By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory.
Because I am going to say some critical things, let me first set out my credentials. I am an insider, fully committed to Freemasonry and what it stands for. I have been a freemason for over 40 years, in Britain, Australia and now Israel. I am past master of Lodge Mark Owen, Past Grand Chaplain and Past Junior Grand Warden. I spent some years as a Grand Lodge lecturer. I am quite well known as a masonic speaker, writer and advocate. I have had a long, constructive career in the craft. Not just because of the good fellowship, the dramatising of ethical principles and the opportunities for service to the community, but because it is an ideology which appeals to my mind.
True, I once wrote a booklet called “Objections to Freemasonry” – not about personal objections to Freemasonry but common misconceptions that needed a reasoned response. I took up arms because I saw something I believed in come under attack.
But I fear that many freemasons are distorting that belief and turning it into an idolatry. In ancient Israel there was a danger that people would make an icon out of the Temple and constantly proclaim “The Sanctuary of the Lord! The Sanctuary of the Lord!” They loved the Temple: they adored every appurtenance. We do likewise. It is not politically correct to call masonic meeting places temples, but we suffer the same syndrome. Further, though I am a stickler for punctuality and punctiliousness in ritual – in religion too – our meetings are a hymn of glory and an end in themselves.
We tell ourselves, we tell new members, we tell the world, that Freemasonry is magnificent. It is, but that’s not the point. The real question is why. Because of the outward emblems? But they are no more than symbols of a message. My worry is that the message is becoming obscured. We have magnificent values – harmony, brotherhood, justice, charity. But where is the analysis and exploration, the discourse and discussion? Our masonic lectures are monologues, our ritual regurgitates learnt mantras, our writings skirt around the edges of what ought to be on-going passionate debate. We dramatise brotherhood but have no forum to discuss it. We speak of charity, but in generalities without interpretation. We avoid research and debate. We sit back passively when someone delivers a monologue in quaint 18th century English but we’re too genteel to argue with them. Personally I do not greatly enjoy delivering a charge in lodge because I so often want to interrupt the flow and ask what I am saying and what it all means.
I am not advocating that we constantly interrupt whatever is happening in the lodge room. The most exciting moment of my Mark Owen career was when that beloved Masonic identity, Charles Aaron, shouted, “Rubbish, Worshipful Master!” (it was not I who was Master; I know who was and have no intention of telling.) I am not advocating that anyone shout out, “Rubbish!” Nor do I want lodge meetings to deteriorate into chaos with chit-chat across the room. But I would like to see our meetings take on a new dimension, with every mason stirred and stimulated to think for himself, to speak up and to engage in clarifying our ideals and how to apply them for the good of society.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.