I have read with considerable interest the paper found in the reading room entitled Preparing For Change - The Next Generation Of Freemasons BY W.Bro. Max Rush. The difficulty I have with W.Bro. Rush's paper is that it remains quite unclear as to the changes which he is suggesting are either desirable or inevitable. Therefore the following comments may in fact miss the mark.
It is interesting to see him refer to the familiar phrase "It is not within our collective power as masons to make innovations in the body of Freemasonry." No doubt this phrase has been indelibly imprinted on the minds of the members of the Craft and has unfortunately served as an impediment for sensible adaptation of the structure and operation of the Craft as an organization to changing times. However, it is my view that such an attitude is founded in a FUNDAMENTAL MISUNDERSTANDING of the phrase itself. Consequently, our refusal to adapt is based on the Crafts inability to interpret the phrase in a symbolic or philosophical even though it seems reasonably clear that the Draftsmen so intended. A brief explanation my be useful.
If the phrase were to be interpreted and applied literally, it would mean that someone intended that the Craft in its organization, practices, and structure, would remain unchanged "until time should be no more." It is doubtful that the Draftsmen of our ritual who were themselves steeped in the thinking of the enlightenment and of whom many were spearheads for social change within the outside world had any such intention.
The question then lies "well what did they mean?" or "why was the phrase included?" The answer to this, I would respectfully suggest, lies in philosophy. However, before we delve into the argument it is necessary to make one vital distinction in relation to our ritual. The ritual often refers to physical or structural things .... but this is solely to give imagery and concreteness to a purely conceptual idea. A simple example of this may suffice. In the first degree in the Canadian rite we see a reference to the fact that our lodges "stretch from east to west, from the surface of the earth to its centre, and even as high as the heavens." It is of course quite absurd to interpret this phrase in a literal sense because it is perfectly obvious that our lodges in physical dimensions are quite limited ... and in fact occupy a single room within the Temple. Although there are many interpretations of this phrase .... one possible explanation shows that it is intended to be interpreted symbolically. That interpretation is this..... that when the Junior Warden refers to LODGES he is not talking about a room where masons meet .... he is talking about THE MIND OF MAN. In this sense the Junior Warden is bringing to the candidate that lesson which the Enlightenment had taught the world, namely, THE MIND OF MAN IS A WONDROUS AND LIMITLESS CREATION. It is a testimony to "Man's Unconquerable Mind."
In like manner the phrase "It is not within our collective power as masons to make innovations in the body of Freemasonry" IS NOT INTENDED to be a statement that the organizational structure and the methods of operating of Freemasons cannot change. It is intended to invoke an infinitely more philosophical train of thought. Freemasonry here is, I suggest, synonymous with the concept of RIGHTEOUSNESS and the concept of UNIVERSAL MORALITY. If it is understood in this way then the phrase in question lays down a very profound (albeit debatable point) .... that there is a universal righteousness which pervades the earth and which like natural law ... no man can change. This idea is reflected in the writings of that outstanding American moralist, Emerson whose equation of fundamental and basic moral values with nature suggests the eternal and unchangeable quality of Universal Goodness. If the quoted passage from our ritual is understood in this sense then it has some validity and relevance to modern freemasonry. What the passage is intending to teach is that there exists a Universal Law of Morality and by its very nature it pervades all the universe and is a constant apriori truth which mere mortal men cannot change. It is difficult to believe that the phrase was ever intended to be so shallow as to suggest that we cannot change the procedures of the sociological structures or physical organizations which Freemasons create to administer there affairs. If the foregoing is incorrect then one wonders why we faithfully have Grand Lodge Communications to deal with amendment to our Constitutions and other matters.
Having made the foregoing argument I must confess that I see no impediment to our making changes in the organization. However at the same time I often think that some of the proposed changes are motivated by the same misunderstanding of our ritual as I have attempted to expose in my previous argument.
However, the one REALITY which we must address our attention to is the one outlined by Worshipful Bro. Rush when he refers to the fact that in this busy world imposed on young men they only have 5 hours a month to devote to the organized events of Freemasonry. If we combine this with a second REALITY namely: that young men have a wide diversity of interests and then look critically at our lodge structure and recognize that we have only one career path for masons .... namely through the chairs to the Throne of King Solomon, we will begin to see one of the major dilemmas in our system of doing things. Our problem is that not every young man who kneels before the alter wants to become a ritualist and proceed through the chairs to become the worshipful master of his lodge. They have other very masonic interests which they would like to pursue within the lodge structure and yet there is in reality no other career pattern for them within the Craft Lodge structure. As a result they either lose interest and stop coming to Lodge, or they are forced to proceed with the only career pattern that we offer and we lose their talents in the field of Charity and a host of other legitimate activities. The net result is that our lodges become degree factories in which the only objective is to ensure that the ritual is performed. Possibly thoughtful masons such as W.Bro. Rush may consider that there is merit in an idea which has evolved in discussions between myself and Bro. G. Helmer. Maybe we should have several career paths within a Lodge and those masons who dedicate several years to promoting charity, masonic education, public service or whatever could ultimately become rewarded with the rank of VIRTUAL PAST MASTER. In this sense the Craft would know that they had not served as the Master of their Lodge, but their masonic contribution was of such a nature to establish that they are a Master of the Royal Art.
I would appreciate any comments whether favourable or unfavourable to the foregoing proposition. In so saying, I have never held to the view that a mason who bluntly disagrees with my ideas is acting unmasonically. In fact most masons who know me intimately consider it an integral part of the fulfillment of their obligation to explain to me that I am quite full of it. However, I would ask you to consider the idea since it may not be the solution to the problem I have pointed out, but if we do not make some change in our method of operating the problem will continue to exist.