Monday, February 16, 2015

Does Masonic Morality Exist?

Inspiration comes from some pretty strange places. I am a member of a few Facebook groups that focus on Masonic topics. For the most part, these pale in comparison to the discussions on /r/freemasonry, /r/yorkrite, and /r/scottishrite. Facebook discussions are usually a mixture of posturing and hurt feelings. I think what I'm trying to say is that Facebook kinda sucks. But, sometimes lightning strikes and a phoenix rises out of the sulfur pits of that are FB group hell.

A topic was brought up in the usual manner for these hellish places. It goes like this, "ummm, I know it's controversial and stuff, but don't be mad and I hope we can be civil and all that but what do you think about [insert extremely controversial topic here]?" Yeah, this will end well. 

The controversial question dujour was: should an openly gay man be allowed to petition a lodge?However, there was an interesting subtext in the answers by the commentors. Throughout the discussion, I was reading, in varying degrees, two responses. Distilled, they were 1) yes, it's not relevant or 2) no, homosexuality is a sin in the Bible and the Bible is on the altar. 

That got me thinking, does there exist a Masonic morality? We discuss morality within Masonry in some detail. But do we have a defined set of principles, other than to be good men?

Dr. Anderson suggests, in the first version of his constitution, a Mason is "obliged by his Tenure, to obey the moral law" and that the purpose of Masonry is "to oblige them (Masons) to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance." So, it's really wishy-washy. 

"Religion in which all Men agree, to be good Men and true or Men of Honour and Honesty" Yeah, so, be good. But what is good? Are we talking Aristotelian good? Biblical good?

And then, at the end of his life, Dr. Anderson then revised his constitutions (poorly) to say instead: "[a] Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law as a true Noachide" and that the purpose of Freemasonry charges them, "to adhere to that religion in which all men agree (leaving each brother to his own particular opinions); that is, to be good men and true, men of honor and honesty, by whatever names, religions, or persuasions they may be distinguished; for they all agree in the three great articles of Noah, enough to preserve the cement of the lodge. Thus Masonry is the Center of Union, and the happy means of conciliating persons that otherwise must have remained at a perpetual distance."

(And, if you're wondering what those three great articles of Noah are, my good friend, Clay A., posits, after doing some research, that it refers to the tenets of Masonry, Brotherly love, relief, and truth.)

Even if we take this as a source of Masonic morality (and considering how many scholars put little weight on this document, it's of dubious use), it's still not helpful. So what is morality in a Masonic context?

To begin, we need to examine ethics. Ethics, also sometimes referred to as moral philosophy, has been philosophized thoroughly in almost all cultures and societies. This makes sense as ethics, in some respects, seeks a sense of order in a chaotic world.

W.Bro., and Dr., Kumar, in his paper entitled, Morality and Freemasonry, presents this formula, "[d]o right if you can; if questionable do not do it; and above all do no harm." At least in the Masonic framework, this statement seems to answer the question. We all have our own moral compass but they all seem to point north.

For many Masons, that moral compass comes their religion of choice (or birth). But there in lies a problem. We, at least in the American Freemasonry landscape, are led to believe that we are not supposed to bring our religion into the lodge room with us. But, we really can't drop that, just like I can't drop trespass from the Lord's Prayer in Commandery. So, if we can't drop our religious or political persuasions into the lodge, then we instead need to find a way to seek common ground.

And that can be hard. Just like the question above, can a gay man join a lodge, we need to find an answer. In Minnesota's Closing Charge, we are told that, "[e]very human being has a claim upon your kind offices. Do good unto all. Recommend it more especially 'to the household of the faithful.'" A good friend has also stated the inverse, "Masonry's morality can be summed up like this, 'don't be a dick.'"

We're still going to struggle but I like that idea. We are told to do good to all and not be jerks, leaving those definitions to themselves. Frankly, that's the best I can do with what I have. We can either stand on a podium and scream and pull our hair or we can just stand up and extend our hand in friendship.

What are your thoughts? What is morality in a Masonic context? Does it even exist? Leave a comment below.


Tom Accuosti said...

just like I can't drop trespass from the Lord's Prayer in Commandery.

Having grown up Roman Catholic, I have a very difficult time not saying it when I drop by the local Congregational Church.

The religious landscape changes. When I was in my 20s, cohabiting couples were still something that one talked about in semi-hushed tones. Now it's fairly typical, and we even see quite a few unmarried parents.

And as that landscape changes, so does our idea of what morality means.

Does this mean Masonic morality is relative, in the sense that it only applies as far as "all Men agree"? I can't answer that. And I think that question is the one we need to answer.

TikiJack said...

Ooh, I think I got quoted!

From my seat I would say there isn't a true morality, but a system for its implementation. The only things that Masonry preaches as good things are pretty broad, definitely falling under the what all can agree upon concept.

I do have a had time squaring freemasonry with moral relativism though. And I know plenty of masonic moral relativists. But for me, that's the whole point of freemasonry, especially as illustrated by geometry, arithmetic, and architecture. We measure ourselves against unalterable standards of measure. I think to be a successful mason you have to believe in an unalterable, objective standard of right and wrong.

Now, where there is give is that any freethinking person is going to acknowledge that what one believes is right and wrong is certainly going to differ from another's, and really, that all comes down to faith and humility. You shouldn't force your morality on others, you should tolerate difference. But individually, if you don't believe that there is an objective right and wrong, then you've claimed that authority yourself, and it strips any real meaning.

Luke says Moo! said...

My thoughts:

1) As a gay Past Master and officer of the Indianapolis Scottish Rite Lodge of Perfection, I offer up that I obey the moral law according to my beliefs.

2) I once had a Brother "unfriend" me because he couldn't understand how I could possibly support marriage equality based on Masonry and my obligation as a Templar. I double checked with the three past commanders and past masters I was currently playing Halo with to make sure, but was unable to find an obligation I was violating.

3) I once had a Brother tell me that I couldn't be a Christian and be homosexual. I promptly Googled 6 different Christian churches in Indianapolis that disagreed (I think Indy Pride last June had a dozen or more churches from the state who were supporting.) - Christianity doesn't necessarily agree on the morality of homosexuality.

4) I am not the only openly gay Mason in the state of Indiana. And I know that the Grand Masters, while I was President of Murat NexGen, were very aware of my presence as an openly gay Mason. None have ever reached out in a negative way (except that one time I arranged for a large group of NexGeners to go to the Spearmint Rhino in Lexington, KY...on Facebook...the night before the hospital visitation but that's something else entirely)

5) Morality - "Do as thou wilt and cause no harm." "Do unto others as you would do unto yourself." "Love thy neighbor as thyself." - The measurement across all of these sayings: don't hurt other people. All of the Masonic teachings revolve around ways to ensure we don't hurt one another.

Now if you'll excuse me I have the Gay Agenda and the Masonic World Conquest Plan to update.

Faust said...

TikiJack--Good response. Masonry is a system for implementation and certainly does not have a system of morality that is unique. It’s simply repackaged and stylized what many cultures consider to be “good” or “true.”
But Freemasonry is not a collection of beliefs, tenets, or weird mystical secrets laid out in books by Anderson or Preston or Pike or De Hoyos. Freemasonry is its living, breathing Brothers. We can brag about the greatness we veil in allegory and obligate our Brothers to seek and point to Old Charges, but we have to look at how this system of morality—whether it be “ours” or a restatement of others’—is put into practice. And this is where I agree with Tom A.—it is relative, and it’s relative from lodge to lodge. Your not-so-hypothetical homosexual petitioner—or African-American petitioner, or Wiccan petitioner—may meet a different response at each lodge across his Masonic jurisdiction. We have no stated set of morality and tolerance that we actually enforce. We just tell men to be “good” and let them define that as they wish, then act surprised when Brothers and lodges and Grand Lodges do questionable deeds. Some of our greatest Masonic “heroes” were slaveholders and bigots. We cherry-pick the good and gloss over the bad, and we continue to do so. Our system of morality is nothing more than cheap motivational posters because our organization’s leadership lacks the fortitude to enforce standards, especially if doing so would decrease dues revenue.

Luke says Moo! said...

1) I agree that each Lodge is different. I avoid certain Lodges as I know I make some of the Brethren uncomfortable. And any time I have someone ask I steer particularly flamboyant men to Lodges I know are very welcoming. (I also steer Brothers of varying creeds to certain Lodges and away from others.)

2) I'd disagree with "our organization’s leadership lacks the fortitude to enforce standards" - is instead that Masonry has very little in the way of enforceable standards at the West gate. If someone says they are moral/good/whatever - how do you contradict? What is the measurement to provide? A level, square, and rule are great philosophical moral drivers, but what device/standard do I measure a man's soul?

I do QA for work - a subjective standard can never be enforced by someone in the same way more than once. An individual will make a different decision given reasonably similar information that triggers a different bias. I'm more willing to forgive similar picadillos to my own than I am to forgive others - it's natural inclination.

Outside of asking the question "Are you a good man and do you want to improve?" I see no way to measure another man, a petitioner in the dark, in his ability to be a good Mason.

Tom Accuosti said...

Your not-so-hypothetical homosexual petitioner—or African-American petitioner, or Wiccan petitioner—may meet a different response at each lodge across his Masonic jurisdiction. We have no stated set of morality and tolerance that we actually enforce.

There isn't a Pla-Doh factory stamping out Freemasons. Every lodge is made up up members of the community in which it is located. That means your family members, neighbors, friends, co-workers, etc., are the people that make up the lodge membership.

While we'd like to think that we only attract the best and brightest, the fact remains that we also manage to attract people with different standards, simply because that's what exists across the US.

Anonymous said...

The problem I see with definitions is that they tend toward fundamentalism. (I will define fundamentalism here simply as: The belief that MY definition and interpretation of the word you used is the only correct one) Masonry is a search for light. It is difficult to search for more when you already know everything.

Anonymous said...

it's up to God to judge me not man

Old Corky said...

Hello Brother, I am John “Corky” Daut, Past Master and past secretary Waller Masonic Lodge #808 AF & AM in Waller, Texas. I was raised at age 64, W.M. at age 76 and started the free online “Small Town Texas Masons E-magazine at age 80 (seven years ago). And, I am still trying to make up for those lost years.
I am writing because I just discovered your Masonic BLOG, "The Millennial Freemason" because I found your article “Does Masonic Morality Exist?” and I loved it and would like to get your permission to reprint it and most likely some more of your Masonic articles in the STTME-magazine, giving proper credits of course.
Please check out the magazine at before you decide. Thank you for your consideration.
Corky -

Millennial Freemason said...

Most definitely. Share away!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Navak said...

"Noachide" and "the three great articles of Noah" almost certainly refer to the Noachide Laws. They are man's end of the Noahic Covenant between God and the "children of Noah," aka all humanity. Thus "a Noachide" is a poetic and religious way to refer to "a human," specifically in the context of all humans sharing a common brotherhood and even a common charge or responsibility handed to us all in equal share by God, thus forming some basis of a universal morality among men.

The Noachide Laws have been extended in number to seven, but originally (Genesis 9) only three of the final seven were stipulated. These, I suspect, are the "three great articles of Noah:"

1) Do not eat from a live animal. (basically don't be cruel/barbaric)
2) Do not murder.
3) Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law. (we are each of us charged to hold our fellow man to the law as much as we are ourselves)

This list was extended in later sections of the Bible to include:

4) Do not deny God.
5) Do not blaspheme God.
6) Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
7) Do not steal.

A little more context:

The Noahic Covenant (the Noachide Laws for man plus God's promise to never again flood the world) was made after the flood between God and all mankind (and, minus the Laws, also between God and all living creatures).

The Abrahamic Covenant was made between God and the descendants of Abraham only (Jews and Arabs). It included the Promised Land and circumcision among other things.

The Mosaic Covenant was made between God and the Israelites only. God promised to make the Israelites his chosen people ("The People of God"), but charged them to obey the Mosaic Law: the Ten Commandments along with dietary restrictions and a whole host of other instructions.

The New Covenant was more open-ended: it was made between Jesus/God and those who choose to embrace and believe in him, aka Christians. God's chosen people ("The People of God") broadened to include "the children of promise," that is to say, faith, rather than "the children of flesh," aka the Israelites.