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What is Freemasonry ?

A brief definition is: an organization of men believing in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, using the builder's tools as symbols to teach basic moral truths, thereby impressing upon the minds of its members the cardinal virtues of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth which they should apply to everyday activities.

What is Freemasonry? 

First, Freemasonry is not a "mass medium". It works with and through the individual member. Each new member is prepared as an individual; he is the one important person who is initiated, then passed to the higher grades as he acquires proficiency in the tasks at hand.  In Freemasonry the individual is all important. We consider the individual Freemasonry offers to the world today the basic ideal that is being slowly forgotten: that each individual is important and that his personal welfare counts.

Second, Freemasonry teaches the principle of the Fatherhood of God. In too many places God is the forgotten element. Freemasonry has God as its sole foundation stone.  Freemasonry does not concern itself with the dogmas, forms of worship, or the theology of any church. A Mason must profess a belief in God and immortality; but Freemasonry does not teach him how God manifests himself to man or how man is reconciled with God. It is true that Freemasonry tries to enrich a member's belief in God by instructing him in the moral law and the hidden secrets of nature and science. It tries to do that for every member.

Freemasonry therefore offers a tolerance for the religious beliefs of all men, to the point that they can meet and pray together in complete harmony. There is only one God, no matter what name we give Him. Freemasonry has for centuries afforded men of all creeds a chance to meet together and to understand each other's belief in the Fatherhood of God. It is the only world-wide organization where there is no political or religious discussion permitted.

Third, Freemasonry also teaches the principle that follows logically from what has just been said, "The Brotherhood of Man". If we have a common Father, are we all not brothers? Today we hear too little about this ideal.  At every turn we hear of demands for "rights" of one kind or another. How often do we hear of duties or obligations? Freemasonry teaches the duties we owe to others; it teaches obligations that its members owe their families, their communities, and their country. With every "right" there is a corresponding duty or obligation. Freemasonry says nothing about "rights", but has much to say about the duties and obligations that each member owes. If all of us do our duty, all will profit; and there is no need to discuss "rights" where men do their duty, because justice will prevail.

Fourth, Freemasonry evolved from the builder's guilds of the Middle Ages, and therefore the word "work" plays an important part in our philosophy and our ceremonies.  Our immediate ancestors, the operative masons, were workers with their hands. They built structures of wood and stone. The had an apprentice system to teach young men to work and develop their natural skills. The idea of "work" is woven into the very fabric of Freemasonry. Work is honorable, work is necessary, and that work makes for happiness.  Freemasonry takes this idea of work from the operative Masons and converts it into a symbol. No longer do Freemasons build structures that are visible, but we build a symbolic structure of character, that house not built with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Fifth, Freemasonry offers the world an opportunity for social contacts and the development of friendships.
The feeling of "belonging" is a vital part of every man's being. No one can be an island unto himself. To be happy, we must belong to a family, a community, a country club, or a large number of associations.  The constant bringing together of its members in worthwhile activities helps to promote this feeling of "belonging".

Related to this element is what psychologists call the feeling of importance. In order to be happy each person must feel "important" to someone to something. Freemasonry affords many opportunities for the development of this feeling, not only from the pride of belonging to the greatest fraternal organization in the world, but also from the many, many opportunities to serve as officers, to do charitable work, to visit sick members, etc., all of which gives the member a sense of being important to his fellow members and the organization. Here again we are stressing the importance of the individual rather than the group.

Sixth, Freemasonry offers the world the philosophy of life. The Masonic degrees are designed to teach each member certain basic moral truths. No man ever became a Mason without becoming a better Man. The lessons are taught in a unique manner which makes the principles more effective.

Sometimes we are presented with a pertinent question: if the lessons of Freemasonry are so beneficial, why are they taught behind closed doors? The answer lies in the nature of man himself. That which is open to constant view becomes commonplace and attracts no attention. That which is hidden is sought, is searched for, is attractive and creates interest.  Added to this is the fact that all the lessons are taught with symbols. This is an effective teaching method; it causes the student to learn more easily. A moral lesson can be told in a few effective words describing a symbol. With the use of the builder's tools Freemasonry teaches moral lessons. Many Masonic expressions have found their way into everyday conversation. We use the square to illustrate honesty in our dealings with one another: "He's on the square," or "He is a square dealer."

Each candidate for the degrees receives this philosophy of life in a most impressive manner. Suffice it to say here that this Way of Life contains all the lessons or rules adopted by all good men. It covers the Golden Rule. It teaches us that we are our Brother's keeper. It teaches that we can best worship God by rendering service to our fellowmen. We are taught tolerance in all things. We are taught that honesty is the only policy.

To summarize all this in just a few words, let us answer the question in the title as briefly as possible. Freemasonry offers to mankind an emphasis on the importance of the individual, the belief in the brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God, the concept of the dignity of work and its necessity for the pursuit of happiness, the opportunity to realize one's social aspirations in a morally constructive way, and a philosophy of life which can lead to individual, and therefore community happiness. And the twenty first century really needs what Freemasonry offers.

What is Freemasonry? While Freemasonry in its present form has existed less than 300 years, there have always been associations resembling this great Fraternity. Such groups were formed at various times and in many places because man is fundamentally a social creature; he has an inherent need for friendship, love, and association with others.

Adopted from: (the Short talk Bulletin Vol. XLIII August, 1965, published by the Masonic Service Association of the United States, Washington. D.C.)
(Originally a talk given on the 100th Anniversary of Burns Lodge #173, Monticello, Iowa June 15, 1965 by Alphonse Cerza Riverside Lodge #862, Riverside Illinois. P.M. Waubansia Lodge #160, Chicago, Illinois member Illinois Grand Lodge Committee on Masonic Information, F.P.S.)


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