Annual Communication 2007
“Pedagogy of Liberties”
Address by Grand Master Gustavo Raffi
Representatives of Authorities, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dearest Brethren,
The Grande Oriente d’Italia has no purposes related to political parties or interests in political action, which should be performed in accordance with democratic rules in other contexts and institutional spheres. On the contrary, our role is to stimulate civil society on qualifying subjects, around which we think we can give an unbiased and rational contribution, in order to take part in the difficult process leading to the construction of a better and fairer civil context.
Taking the clearest examples of Freemasonry as a reference, our Community tries to play a specific role, i.e. the role of a fruitful context for free formulation of critical thought, highlighting the voice of a laic and intercultural dimension, which unfortunately is not always appreciated in Italy. Far beyond a mere agency of modern laicity, contemporary Freemasonry again plays a historical role in intellectual and social-cultural action, aimed not so much at protecting, but rather at expanding all ethical principles, which shape the Charter of Human Rights and strengthen the foundations required for any civil practice aimed at achieving active and constructive “tolerance”.
Our action is outside of any politics; therefore, we are fortunately and completely free to consider everybody’s reasons and ideas with profound respect, think of different solutions in a spirit of continuous analysis and permanent doubt, without aspiring to success in terms of numbers or power.
For all these reasons, our main subject this year is “Pedagogy of Liberties”. It has not been randomly or trivially selected. On its long path, Freemasonry has usually been a source of ideas, and a meeting context between various subjects. Freemasons have always worked for the construction of the most important democratic institutions, the drawing up of modern constitutions, the philosophical-juridical definition of fundamental principles on which extraordinary institutions have been established, such as the League of Nations, the Red Cross, etc.
Furthermore, we should not forget that Freemasons have systematically struggled to obtain universal suffrage, public and free education, the abolition of the death penalty, and worked around an idea in continuous renewal of full human dignity. We are surprised that this democratic and libertarian heritage – aiming at protecting the central role of human beings as subjects and not as educational objects to be indoctrinated, as protagonists responsible for their choices and not as subject individuals or weak consumers of goods – is often concealed, although this silence does not prevent us from following this hard but necessary and thrilling path.
In fact, Freemasonry is a continuous and mutual education! People joining Freemasonry feel the need to improve themselves through spiritual progress. Therefore, Freemasons accept following a path by questioning themselves, and focus on some very profound and archetypal subjects through our rituals. As we have already said on several occasions, Freemasonry also educates on how to avoid pre-packed essential answers. Unlike many political and religious associations, Freemasons are immediately invited not to be satisfied with common vulgate, or believe with a servile attitude what is said, even within the Lodge, not just outside the Lodge. Rituals and symbols around which we work are used to raise questions, doubts, perplexities, and require answers, which are not determined or given for granted a priori, but answers that everyone should approach in a continuous adaptation of individual knowledge and personality. Based on this background, Freemasonry is an atypical reality, for it does not impose a belief, and it does not deny any truths proposed by others. Simply put, so to speak, initiates are invited to consider what they think they have finally known, and go back to it in a more profound and critical way, through free analysis and critical exchange with other people. Therefore, working in the Temple makes it possible to focus on pedagogy of liberty with no dogmas, open to knowledge and constructive doubt, but also ready to face new discoveries or new and original perspectives, but never taken in a unilateral way.
With reference to its constitution, Freemasonry should be nonconformist, hence ready to receive new stimulation coming from society, but at the same time so mature that it is able to combine them with its tradition of caution, wisdom and quiet consideration. In other words, this is, or should be, our work, when we succeed.
We should not be surprised by such a special condition, for Freemasons now feel profoundly affected by the inadequate treatment of some fundamental ethical aspects for our society. For a long time, we have expressed our concern about the fact that the laicity of the Italian State is being profoundly mitigated. In fact, every crucial theme becomes the subject of negotiations between theology and laic world, between crusade-like proclamations and references to religious dogmatism and more or less concealed agreements, in a market of liberties, which appears as abominable to us.
Now not only Italy has a very bad legislation in the field of scientific research on the various aspects of genetics and artificial insemination, but it has also been technically declared that heterologous insemination would be a crime for just reasons related to a specific theological position, which is not shared by the scientific community and even a part of the Catholic Church. The fact that prestigious religious institutions proposed a pedagogy of disengagement, when they invited Italian citizens to refrain from voting at the last Referendum – when the Grande Oriente d’Italia had expressed no indication to vote, apart from exercising the right to vote – showed a clearly misguided strategy towards young generations, in particular. In fact, as a pedagogical institution, Freemasonry could not undermine one of the most important tools of the citizens’ freedom of expression. For this reason, we invite young people, in particular, to keep a high consideration for essential dynamics in democratic life, and refuse the wicked invitation to refrain from voting, no matter where it comes from.
However, other and more difficult situations have appeared in present times, and we cannot avoid talking about that. Freemasons do not fear questioning themselves on the subject of pain and death, but also on the right to conclude the path of life with dignity. Therefore, none of us feels able to judge, or even worse to consider as sinners those people who ask to stop aggressive nursing on them, when there are no more medical possibilities, and their conditions are humiliating. We are not invoking a deregulation to liberalize or encourage suicide. On the contrary, we would like to ensure that every human being – based on certain conditions that can be clearly defined at the scientific and deontological level – can be the owner of his/her own life and death, and decide not to lie down as a prisoner of a body, which has become just an unacceptable prison. Life is certainly a gift, and we respect those who cannot accept that life is abandoned before due time, even if they are in the worst possible conditions. This idea is based on very profound and clear reasons. However, this should legitimately determine the choices of those who support this idea, and avoid being like a diktat that is valid for all. We think that there are moments in life (or an existence that is no longer full, at least for people experiencing such a condition) when the State should respect the dignity and free conscience of citizens, in particular those who suffer. There are moments when other people’s judgement should be suspended and the various ethical, religious, cultural and spiritual options have the full right to be combined in their freedom, but also in their diversity. It is not acceptable that one alleged absolute truth can be imposed to a civil society as the only ethical-moral obligation to be accepted without exceptions. A laic State must respect pain and, in specific cases, acknowledge individual right to avoid pain, under specific conditions. A sort of moral dictatorship on an sick body is passed off as a universal value, whereas it is rather a totalitarian and illiberal imposition.
Furthermore, we reject all accusations that are evoked – even recently – against the famous laic lobbies, which would undermine the fundamental values of life and society. The Catholic Church has never explicitly condemned the death penalty or war and has used one or the other, whenever it considered the death penalty or war as necessary during the many centuries of its history.
We also know that many Freemasons would never accept euthanasia for reasons of conscience. However, at the same time, they would never impose their individual choice to other people on such an ontologically personal and terribly painful subject. For us, this is freedom in diversity; it means exercising our ideas with no theological obligations to be imposed to other people.
Certainly, the Catholic Church has the right to recall its believers to its truths, theology, and ethics. However, we think that it is unacceptable that the Catholic Church believes it is entitled to take a moral protection on the freedom of conscience of all Italian people, and especially on their State, so that its laws are not compliant with the principles of laicity established by the Italian Republican Constitution, but with the principles of religious authority.
The invectives against laicism and, mostly, against relativism of which we are accused, are very weak, and are only supported by an a priori factiousness. Also in this case, we must acknowledge that relativism characterizes those who are not able to abandon a limited framework, considered as eternally effective and bounding, never subject to discussion and falsifiable criteria, unlike modern sciences. Relativism is this terrible self-referential attitude, because of which part of the theological thought is absolutely not influenced by changing knowledge and historical and epistemological paradigms. Such theological thought repeats itself during the centuries, without admitting the right to choose and its unchangeable position. It is not enough to criticize anti-modernity of fundamentalisms, when the legitimacy of different options, alternative directions and categories not subordinated to a specific theological-philosophical system is not acknowledged. The certainty of having the absolute truth cannot be transformed into a generalized imposition by the Catholic Church on the entire society, unless a theocracy is established.
We should not be misunderstood. Freemasonry is not against religions. On the contrary, Freemasonry has often facilitated communication between believers of different religions. In many non-European countries, Freemasonry is still one of the best ways to disseminate the values of a laic and democratic society, according to the lesson of the British parliamentarianism, which was disseminated in Europe and beyond through our Lodges since the Eighteenth century.
Freemasons act with reference to the majestic work of the Great Architect of the Universe. For this reason, Freemasons consider human beings as goals, not as tools, and are always ready to look for open and a priori dialogue. Instead of meeting homologous people, Freemasons aim at involving people with different origins, ideas and religions, for we think that higher wisdom and knowledge can be acquired in this complexity.
In fact, Freemasonry’s paideia is based on a method that highlights the temporariness of our knowledge after every step, just like our Temples, whose vault represents a starry sky, a symbol of the incompleteness of the work already performed and the need to follow the path of knowledge and truth. When a Freemason finds out he is wrong, this is a positive result, for he realizes he is leaving a previous error behind, and not an irremediable failure. This is not against religions. On the contrary, the homo religiosus can take advantage of this, and new perspectives never imagined before can be opened. Therefore, this means living in a dimension of endless search for personal improvement, which opens to other individuals and their different perspectives, moving among transparencies and obstacles, without neglecting consideration and tolerance. These are our tools and ancient values, whose validity appears as unchanged, even now.
So, let’s return to the subject of pedagogy of liberties. In the track of century-old history, we want to highlight the importance of public school and university education, as well as life-long learning. All investments dedicated to young people, the construction of a strong and mature identity, focusing on crucial changes and challenges of modernity, cannot but return in the future with multiplied effects. Citizens are educated from kindergarten, through the highly professional attitude of teachers. In Italy, paradoxically, the role of teachers – starting from primary school – seems still anchored to the past, when the fact of going to school, in a warm – or at least not freezing cold – classroom probably appeared as a privilege. Therefore, we cannot avoid recalling the memory of one of the greatest Italian Freemasons of the past, Giosuè Carducci. This year, we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of his death. From his position, Giosuè Carducci never stopped highlighting the crucial importance of teachers, their civil role, as main actors in the process of constructing a country and its identity, therefore highlighting the extraordinary fertility of school. Moreover, we need to stress the crucial importance of Public School as an integration tool for foreign immigrants, as a context where future citizens are formed.
We must avoid the model of ghetto-school, where the various religions create their own education model in a sort of armed ceasefire with the other communities. In this case, new relativisms and new fundamentalisms may be nurtured, and become sources of men and women who do not identify themselves with the Republican Constitution and open society, but only with their community. The construction of a world peace process also goes through these local or “glocal” challenges, if you like, for post-modernity shows that even the smallest dimension can take an overall importance in some specific situations.
Freemasonry is based on profound principles of self-education for citizens, and highlights the positive value of all educational and pedagogical institutions.
Freemasonry does not have to provide its opinions on hot subjects, such as the recognition of the rights of unmarried couples. Individual Freemasons have different opinions on this subject, which is certainly not simple. However, a discussion based on proclamations and excommunications, references to a natural family without a reasonable consideration on the complexity of sentimental life and all its aspects in the reality of the 21st century is not appropriate for a mature country. We see some odd paradoxes. On one side, natural family – which is, in reality, the result of a complex historical and social evolution – is legitimately supported. On the other side, we forget that the situation of women having children and a job is dramatic in Italy, due to the lack of appropriate facilities and services. Adopting a child seems to be like going through the hoops. The difficulty to find a stable job increasingly rises the average age of young people who finally join the dimension of adult world. However, we also have some doubts on the fact that after a natural family is established according to the State-Catholic Church treaty, it can be dissolved by the Catholic Church, including civil effects, as if nothing happened. In fact, different and strongly unbalanced measures are taken to the detriment of the dignity of a Laic State. We hope that these issues will be included in a civil and open dialogue in the future, and not again in a conflict between faith doctrine and civil society.
The pedagogical values of Freemasonry sociability are combined in a wider and complex context, which is not excluded from a responsible attitude towards the social complexity of the globalized world. Such complexity appears as determined by a dynamicity, which could not be imagined until a few years ago. In fact, the social context goes through quick changes in individual and social cultural models, habits, attitudes and behaviours, which impose or anyhow generate continuous adaptations and innovations. This complexity, in turn, causes several challenges for today’s man.
On the other hand, scientific and technological progress, globalization processes of economy, new planetary emergencies, strong migratory flows from poor countries, and new racism are now a very difficult social, cultural and political challenge for Western societies. In fact, the above-mentioned themes, problems and perspectives appear as existential discomfort factors. Furthermore, the dramatic increase of information provided by mass media gives education opportunities and cultural stimulation, on one side, and creates dangerous conformism attitudes and growing manipulation risks, on the other. These scenarios make it possible for us to conclude that we live in a complex and cognitive, but – alas – uncertain society, probably also vulgar from many standpoints (absolutely without refinement, distinction or courtesy) and coarse (with no dignity, decency, and politeness). They also lead to disturbing questions that we can summarize as follows: “What kind of man for this society?” However, we should not forget to add: “to imagine and create a better world?” Obviously, the most immediate answer is “a man able to dominate the complexity and hence re-identify the horizon of meaning.”
Therefore, we refer to a man provided with intellectual autonomy and project-making creativity, protagonist of his life that he dignifies every moment with his own values, will and freedom. Will and freedom make it possible to be and remain a person. However, are there now “physiological conditions” that open a positive perspective in this direction? Or is there a background in the contemporary context that facilitates other and dangerous drifts? The answer to these questions cannot be given superficially. It is not difficult to understand that many might be defined as existential emergencies. It is, then, reasonable to consider that the future expects they are overcome, imposes a necessary and ineludible reformulation of directions, which ensure that man is able to recover a dimension, in which man can live in harmony with himself and the world.
This is the project that postulates, legitimates and requires a contribution from Freemasonry’s thought and action. Then, we must find out which role can be played by the Grande Oriente d’Italia in the process of building of the civilization of the third millennium, thinking about the reasons of its presence, about its principles and its aims, the aims to find out and propose, and about its tasks.
On the first point of view, that of the presence, Freemasonry finds its philosophical-ideological legitimacy, because it has elaborated and brings its own Weltanschauung, that implicates the respect of diversities, made strong by the choose of the values of equality, brotherhood, liberty and tolerance; but at the same time, it has its own paideia, for a pedagogy of human. As concerns its principles and aims, they are those adopted till now, that can be summarized by the wish to work for the good and the progress of humanity.
Freemasonry is and will be an initiate Order, whose members work for moral and spiritual elevation of man and human family, supports tolerance and respect for oneself and the others, freedom of conscience and thinking. Freemasonry promotes love for other people and looks for anything uniting individuals between each other and peoples, to contribute better to the achievement of universal brotherhood. It also ascertains the high value of individuals and acknowledges that every man has the right to independently contribute to the search for truth. Additionally, Freemasonry is apolitical and does not deal with political and religious issues. Freemasonry only initiates free men with good habits, with no distinction of race, citizenship, social class, and political or religious opinions.
Freemasons ensure their obedience and scrupulous observance of the Constitution of the State where they live, and shall refrain from participating, supporting or encouraging any action aimed at disturbing social order that is freely and democratically formed. Freemasonry is a workshop where ideas are formed, and an engine of its own cultural elaboration and proposal towards the main themes appearing in society, from time to time. Freemasonry intends to live in the future being supported by the certainty of an ideological-esoteric “tradition” formed in time, and including people who have participated in shaping the world history among its protagonists.
At the dawning of its speculation, Freemasonry was able to imagine a project, which became a formidable factor for change in the entire world. This project also included the following: civil rights, freedom, equality, international organizations for the protection of these same values, and so on. The “propulsive force” of Freemasonry is supported by great vitality, and will certainly be able do design a new project, new objectives for Human Kind in the Third Millennium. Freemasonry will find again the right strength to be like a lighthouse and guiding light for all men, and will be able to translate its aspirations to good into real facts. So, which objectives can Freemasonry identify to keep contributing to humankind’s good and progress? It is now impossible to list them, also because many will be defined in itinere, along the progress of civilization during the third millennium. For now it is enough to say that they are included in the Project of a New Humanism for the Renaissance of values, which is the only way to achieve a Person Civilization built on the cultural foundations of Freemasonry, i.e. equality, freedom, brotherhood and tolerance. These values lead to gratuitous love of man for other men. It is a New Humanism, considered as an aware achievement of a new meaning of men and their problems, which can really lead to a “regeneration” of civilization, a Renovatio, actually the Rebirth of human spirit.
Freemasonry gives a responsible and productive contribution to the reconstruction/reconstitution of man, to ensure that the result of present dynamics in the current historical situation does not lead to a gloomy drift for culture and civilization. The re-construction of man is possible through the abandonment of emergency ethics and related adoption of responsibility ethics: placing man in the centre of life may be, then, the ethical requirement and/or existential need to fight against the “fall of ethical evidences”, “alienation towards sociality”, and “almost exhaustion of democracy” (i.e. vote abstention, concealed domination of economic and financial forces, lack of respect, and conflicts between institutional powers and orders, as far as Italy is concerned). This perspective would make it possible to remain faithful to being a person.
At this point, we should ask the following: To achieve these objectives, what directions can be followed by Freemasonry? What are Freemasonry’s tasks for the undertaking this responsibility towards man?
The answer to these questions imposes some other short preliminary considerations. We have already said that the proliferation of knowledge sectors and its subsequent fragmentation, as well as the complexity of problems affecting the “global village” – which often forces people to only focus on daily life, to the detriment of the development of future projects – have weakened the conscience of existence meaning in contemporary man. In particular, man risks losing the ability to be surprised, contemplate and sympathize, to slide down the slope of indifference and reduction of social relationships. The increasingly strong individualistic folding of man on himself probably condemns him to impersonality of relationships. Man substantially lives in a crisis of value orientation. In fact, cognitive progress, increasing offers of plaisir, and apparent spaces of personal freedom do not provide authenticity and happiness: the sense of existence requires commitment, authenticity in relationships, and should necessarily be anchored to meanings and values. On the contrary, we experience an inexorable gradual loss of personal values: the authenticity of life is being sacrificed on the altar of success and power. The world of mass-media replaces life and worships its majesty the Image.
On the contrary, the overestimation of individuality, pleasure and knowledge, as such, always generates an overall disorientation, and facilitates the fall of shared sense of humanity, which supports the ability of individuals to feel like all other creatures. In recovering the interiority, far from the noise and annihilation of exaltation, there is the possibility to discover that “human existence is always oriented towards something or someone that is out of himself: a meaning to be obtained or another human existence to find” (V. Franki, 1980). Therefore, this leads to the need for defining a new vital attitude, organized on the recognition of interdependence of everything and subsequent complementarities of everybody. Every man’s duty is to share humanity and cooperate to rediscover a wide and strong sense to live for, including all other creatures, and terrestrial reality as a whole. Therefore, this is the origin of the Freemasonry’s task, regarding the way to follow for achieving the objectives contained in its humanity project. Therefore, the contribution to strengthening cultural opportunities becomes the first concern and intention of Freemasonry, to let man find the direction of meaning, i.e. the existential path aimed at promoting every man’s ability to understand vital need of humanity, in the awareness of a common search for justice, peace, happiness and Truth.
To achieve these objectives, it is first necessary to be able to reopen a direct dialogue with nature, things and people. Then, we need to learn how to empathically listen to other people, to register the problems related to social life, without joining reductive ideological interpretations. Finally, we need to rely on knowledge to identify effective information to understand each other, share and participate. In other words, man must recover the sense of living, and reacquire a meaningful relationship with life. It is only through this process that cultural growth will become authentication of humanity and understanding of life reality under all its forms: this is the challenge that Freemasonry has accepted and is ready to win during the third millennium.
The path to existential understanding combined with personal commitment can ensure the ethical development required to re-define the horizon of sense: this desire – which may be defined as ethical – must accompany man’s existence, if man wants to go towards a meaningful life.
Freemasonry appears as an educational context beyond any diversity of cultural, social and economic conditions. It is an existence context, and – at the same time – the value background within which the ethical aspiration is received, strengthened with our principles, developed in the form of significant communication, and assigned to cultural exchange. Hence, Freemasonry in the third millennium is considered as an ethical sentry (we should not forget that It can always be defined as a “moral system veiled by symbols”) against triumphant ideologies of non-thought, aimed at creating the spiritual conditions of the future; to perform “expeditions towards lands of not-yet, hope utopia”; not to conquer them, to be there, not to be integrated there, but to be other also in elsewhere” (I. Mancini).
Hence, Freemasonry is an invitation to sail, to start following our way. It cannot give guarantees on the goal, but it ensures that we will never return to previous positions. It becomes an encouragement for the future: to give a sense of dimension contained in a philosophical vision that has gone through the past and goes through to the present, but it is mostly oriented to the future. In the future, Freemasonry intends “to work” to teach man how to learn and be educated: Freemasonry intends to keep being a workshop producing continuous thinking and non-prefabricated thought, always acting and infinite thought, and critical and emancipative research.
This means educate to liberties: to be builders of comprehension and dialogue, in a world too many times affected by violence and injustices; and most of all, this let us understand the real greatness of living essence.
Rimini, 2007 April 13-15
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