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Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 09:03
by felixfabulous
I have been enjoying the Netflix docuseries Inside the Freemasons. Unlike the bad exposes that are always playing on cable channels, this is a British series that follows real Freemasons and goes into the history and practice.

I have been interested in Masonry ever since I first heard about it in high school. The more I've looked at Masonry, the more of a connection I see with Joseph Smith and Mormonism, not just the temple and the Lodge in Nauvoo, but all through the Book of Mormon and right from the beginning. I've heard a few things recently (The Lucy Code on Youtube and Kathleen Melonakos interview with John Dehlin) that strongly suggest that the temple endowment was intended to be an appendant rite to Masonry, meaning a special order or ritual designed for Mormon Masons. This would make a lot of sense in connection with the timing of opening the Lodge in Nauvoo and the unmistakable parallels of the two rituals. It was also a work in progress with the idea that it would be fleshed out over time and why Joseph and Brigham tried so hard to have Mormon Masonic lodges.

But, the main takeaway from me with this study is that Masonry is filled with lore, ritual and symbolism. When it first started in the middle ages, people believed the literal truth claims, namely that this was hidden knowledge passed down from Solomon's Temple. But, this quickly evolved into a set of stories that teach truths and rituals that really solidify these truths with the goal of making good men better. Most Masons during the enlightenment and through the modern time did not believe the literal truth claims of Masonry, but saw it as metaphor to teach truth. Most Masons were deists.

It made me hopeful that there is space in the Church to appreciate the underlying truths taught and reinforced, even if one is not a literal believer. I think a central tenant of Mormonism is to "make good men [and women] better." I think another key truth is forging strong family and community ties, which is what makes the Church so incredible. The vehicle for teaching these truths is a very structured and regimented system that gives people order in their lives and how they see the world theologically. You know what is expected, the rules to follow to get you there and you get structure, community and a pathway to personal improvement. For many, this is life changing, especially in poor countries, a lot of Church members are able to have socioeconomic mobility and new opportunities.

The million-dollar question is how do you change the system to accommodate literal believers (which are preferred) and non-literal believers (who may be less committed)? We seem to be in the beginning stages of exploring this as a possibility. I also am curious if there are people who have been able to appreciate the temple ritual as non-literal believers.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 11:52
by Curt Sunshine
Even with the sexist elements of the endowment, I like the temple ordinances specifically because they are symbolic and never were intended to be literal. Literalists can't see that, but multiple church leaders have said it plainly and clearly.

Particularly, I like the reality that everyone who starts the endowment process ends up in the Celestial Kingdom, even if they don't remember a thing about the process itself. Just showing up and staying brings the ultimate end. I think that embodies all-encompassing grace and applies outside the temple and the Church, given our focus on doing ordinances for everyone who ever has lived. I know most members don't see it that way, but it seems clear to me.

I like the statement that every person is prepared to officiate in the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood, even if that isn't happening right now outside the temple. I see it as a clear statement of what should be, if we can move past the incorrect traditions of our fathers.

I like the fact that I know the process well enough that I can stop listening and let my mind be open to whatever hits it. I have had some amazing insights while ignoring the "physical endowment ceremony" and trying to access a "spiritual endowment" in a quiet, reverent setting.

If I had to take it literally, I would not enjoy it. Period. That isn't required, so I can enjoy it on my own terms.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 12:31
by dande48
felixfabulous wrote:
17 Oct 2018, 09:03
The million-dollar question is how do you change the system to accommodate literal believers (which are preferred) and non-literal believers (who may be less committed)?
One of the underlying tenants of Christianity is "faith". It's not enough to be a "good person". You have to believe the right things. In fact, I'd say most of Christianity holds that believing in the right things is more important than being a "good person", since believing in Christ, and the right things about Christ, is what's necessary to receive of His grace and be "saved".

It's why we are so vehement about sharing our faith, converting others to our religion, and correcting other's theological misconceptions. The shift from a literally believing in a specific point of doctrine, to a metaphorical belief (such as black's skin being a curse, or woman being formed from the rib of a man), is a gradual, largely congruous one. It shifts according to current values, and only if it helps to maintain a literal belief in the core tenants.

If you want to accommodate both groups as a whole, you'd need to focus on the common ground (the principles) and shy away from the differences (belief). But with "correctness of belief" being a core tenant of all religion, I doubt this could ever really happen.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 12:58
by GBSmith
I'm interested as a master mason as to the reasons JS adopted and adapted the ritual. Was it to teach, add another level of charisma to ensure loyalty of his inner circle, further enforce secrecy to keep everything quiet about polygamy, introduce his ideas of sealing and family ties as regards salvation and exaltation? One thing that may have to be edited out is BYs contribution that the signs, tokens, and key words were necessary to be able to pass the sentinels and return to the Father if taking a non literal approach is needed. In looking at the covenants it's interesting that two of them deal with commitment, obedience, and total financial support of the church.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 14:16
by felixfabulous
GBSmith, you bring up many of the issues that I have encountered with the ritual after adopting a non-literal view. Is the ritual focused on aiding personal spiritual progression or in entrenching loyalty and obedience to the institution? If you are a literal believer, they are one in the same, but with a non-literal belief, it's hard to see a lot there to teach and encourage spiritual development that is not tied to obedience.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 14:39
by GBSmith
felixfabulous wrote:
17 Oct 2018, 14:16
If you are a literal believer, they are one in the same, but with a non-literal belief, it's hard to see a lot there to teach and encourage spiritual development that is not tied to obedience.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 16:27
by DoubtingTom
There was a time as a non-literal believer when I tried to separate the “presentation of the endowment” from the endowment itself. I saw the presentation as the adoption and borrowing of certain masonic elements that are actually non-essential to the actual endowment itself, which I saw as the covenants made. Joseph could have borrowed a different means of presentation or made up his own. Masonry was convenient because it was known to many and familiar and because there was a lore attached to Solomon’s temple. It was an easy way to present the endowment, had covenants of secrecy which was especially important at the time polygamy was being secretly introduced, but perhaps not the only way the endowment could have been given.

I say I tried to see it this way because it was still difficult. Even when I focused just on the endowment itself, I became uncomfortable with the gender discrepancies and the oaths of loyalty, even my life, to the Church, rather than to God or Christ. That began to feel culty and a little creepy to me. But for a time it did help me to separate the two and try to focus on the essentials.

I still appreciate the temple can be a quiet meditative place where people feel they have access to special insights for their lives. I just feel I can access my own quiet insights through more accessible locations that don’t require me to participate in elements I now feel uncomfortable with.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 17 Oct 2018, 16:47
by SamBee
There are some decent British documentaries on this subject available online. I agree that the American ones tend to be full of trash.

I have a good friend who is a Mason and he tells me a lot about what goes on in the lodges, and he's shown me his apron and regalia etc. He is not in good standing (he smokes too much of the maple leaf roll ups), but he tells me things like how the local membership is aging and how many of the local lodges will merge.

I think the very nature of Masonry does lend itself to suspicion and abuse. Like our temple, when you're doing stuff behind closed doors, which is ritualistic in nature, people get suspicious. And when people meet up behind closed doors in a tightknit fraternal organization, with that external hostility, that's when people start to abuse those social connections.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 18 Oct 2018, 05:34
by felixfabulous
Good points. One other interesting tie, these are the first lines of a very famous poem by Robert Burns, the Scottish Poet. The powem is a farewell to his Masonic Lodge and it was a popular poem among Masons at the time and I believe it still is:

Farewell to the Brethren

Adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu;
Dear brothers of the mystic tie!

This could be Joseph using language he had heard in this poem in the translation process or a wink and nod to Masons reading the BOM.

Re: Masonry and Metaphor

Posted: 18 Oct 2018, 06:08
by GBSmith
I think many people find a great deal in attending the temple for no other reason than the feeling they get in a beautiful place that's quiet and peaceful and filled with good decent people. It represents the devotion of people to family history and to their own families, a hope for their marriages, time taken sometimes a significant sacrifice to just do something good. My wife was a temple worker some years ago when in grad school at ASU and talked about how much she loved being in a place that felt holy. I may have issues with some things but not with trying to connect with something divine, wherever it may be found.