Masonry is a tradition of philosophical and spiritual light. It paints beautiful pictures about love and virtue, tells inspiring stories from the mythic and historic past about them, and repeatedly makes the case that we, our families, our communities, and our world can be better, indeed are better, because of our striving to be more virtuous and loving human beings. We pride ourselves on having had great humanitarians among our numbers, on funding large philanthropies that do incredibly wonderful things for people in need, and on our lodges supporting both members and non-members in various ways. And it is all true, but it is also a partial truth. There are shadows cast by all that light.
The rest of the truth is that we often fail. In fact, the failures can happen even before any outward effort to be more virtuous and loving can arise. We fail by choosing willful ignorance over caring attentiveness, by sacrificing compassion to self-interest, or by simply opting for ease and comfort in moral laziness rather than the hard work that love and virtue so often require. In Masonry, we fail in these ways both individually and collectively, and it is always hurtful to someone in some way.
There may be nothing more disappointing than hypocrisy, and nothing more devastating when it is about love and virtue. In more than 30 years as a Mason, I have witnessed many forms of hypocrisy in Masonry. I have observed individual egos running rampant under the banner of selflessness, members seeking the approval of the popular and powerful over standing with the shunned and defenseless, and entire groups of brothers convincing themselves to hide vicious, petty, and self-aggrandizing intentions behind façades of honor, integrity, and loyalty. Furthermore, I have watched such things lead men to leave the Fraternity in disgust and even become its opponents. Most sadly, I have seen hearts crushed, reputations ruined, and friends become hostile foes. It must also be said that I have silently stood by or even played a more active role in such things more times than I care to admit. It can be painfully humbling to look back and realize the extent to which one semi-consciously turned away from opportunities to exercise a higher level of love and virtue.
At this point, it would be easy to begin excusing all these failings as common in humanity. We could take comfort in acknowledging that there is no religious or civic institution free from hypocrisy. With a resigning sigh, we might note the very human capacity for self-deception, and how unavoidable mixed motives and intentions can be. All of that would be true and understandable, but in our efforts to remain positive and not get sucked into malignant negativity, we should also avoid whitewashing the whole truth, slipping into complicit resignation or dismissing ourselves from responsibility and accountability. Our psychological shadows, whether individual or collective, must be faced, accepted, even welcomed in a way, for it is only in embracing the whole truth of what actually is that we find the greatest potential in building what can be. As our ritual says, truth is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue.
So, I close not with a summation or an attempt at inspiring rhetoric, but to ask some straightforward questions that might prove worthy of your contemplation.
- How have you been aware of Masonry’s shadows in yourself, others, or the Fraternity?
- In what ways have you helped create such shadows?
- How have you responded, both positively and negatively, to awareness of these things?
- How might you adjust your awareness and responsiveness to more fully engage the real work of striving to be more virtuous and loving? Try to think of at least one specific thing that you can do differently.