Reforming the Gods?

Reforming the Gods?

I was participating in an Esoteric Book study group last week when I heard the phrase, “reforming the gods.” I’ve heard, often, about how God reforms us, how theology can be reformed, but not about how humans reform the gods. It sounded like hubris, to me. What does one mean when they say, “we or he is attempting to reform the gods?”

To reform something is to take it apart, piece by piece, and use the material to create some new form, some new “thing” that is ostensibly better than the old “thing.” To reform the gods, in the simplest of terms, is to take what we know of our gods and create something new from their forms, from their essence. That sounds like no easy task. We are reshaping all that we understand about the gods, or God, and forming it into something we think best. Again, hubris.

The question is, how does the human being reform their gods? Perhaps simple devotion turns into radical fanaticism. Perhaps, they do it through their own misinterpretation of the mores, customs, and dogma of religion or society, forming the rules to bend to their will. Their desires. They mix the idea of the divine will with their own, seeking to meld them, or seeking to justify them?

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with A Thousand Faces, in the section on Initiation, states:

Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions to the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. The rest of the world…is left outside his sympathy and protection because (it is) outside the sphere and protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world.

In thinking about this, I wonder if the way humans use language to express their thoughts affects our theology in much the same ways that language and biology and culture are inextricably linked. We may think there is evolution of biology but isn’t there evolution of culture as well? And if they are both evolving, we, as humans and as part of it, are evolving language to keep pace. It makes sense that our theology would evolve to survive. Surely it is adaptation that creates the lineage, not merely perseverance. Yet, evolution comes in many forms, and we know species have evolved themselves extinct: not their their own will but by the vehicles of adaptation to hostile and temporary environments. Extremes cannot last.

xSymbols_Masonic_collage_240x359.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ak16jJjibbFreemasonry, in some odd ways, has not yielded to that adaptation of culture and language; yet, in some ways, it has. We have the dusty Freemasonry of old which contains the ritual forms unchanged from time immemorial. It is the ritual kept pristine, trappings kept shiny, and only the briefest whiff of questioning outside of the aforementioned monitors and rituals. It is a Freemasonry that is solid in its roots but has nothing above ground where the Light can shine on it.

Then we have a Freemasonry that is on the cusp of something larger than its predecessors. Like evolution, institutions keep pace with culture. In this, Freemasonry is global. It is foundational that Freemasonry uses symbols to communicate – a global language. It has been carried to many places by traveling Freemasons, establishing Lodges wherever they rest. It cannot help but be global, and even the dusty “old” Freemasonry is global. This means it must evolve to the pressure from waves of global cultural epigenetics. If it does not, it goes the way of the dinosaur – remembered in tar pits and gasoline tanks, museums and historical sites. It will become the backbone of a new Freemasonry which seeks to live up to its lofty goals of tolerance, solidarity, equality, and liberty for all human beings. This includes people of all races, creeds, genders, sexual orientation, and ages. The basic virtues of Freemasonry hold to the quality of the person, not these divisive human characteristics. This is a Freemasonry that is building itself on the roots of the old, pushing up through the dirt, and beginning to grow in the sun.

Campbell, in the same chapter makes the case.

Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense. The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealots to preach, but reluctant apparently to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children.

The trappings of religious dogma are “pedantic snares” which need to be kept “ancillary” to the main virtues of the message. Yet, we humans struggle with this. We struggle every day to interpret and misinterpret the meaning of philosophical and religious text, holding onto what Dr. Wayne Dyer called “an erroneous zone” that inhibits how we function in life. We can’t think differently and when change does come, the adaptive change to flow with evolution, we balk.

language_evolutionSome of the Freemasonic Lodges, in the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, altered their formats. Some shuttered and closed for the duration, their members being higher risk than the average population. Others went to doing online independent study sessions, one-offs, and some did podcasts. These are some good adaptations, evolution created by the younger and more tech-savvy population. Those that are in touch with cultural changes.

Other Masonic Lodges and Orders adapted even further. Short rituals have been created for some Lodge get-togethers that, while not regular meetings with ritual, gathered everyone together on a teleconference to discuss relevant essays and writings. It is “the short form” of a meeting that maintains consistency and yet adapts to the world needs. Brothers still share fraternal talk, brotherly love, and some relief from the ills that surround us all. Masonic philosophical talks, for one group, went from being in-person, to online, with an even greater attendance – up to 100% more individuals registered than in previous meetings. Discussion and debate are lively and energizing, allowing people to take away greater ideas than they had at the beginning of the meeting. This doesn’t supplant the ritual of Freemasonry nor the need for integration of mind, body and spirit into the form of Freemasonry. It is adaptation to survive, to thrive, in a world of fear and chaos and change.

I don’t see that a Freemasonry which adapts and flows with the world needs is a Freemasonry attempting to reform their gods. On the contrary; it is ensuring that Freemasonry isn’t dogma, that it’s not allowed to stall and collect dust, thereby ensuring its demise. We have to allow for change, for evolution, else we are destined to fall to an extreme, then wither and die. No. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to wake up, change the path we’re on, and try something new. It is thoughtful change, slow but progressive, which keeps the blood pumping and the cells growing. Perhaps it is the cells and blood that instigate the change, Darwinian-style, to create the new culture. It doesn’t take a Duchovnyian leap of logic to figure out that we need to adapt lest we die.

Freemasonry is dead. Long Live Freemasonry.

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

“I can’t teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” 

So says Socrates, a great thinker of his time in Ancient Greece. He was known for educating his disciples by asking questions and thereby drawing out answers from them, called the Socratic method. The goal was to nudge people to examine their own beliefs, instead of unthinkingly inheriting opinions from others. The approach was a way for his students to find the truth of anything. Thinkers have venerated the method ever since. It really worked for the Greeks.

I have always had a fascination with Greek culture. I particularly enjoy studying Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I also admit to getting lost in Greek mythology at times, enjoying Greek food, and have always secretly wished that I could dance like a Greek goddess.

Given the above, it seems only reasonable I should find myself honing in on Socrates. Mind you, I am no authority on the great ones of the ancient past, other than being humbled by their wisdom and insight. Socrates is for me the most interesting of the three: a perspective I am sure many might agree and equally as many might disagree.

There are two statements that Socrates made that I found particularly thought-provoking. 

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.”

The first quote that starts, “To know, is to know that you know nothing” is a paradox right off the bat. Yet, instinctively, somehow, I understand the entire point and it makes sense even while being a total paradox! And the second quote struck me as so linked and interrelated to the first one. One would be hard pressed to assert one carries more11873522964_9cb8eb5a44_b weight than the other or to even think about them separately. 

How can we know what we don’t know? Does the Socratic method offer us a technique to advance towards the light of true knowledge? 

Plato’s Dialogue: It’s About the Questioning

Socrates said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In other words, question everything. I recently read the statistic that children through the ages 2-5 ask roughly 40,000 questions. I have wondered why, as we go through into adulthood, the number of questions we ask drops significantly. 

We know through the writings of Plato, the student of Socrates, that he was often quizzed by his teacher about deeper realities. Red Rose in the GardenIn “Plato’s Dialogues,” we can read short works in which Plato recreates various conversations Socrates had with another student. And thus, we get a really good idea of the Socratic method. 

The style of a Platonic dialogue may go something like this:

Q: “What color is the rose in the garden?”
A: “The rose in the garden is red.”
Q:”Is this rose still red to a blind person?”
A: No.
Q: “So you are saying the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “What color would it be to a blind person? Would it be pink or white or some other color?”
A: (No answer – student is bewildered).
Q: “So the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “If the rose in the garden is where no one can see it, is it still red?”
A: (No answer – further bewilderment).

And so on. The questioner might end up forcing a realization in the student of how color only exists in a person’s mind as a result of their perception; it isn’t actually a property of the rose. In other words, the rose is not red.

Socrates believed there were two ways to come to knowledge: through discovery and by being taught. To be taught presupposes that someone else has discovered the truth for you. He thought for his disciples to really know a subject, they should form their own beliefs and experience their own blind alleys and realizations.tunnel-2033983_960_720

How does this idea of discovery relate to the path of a Freemason? 

From Darkness to Light

Every Freemason is on a quest to discover his “true self.”  He is taught the importance of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which logic is one of them. The study of critical thinking and reasoning allows the Freemason to look beyond mere perception and dogma in the search for truth. In this way, it is possible to forge a path to moral, scientific, and philosophical enlightenment. “To know nothing” is leaning into the next moment, wondering what you are going to find. It is a form of being blindfolded or hoodwinked, waiting for more light. 

It was in Freemasonry that I really learned to embrace the journey from darkness to light, to become a friend of the Socratic method, and learn to be humble in what I don’t know. When I first joined, a poor blind candidate, I was asked probing questions about the First Degree. Questions like, “What does it mean to know thyself?” and “Is truth absolute or relative?” I was asked to explore the relationships among concepts and ideas. For example, I had to compare two types of symbols and to explain how they are similar, how they are different, or evaluate the meanings of each. 

Over the many masonic degrees, my mentors have pointed me in the direction of truth only to glorify the beauty of the group vision and the image of enlightenment. 

The Freemason W.L. Wilmshurst said:

“Truth, whether as expressed in Masonry or otherwise, is at all times an open secret, but is as a pillar of light to those able to receive and profit by it, and to all others but one of darkness and unintelligibility.”

I think he is saying that truth is a mysterious something that is sensed, even though the truthrational mind may try to discredit it. The ability to sense this invitation to truth, even when the path is dark and hidden, is perhaps the most important lesson to consider here. “The future I do not see. One step enough for me.” 

My takeaway from the Socratic method is this: Remember how little you know, question everything, and keep your mind open to other possibilities. If all goes well, truth is our travel companion from darkness to light.  What do you ask for? 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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