Yes, we are all members of a worthy fraternal society. And what sort of society? “Charitable” will be the claim by many and that will be the end of the debate – let’s get on with the ritual and not be distracted with all this questioning nonsense. Some will not welcome the intellectual challenge to think about our teachings.
Ornaments in architecture are not part of the structure of fabric of a building but are added later to ornament or more generally as an item to embellish. Early in our masonic journey we are told that benevolence and charity are the truly masonic ornaments of freemasonry. Therefore one could question whether these ornaments place benevolence and charity at the focus of our teachings. I do not know anyone who would contest the “excellences” of these ornaments. However, to conclude that these represent our only objectives misunderstands our teachings. I argue that philosophy of work as a priority for personal endeavours is at least as high as our charitable and benevolent objectives. Do we really mean that they are just ornaments or has the author of our ritual not grasped this point?
The construction of King Solomon’s Temple, the model for our teachings, required great wisdom and the best technology of the day but in the end it required work for its completion and not benevolence and charity. The implements of architecture on which we explain our moral teachings are all to facilitate good work. We have not selected the likes of the deck chair, the beer schooner or the pack of playing cards. It is interesting that even today freemasons including myself will invariably refer to their role in the degree ceremonies as “work”.
We are told that we must encourage industry and reward merit: is that not saying that we should support work and positively discriminate to favour those who excel? We are encouraged to try and excel in what is good and great, a vast difference to laying back and waiting for it to happen. There is nothing in our teachings to support the redistribution of wealth, to give support to those who can work but choose not to do so, or to those who have had the ability to work and plan but have not provided for themselves. There is nothing in our teachings to support the concept of social justice as to the term has now seems to me to have been construed to mean. Our teachings are silent on funding the lazy and the greedy. However, there is no question that we support people that are disadvantaged or have fallen on hard times.
We are told that we should strive to excel in what is good and great. Surely that means we should not rest on our laurels but try to work to higher standards and the foundation is there for multi-skilling or career changes. This is consistent with the requirement for us to use our corporal and mental faculties with which we have been blessed with in their fullest energies. The Junior Warden restates the objectives of profit and pleasure without any mention of benevolence and charity.
From the 24 inch gauge we know there is time to be allocated to serving a friend or brother in time of need but with equal importance there is the time that needs to be allocated for work and refreshment just as there is to worship. What is paramount of course in our teachings is for us to be good citizens and to obey the laws in all our endeavours.
I think that simply to see freemasonry as a “do-gooder”, charitable organisation understates its value. Freemasonry clearly values the importance of work and we should all realise that without work we will have nothing substantial to distribute in an act of charity.
Mike was invited to comment on a draft of the current Don’s Diary column and replied via email with the below (Ed.)
Thank you for a very thought provoking article. I enjoyed it immensely. It really got me thinking about why men come to Freemasonry. I think for many, including myself, it helps you on your journey through life to become a better human being (I use journey as until we depart this mortal body we can always be doing something to improve ourselves) and hopefully in some small way for the betterment of the community as a whole. There are many motivators within Freemasonry to which men gravitate to (some more than others) such as a better understanding of self and our place in the world, a moral compass or guide, mentoring and being mentored by other men, sharing this great journey of life with other good men and helping others, not just our brothers, either through hard times or to giving them a leg up to become a better person (I will come back to this). Whilst for some it may be more about rank, power and prestige I hope this is not in the main body of masonic men.
You made the point about the work ethic and I cannot agree more. All of the above does not come easily it takes a lot of bloody hard work (it wouldn't be much of a challenge if it didn't) through our daily lives including our masonic activities.
Back to charity (which as you point out is but one of our ornaments or motivators albeit a very important one). Unfortunately in our society the word 'charity' can sometimes have negative connotations (and justifiably so) as many of the recipients have capabilities but for whatever reasons are too lazy to work at helping themselves i.e. a mind set that others will do it for them.
I prefer the term benevolence (to do good through kindness and generosity - this can be material but more importantly through spirit and action). It is not just about making a donation and then distancing ourselves from the charitable act but being involved with the recipients as individuals and as a fraternal group.
I believe consistent with our masonic philosophy we should be helping those who are working to improve themselves or have fell on hard times through no fault of their own (e.g. illness, family situations etc). This may be assisting an individual or family through a difficult patch or helping someone who is working hard but just needs some financial and moral support to succeed. Sometimes it can be these little things that can make a lasting difference in peoples lives. Often you hear people say that if it wasn't for that little bit of support or kindness at some point, my life could have gone in another direction (not usually positive).
It would be great if Collingwood Freemasons could utilise some of their talents and work together to help deserving others in the community. Whilst this is only one of many aspects of Freemasonry it is an area that for whatever past reasons does not seem to be a significant part of the culture at Collingwood. Going forward I hope it becomes one of the many ornaments/motivators as to why some men want to be involved at Collingwood.
So I think in conclusion we are in violent agreement we probably just have a different way of expressing it.