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Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Freemasonry Is?" by Tom Jackson

Interesting passage in an article by Pennsylvania's Tom Jackson in the Scottish Rite Journal this month, called "Freemasonry Is?"

In trying to classify Freemasonry into “operational styles,” I have observed what I perceive to be four distinctive styles. They are philosophical, sociological, political, and charitable. These styles are based upon the emphasis placed on them by the jurisdictions where they are found and in turn the jurisdictions have evolved into that particular approach as a result of societal pressures. The tenets of Freemasonry were ever present, but the forces driving the fraternity made it relevant to the social structure in which it existed. In almost all environments where Freemasonry is found, its character has been shaped by the society it’s in. (The only exception that I have found was in early Russian Freemasonry prior to Catherine the Great where the fraternity tended more to shape its society.)

European Freemasonry, for example, operates in more of what I refer to as the “philosophical style,” retaining much of the philosophical and intellectual approach to the Craft from the age of the Enlightenment. South and Central America, although retaining much of the philosophical style, are more idealistic as a result of the pressures of their societies, hence I have termed it a “sociological style.” Mexico, on the other hand, has a tendency to be more involved politically, and for lack of a better term I refer to Mexican Freemasonry as a “political style.”

The character of Freemasonry is almost paradoxical in the sense that even as it changes it remains the same. North American Freemasonry has probably deviated more from its roots than any other form of Freemasonry and has developed into an almost pure “charitable style” to the neglect of much of the philosophical character for which it is known over most of the world. Dr. E. Scott Ryan in his book, The Theology of Crime and the Paradox of Freedom, observed, “The wonderful work of Masonic charities is by no means synonymous with the wonderment of Masonic spirituality—and that’s a shame, when one considers how many fine charities there are and how few fine spiritualities there are”. Although we do not normally regard Freemasonry as spirituality, much of its character tends to edge it close to that niche. Any attempt, however, at a universal definition of Freemasonry based upon North America’s charitable style could not be successful, and yet even as it is different, it remains the same; it continues to be Freemasonry.

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