There was probably a time in world history, maybe even recent history, where the idea that you shouldn’t stab someone in the face for a minor slight against the character of your family pet was a revolutionary philosophy. Now it seems pretty common sense to most people. Well, depending where you live, I suppose.
My point is that if you’re knocking on a lodge door to find the great, unearthed secrets of life, the universe, and everything, you’re going to come up empty-handed. There may have been a time when these concepts were sparkly new, but the concepts Freemasonry teaches is already the backbone of modern Western philosophy, mined from the Semites, sculpted by the Greeks, polished by the Enlightenment, and perfected by inspirational bathroom reading books in the 1990s.
- Don’t be mean.
- If you think it’d be mean if someone did it to you, don’t do it to someone else.
- Try not to be so grumpy all the time.
- Don’t tell inappropriate jokes in professional settings.
- Always tip your server at least fifteen percent.
In other words, you already know what it means to be a good person. Come on, don’t BS me here. You know.
So why can’t you do it? Why is it so hard? Why does everyone already know these “mysteries” but can’t ever just pick the right option? Why is being so bad so tempting? Why are many of us threatened with eternal damnation, or more immediately, becoming a social pariah with a bad reputation and yet none of us can seem to just pick the good choice–which we can all clearly see–and just be a good person?
Honestly, it’s because you were born terrible, and it’s what you’ve got the most practice at.
And I don’t mean this as a concept of Original Sin. We don’t need to bring anything so theologically deep into this. Have you ever seen a baby? Babies are terrible. I mean, they’re fine for babies, but babies make terrible adults. They cry and whine when they don’t get what they want, and they want everything. When they’re old enough to beat on you, they’ll do that too. Babies only think of their own needs. Their concept of right and wrong, once the concept of right and wrong even occurs to them, is defined by whether or not they get in trouble. Babies are the worst adults, and as adults it’s our job to try to get them to not be such jerks all the time.
This is hard, because in their most crucial, formative years, babies get used to getting whatever they want, and having their complaints catered to. So it shouldn’t surprise us that even though we only live this way for a few years before life’s disappointments start creeping in, we’ve pretty much formulated a hard-to-break habit. And each of us is compelled to fall back on old habits when we’re faced with fatigue-inducing moral decisions. It’s our instinct to cry, kick, demand, hold our breath, and think only of our own immediate satisfaction. And even though we know we–we know–what we should do, we just can’t bring ourselves to do it, because it’s the safest, warmest, most fulfilling habit in the world to think of yourself.
Well, wait…if Freemasonry can’t teach me anything I don’t already know, and knowing things isn’t going to help me be a better man, then what’s the point?
The point is the Second Principle of Practical Freemasonry: The practice of freemasonry is the point of freemasonry.
The road is the destination.
Freemasonry is called “The Craft” because like all crafts, it is a discipline, and disciplines require constant, continuous practice. Even professionals at the top of their game, be it sports, music, writing, or anything; they need to practice. And not just in the “preparation for game day” sense, but the “that doctor just opened his own medical practice” sense.
And while we’re happy to practice our professions, and practice parenthood, and practice driving, all our lives, most of us never really understand that we have to practice goodness, and when you practice goodness so much that your annoying writer-friend steals your soul to make you a character in his newest novel, and that character is good guy, that’s when your practice has given you Good Character, which is the ultimate goal of freemasonry.
When Deep Thought, in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, finally spit out the underwhelming answer of “42!” to the Magratheans after seven and a half million years in response to the request for The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, the answer was essentially correct. Not 42, which is irrelevant nonsense. The answer was when he said:
“…the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
And then Deep Thought designed a second computer to spend ten years to find the question. And the kicker is after 17,500,000 years, the only ones who really got anything out of the whole ordeal were the two computers, because at least they were doing something.
Freemasonry, when done well, gives you a regular monthly, bi-weekly, or even weekly chance to practice goodness and character by interacting with others of different views, not stabbing them in the face, and contemplating your own place in the Universe in deep thought.