The Great Debate

By Brig Youngs - Head of Research at Richard Warburton Lodge

For my sins, I am currently the Head of Research in the West Wales Province’s Lodge of Education and Research.  Recently I have been tasked with producing a Paper entitled ‘The Spiritual  Dimension of the Craft’ and wishing to involve Brethren, asked for their comments and observations.  I had no idea of the difficulties I would encounter.

 

After repeated appeals I had only received half a dozen responses which proved to be of little value e.g. one on the diversity of religion and two others saying ‘religion’ couldn’t be discussed.  When I pointed out that ‘spirituality’ was different to ‘religion’, stunned silence was the result.

 

Frustrated, I contacted my Provincial Grand Orator (a member of Lodge) who suggested an initiative to break the impasse.  We should have a debate entitled ‘The Spirituality of the Craft – Has it any?’  The format was that the two of us would be afforded a ten minute presentation; one to argue ‘for’ and the other ‘against’.  On completion, we would allowed two minutes to respond, after which the subject matter could be thrown open for comment/debate.

 

The evening duly arrived after some publicity and on a most foul night some twenty Brethren attended.  After the Lodge was called off, the WM hosted proceedings and in light-hearted vein introduced the protagonists and outlined proceedings.  At this point the DC waded in as referee in charge of any towel that may have to be thrown in the ring.

 

The case against was given by our Bro. Orator, he being a Solicitor by profession.  I, opted to state the case ‘for’.  He began by quoting our current Deputy Grand Master in one of his Quarterly Communications emphatically stating that Freemasonry didn’t do spirituality {1}.  To support this statement he went on to give a brief history of the de-Christianisation of the Craft, claiming that this clearly demonstrated the UGLE stance on the subject, then and now.

 

I countered with the view that the statement from the Deputy Grand Master was, in my opinion, an error of judgement on his part; that he had clearly not understood the difference between what constitutes ‘religion’ or ‘spirituality’. Definitions were then given.  Next came some very basic indications of how spirituality is inextricably entwined in our Tradition e.g. Are not our Lodges orientated as all houses are so meant, or ought to be? Are they not consecrated and as such, holy ground?  Why are they often called ‘Temples’ if they are not for worship?

 

As the Deputy Grand Master had expressed his views as a direct result of an interview involving the Grand Chaplain, I asked what was a Chaplain’s remit?  Was he not responsible for the spiritual guidance of his ‘flock’?  Why do we have a Chaplain in a Lodge to conduct prayer if prayer is not a spiritual activity?

 

My opponent defended his position re-iterating we are not a religion and that ‘spirituality’ is associated with the concept of religion and would I provide more examples to demonstrate my point?  I obliged, this time turning to well-known extracts from Ritual.

 

This done, the WM invited Brethren to participate.  It was soon abundantly clear that not one Brother denied the Craft has a spiritual dimension.  However, some of the views expressed gave some cause for concern.  One newly raised Brother said that, as a practising Christian, he saw a deep spiritual content in all the Degree Ceremonies he had experienced, but to date, no-one had pointed this out to him.  Another Brother said that he’d been a Member of the Craft for over ten years and had not, as yet, found what he was searching for.

 

Although the writer appreciates that any enquirer should ask for guidance on their Masonic journey, some of the comments appeared to suggest that somehow the mentoring process was either not in evidence, or ineffective.

 

The UGLE obviously has, at long last, recognised that retention is one of their problems and has, this month (December 2018) launched its response in a Learning and Development initiative called, ‘Solomon’.

 

From my early exploration of this venture I conclude that it is an excellent tool to assist us in making, “...a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge”, and the information it contains oft refers to the spiritual dimension of our beloved Tradition.  It could be argued, strongly, that spirituality contains, by degree, a religious dimension.  However, it, in itself is not a religion.

 

It is of interest to note that The Holy Royal Arch certainly promulgates a spiritual content in its Tradition.  I quote “In England, the Royal Arch is considered to be the completion of "pure ancient Masonry". In the Craft the candidate is presented with a series of eminently practical principles and tenets which if he practises them he may hope to live a life pleasing to his God, however he worships him, and of service to his fellow man. But man is not simply a practical being, he has an essential spiritual aspect to his nature. That spiritual aspect is introduced in the Third Degree, in which the candidate is led to a contemplation of man's inevitable destiny, and becomes the central message of the Royal Arch. In that sense, "pure ancient Masonry" can be seen as a journey of self - knowledge and discovery with the Royal Arch completing the practical lessons of the Craft by a contemplation of man's spiritual nature, not replacing but reinforcing and supporting what he has learned from his religion.”{2}

 

Not all Brethren will agree that the Craft has a spiritual dimension but if they are not told of its existence, then they have been denied choice.  Do we all not have a duty to guide all who seek knowledge of the Self to the best of our ability?

 

1)            Speech by Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence to UGLE 14 Sept 2011.

 

2)            https://www.supremegrandchapter.org.uk/about-royal-arch-masonry/what-is-royal-arch-masonry

Book Your Own Debate

If your lodge would like to host a re-run of the debate, W Bro Elfan Bell is itching to have another go at making his secular argument and try and win round another audience. If you would like to book the Richard Warburton Debate please contact:

 

W Bro Brig Youngs

 e-mail research@wwmason.com

or tel 07805 045523

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