and commented on by freemasons.
Today we live in a world where what passes for normal behavior encourages lying, cheating, and deceiving as a matter of course. Greed and deceit in their numerous incantations lie at the heart of many of the world’s ills. And this is because both trample mercilessly over the respect which we, as humans, owe one another.
The corrosive effects of these ills stated above emerge clearly in ancient texts giving instructions for coming generations who, like younger generations all through history, need some help from those older and wiser. A good example is found in the instructions of the scribe Ani, a member of the palace household of Queen Nefertari, wife of the eighteenth dynasty Pharaoh, Ahmose: “Guard against the crime of fraud, he wrote to his son, against words that are not true; conquer malice in yourself…..Keep away from hostile man, do not let him be your comrade; befriend one who is straight and true…..”
Other instructions have survived from the nineteenth dynasty, ‘Do not speak falsely to a man. Do not bear witness with false words.’ We can assume that the third Degree Exhortation is one which the ancient Egyptians would recognize, particularly when it speaks of ‘the stain of false hood and dishonor.’ For it is a true stain on the character of any man.
Wisdom gained needs to be passed on. What is needed is a system whereby old and tested paths to harmony can be maintained, nurtured and carried to later generations; all the while avoiding sectarian arguments to which our religions seem to be prone as if the leaders have forgotten that the divine source of all life expresses itself in an infinite number of ways.
Without the noble qualities of mutual respect, honesty and fairness we find ourselves entangled in corruption. And if there is anything which is destroying our world. It is this cultural cancer of every society; ancient and modern; some have the strength to combat it, others do not.
Freemasonry with its gift of a historical momentum carrying respect, brotherhood and integrity can add positively to any society which carries the running sore of corruption. Freemasonry can help the second Degree working tools teach morality, equality,‘justness and uprightness of all life and actions’.
So when we affirm our adherence to these principles we are not just polishing a smooth ashlar to support our lodges or even freemasonry; we are contributing our strength and harmony to a world wide movement, compatible with different religious and political persuasions, which aims to maintain and encourage age-old principles of honesty and integrity to help balance modern society from these forces seeking to corrupt.
Again, Freemasonry should reinforce the right to freedom of speech which freemasonry has bequeathed to mankind and society. It has never been the enemy of any power that suppressed free thought and the enslavement of the mind. We should reject bigotry and superstition that erected inquisitions and persecutions of all types; and the ignorance and fanaticism that invented instruments of torture and deprivation.
The scale of justice in the eye of the mason must at all times be balanced and not err on the side of truth. The rule of Law must be paramount.
We need to be more proactive and visible in the society in bringing about improvements in the lives of our people, particularly the youth, the sick and the poor. For example; we should endeavor to identify current needs of the community, and involve community members in our charity work to provide solutions using our resources and human expertise.
Finally, my personal reflections drawing within Ghana: our visibility as an agent of change within society has not been too satisfactory possibly due to the fact that in recent times, more particularly since 1979, there have been criticisms of so called Secret Societies including the Lodges from the lay public and Church authorities within my country. Thee tensions have eased considerably which have paved way for public fora to explain freemasonry under the theme “That All May Know” as part of the 75th anniversary of the District Grand Lodge of Ghana (EC).
We have dispensed Charity in various areas including education, social welfare and health. In the area of health especially my Grand Lodge has supported the health sector financially and in kind through the donation of essential equipment like blood bank fridges and drugs. We have continued to support the tradition of an Annual blood donation campaign which was started with funds from the District Grand Lodge of Ghana (SC) Samaritan Foundation now Grand Lodge of Ghana Samaritan Foundation, for which the foundation received commendation from the WHO in April, 2000.
In conclusion, freemasonry must build its strong message based on our uniqueness. We can be open and confident that freemasonry can deliver things that the modern world is craving and that no other organization can offer. Freemasonry offers self-development not linked to the materialistic world or its superficial goals but opportunities to help the wide community and dare I say, enjoyment and brotherhood.
We need to be bold to deliver this strong message to the Masonic and non-Masonic world.
The work of the lodge and duties of the brethren- by Abraham Gyesie.
Brother Michael Baigent, “Freemasonry Today”, letter from the editor (spring 2008)
What is the central purpose “by Derek Bain published in “Freemasonry Today”
The Chisel- an Achimotan Masonic Journal vo. 1