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The Purpose of Modern Freemasonry

I was recently approached by the local Masonic Research Society, with a request to take part in an event involving the local heads of the 4 Constitutions operating in the Western Cape. As a firm believer that we should be drawing ever closer, I welcomed the opportunity to participate. Initially, I had concerns that the common topic, being “The Purpose of Modern Freemasonry“, would be too restrictive – but, in retrospect, it has stimulated a number of thoughts on my part which I would now like to share with you.

Firstly, I would suggest that the basic, underlying “Purpose of Freemasonry” has changed little over the centuries. It remains a universal society of men who seek to improve themselves through their association with one another and their families. It continues to promote the basic precepts of Truth, Morality and Brotherly Love. It brings good men together for fellowship and the promotion of integrity and good citizenship. It endeavours to facilitate meaningful, harmonious interaction between men, despite their different backgrounds in terms of religion, creed or political opinion. It encourages charitable activity and social awareness and strives, through its teachings, to uplift its members and to assist them to promote high moral standards, to live decent lives and to conduct themselves to the benefit of others.

What has changed, though, is the type of men Freemasonry now attracts and the world in which we live. Networking and social influence were major attractions in Freemasonry’s past and, based on the accomplishments of some of our forefathers, it is easy to see why Freemasons are so often accused of ruling the world. Their achievements were immense – but, while we enjoy the fruits of their labours, they really were quite different to the modern era. Let’s consider a couple of local examples. The magnificent temple de Goede Hoop was designed, built and financed by Freemasons – and when it burnt down, they built it up again. We certainly couldn’t do that today! Just outside the complex, is a statue of Louis Botha who, of course, was a Freemason. While I deeply respect the Brethren I share so much of my time with, I don’t see statues being erected to commemorate too many of us – it simply isn’t who we are.

For the most part, our generation of Freemasons don’t determine the future of our society and the world we live in, we don’t have enormous wealth at our disposal for the development of our Order and, perhaps sadly in many ways, our members now have a vast number of other activities competing for their time and personal resources. Most of us are simply humble, ordinary men drawn together by a desire to contribute to the development of “a better world, through a better man”. In my view, it is not “The Purpose of (Modern) Freemasonry” that really needs examination – it is the extent to which our purpose can still be effectively applied in the world in which we now live and, indeed, attract our members from.

We are members of an Order that promotes principles that really can make a difference – particularly against a backdrop of a world where religious and racial intolerance is the norm, where honesty and integrity are often deemed irrelevant and where good, honest family values are ignored. Our efforts must be focused on this, the world in which we now live. It’s fascinating to explore our past in great detail, there’s something special about belonging to an organisation with so many immortals forming part of its amazing history – but it simply isn’t a true reflection of the culture of our Order and our members today!

It is also a sad reality that, in the modern world, Freemasonry is invariably reported negatively. While we may agree, amongst ourselves, that “if all men were Freemasons, most of the world’s problems would disappear”, far too many prospective candidates, and even our own members, get discouraged by repeatedly hearing us described as something akin to the “ultimate evil”. We are portrayed by the media as a secret society that manipulates world direction through our mysterious networks, practices satanistic rituals and undermines religion. While those of us privileged enough to belong to the Order know that this is absurd, from a practical point of view “perception is reality” and we suffer the consequences.

It is by examining our past, that we become better able to understand why some of these misconceptions arise – and armed with this understanding, more able to defend ourselves and promote the truth. Indeed, the 1st degree admonition “Know thyself” should logically extend to “Know thy Order”, for it is only by obtaining a more complete understanding of who we are, what we stand for and where we came from that we will be equipped to promote, and defend, our beloved Freemasonry effectively. Like it or not, Brethren, that responsibility does not rest entirely with Grand Lodge or PGL, it does not rest with committees structured for the purpose – it rests with each and every one of us as individual Freemasons.

Our challenge is further complicated by the fact that, as with most of the structured organisations, our membership has gone through a period of decline and is at a significantly lower level than was the case a few years ago. Inevitably almost, our visibility has been affected and it is now very common for younger people particularly to have never heard of Freemasonry at all. I seem to recall a survey released by the Grand lodge of the State of Louisiana, in which they discovered that 20 years ago 50% of the population knew about Freemasonry, while today it is down to 4%. My figures may well be wildly inaccurate, but I suspect that the principle is sound and equally applicable to our situation.

In my opinion, there are several key areas which must urgently be addressed. Firstly, each and every one of us pursuing the basic “Purpose of Freemasonry”, has the right to demand that our Masonic experience is of real value – and must accept our personal role in ensuring that this is the case. We need to participate in and contribute to Masonically stimulating meetings and events. We need to involve ourselves in relevant activities that assist those less fortunate that ourselves. We need to ensure that we enjoy what we are doing and encourage those around us by our enthusiasm. Never forget, Brethren, that Freemasonry is what we do for fun! Secondly, we need to gain a better understanding of the needs and aspirations of our younger Brethren and prospective candidates, so that we may adapt ourselves to providing an Order which is more attractive to them. Thirdly, we need to be doing something more constructive about promoting our Freemasonry to the outside world. We must create a more realistic awareness of our real Purpose so that suitable individuals may be attracted to our Order. We need our successes to be visible and our efforts to be recognised. We need to dispel the misconceptions and expose the untruths.

As modern Freemasons, Brethren, we may well be humble men – but this must never be allowed to diminish the relevance of the principles of our Order and the merits of applying them to our own lives and promoting our message amongst our fellow men. The challenges attached to accepting this responsibility are enormous – but let us never forget the rewards that await those who rise up to meet them and, as individuals, let each and every one of us ensure that we play our part to the utmost of our ability.

R Wor Bro Geoff Edwards