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.

Truth and Belief

Truth and Belief

By The V. Ills. Bro. George S. Arundale 33o

I said that I would tell you something of the truths I hold, not of all the truths I hold, but of those which are at the foundation—my ultimate truths. There is, I feel, one truth of truths, one truth which includes all others—the Unity of All Life. We know science has demonstrated that life is everywhere, though the word ”life” is not so easy to define; shall we say ‘’growth,” “unfoldment”?

In every kingdom of Nature, life is all-pervading. Even that which we call death is only change. We know that not only do our individualities persist after death, but also that the physical body, whence the individuality has departed, is not in itself dead, though it disintegrates.

Every particle of nature is life, whether, for purposes of our own, we call it “dead” or “alive.” But what is more, is that this all-pervading life is essentially one, whatever its form—the same fundamental characteristics everywhere, as science again knows. Here these characteristics sharper, keener, more definite, more sensitive, more complex; there these characteristics duller, simpler, vaguer. But the same vital principles, the same type of reaction to external stimulus.

THE KINGDOM OF NATURE

In every kingdom of Nature, there is some kind of feeling or sensation, some kind of happiness, some kind of fear, some kind of disease or illness, some kind of death. It sounds too strange to be true, yet science asserts these facts. They can be demonstrated by physical experiments.

We do not generally associate these conditions either with the mineral, the vegetable, or the animal kingdom; but that is our ignorance. We must readjust ourselves to the fact of the Unity of all Life, which means the Brotherhood of all Life, and when we say Brotherhood we contact the second great truth, the logical sequence from the first. It is that life grows, evolves. No stopping still. And we begin to talk of a ladder of this growing, of a ladder of evolution, with rung upon rung marking the different stages of growth, or of expansion.

Hence, each kingdom of Nature represents a stage of growth or unfoldment. Dull characteristics of life in the mineral kingdom. Less dull characteristics, increasing sensitiveness, in the vegetable kingdom. Still greater sensitiveness in the animal, greater definiteness, more power of movement, increased complexity of unfoldment. And then the human kingdom in which you and I are.

We probably know more or less what it is that makes us different from animals mind, for one thing, conscience for another, bigger purpose for a third, and so on. But the same life, just as there is the same life in the acorn as in the oak. Nourishment may be derived from outside, but it would be of little use unless the acorn could take it in, had the sagacity to assimilate it.

What do we conclude from all this? Surely that the human kingdom is not the final stage of growth. If kingdoms below us, why not kingdoms beyond us? Do we know nothing of them? No, nor do most animals know aught of the human kingdom. But some animals do, and I claim that some humans know of kingdoms beyond the human. Perhaps Angels belong to one of these. Perhaps the great Teachers and Saviors of the world belong to one of these.

THE BROTHERHOOD OF MANKIND

“Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

Ought we not to try to understand a little more what this brotherhood means—brothers younger than ourselves, our brothers the animals, as Saint Francis so beautifully realized and practiced; our brothers the trees, the flower, the shrub, the grass, yes, and the weeds, and the prickly pear; our brothers the stones, the humble youngest brother stones and the flower of the mineral kingdom—the diamond, the ruby, the sapphire, the emerald. Read what Ruskin says about the lives of these beautiful brothers in his “Ethics of the Dust.” But all this is about younger brothers.

There are our equal brothers, our human brothers, some, perhaps, not quite so old as others, but less distance between them than between us and our animal, vegetable and mineral brothers. No distinctions of race, or creed, or caste, or sex, or color, make any difference. These are all superficial.

Sometimes in our pride, we like to think ourselves superior. Sometimes we think people inferior because they look different from ourselves, eat differently, dress differently, sleep differently, live differently, feel and think and speak differently. That is merely a passing phase of self-preservation. What we are and have we like best; it is largely habit, and no doubt it is, to a certain extent, though not merely as much as we think, best for us. But then we begin to make the fatal mistake of imagining that it is therefore best for everybody else, and that people who have different things have worse things—a different religion, therefore a worse religion; different customs, therefore worse customs, a different nationality; therefore, a worse nationality. Very childish, and very untrue, of course; but not unnatural at a certain stage, though by this time the world ought to be quitting some of its childish ways.

ASCENDING THE LADDER

Now, if there are our younger brothers and our equal brothers, logic demands that there shall be elder brothers, some a little older but not much, some considerably older, some far older, so much older that we cannot imagine their human origin, it is so far back. The Great Saviors are our Eldest Brethren.

The life so perfect and magnificent in Them has been on every rung of the great ladder of life, and now has reached, well, I dare not say the topmost rung—who shall set a limit to God’s omnipotence—but on a rung far removed from our own, so far removed that for us it is the top: we can see and dream no further. And, yet, mark you, there are the two great lines that hold the rungs together, stretching from the bottom, as we must call it, to the top as we must equally call it—one ladder, one path, one origin, one goal. We look beneath us and see where our footsteps have been placed. We gaze above us and perceive the places on which our feet have yet to stand. And on each rung we see the clinging life, stretching ever upwards to the rung above.

I do not think I want or need any more truths. This unity, this evolution, this immeasurable and transcendent brotherhood, this certainty, this purpose, this power—what more do I need to make life intelligible and wonderfully worth living?

WHAT IS GOD?

Do I need God? All is God. I have been speaking of God all the time. I am God. You are God. The animal is God. The vegetable is God. The mineral is God. God is the ladder, God the rung, God the growth, God the origin and end, if end there be.

What do I mean by God? I mean Life. Is there a Person God? I do not know, nor need I care, for there are Those on rungs above me Who are enough Gods to give me all that God could give. Perhaps the sun, the Giver of Life, perhaps He is God; but who shall say He is God the ultimate? And who need care. His sunshine is our growth, come that sunshine whence it may.

Do I need to say that God is Love? When I know the brotherhood, I know love. Only as I am ignorant of the brotherhood of life are my eyes blinded to the all-pervading love. Love is everywhere. Life disproves this, you say. I say to you:

Know the brotherhood of life, and you shall perceive the Love of God.

Do I need to say that God is justice? When I know the brotherhood of life I know His justice. Only ignorance blinds me to His justice.

TO KNOW TRUTH

Hard to believe? Hard to understand? Truth needs ardent wooing, my brothers, relentless pursuit, tireless search, unfaltering desire.

To know Truth, you must unflinchingly examine your beliefs, your opinions, your conception, your prejudices, and your orthodoxies in the clear light of your most exalted self, your highest self.

When you are at your noblest, how do all these things strike you? When you merge your lower self in the greater self under the transmuting magic of wondrous music, of noble utterance, of soul-stirring landscape, of sight or hearing of fine heroism, do you not for a moment, even if only for a moment, feel one with all the world? Do you not feel your brotherhood with all? Do you not feel as if you could do anything for anybody? Do you not see ns petty much that in the lower self you thought as right and proper? Do you not feel, just for the moment, as if you could do great things, were dedicated to a noble mission and exalted purposes?

Such, my friends, is the real you, the you that can climb, must and snail climb, rung after rung beyond the one on which you stand. In such a self, not only do you know these truths of which I have been speaking, you have become these truths; you are these truths. And you perceive how gloriously worthwhile it is to climb, if such are the heights which shall be reached, if such the glory into which you enter. The vision fades, perchance, as the magic ceases. But, nevermore, can you stay where you are.

ONWARD AND FORWARD

Evermore must you climb, and you know that the Truth of truths—the Unity of Life—means that we climb together, that we cannot climb alone, and that, therefore, there is no climbing save as we aid others to climb. We climb as we seek the feet of Those who are stretched on the Cross of Loving Sacrifice.

May each one of us become a Cross of Loving Sacrifice! For the Way of the Cross is the hope of the world!

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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