Speech of Alain de Keghel at the Franco-American Masonic Seminar of Sacramento
. . . The time has come to speak.
The time has come to engage fraternally in a deep and sustained analysis of the international Masonic landscape. All Brethren of goodwill are looking toward a more open-minded, more tolerant, and more Masonic approach to our Brotherhood. To that end, increasing numbers of Masons from around the world are making the necessary efforts to build a bridge of light. It is a bridge of light that does not end at national borders or within the institutional limits of Masonic bodies wheresoever they might be found around the world. It is a bridge that is built in order to overcome prejudices, and to open eyes, minds, and hearts to the inherited legacies of our diverse and rich traditions.
It is indeed a great privilege and rare opportunity to gather with brethren of the five continents in order to share different experiences and to try to open more widely the doors of understanding. So let us attempt to overcome the friction of difference that far too often marks the realities of the profane world, and as a consequence also tarnishes our Masonic world. We should do this not for the unworthy goal of Masonic proselytizing, but simply to attempt a modest dialogue between men and Masons of goodwill, between brethren of distinct Masonic streams that are each, in fact, a lasting source of treasure. Why? We do it because similar efforts have always strengthened our spiritual, philosophical, philanthropic, and traditional Order.
The Masonic order has endured through the vicissitudes of time, culture, civilizations, and society. However, it has survived through the centuries not by passively following the movements of civil society, but rather it often has been at the forefront of change within society.
This is necessary because it is our duty to test our discrimination and open our minds toward the future of the Masonic order at the turn of the twenty-first century and of the third millennium. However, in order to do this adequately, it is obvious that we first need to know each other much better than we do.
To be direct and to the point, I will first offer a few words concerning the Grand Orient of France: No, it is not a communist organization! No, it has not relinquished the Great Architect of the Universe. No, it has never initiated women. But . . .
Yes, it is the oldest traditional Masonic body in France, and its very strong commitment in the establishment of Freemasonry in the early years of Latin America and elsewhere is well documented.
Yes, the Grand Orient, with more than forty-two thousand brethren, is the largest French Masonic organization in a country that counts a total of roughly 120,000 men as members working in a lodge.
You, of course, realize that Freemasonry developed in a different way in France as well as in many other countries. There is no need to lock ourselves into unnecessary compartments and singular ways of thinking. We need to be concerned about the weakness that results from unnecessary divisions. We would be much wiser to prefer a universal perspective, because our way of thinking is a legacy of the great philosophers and writers of the time of the Enlightenment: Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, and before them of individuals such as Ephraim Chambers, with his Encyclopedia or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences, first published in 1728. We must leave the heritage of our humanist and Enlightenment values to future generations.
The essential point is that our Masonic message is still of value. The great, generous, and original ideal of Freemasonry to “unite people who otherwise would have remained at perpetual distance” is also a modern and vital message to our contemporary society endangered by egoism, ethnocentrism, and crude materialism. At this time, everyone is speaking of globalization. But where are we as Freemasons in the contemporary world? Are we not at risk in our current situation? Is it not possible that the world will pass us by in the new millennium if we do not actively engage with humanity once again and give the message that is expected from us?
It is precisely our rules and regulations that make a universal dialogue among all Freemasons virtually impossible. Is it not a kind of a paradox that today the Roman Catholic Church has lifted the excommunication of Freemasons, but Freemasons of different disciplines in fact excommunicate each other? Is this a sane and normal situation?
Having always made this argument, and being supportive of constructive change, I notice in this regard that some significant changes are beginning to occur.
Of course, none of us today has a miraculous “ready-made” solution to suggest. We can only work to find a solution step-by-step. That is how we can all be pragmatic and helpful. The first step is simply to take into consideration the simple truth that there are different Masonic streams. Each of these traditions reflects specific historical, sociological, cultural, religious, spiritual, and national realities. We need to take them into account, as they are, and not as we think they should be. No one of us is so privileged with wisdom that it would entitle us to enforce a universal Masonic creed. But we can see the result today of closed and self-righteous thinking. It is very frustrating to all of us. Practically, we have to abandon any illusion or vain hope to change the remarkable and healthy diversity in order to reunify Masonic streams.
Starting from this matter of fact, why should we not seriously consider the very real option of becoming more dynamic, more imaginative, more creative and positive in order to develop a new kind of relationship? This would not necessarily imply any kind of formal recognition. It would also not harm our respective rules and regulations and would not lead us to violate any of our solemn obligations. That makes common sense.
Let us take the example of the Roman Catholic Church: it meets and conducts a sophisticated and ambitious dialogue with the other religious communities, but it does not perform church services in which ministers of different disciplines work together ritualistically. In other words, it places its heart, and service, in favor of ecumenism, but this kind of ecumenism and openness does not result in confusion or the violation of obligations for its ministers.
Why could we Freemasons of different lineages not act in a similar way? We need not attend tyled lodge meetings together. No single French brother from the Grand Orient should ever expect to attend such a stated communication simply because we respect your identity, your specific commitment, your discipline, and your tradition. However, on a reciprocal basis it is possible that we can make progress. It would require tolerance and an open-minded spirit. But the time has come to sit together. In one way or another, we need to make sincere efforts to forge new kinds of relationships that are conducive to dialogue. We need adequate mechanisms and tools that enable true Masonic cooperation. It would be easier to use various existing channels: Historians and scholars, for example, could profitably join efforts in building toward mutual understanding and knowledge. Joint working committees could be inaugurated in order to share thoughts on a range of issues outside of the temple and without ritual.
This would be a first step.
Let us work to be a new kind of Freemason. A Freemason who is candid and practical but capable of utopian hopes that have ever been at the heart of real change in society. In fact, to return to the opening part of my remarks, I am speaking about the same type of bold and vital Freemasonry that helped to pave the way to democracy. In our dreams, in our thinking, and in our practical steps, we must move to become active players in life. We stand at the landmark of a new millennium, and we should act and prosper accordingly.
We can recall minding the proposals of the grand commander of the German Scottish Rite, Ill∴ Br∴ Gunter Muenzberg, ten years ago in Mexico City. He stated then that “in a world which has changed so much, Freemasonry must come out of its old shell. . . . Problems have been proclaimed often in recent decades by many farsighted Freemasons, but these problems, and their solutions, have not been incorporated into the strategic thinking of the sclerotic Masonic institutions themselves. . . . The Masonic institutions should present the moral law in appropriate, flexible outer forms. Masonic systems would bring the norms, values, and insights, mainly esoteric, of their Masonic thinking into expression in a contemporary Magna Charta, or rule . . . that would not be dogmatic, rather, it would be flexible and adaptable through time, and place, and yet valid for all Freemasons. This could replace the confusing wide array of misunderstood ‘Landmarks’ currently in existence.
“Freemasonry is a political factor, whether it wants to be or not. It cannot close its eyes concerning either the environment or the people.
“The Masonic institutions should, of course, not get involved in politics. This would be a blind alley. . . . Bridge building is only possible if the type of institutions that I am speaking about remain neutral. Completely different, however, is the situation of each single Brother. He should participate fully in society, in public life, and especially in the open and tolerant discourses where opinions are formed. Only when we follow these, or similar, paths can we engage in effective service to humanity as a strong, vibrant, diverse, and universal organization. If we do nothing today, in another 10 to 20 years, the call for reformations will be heard even more loudly.”
These remarks were made ten years ago in Mexico City. Almost nothing has happened since this desperate cry. This message still resonates today in our ears both as a warning and a legacy.
Let us be the brave brethren who are today able to undertake the difficult tasks of change faithfully, but also with courage and realism. It will be well worth the effort for all of us. When you work toward such goals one thing is certain. You will always be able to rely on brethren of goodwill from around the world, not only in France, in the great Masonic task of building the ever new temple of humanity.