The following paper was created in part for Episode 2 of Three Distinct Knocks. That episode can be found here: https://youtu.be/Ydv6NQVgF1U
I took four years of Latin in High School and continued with Latin in college. There was a time when I could read Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars in Latin fairly easily. I spent a semester translating Ovid as a part of the group and enjoyed the experience. I have, of course, lost much of my Latin in the intervening years. A lack of practice has shrunk my vocabulary and my memory of Latin grammar is incredibly unreliable. I remember, for example, all the prepositions that take the ablative (ab, cum, de, ex, in, pro, sine, sub, and super) but I honestly don’t remember any of those endings charts I once knew so well.
English is my native language and, in general, I’m fairly skilled in its use. But, despite the years that have elapsed since my last Latin class, when I get myself into a grammatical quagmire, I often find myself relying on my understanding of grammar from Latin to reason my way through the English. Because English is my native language, it is so familiar to me that the rules are often invisible — I may know something is wrong, but have trouble, ironically, putting into words what the rule should be. Latin provided me with a different framework, one unfamiliar, that I had to learn. And in the process, it made me a better user of my native language.
I think there is a similar phenomenon that occurs in the area of religion. I grew up with my faith — although, I admit, it has matured and grown as I have learned and experienced more of the world. It is, appropriately, more complex than it was when I was six. But it is, much like English, something with which I am so familiar that sometimes it is hard to see it.
The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, particularly in the Southern Jurisdiction, provides in its degrees and in its teaching an opportunity for men to explore comparative theology in an environment in which proselytization and conversion are not the goal. It presents those truths that underlie all the world’s great faiths and allows for the candidates to contextualize them in terms of their own experiences and faith.
That most misquoted book, Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma, despite some of the flaws that were a product of its time, is a remarkable and still incredibly important work of comparative theology. It provides a philosophical, moral, and mystical exploration of the testimony provided in numerous faiths and, again, permits the reader to understand his own experience better by comparison and contrast.
Freemasonry does not promote a particular religion. But it does encourage every man to pay that rational homage to Deity that is both a duty and a source of happiness. It hopes to help each man become a better exemplar of his own faith.
In that context, an exposure to a wide range of religious thought can only be helpful. It lets us see the ocean in which we may have always stood from the shore. It helps us to see the commonalities shared by the most aspirational, hopeful, and inspirational expressions of the human condition. It brings us from the limits of our own understanding to the understanding of the total community of humanity and allows us to enter that conversation that humans have been having with God from the beginning.