Many of our members find one of their most difficult tasks to be defining Freemasonry to those outside of the Fraternity in terms that they can understand. Over the years there have been many attempts to define it some in very simple terms, others in flowering phrases. Let's take a look at some of them and see what they tell us.
Freemasonry has been defined as "The world's largest, most prestigious, and most widely known fraternal organization" and as "A natural community of equals bound by shared experience and interest and united in action." Both of these definitions fit well into describing the Craft; but do they tell those who ask what it truly is?
There are other definitions that are more frequently used and less understandable by those outside the Craft. The most definitive: "... an organization to make good men better." The greatest reflecting our philosophy: "... a Brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God." The most glamorous, "... a way of life."
I doubt if we used any or all of those definitions that it would suffice for any but ourselves to understand us and, frankly, I doubt whether many of us would. For most of us, it seems easier to define what we are not, rather than what we are e.g., we are not a political organization, we don't even permit discussion of politics in the lodge room. We are not a religion, which is another subject not open for discussion in the lodge room even though we probably promote the practice of religious belief more than any other organization. We are not a charity and yet, we probably are the most charitable organization in the world.
We call ourselves "speculative Masons," and I suspect that better than 50% of our members don't even know what being a "speculative Mason" means; and yet, this speculative Fraternity of ours has created one of the greatest impacts this world has ever known. In its almost 300-year organized journey, its indelible influence has become forever marked upon civil society.
The value of the lessons taught in Freemasonry, however, lies entirely in the thoughts and inspirations they stimulate in the minds of those receiving them. The lessons do not change, only the recipients change. My Brothers, Freemasonry is more than a group of men it is an ideal. It has served as an attractive force for some of the greatest men this world has ever seen. It has honored the commitment to us; but, have we truly honored our commitment to it.
I have heard in recent years, questions raised by those both inside and outside of the Craft concerning the relevancy of Freemasonry in the current world. Could there ever be a time when our philosophy would not be relevant? If we are slipping in influence, it is our fault, not the outside world's. Maybe that world is not as receptive to us as it once was, but it does not influence our quality as an institution. That control is totally in our hands. Therefore, the destiny of Freemasonry is subject to the membership, as it always has been. We cannot continue to make excuses to justify our failures. What we need is to understand more fully our purpose and minimize the failures.
There is no question that our present way of life has deprived the Craft of much of the opportunity of doing the personal things that were the source of its major strength of the past; but, our philosophy is eternally relevant. We represent a bastion of tolerance in an intolerant world. Our philosophy of purpose could very well serve as a foundation for world peace. Our only weak link is us.
A Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Fraternity said several years ago, "If it takes our gentle Fraternity to teach Brotherly Love and tolerance to the churches of the world, then, so be it!" What a great testimony to the relevance of Freemasonry in today's world. We are not only relevant; we are needed by this intolerant world. So mote it always be.