Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Power, Truth and Symbol

The power of the symbol is unmistakable. We only need to drive a vehicle, holding it steady, to one side or another of a dotted line to recognize its power and hold over our psyche and our behavior. If it were not recognized as such a powerful tool it would be enough to train drivers to simply stay on one side of the road. Yet, we provide this symbol as a strong and powerful reminder of just where we are supposed to stay.

If this word picture is not compelling then I ask you to imagine a man going to a large evangelical church with a pentagram on his chest, exposed for all to see and the reaction that he might receive.

The symbol is so powerful that simply rotating it can change the psychological and physiological response to it. Take the same pentagram worn by our churchgoer and rotate it upside and it seems more ominous and evil than before. Let’s take the cross, widely accepted in today’s culture as the central symbol of the Christian faith, and turn it upside down; now it is a symbol of Satan and the dark arts. I find it amazing that a simple 180 degrees can change a symbol of hope and regeneration into a symbol of black magic, demons, and despair.

Allow me to digress for a moment in an attempt to illustrate a point. One morning I had listened to CNN and the words “moral responsibility” popped out of someone’s mouth and what riveted my attention afterward was that it had been preceded by the words “Federal Government.” History teaches that whenever the government begins to administer and inflict a moral responsibility upon you, you can be certain that it has little to do with morality, responsibility, or common sense; so I listened.

This particular story was in regards to the Jenna Six and the noose as a symbol of hate. The story continued that the symbol of the noose should be banned because of its attachment to the innocent killing of African Americans. There will be those, with whom I will lose a little ground because once such a symbol enters into the story, the emotion attached is so powerful that reasonable debate and articulated reason leave the room. Regardless, I will continue with the illustration as I think it is a good one and an important one.

Trying to ban the noose as a symbol is a failure in recognizing the true power of the symbol. The problem with the logic of banning a symbol is that it is based on a presupposition that is completely false. That presumption is that banning the symbol of will ban or remove the belief behind it. This does not eradicate the true power of the symbol which is the belief system they represent. You could ban the cross and there would still be Christians, you could ban the noose and there would still be hate and bigotry.

This story also illustrates the degradation of the symbol to the worship of the symbol itself. When faith is not reasoned, educated, or investigated it has the tendency to move toward the favorite religion of the ignorant and lazy, which is idolatry in its most base sense. What is meant is that the worship of symbols without truly understanding the stories, allegories, and belief systems behind them. This shallowness of believe manifest in religious wars, bigotry, and religious intolerance so prevalent in today’s world. The ease of allowing someone else to tell you what you believe is intoxicating in ways and leads to the ignorant obedience to the pulpit. Never having picked up and read their own holy books, these so called believers, these worshipers of the symbol itself, have the audacity to condemn others who actually read theirs, screaming aloud that they are heretics, sinners, and doomed to some fiery fate. For instance, this was the threat of the Gnostic current within Christianity and why it was so harshly stamped out by those who saw the church as a political foundation for power to administer on behalf of God, which of course, they do through degrading the tradition to an almost superstitious belief in the symbols themselves. All of a sudden the wine is literally blood, holy water can repel evil spirits and the like.

Why all this talk of religion, of current events, of hate, idolatry, bigotry even and what can it have to do with Freemasonry? In a word: Everything.

If Masonry has a religion it is the symbol. Not the ignorant worship of the symbol for the thing it represents, but for the devoted research, study, and inculcation of the meaning behind the symbol. The reality that the symbol, by itself, is a beautiful allegory of meaning when combined and mixed with the inquisitive mind and the working spirit that does not lay idle in hope that someone will tell it what to believe.

Understanding this truth, and the reality of the situation, is important to save Masonry from devolving into a system of ignorant tradition that becomes what it should vehemently labor against.

When, for the sake of harmony, for the sake of expediency, for the sake of laziness, we move quickly through the work, fail to uphold the highest standards, or fail to guard the West Gate against the ignorant and lazy Masonry is destined to the fate of foolish leadership or egomaniacal title collection that will bulldoze and destroy the philosophers of the Craft for fear that their own ignorance will be exposed and their titles recognized by others as ill received.

Allowing these men to lead results in a fundamentalism of sorts that holds highest the most ridiculous elements of the Craft while sacrificing its most sacrosanct to the fringe and barely tolerated. All of a sudden, and at once, the obligation becomes a gray area, we argue with anger, we guard foolish behaviors because we know no other behaviors, because we have opted for habit instead of devoted research, one being so much quicker and easier than the others.

We tell ourselves that someday we will study, that someday we will learn, but until then we spend our energies in Masonry climbing ladders and arguing against progression because we fear it for we have not studied it.

Preposterous statements that the Chamber of Reflection is a purely Christian Rite entitled to the Commandery are made by ignorant men whose only knowledge of the Chamber is their participation in it during a particular Christian Rite. Insufferable jewel collectors claim that Masonry is being wrongly crafted into the image of a few. They do this and claim this because a five minute Internet search is the pinnacle of their research and they fear discovery as a fraud armed with shallow philosophies if the true aim of Masonry is adhered to.

These men worship the symbol, dig no deeper than a facial examination of the lectures, and believe wrongly that some of the legend should be taken as literal history and that the discovery of alchemy and mysticism is a “stretch.”

These men commit the greatest of Masonic sins if such a thing exists because they allow the ritual and rites, without study, to become Masonry; the very thing Free Masonry should stamp out. The power of the symbol is the beliefs in the archetypal spirit of man that they tug at and represent. If Masonry is allowed to degrade into a set of working tools with elementary lectures explaining rudimentary moral concepts the Fraternity will die because its philosophies already have.

We must, within the Craft, utilize the philosophies of the Craft. We must educate and inform our Brothers so that they can form their own opinions without relying on the opinions of others. We must combat ignorance with logic. The brick of mortar of any institution is just that. It does not possess a conscience and does not have a “moral” anything. The minute we are put down, relegated, or denigrated for philosophies that stand behind the symbol and are told that there is nothing more to the symbol than a simple explanation or definition, or that the symbol is powerful for the symbol itself we should rise up, study, educate, and remember that if we put aside Masonic philosophies to fight on their behalf we have likewise been infected with the virus of ignorance and fundamentalism.

We must combat these things with Masonry, with philosophy, with open minds, loving hearts, and education.

What is the relevance of Masonry people wonder….well I wonder where in the world would a philosophy designed to unite and eradicate ignorance and laziness serve a great good. Then I wonder where in the world it would not.


Anonymous said...

I would say the pre-suppositions are pre-suppositions. The noose is a symbol of terror like the swastika.

I, and no one I know, has the supposition that removing the noose would remove the ideology behind it. It is a request that a very well known symbol and tool of our culture not be available to terrorize or criminally threaten a whole community.

It is asking that someone not be able to scream "bomb" in our airport, or "fire" in our theater.

The civil rights movement led to the banning of institutionalized bigotry, but there is no pre-supposition or illusion that bigotry ended.

Whether or not it is "banned" is one thing. But it is terroristic threatening in this country. Is the word fire "banned"?

And while we can speculate about the federal government imposing morality. I could care less what's in people's hearts - at least my parents born into a country without full rights now have them. And equal protection.

I had an incident with a noose in Texas. And while it was friendly, nobody ignored the weight and while we joked about it - the honesty was appreciated.

I appreciate the thought on this matter and realize it's not as personal as the topic feels.

But, I also have no illusions that if a certain group of people burned two effigy towers in this country every year in celebration - it would be met with resistance.

Anonymous said...

All the prior said, the point is taken about the power we put in symbols and how sometimes it overwhelms our good and bad senses.

We take symbols from nature to learn, and some enter into nature in a violent format.

You're points are right, while I might not agree with all the conclusions - it's just bothersome that the metaphors that call this topic to hand tend to center around symbols of terrorism or genocide.

After all, the burning of our flag is a regularly introduced amendment to the constitution for decades.