“Ethics of Freedom – Ethics of Responsibility”.
Address of the M.W. Grand Master Bro. Gustavo Raffi.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The distinctive title of this Grand Lodge is: “Ethics of Freedom, Ethics of Responsibility”. This title was not randomly selected, nor is it based on rhetoric: being free means bearing the burden of a major ethical responsibility. As George Bernard Shaw said – both ironically and rightly – “Freedom means Responsibility and that is why most men shun it”. Indeed, ethics of freedom and responsibility entail commitment, time, passion, and devotion. It means investigating the depth of things, in order to ask wide-reaching question. The method to be followed was described by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, when he wrote: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. As soon as this thirst has been awakened in them, they will start to work to build the ship”.
This is why society needs our words and our actions. Only real Masters can say words and carry out actions with tenaciousness and courage. And we want to be the arm of hope in this task, not the sick part. We want to be a firm and clear voice, which asks to be heeded among the clamour, which only aims at confusing people’s conscience. We want to be among those who try to decide for their own destiny – with freedom and responsibility and we do not want to be muzzled. We want to be the Light for a society which is fumbling to find ethics, which is looking for ethics – sometimes desperately – yet no longer knowing what ethics is, or where it is! Today’s ethics is a thorny and feared problem. For this reason, in this period, ethical topics are being discussed by everybody, and they often appear in newspaper articles.
But above all, ethics is in the mind of many concerned individuals, who note – with sadness – that ethics is more and more absent from private and public life.
Yet, private and public life without ethics inevitably leads to a motivational vacuum that lies at the basis of the decadence and destruction of a State, a society, or a man. Of course, we live in a liquid society, as aptly defined, a society where thought is errant, where everything – even political situations – runs the risk of being gelatinous, ill-defined. Yet, owing to such a situation, our task does not change. On the contrary, our task – the task of Freemasons – is to rebuild lost ethics, giving room to freedom and responsibility. This is the reason why, if we are facing a building with shattered window glasses, we must not shatter the remaining glasses. We must, instead, repair the broken glasses. Then, the building will be normal again. Metaphors apart, repairing broken glasses means absorbing the Aristotelian category of relationships, with the others, with things, with the world, not to destroy, but to rebuild. Only starting from relationships, is it possible to experience real ethics, ethics of freedom and responsibility, which can restore that “building with broken glasses” as our society, our States, our mankind have become. Ethics – which must not be confused with morals – is undoubtedly the framework of a State, a society, and a man willing to define himself as such. Giuseppe Mazzini – sadly almost forgotten by everybody – recalled this concept when he placed ethics at the basis of that “civil religion” in which he relied, so that newly unified Italy could thrive. Ethics is the set of all those human and civil values that characterize life within a community, and with it, also individual life. It is almost superfluous to remind you of those values: honesty, courage, civic sense, love for one’s neighbour, universal brotherhood, respect for those who are different from us, generosity, altruism, the sense of sacrifice, tolerance, religious sensitivity, and so on.
Ethics, secular ethics, is made up of these values – simple, basic, yet sculpted in our hearts as the “Tables of the Law”. Nothing else is needed to make ethics. Be careful however, that ethics inspired by a religious belief is also very similar to secular ethics. In his book titled Spaccio de la bestia trionfante, the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno wrote very clearly: “Gods do not enrage for a swear or an offence addressed to them; gods enrage when actions are made that cause splits in social cohesion, weakening the State, the Law, and Justice. There is no such thing as a true or false religion (and who could say – when it comes to faith – what is true and what is false?). There are, instead, useful religions and harmful religions.
And the effectiveness of a religion can only be measured according to the positive or negative effects it produces in a society”. Actions matter. Reward must not go to those who have ‘healed a cripple’, but to those who have freed their country and healed a troubled soul”.
However, the bitter though spontaneous remark is that this ethics, this aspiration to live ethically, seems to be alien to our society, to Italy as it is now. The values mentioned by Mazzini seem to be distant from common feeling. A world of corrupt people, wide boys, boasters, crooks, petty thieves, and smart fellows seems to prevail over those men of honour to whom Mazzini wanted to entrust the fate if his country – of our own country. This country seems to be distant – if not downright alien – to people of good will, those who have a pure heart, and real citizens. For this reason, the lack of ethicality is a real social disease. It is not a matter to be taken lightly. It is not a matter to be neglected, as the lack of ethicality causes the weakening of justice. But “Without justice, what is a State, if not a band of malefactors”: these are the sad and prophetic words by St. Augustine, one of the Founding Fathers of Western Civilization and Christianity. If there is no trust in the State and justice, it can be said – secularizing a famous sentence by Fëdor Michajlovic Dostoevskij – that “everything is permitted”. And the generalized “permission” inevitably leads to chaos, the fight between gangs, and a degenerated and degenerative social situation in which – as Hobbes wrote – “homo homini lupus – Man is Wolf to Man”. This statement can be – sadly – ascertained today. Instead, it is necessary to restore the responsibility of thought towards the current situation, and recover the value of individuals – of human beings, beyond ethnic groups, ideologies, and societies. This is the only way to react to the new nihilism, which for a long time now has been proclaiming the supersession of individuals, the annihilation of every ethic value, and with them, the annihilation of justice.
We know, however, that the responsibility of thought and human beings are all too often forgotten. Yet, we as Free Masons cannot accept what happens elsewhere – in fact, we must reject it with all our strengths. We claim the central role of ethics, culture of ethics, and priority of ethics, of secular, intelligent, and far-reaching ethics. It is distilled – historically – from the Greek and Roman cultures, stemming from the best elements of the Jewish-Christian tradition, from the spirit of the Medieval Knighthood, from the Renaissance dream of man at the centre of the universe, from the courage of the heroes of the 15th and 16th Centuries (think about Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno), from those Athletes of intelligence (the intellectuals of the Enlightenment), and from the Fathers of the Italian Risorgimento: those who sacrificed their youth, their life, their families and their wealth for the ethics of a new Italy. They did it without hesitating, without stepping back, without compromises, and without breaking down. We must take stock of their experiences, knowing that what really matters is not accumulating knowledge, but the price we paid – and we will continue to pay – for what we believe is right to think, say, and do.
Giordano Bruno wrote in his work titled Oratio Valedictoria: “By working I profited, by suffering I had experiences, by living in exile I learnt”. This is the path that all the men of doubt must cover.
This is also the ethical way we look at and which makes up our own history, even though it sometimes seems a minimum ethics. Actually, it is a path full of decisive challenges: from bioethics to freedom of thought, from politics intended as a project and a fate, and not mere bureaucracy, to the important topics concerning the environment and relations between peoples. This path – which is apparently a “minimum ethics” – develops through quest and dialogue. It goes beyond differences – beyond any difference – in the name of the only Pantheon that we recognize, which is summarized in one word: mankind. In the name of mankind, what seems “minimum” is actually “maximum”. Understanding this is a sign of wisdom; experiencing this in our everyday lives is a sign of a great strength of mind. We have learnt this from our Lodge work, and for this reason we can vie with the ethical issues which are skirted by many – including the Church – without asking the right questions and without claiming that we can provide the right answers. We have been asking the right questions for long, and we have tried to provide possible answers, by choosing to “fly high” like eagles. Other people are left to fly low, like hens.
As dream, hope, and ethical sense are the cornerstones of Masonic learning and quest, according to the Socratic words: “A life without quest is not worth living”. This is why we, as Freemasons, are restless, free from dogmas, people who do not settle for second best, who look for what is best for them and other people. Yet, searching does not mean being misbelievers. Freemasonry is not – as someone wrongly states – the multiplication of relativism and the mother of nihilism. On the contrary, although Freemasonry – as Voltaire stated – has always defended, defends, and will continue to defend the wide spectrum of other people’s values, this does not mean that it renounces its values. It does not mean that Freemasonry believes that man must not have values. It does not mean that according to Freemasonry public life must be a jungle, where the strongest, the most violent, or the smartest, prevail. In fact, Freemasonry believes, like Václav Havel, that: “Without values and moral obligations, shared and deeply rooted, neither the law nor the democratic government, or market economy shall work correctly”. Freemasonry places at its core an ethicality made up of man’s timeless values; those values that make men as such. On the other hand, there cannot be knowledge of the lost words – the very symbol of quest – without an endless love for man, without hesitation and without vacillation. This is shown by the constant militancy of Freemasonry against those who question or reject Freemasons, all over the world. It is not by accident that Freemasonry has been prosecuted and persecuted by all totalitarian regimes in which ethics was sacrificed in the name of an ideology based on institutions, bureaucracy, and political and theocratic dogmas, not based on man. To pursue this ethics, Freemasonry has paid a very high price: on battlefields, in concentration camps, in torture cells, with exile, before firing squads. The price Freemasonry pays every day is systematic marginalization, discredit, rejection, and scorn. These great heroes – whom the world does not commemorate – are in our hearts and are ideally among us each time we meet, and they urge us to be like them.
Indeed, Freemasonry follows their path, pursuing the same, unchanging ethical principles. It uses the esoteric method which is typical of Freemasonry and stems from its Tradition. It is a method that has nothing to do with religious, religious-like, or occultist forms. Freemasonry is not a Church or a “fool’s gold”, used to deceive or rob people who are disenchanted, frustrated, or gullible. Our esotericism is an ethical value that focuses on the image of accomplished and fulfilled man, who has achieved results through the improvement resulting from the ritual practice and the study of symbols. Symbols that are not magical formulas or spiritistic junks (let’s be clear about this), but material objects and linguistic – often performing – expressions, through which we can perceive those eternal values which are at the basis of universal ethics.
All the symbols used by Freemasonry, as well as ritual formulas, aim at enhancing completeness, dignity, sense of transcendence, respect for man and nature, tolerance, brotherhood, improvement of individuals and communities, and wisdom. These are the virtues that we would like to be the very foundations of every society and every living being. For this reason, a great Renaissance sage man like Girolamo Cardano, wrote that “human life is symbolic; those who do not understand it are not men”.
For this reason, one of the topics on which the Grand Master has always insisted, and will always insist, is absolute compliance with the Ritual and the esoteric practice at the various Degrees, as well as understanding that Masonic culture is a culture of ethicality. And that both are absolutely inseparable, because both are our message: a message of vitality and hope for a society that is exhausted and lacks motivation.
These values propose, first of all, a message of freedom. Indeed, freedom is the very essence of Freemasonry. If ethics is real ethics, it conveys freedom, where freedom does not mean chaos, anarchy, or selfishness, but rather duty and responsibility: the duty to be happy with others, and for the others and the responsibility to achieve individual and common happiness through human relationships and different sensitivity towards the world. This means changing the world as a target to be set, making the world more right and happy, hence freer. Until Brotherhood is not achieved, no real freedom will exist. Until decent living conditions are not available to everyone, there will be no freedom. Until there is no tolerance, there will be no freedom, and there will be no happiness.
It seems obvious, but it is not. If – as Rousseau wrote – “Men were born free, they are in chains everywhere”. And chains are not just the heavy chains of jails and concentration camps, but also the lighter chains of mass-media control and hatred, which subtly clutches the wrists and narrows the minds of the weakest, which can make them unaware slaves. This is why we must understand what freedom is, live it thoroughly, and be ready to fight so that everybody can obtain it. This is the ancient secret that Freemasons have in their hearts, and convey to all those who wish to cover, with them, a common path and think, as Freemasons do and Kant said, that “man is not a means, but an end” and that to obtain this end, life is worth living. With this in mind, Freemasonry stands up to the challenge for an ethicality that is both freedom and responsibility, inviting all men who are free, strong, and ready to accept it, to join Freemasonry; paying the price for this challenge, if necessary. More freedom and more responsibility: this is our challenge from Rimini, to the Italian society.
We are aware that this entails being an example to others, and bearing – along with Humility – the welcome but heavy burden of Rigour and Mercy, without which neither freedom nor responsibility exist, and not even real ethics. I wish to conclude these remarks by quoting a particularly meaningful and poetic sentence by a writer who has embraced many values of esotericism, wisdom, ethicality, freedom and responsibility. Paolo Coelho wrote: “I do not regret the moments in which I suffered; I bear scars on me, as if they were medals, I know that freedom has a high price, as high as that of slavery. The only difference is that you pay for it with pleasure, and with a smile …even when that smile is drenched in tears”.
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