Way back in the mists of time, I went to University (well, a Polytechnic, actually…) to study to become a Teacher. My two main subjects were English and Religious Studies. The first thing we studied when we began the Religious Studies course was the question of how you define what a religion actually is. I won’t bore you with the details (as if I remember them!) but, essentially, for a religion to be a Religion, it is generally accepted that it has to have certain attributes: a specific Deity, its own sacraments, festivals, Holy places, scriptures, to name a few. Freemasonry does not have these and so it clearly does not qualify as a Religion.
However, Freemasonry is undoubtedly religious in its nature. We often refer to our meeting-rooms as Temples; we say prayers, we sing hymns, we invoke God’s blessing on all that we do; the main qualification for membership is that we believe in a Supreme Being. To suggest that Freemasonry is just a social club or a place where we go for ‘fun’ is to belittle its aspirations and to deny its heart. It may not be a Religion as such but it is deeply religious and so cannot, in all honesty, be said to be a secular organisation because secular means,‘non-religious, worldly, temporal or profane’ and I don’t think any of those words describe us.
It is true that Freemasonry, as an organisation, must maintain its neutral stance on matters of religion and politics. It’s vital to the survival of the Order that we are above such worldly divisions. That aloofness is also one of our greatest strengths in that it allows us to provide a common ground of peace and goodwill to people who might struggle to find them elsewhere in this often-divided world. There is a danger, though, that can lead us to mistake a necessary neutrality for a lack of purpose and a lack of clarity. We are an organisation devoted to promoting integrity and morality in their widest sense but we have never taken the step of divorcing morality from the Divine Will – in other words from Religion. Our implicit recognition that there are many ways to practice Religion is testament to our profound understanding of the Truth that underlies all religions, but the fact remains that we are, as an organisation, essentially religious in our nature.
And as for whether or not we ‘deal in Spirituality.’ well, again, I think we have to recognise that, as an organisation, we can make no claims to offer Spiritual salvation but as individuals, that is often precisely what we are seeking, sometimes unknowingly. If we are dedicated to making ourselves better people, what does that mean? What are we? What is our true nature? Surely these questions lead us down a Spiritual path. It’s not that Freemasonry, per se, is offering itself as a road to enlightenment but that the values and ways of living that Freemasonry supports and encourages are those supported and practised by Spiritual paths throughout the ages.
In my eyes, all of life is a Spiritual journey but I recognise that, for others, it is not…well, not yet, at any rate. So, too, we must understand that for some Freemasonry is just a social club; for others it is just a source of fun and camaraderie. I have no issues with that. It is those things as well, and maybe other things, too, to other people. But the point is that I choose to see it as part of my Spiritual journey and as a guide and a support on my way and, as I choose it, so it is for me.
So does Freemasonry ‘deal in spirituality?’ Grand Lodge says no and I can understand what they mean by that up to a point. But if we want Freemasonry to be the ‘broad church’ (sorry!) that it is, we should not make it so at the expense of denying what, for many, is its essence and its heart. Our Order has that within it which can be understood as deeply Spiritual. We need to acknowledge that, but at the same time we must also acknowledge that, for each individual Freemason, Freemasonry is what he (or she) chooses it to be.
So…not a Religion.
But…definitely religious in nature.
And Spiritual? You decide…