Masonic Random Thoughts

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Obligations and Charges Part 2

In the blog post, we looked at the difference between Obligations and Charges as they relate to Masonry and explored how they might affect our duties as a Mason.

Charges are hortatory and serve as instruction to the Mason on how to further their path in Masonry and improve themselves. Obligations are a morally binding contract in which you declare that you will follow certain guidelines with the assistance of and a debt to Deity.   We looked at the Biblical basis for this contract with Deity and how this was a powerful incentive to our ancient Brothers to comply with the requirements of the Obligation.

Ignoring the charge you are given with each degree simply cheats you of the knowledge available through Masonry and harms no Brother directly. Breaking your obligation, however, is sin according to the Torah / Old Testament and means you are cheating or breaking faith with Deity and you are therefore subject to punishment both in this world and the next.

We now turn our attention to the other end of the Obligation and examine the rather curious addition regarding the true nature of our intent in taking the Obligation.

The Obligation is a layered affair starting with an admission that one is not forced to take it, recognizing free will and positive intent, and then invoking the assistance of Deity in performing the duties of the Obligation. In the middle are the various parts and points that the candidate is being obligated to and then there is yet another section that reinforces with specific terms that the person swearing the Obligation is not doing so with any hidden intent. A curious addition considering they have already invoked Deity.

As we discussed in the first section, taking obligations that were sealed with an appeal to Deity was quite common in the 18th century and even before that time. As many were illiterate and Church and State were essentially one, the burdens of religious compliance weighed heavily on the populace. These obligations were not taken lightly and it was believed wholly that breaking the obligation would be a sin punishable by Deity. So why the bookend of “…equivocation, mental reservation or secret evasion…”?

Since the founders of Masonry left us no notes to explain how or why they picked the language they did we can only speculate on what influenced them in the creation of our ritual. Like any author, they would have been influenced by not only the educational standards of the times but also by events of the time and language that was in common usage. If that is the case, then I believe there are two major contributors to the construction of our Obligations: Historical precedence and the influence of the politics and theology of that time.

The use of oaths of allegiance, obedience, etc. has a long history in England stretching back to the Magna Carta. Once the terms had been finalized on 19 June, the rebels again swore allegiance to King John. The later Bill of Rights (1689) included the Oath of Allegiance to the crown, which was required by Magna Carta to be taken by all crown servants and members of the judiciary.

In Operative Masonry, obligations or oaths can be found in records stretching back to the early 1300’s that were required of men joining the Craft.

At time passed, there were three major oaths being used consistently in England; The Oath of Supremacy (religious; the King is the head of the Church), The Oath of Allegiance (to the crown, denying the Pope) and, in 1702, the Oath of Abjuration (denying the Stuarts and the Pope) and therefore they would most certainly had an influence on early Masonry. These three oaths changed over time to include things that were then important to the ruling class but they all contained two similar sections: They were sworn in the name of God per the instructions in the Torah / Old Testament and they contained the phrase:

“…And all these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear, according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense and understanding of the same words, without any Equivocation, or mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever: And I doe make this recognition and acknowledgement heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian: So help me God.

 While there were various issues with the Catholic Church, Royal Lines and other issues that marginally changed the close of the oath, the concepts of there being no “…equivocation, mental reservation or secret evasion…” began to be standard in oaths following the expulsion of the Stuart line and the Catholic Church. (Mid 1500’s)

The reason for the prohibition of this triplet of ethical bending is that as long as there have been oaths, humans have been inclined to figure out a way to get around the oath. Particularly, the technique of mental reservation, which had been proposed as a Catholic doctrine as early as 1565. This was especially important in the case of Catholics in the 1700’s, whom if they did not take the oath, which included abjuring nearly every foundational principal of the Catholic Church, would have 2/3 of their property seized, most of their civil rights suspended and be barred from the major professions (Dr. Lawyer, civil servant). So taking the oath but equivocating, having reservations or evasion makes a lot of sense. (who scares your more…God and the Church or the King’s men?) Another example is those that wished to see a restoration of the Stuart line to the throne and Catholicism as the national religion might take the oath but use one of the three methods to not truly bind himself to that oath.

So, if we can agree that our usage of this phrase was likely influenced by the powerful oaths that permeated society at this time, the struggle between the Catholic faith and the various Protestant faiths and Operative Masonic history, then we can turn our attention to the meanings behind each of these terms and explore how they work together and how, if at all, they should still govern our actions today.

Equivocation

Equivocation is an informal logical fallacy. It is an attempt to mislead or confuse by using a term that can have more than one meaning.

Examples:

Fallacious reasoning

Equivocation is the use in a syllogism (a logical chain of reasoning) of a term several times, but giving the term a different meaning each time. For example:

A feather is light.

What is light cannot be dark.

Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

Semantic shift

The fallacy of equivocation is often used with words that have a strong emotional content and many meanings. These meanings often coincide within proper context, but the fallacious arguer does a semantic shift, slowly changing the context by treating, as equivalent, distinct meanings of the term.

“Man”

In English language, one equivocation is with the word “man”, which can mean both “member of the species, Homo sapiens” and “male member of the species, Homo sapiens“. The following sentence is a well-known equivocation:

“Do women need to worry about man-eating sharks?”, in which “man-eating” is construed to mean a shark that devours only male human beings.

Switch-referencing

This occurs where the referent of a word or expression in a second sentence is different from that in the immediately preceding sentence, especially where a change in referent has not been clearly identified.

Metaphor

All jackasses have long ears.

Carl is a jackass.

Therefore, Carl has long ears.

Here the equivocation is the metaphorical use of “jackass” to imply a stupid or obnoxious person instead of a male donkey.

“Nothing is better than”

Margarine is better than nothing.

Nothing is better than butter.

Therefore, margarine is better than butter.

The Bible itself contains a good example of equivocation. Abraham was married to his half-sister by a different mother, Sarah/Sarai. Fearing that as he traveled people would covet his beautiful wife and as a result kill him to take her, he counseled her to agree with him when he would say, “she is my sister”. This happens on two occasions, first with the Pharaoh of Egypt told in Genesis 12:11-13 and secondly with a king called Abimelech in Gen 20:12.

So equivocating while taking the oath by changing words on purpose or by accident or claiming a different definition would be one way of taking the oath without actually agreeing to the terms of the oath. In others words, a trapdoor to escape through when confronted with a transgression of the oath. By saying you are not equivocating, you acknowledge this possibility and swear that this is not what you are doing. As long as there has been language, communication has been a subtle and tricky thing. Claiming ignorance or a different definition for a word would be hard to prove wrong. We often see this in Masonic charges and trials.

Mental Reservation

This trick has both a secular use or definition and one in moral theology both of which accomplish the same task, that of misleading the receiver of the communication by using a form of deception that is not an outright lie thus tying it directly to equivocation. Justification for such behavior is often given as that mental reservation allows you to save someone the horrors of knowing the actual truth. A lie without actually lying for the good of the recipient.

The moral theology use of this method is called strict mental reservation and originated with the Catholic church in Spain in the mid-1500’s. The basic theory states that it is permissible to lie orally as long as you mentally add words that make your statement not a lie. Since God can hear every thought you have, it is not a lie.

For example in early modern England (e.g. under James VI/I, died 1625) when it was a capital offence for a Roman Catholic priest to enter England. A Jesuit priest would use strict mental reservation in order to protect himself from the secular authorities without (in his eyes) committing the sin of lying. For example, he could use the ambiguity of the word “a” (meaning “any” or “one”) to say “I swear I am not a priest”, because he could have a particular priest in mind who he was not. That is, in his mind, he was saying “I swear I am not one priest” (e.g. “I am not Father Brown”.)

While this doctrine was quite controversial in the Catholic church and eventually condemned by Pope Innocent XI (1679), it was still quite popular well into the 18th century and is still discussed both in secular and religious philosophy.

Again, if you truly believed in this doctrine, you could take any oath supplied to you, and then act as you please and still maintain that you were innocent because you had thought other words when taking the oath.

Evasion

Evasion as defined in ethics is deceiving someone by using a statement that is irrelevant or leads to a false conclusion. Someone asks you if you have “seen” a particular person whom you know to be in the building because you heard his or her voice but you answer, “I have not seen him”. Both true and a lie at the same time!

These three techniques are so similar to each other that it is often hard to define which one is actually being used. Nonetheless, these were in great use during that time (and in my opinion still are) and the construction of common oaths and our obligation recognized this feature of dealing with people. Specifically eliminating these techniques by naming them and tying it as a promise to Deity, the receiver of the oath has no way out, no excuse and no defense for breaking their oath.

Again, as we saw with the Biblical laws to keep your oath to Deity, we see at the other end of our obligation a trio of commonly used methods to alter or avoid keeping our oath eliminated leaving the receiver of the oath no other path but to strictly comply with the oath.

But that is predicated on the receiver of the oath knowing exactly what those three techniques mean and how they have been used in society up to this point and the seriousness of the transgression.

In part 3 of this examination of our obligations, we will take a look at the specific things that make up the “meat” of the obligation.

 

Questions:

  • How many of us when kneeling at the alter realized just how firmly the door had been shut to our ability to escape the oath we had just taken?

 

  • Do we take this act of obligation as serious as it certainly is when the inner workings are examined?

 

  • Do we take our obligation as seriously as a written contract, which is the norm in our world today? Should it be?

 

  • How do you feel about ethical behavior being based on either the promise of reward (I’ll tell you the secrets of MM) or the threat of punishment (penalties, sin, etc.)? Does all life work that way? Can an atheist be ethical if there is not fear of  eternal penalty?

 

  • Does placing your hands on the Bible and having them held there by the conferring Master change anything or reinforce the seriousness of the obligation?

 

Suggested Reading

The Case of an Oath of Abjuration Considered 1702
Discussion of the need for an additional oath in addition to Oath of Allegiance.  Argues that it is not needed and impossible to be kept.

 

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Obligations and Charges…What’s the difference?

The rituals and conventions of Ancient Craft Masonry have come down to us from a time much different from that in which we now live. In today’s world, we have well crafted laws and a system to administer and enforce those laws. Our Brethren in the 16th and 17th century were living in a time of much less structure but much more reliance on Biblical laws. So as the Craft became more structured it would borrow from the culture around it to obligate a Brother in a manner consistent with the beliefs of that time regarding Deity and duty.

First we must understand the difference between these two terms, examine how they worked in 16th century England forward and then look at how they affect us as speculative Masons.

A Charge is an instructional piece that some authority, in our case the Master of the Lodge, gives to the candidate to impose a responsibility or duty upon that person; exhorting them to action. Take the Fellowcraft charge as an example. In the FC charge, the candidate is exhorted to study the seven liberal arts, treat his brothers with justice and so on. In this sense a charge is hortatory meaning that it is urging the recipient to some course of conduct or action. A charge also does not have the “binding” property of an oath as there is no appeal to Deity and no stated consequences for not taking action.

Obligations or Oaths are generally considered to be a legally and/or morally binding contract between two or more parties. The thing that makes an obligation so important is that it is generally sworn with an appeal to Deity to witness what has been said and help the person taking the obligation to fulfill the requirements of the obligation. It also generally covers future actions or behavior and contains grave consequences for breaking the oath.

It would be almost impossible to overstate the depth to which the Church and Biblical law permeated the lives of our Brethren at the time of the beginnings of Masonry. The Church and its interpretation of Biblical laws often trumped what little civil law existed. People literally believed that if they made a promise or oath to Deity and then broke it, their very soul was in danger and most likely their condition on earth was also in jeopardy as they had committed a sin.

This was based on two sections of the Old Testament regarding swearing oaths:

Numbers 30:2 King James Version (KJV)

If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

This was reinforced and was specifically called out at a sin in Deuteronomy which contains the three sermons of Moses just before the Israelites entered Canaan (the Promised Land; this is in the second sermon.)

Deuteronomy 23:21-23 King James Version (KJV)

21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.

22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.

23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.

Breaking an obligation thus taken implies that you have broken faith with Deity and committed a sin which can have serious consequences. For our Brothers of long ago, swearing an obligation in the name of Deity was one of the most binding of contracts possible and was not taken lightly. Swearing obligations in this manner was a part of everyday life and so was used by Masonry as a method to impart the seriousness of what was being transacted.

So how do these two concepts work together in Masonry? The obligation is a moral contract between you, your Brethren and your God. It tells you what you can and can’t do very clearly with Masonic Information of all types and defines certain foundational principles of conduct. The Charge impresses upon you the pragmatic, everyday tasks that you need to practice in order to enrich yourself and become more knowledgeable in Masonry.

In the end, they work together to define for a Mason the duties, actions and important principles and guides the Mason to more light in Masonry.

Masonic Values

There is a lot of talk of values these days in our popular culture. Often the discussion breaks down into an argument about whose values are correct and a lament that some certain value of the past has been lost. The same is true for Masonry. Many Masonic authors talk about Masonic Values and what they think they are and if we are upholding them. When Masons talk to non-Masons the issue of Masonic Values often comes up as well.

So what are values, Masonic or otherwise? How do they affect our actions and as Masons do we have certain values that are unique to our Craft?

First, we must understand the definition of the concept of a value as it relates to our belief system:

A value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct is personally or socially preferable to another. Think of this as a shared code for behaving and operating. A value possesses intrinsic worth, desirability, and utility to the individual or group.

In 1966, psychologist Louis Edward Raths formulated a seven-step process to determine values:

  1. Prized and Cherished. A value is something that the individual or group prizes and cherishes.
  2. Publicly affirmed. The individual or group must be willing to publicly affirm the value.
  3. Available alternatives. A value is not mandated. One must be free to choose other alternatives.
  4. Chosen intelligently. A true value is chosen after intelligently considering the consequences.
  5. Chosen freely. Individuals and groups choose values freely after considering consequences.
  6. A true value means acting on one’s belief. The final test of a value is action.
  7. Repeated action. A true value demands repeated action in a consistent pattern.

So values guide our actions both as individuals and as a group. They can influence us for the positive or the negative but once formed they rarely change. Values are considered non-negotiable parts of our belief system

We all joined Masonry for different reasons but at the core of nearly any candidate’s actions are an attraction to the values that Masonry holds. These values work both for individuals and for the group creating a shared experience that reinforces the stated values and helps us to act upon those values in a consistent manner.

Questions

  1. Given this framework, what are the values of ritual and practice of Freemasonry and do they meet the requirements of this definition?
  2. Sit down with your ritual and some Brothers and see how many values you can define that fulfill the requirement of the seven points above. Then, discuss which are group values and which are individual values or both.
  3. How can we express our belief in a certain Masonic value in our life?

Junk News, Fake Facts and How to Find Them

The recent election cycle has brought a new focus on the issue of “junk” or “fake” news. Wild claims that seem just close enough to real or align with our own ignorance so well that we take them as fact. Because of this recent focus, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how “junk” or “fake” news works and what we can do to avoid being sucked in by this type of “news.” Plus as Masons we have been and continue to be assailed by purveyors of this kind of dross in an attempt to further some agenda of the supposed expert. So we need to recognize it and how to fight back.

The first question that will come to everyone’s mind is “Is there really more junk or fake new and facts than in some time past?” And this is a valid question for we would hate to waste effort on combating something that is just a passing fad. But a quick look at history tells us that this has always been an issue. From the earliest days of our Western culture that have been myths, legends and oral tradition stories that have often stretched the bounds of credulity but somehow can stick in the public’s mind and become a “truth”.

Some of you might recall the famous War of the Worlds hysteria in 1938 that took place when Orson Welles and his radio players, put on a broadcast that sounded very much like an actual news report that we were being invaded by Mars! Despite disclaimers at the beginning and throughout the show that it was just a dramatization of a fiction story, the American public went berserk! This was probably one of the first true demonstrations of the power of the media and the lack of training in rhetoric and logic!

As PT Barnum said “There’s a sucker born every minute!” Look at the trash National Inquirer stuff at the check out stand, the near endless “secrets revealed” programs on TV and the always reliable…”But I saw it on the Internet / Facebook!” excuse.

The bottom line is that this sort of problem has always existed but it seems to have accelerated due to the ease of mass communication, access to what used to be hard to acquire technology and a massive shift in the education standards of the general public. It is just so much easier today to reach a massive amount of people with little effort. Give me a subject and a couple of hours and I can put up a website and be on social media with nearly any story you can dream up.

If you’d like to know more about how what amounts to anti-rationalism has affected our culture, pick up a copy of the book The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby (revised and updated / 2008). This book is a real eye opener as to how far we’ve managed to drift from being rational thinkers!

So why is this a Masonic issue? Masonry is built on the foundation of education, seeking the truth and improving ourselves above the normal level. The Fellowcraft degree, which used to be the final degree, is entirely about education and the need for it in a well-balanced man. We are taught that this education will make us wiser and consequently happier.

The Trivium or first three of the seven liberal arts are the beginning of being able to understand what we are being exposed to through the multitude of information streams that we have access to every day.

Trivium literally means the “meeting of three roads” and is used to describe the three essential skills of Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic.

These are described as follows (Wikipedia):

Grammar teaches the mechanics of language to the student. This is the step where the student “comes to terms”, i.e. defining the objects and information perceived by the five senses. Hence, the Law of Identity: a tree is a tree, and not a cat.

Logic (also dialectic) is the “mechanics” of thought and of analysis; the process of identifying fallacious arguments and statements, and so systematically removing contradictions, thereby producing factual knowledge that can be trusted.

Rhetoric is the application of language in order to instruct and to persuade the listener and the reader. It is the knowledge (grammar) now understood (logic) being transmitted outwards, as wisdom (rhetoric).

These subjects were considered essential for any thinking man to master in ancient Greek and that idea carried forward through Western thought. In the middle ages the Shield of the Trinity was repurposed to show the relationship between these three skills. Only with the use of all three can we reach the truth of any subject.

So by arming ourselves with the proper tools and methods we too can master these three skills and bring a balance to our understanding of the world and the endless stream of so-called information that bombards us every day.

To do so, we must learn to be skeptical thinkers not in a negative way but in a way that helps us to systematically remove the contradictions and find the trusted information within.

So now it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the SBDK! Or the Sagan Baloney Detection Kit!

Many of you probably remember Dr. Carl Sagan. He was one of the foremost astronomers and scientists of his time and had a knack for explaining heavy science at a level most of us could understand. In 1995, he wrote a book entitled “The Demon-Haunted World” as he was quite concerned that the general publics lack of science training or emphasis and our seeming heavy reliance on superstition and wishful thinking was going to doom our society. (Yes, he was an atheist but the book is not just a denial of Deity or religion in general). One of the chapters of this book was entitled The Fine Art of Baloney Detection. This is where he laid out his suggestions for how to sift fact from fiction and how to avoid being taken in by those would try to deceive.

First we look at this list of things we have to actively do in order to be a good skeptical thinker:

  1. Where possible there must be independent confirmation of the “Facts”
    1. Self-explanatory. If you can’t find confirmation in other trusted sources, it’s probably baloney.
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of ALL points of view.
    1. This seems to be the hardest part and the one we most seldom practice. How many of use only read or listen to the news that supports our particular worldview? (MSNBC vs. Fox News)
  3. Arguments from “Authorities” carry little weight.
    1. Authorities have made mistakes in the past and will do so again. At best someone might be an expert but they are not flawless.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis
    1. Think of all the different ways in which it could be explained and then test each alternative. Think Darwinian survival.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours
    1. This is a tough one. Ask yourself why you like the idea and then compare it fairly to the alternatives. If you don’t, others will do this for you!
  6. Quantify
    1. If it can be measured, then do so this will help eliminate other competing hypothesis.
  7. If there is a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work including the premise, not just most of them.
    1. Happens all too often that you don’t think all the steps through.
  8. Occam’s Razor
    1. If 2 explanations seem to explain the data equally well, choose the simpler one
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. You must be able to check assertions out.
    1. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Example, we are all just living on a small particle (electron?) of something larger in the Cosmos. But we can never gather enough information from outside our universe to prove or disprove this hypothesis. Thus double blind studies for drugs, the required repeatability of experimental outcomes.

Now we turn to the things we must not do in order to be good skeptical thinkers. You might notice that the majority of these things are being used all the time to appeal to the consumer. In fact, in the recent election cycle, both sides gave a Master Class in how to use and abuse these tools.

  1. Ad hominem attacks
    1. Latin for “to the man”. Attacking the arguer and not the argument.
  2. Argument from authority
    1. The argument amounts to trusting someone because of their position e.g. the President has a secrete plan…
  3. Argument from adverse consequences
    1. If you do/don’t do this terrible things will happen. E.g. God will smote you, others will be encouraged to break this law.
  4. Appeal to ignorance
    1. The claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true and vice versa. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  5. Special pleading
    1. Often used to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble. E.g. you don’t understand the mysterious ways of God.
  6. Begging the question / Assuming the answer
    1. The Stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment…but is ;there an independent evidence for the causal role of “Adjustment” and have we learned anything from this purported explanation?
  7. Observational selection / Enumeration of favorable circumstances
    1. Francis Bacon: Counting the hits and forgetting misses.
    2. A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced but is silent on its serial killers (Masonry does this a lot!)
  8. Statistics of small numbers
    1. 1 in 5 people are Chinese or the gambler who thinks that since they’ve won the last 3 hands, the next is a shoo in too.
    2. Story from Bosch days of too small a sample of alarm dealers to make any difference
  9. Misunderstanding of the nature of statistics
    1. The President was shocked to discover that half of all Americans have below average intelligence.
  10. Inconsistency
    1. Consider it reasonable for the possibility for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past.
  11. Non Sequitur
    1. Latin for “It doesn’t follow”
    2. Our cause will prevail because God is with us but everyone thinks that.
    3. It’s a failure to recognize other alternatives
  12. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
    1. Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by”
    2. Getting cause and effect backwards
    3. We didn’t have nuclear weapons before women had the vote!
  13. Meaningless questions
    1. What happens when an irresistible object meets and immovable force? Well, it can’t be both!
  14. Excluded middle or false dichotomy
    1. Considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities.
    2. If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem!
  15. Short-term vs. Long –term
    1. A subset of excluded middle
    2. Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?
  16. Slippery slope
    1. Related to excluded middle
    2. If we do X then Y will shortly follow
  17. Confusion of correlation and causation
    1. Andean earthquakes are correlated with closet approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter the latter causes the former
    2. Used heavily in advertising and marketing
  18. Straw Man
    1. Caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack
    2. Environmentalist care more for snail darters and spotted owls that they do for people
  19. Suppressed evidence or half-truths
    1. An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is show on television; but —an important detail—was it recorded before or after the event?
  20. Weasel Words
    1. Using words to give something a new name that softens the connotation of that thing or allows you to get around some rule or law
    2. It’s not a war, it’s a police action / pacification / safeguarding American interests.
    3. Talleyrand: An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions, which under old names have become odious to the public.

Keep in mind that just knowing of these tools of rhetoric and logic are not enough. These tools can also be used for good or evil, you still have to use your own mind and evaluate carefully both your own arguments and those of others.

Conclusion

So, again, how does this affect us as Masons? We are supposed to be lovers of the seven arts and constantly trying to seek the truth. With these sorts of tools we can more easily or at least reliably, separate the truth from the obfuscation that seems to characterize our news. As citizens of society, it is incumbent upon us to be as well informed as possible and form our opinions and actions based on the best version of the facts we can obtain. This means that some work has to be done on your part. Do not just accept what shows up in your Facebook feed or blares from the TV or Radio by some alleged “unbiased authority”. Use your mind…THINK!

Here’s a fun exercise to get you in the habit of using these tools. Each week (or day if you have the time) pick a news story and run it through the tools listed above and see if it can pass all the tests. If it doesn’t, which one did it fail and why do you think it was presented in that manner?

Here’s a link to a printable version of the SBDK:  FakeNewsHandoutv2.5

Soon, you’ll be doing this automatically and be a much better informed person!

 

 

 

Internal vs. External Qualifications

Some of the more progressive and “dangerous” ideas in Masonry seem quite obvious such as the idea of universal brotherhood, accepting all faiths and many of the statements in the obligations. Each of these things for their time in the 17th and 18th century were quite dangerous to the status quo of society and political and religious power and so were often veiled in allegory or only transmitted from mouth to ear.

Other progressive and “dangerous” ideas are hidden in plain sight, however, and are just as powerful but are often overlooked.

One such idea is given in the Fellowcraft charge. The newly passed Fellowcraft is told during the charge “…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man that Masonry regards…” While on the surface this may seem like a fancy way of saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but upon further examination, the importance of this short phrase becomes more apparent. (N.B.: this concept was allegorically introduced when the candidate was asked for “…something of a metallic nature…” and found he was destitute)

I believe that there are two possible sources for this revolutionary idea and they may be intertwined and therefore it’s impossible to say with any accuracy, which influenced the creators of our ritual more. Nonetheless, let’s look at this concept from both a Biblical and a 17th/18th century prospective.

The original source of this idea may well have been the book of Samuel.

The book of Samuel (divided into two books in Christian theology) tells the story of the rise and fall of David and is not considered historical as there are no extra-biblical sources that confirm the stories. Nevertheless, the book records a critical period in Israelite history, the transition from charismatic leadership, with leaders appointed at times of need, to an established, dynastic monarchy, politically uniting the Israelites. (Shawn Aster / www.myjewishlearning.com).

Saul was a choice of the people based on their visual assessment of Saul. Turns out he didn’t really have the right “heart” and so God sought to replace him.

In 1 Samuel 16:1:13, (N.B.: if you are not familiar with the background of the whole story, I recommend you read the entire book) we find Samuel being directed by God to go to Bethlehem and contact Jesse and that from his sons, a new king will be chosen (Saul hadn’t really worked out, he’d been chosen based on “external qualifications”). Samuel is reluctant to do so but eventually does as he is bade by the Lord. Samuel finds Jesse and has him present each of his sons, starting at the oldest, to see if one of them is the man whom God will have him anoint as King. Samuel expects it to be the first-born due to traditions surrounding first-born male children and because he is a fine-looking, strong man. But he is rejected! This continues through the other sons of Jesse and Samuel is confused. It is at this point that we find what may be the basis for our admonition to look on the “internal qualification of a man” in Masonry

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)

Thus David, the youngest son, the sheep herder is introduced into the picture and despite not having any positional power or great appearance or other qualifications that were often used to judge a man, this is the man that God chooses.

(The three degrees could be seen as a retelling of the arc of David’s life. EA is his youth and service under Saul, FC is his good days as King of the Israelites and MM would be his downfall (the sword will ever be with the house of David…The lion of the tribe of Judah will prevail (in Revelation it’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (i.e. the Davidic line) that opens the book))

So here for the first time we find the concept of judging someone by their intentions, actions and inner qualities and not by their physical appearance, birthright or other worldly things! In the big scheme of things, those items matter not. Even for the time of Samuel, this was a very different lesson to learn!

Now how would people in the 17th/18th century have looked at such an idea in the FC Charge?

Life in this time was all about the external as far as how people were judged. If you were born to the “right” family, you could be King or a Lord of a great estate regardless of your moral or personal values. Each man knew his place in the hierarchy and therefore, knew what he owed others in society and what they owed him. If you were born to a poor family, that is where you would stay with little or no chance of being able to move up in the strata of society regardless of your natural abilities or ability to learn.

The Church at this time was also, paradoxically, divided in the same manner and looked upon their flock in the same manner. Wealth, position and power controlled the lives of people of this time and had done so for many years. It was even worse for women and people of color, as they were generally regarded simply as property!

However, as England and Europe moved into the time we call the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries for England), much of this began to be challenged and change. As philosophers (the first scientists) began to explore and explain the world around us, it became harder to control knowledge and therefore the masses. People began to believe that they could understand the world and the will of God as accurately as the Church if not more so. Understanding physical processes gave many an avenue to build an industry and raise themselves out of the dirt. The grip of Church and State was being thrown off and changed to be more in the favor of the common people. The philosophy that all humans had value began to pervade thinking. So it is very likely that our fore-brothers interpreted this idea in the charge from the massive changes going on about them in thought and society and boiled it down to the simple phrase “…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man that Masonry regards…”

However, even in early Masonry, this was not a common concept. Much of the chaos of the battle between the Ancients and the Moderns was really centered on the admittance into the Craft of men from the emerging middle class in English society. The established “upper crust” of Masonry was just as guilty of judging by “external qualifications” as the average citizen.

Even today in the Standard Ritual of Scottish Freemasonry, the Fellowcraft charge does not include the internal/external quote. The subject of equality of men is brought up in the ritual portion in the working tools explanation and the Master does meet the new Fellowcraft on the Level at the end of the FC degree:

This concludes the ceremony of your being passed to the Second Degree, and it affords me great pleasure to come to the floor of the Lodge and on the Level, extend to you the cordial right hand of friendship

But the exhortation is nowhere as clear as in the Fellowcraft charge in our ritual and appears to afford equality only AFTER the Brother becomes a Fellowcraft . (NB: the FC charge in the Scottish ritual is nearly word for word the same as our ritual with the exception of the internal/external qualifications statement)

In the UGLE Bylaws and Constitution (2016), there is a list of both the Ancient Charges and the current charges to Masons that are recognized by UGLE. The Ancient Charges contain no mention of such a concept of judging a man by his internal worth. The closest they get is that you must be “…a good man and true” and that no man can be made a Mason without “…due inquiry into his nature”. This would seem to be a nod to judging by a man’s character but does not go as far as to spell it out. The modern list of Charges only touches upon this idea as it relates to relates to relations amongst Brothers and states: “All preferment among masons is grounded upon real worth and personal merit only…”

How this phrase became standard in American rituals is yet to be discovered but it might be due to the influence of the various leading men and Mason’s that came to our fledgling country. These men were often very steeped in the finer concepts of the Enlightenment thinking and such influence is apparent in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Regardless of the source of inspiration, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how radical this idea was and how dangerous it would have been to the status quo. By meeting on the level, many prejudices can be broken down, ideas can be exchanged freely and if followed purely, the correct man can be chosen for the job at hand, not simply by title, wealth or position. The society becomes more peaceful and therefore more productive and progressive.

It would be nice if we could look at this and say “Well that was then, this is now, we don’t have that issue anymore” but that is patently not the case!

[The need to follow this precept] rings out loudly in our cultural context. We rely for almost everything on our sight, but it often proves untrustworthy. Advertisers know that the quickest way to get their fingers into our wallets is through our eyes–by bombarding us with images of sexuality and excess. Do we really think that wearing the same watch, as Heidi Klum or Tiger Woods will make us more attractive and successful? Apparently, since we buy the watches. And the cars, hamburgers, and light beer. We also tend to pick our leaders–politicians, principals, coaches, celebrities, and so on–based on our society’s norms about appearance. For the last century or more, the taller of the two final presidential candidates has almost always won. (Rolf Jacobsen / www.workingpreacher.org)

Only in the last century, have we as a society began to look at the harm of judging by external factors has created in society and every so slowly we are working on adopting a more internal rule by which to measure our fellow-man. Masonry has known this to be an important concept for over 300 years!

In the Fellowcraft degree we are taught about construction of physical objects but also the world and the person. We are introduced to those things that we should study to improve upon ourselves, and the world around us.

If the Entered Apprentice was about youth, and the Fellowcraft about manhood, then you can no longer be excused for the mistakes of youth. Nor have you attained the wisdom of your elders. You must take on the hard work of building yourself and the world around while you can. This means confronting such difficult concepts as Brotherhood based on internal qualities and shared values and not on those temporary things that separate us in the external world.

One the most difficult things any of us will do as a man and a Mason are to try to live up to the precepts of Masonry, especially this particular precept. As visual creatures and flawed humans we constantly fall into the trap of judging by external and not the internal qualifications. But as Mason’s it is incumbent upon us to recognize that natural failing and work constantly to overcome it. Thereby we will not only be happier and wiser but will set the correct example for the world, thus fulfilling yet another goal of Freemasonry.

Questions

  1. Should we put more emphasis on this concept?
  2. What are “internal” and “external” qualifications?
  3. Why is it only in the FC charge and not in the obligation if it is important? (Think of the difference between the goals of each. Charges are hortatory)
  4. How often do you judge other people for bad qualities that you possess, too?
  5. Will we ever truly be able to live in this manner? Why or Why not?

It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts

Some of the more progressive and “dangerous” ideas in Masonry are quite obvious such as the idea of universal brotherhood, accepting all faiths and the statements in the obligations. Each of these things for their time in the 17th and 18th century were quite dangerous to the status quo of society, political and religious power and so were often veiled in allegory or only transmitted from mouth to ear.

Other progressive and “dangerous” ideas are hidden in plain sight, however, and are just as powerful but as we no longer live in the 17th or 18th century, they often get overlooked.

One such idea is given in the Fellowcraft charge. The newly passed Fellowcraft is told during the charge:

“…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man who Masonry regards…”

While on the surface this may seem like a fancy way of saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but upon further examination, the importance of this short phrase becomes more apparent. (N.B.: this concept was allegorically introduced when the candidate was asked for “…something of a metallic nature…” and found he was destitute)

I believe that there are two possible sources for this revolutionary idea and they may be intertwined and therefore it’s impossible to say with any accuracy, which influenced the creators of our ritual more. Nonetheless, let’s look at this concept from both a Biblical and a 17th/18th century prospective.

The original source of this idea may well have been the book of Samuel. The book of Samuel (divided into two books in Christian theology) tells the story of the rise and fall of David and is not considered historical as there are no extra-biblical sources that confirm the stories. Nevertheless, the book records a critical period in Israelite history, the transition from charismatic leadership, with leaders appointed at times of need, to an established, dynastic monarchy, politically uniting the Israelites. (Shawn Aster / www.myjewishlearning.com).

In 1 Samuel 16:1:13, (N.B.: if you are not familiar with the background of the whole story, I recommend you read the entire book) we find Samuel being directed by God to go to Bethlehem and contact Jesse and that from his sons, a new king will be chosen (Saul hadn’t really worked out). Samuel is reluctant to do so but eventually does as he is bade by the Lord. Samuel finds Jesse and has him present each of his sons, starting at the oldest, to see if one of them is the man whom God will have him anoint as King. Samuel expects it to be the first-born due to traditions surrounding first-born male children and because he is a fine-looking, strong man. But he is rejected! This continues through the other sons of Jesse and Samuel is confused. It is at this point that we find what may be the basis for our admonition to look on the “internal qualification of a man” in Masonry

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)

So here for the first time we find the concept of judging someone by their intentions, actions and inner qualities and not by their physical appearance, birthright or other worldly things! In the big scheme of things, those items matter not. Even for the time of Samuel, this was a very different lesson to learn!

Now how would people in the 17th/18th century have looked at such an idea in the FC Charge?

Life in this time was all about the external as far as how people were judged. If you were born to the “right” family, you could be King or a Lord of a great estate regardless of your moral or personal values. If you were born to a poor family, that is where you would stay with little or no chance of being able to move up in the strata of society. The Church at this time was also, paradoxically, divided in the same manner and looked upon their flock in the same manner. Wealth, position and power controlled the lives of people of this time and had done so for many years. It was even worse for women and people of color, as they were generally regarded simply as property!

However, as England and Europe moved into the time we call the Enlightenment, much of this began to be challenged and change. As philosophers (the first scientists) began to explore and explain the world around us, it became harder to control knowledge and therefore the masses. People began to believe that they could understand the world and the will of God as accurately as the Church if not more so. Understanding physical processes through science gave many an avenue to build an industry and raise themselves out of the dirt. The grip of Church and State was being thrown off and changed to be more in the favor of the common people. The philosophy that all humans had value began to pervade thinking. So it is very likely that our fore brothers interpreted this idea in the charge from the massive changes going on about them in thought and society and boiled it down to the simple phrase “…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man that Masonry regards…”

Regardless of the source of inspiration, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how radical this idea was and how dangerous it would have been to the status quo. By meeting on the level, many prejudices can be broken down, ideas can be exchanged freely and if followed purely, the correct man can be chosen for the job at hand, not simply by title, wealth or position. The society becomes more peaceful and therefore more productive and progressive.

It would be nice if we could look at this and say “Well that was then, this is now, we don’t have that issue anymore” but that is patently not the case!

[The need to follow this precept] rings out loudly in our cultural context. We rely for almost everything on our sight, but it often proves untrustworthy. Advertisers know that the quickest way to get their fingers into our wallets is through our eyes–by bombarding us with images of sexuality and excess. Do we really think that wearing the same watch, as Heidi Klum or Tiger Woods will make us more attractive and successful? Apparently, since we buy the watches. And the cars, hamburgers, and light beer. We also tend to pick our leaders–politicians, principals, coaches, celebrities, and so on–based on our society’s norms about appearance. For the last century or more, the taller of the two final presidential candidates has almost always won. (Rolf Jacobsen / www.workingpreacher.org)

Only in the last century, have we as a society began to look at the harm judging by external factors has created in society and every so slowly we are working on adopting a more internal rule by which to measure our fellow-man. Masonry has known this to be an important concept for over 300 years!

In the Fellowcraft degree we are taught about construction of physical objects but also the world and the person. We are introduced to those things that we should study to improve upon ourselves, and the world around us.

If the Entered Apprentice was about youth, and the Fellowcraft about manhood, then you can no longer be excused for the mistakes of youth. Nor have you attained the wisdom of your elders. You must take on the hard work of building yourself and the world around while you can. This means confronting such difficult concepts as Brotherhood based on internal qualities and shared values and not on those temporary things that separate us in the external world.

One the most difficult things any of us will do as a man and a Mason are to try to live up the precepts of Masonry, especially this particular precept. As visual creatures and flawed humans we constantly fall into the trap of judging by external and not the internal qualifications. But as Mason’s it is incumbent upon us to realize that natural failing and work constantly to overcome it. Thereby we will not only be happier and wiser but will set the correct example for the world, thus fulfilling yet another goal of Freemasonry.

 

Questions / Observations

  1. Should we put more emphasis on this concept?
  2. Why is it only in the FC charge and not in the obligation if it is important? (Think of the difference between the goals of each. Charges are hortatory)
  3. Will we ever truly be able to live in this manner? Why or Why not?
  4. Read the book of Samuel, it reinforces this idea even deeper. Saul was a choice of the people based on their visual assessment of Saul. Turns out he didn’t really have the right “heart” and so God replaced him.
  5. The three degrees could be seen as a retelling of the arc of David’s life. EA is his youth and service under Saul, FC is his good days as King of the Israelites and MM would be his downfall (the sword will ever be with the house of David…The lion of the tribe of Judah will prevail (in Revelation it’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (i.e. the Davidic line) that opens the book)

A Progressive Science

Ritual tells us that Masonry is a progressive science and the phrase can probably mean many different things depending on your outlook on the practice of Masonry. One way to interpret this phrase would be that it tells us that what we learn and “know” about Masonry will change and grow as we progress through our lives.

The renowned New Testament author, scholar and university professor Marcus J. Borg expressed this idea of progressive learning as a three-stage process

Stage 1 – Pre-critical naiveté — In this stage, we hear and accept without question or effort that the information, in this case Masonic ritual, is true. Intellect and heart are not involved. This is a child-like acceptance and many people get stuck at this level.

Stage 2 – Critical Thinking – At this stage we begin to evaluate what we learned against our life experiences and modern knowledge. This is the stage where doubt and skepticism often arises. Unfortunately, this can then lead to disengagement with Masonry and disillusionment with the Craft.

Stage 3 – Post–critical naiveté – This difficult to achieve state is where one gains the ability to discern wisdom and insight in the metaphorically expressed “truth” of the myths and stories that make up Masonic ritual. The Brother begins to recognize that their truth does not depend upon their being literally or historically factual. Borg expresses this as an intuitive and trusting discernment of heart, mind and spirit.

Reaching this third level is difficult work, yet for Masonry to be a relevant and useful endeavor, we must engage in this work daily. The Fellowcraft charge encourages us to constantly be improving our minds by serious study and it is by this constant study that we can reach the third stage of understanding and learning from our ritual.

This can be done by investigating the underlying concepts taught in ritual, talking with other Masons and through the practice of ritual. Often times, a concept or lesson doesn’t become clear until it’s been heard multiple times.

Remember, we refer to Masonry as “work” because you have to actively be working at Masonry for it to have its effect upon your life!

 

 

Why Masonry is Dangerous

Recently, for the education sessions for my Lodge, I took an in depth look at the obligation for the Master Mason degree. My intent was to look at how it was developed in relation to what was common for obligations in the 18th century and how that might have influenced the authors of our ritual work.

When I got to the part about the actual core of the obligation, I was suddenly hit with why some groups have considered Masonry so dangerous.

So, let’s turn our attention to the core of the obligation. The specific things that your obligation is binding you to do and are worth risking the penalties both secular and spiritual.

At this point, I had originally thought to take each of the “I further more promise and swear” statement and examine it’s meaning and how it would still apply over 300 years later to modern day Masons. But as I was reviewing these clauses and comparing them to other secular and religious obligations, I was struck by a difference that is so important it literally defines Masonry and why it has had such a powerful effect on man and society, and why our obligations have often been the source of much disapproval by outside groups.

My research into obligations that were being used during the formative years of the Masonry we now, there were several common obligations in use in England and Scotland. In fact, if you look up the original text of these obligations, you will notice that the founders of Masonry “borrowed” heavily from what was in common use.

As the various families battled for the crown and the Catholic and Protestant faiths became embroiled in a battle to be the state religion, it became common for someone living in England and Scotland to have to take various oaths of allegiance to the King and abjure the Catholic church in part or in whole. Obligations became a tool for the Crown to control the Church and it’s subjects simultaneously.

If you take the time to look up the original obligation to King and Church, they all have a common goal. They are constructed to subsume the individual to the needs of whomever or whatever group is demanding the obligation! There is no wiggle room, no shades of gray, no situational ethics. They all very clearly demand absolute obedience to the obligation and therefore the person requiring the obligation. It does not say you will always support the King unless his policies are not productive for the people he rules, then you reserve the right to effect changes. It says I will support the King and do nothing against him…period, full stop, black and white.

This is typical of all of the obligations I could find from this time and nearly all of them since. The key is always for the obligant of the obligation to give up their right to think for themselves and have independent actions.

Now let’s look at the Master Mason’s obligation. The 10 “I further mores” (in Nebraska work) plus the preamble, state a desired condition or state of some interaction with the world or your own conscience and also end with instructions that require that you think about the situation, gather data and make the best decision based on YOUR knowledge, abilities, experience and situation; to be active in and a part of the decision. In other words, free will, free thought and no blind obedience!

I used to think of these instructions as “escape clauses” for doing anything but now see that that was a very immature way of looking at them. They are, in my opinion, valuable lessons and the unique thing that set us apart from religions, cults, oppressive regimes or political systems.

This is why the Masonic obligations were so radical for their time and still are to a great extent. The obligations forced upon the masses by Church and State all reduce man to an unthinking, blindly obeying cog in a greater machine. You are not to think for yourself, just do what the “Authority” tell you without question.

Living in a society of such unparalleled freedom of thought, expression and self-awareness, it is nearly impossible for us to imagine how mind boggling the Masonic obligation was and how threatened the established power structures would have been…and still are. For example, while we take for granted that the government governs by the consent of the people, it was certainly not the case for most of history. This need to control thought and action so minutely has been the downfall of religions and political systems throughout history and because of this, change has only come about through very violent and disruptive means.

Yet the designers of Masonry realized that true power, true knowledge can only be gained through each person making their own decisions within a framework of accepted standards. So they gave us a framework that shows us the perfect example but at the same time allows us to be human (self directed and make mistakes) and takes into account that we have to work hard to learn how to master this great power. And once learned, these lessons can be applied to all of your interactions with the world, leading eventually to a more ordered and peaceful society.

Having the kind of power to make the kinds of decisions that we are obligated to make is a difficult task and a tremendous responsibility. That may be why we say that Masonry is a progressive science and that it takes a lifetime to understand. It may be why the obligations go from the very simple to the quite complex and were meant to be learned over a long period of time, and that the study of the 7 liberal arts figures so prominently in our ritual. The obligant needed the time and experience to build up their abilities and knowledge to be able to fulfill the obligations.

This feature of the obligation should also give us pause to consider more carefully the kind of men we bring into the Craft. Those candidates that we propose must have the ability, the temperament and spiritual and mental maturity to take on or learn to take on weighty responsibilities such as making life and death decisions.

Once again, we see how serious an undertaking it really is for a man to take the Masonic obligations. If he understands their true purpose and strives to uphold/complete the obligation, he will by natural consequence, have to live life carefully, thoughtfully but also with a freedom that is beyond the common man.

 

Sapere Aude!

Amos and Freemasonry

While we will never know for certain why the creators of Masonic ritual used the material they did from the Bible and elsewhere, it often times seems to match the ideals set down in a particular degree so well that there isn’t any question in our minds that that particular Biblical phrase or passage is right for that degree.

However the passage used during the candidate perambulation about the Lodge in the Fellowcraft degree (Amos 7:7-8) has always seemed a bit mysterious and perhaps even out of place to me. Using Occam’s razor, it could be that Preston needed an “operative mason” sounding reading that matched the length of time of perambulation and this passage fit. However, I would like to think that Preston put a bit more thought into the selection and that this reading holds some message for us as Masons beyond “sounding masonic”.

So who was Amos, what did he have to say and why might this particular reading be of importance to us as Masons?

Reading the entire book of Amos cleared up part of the confusion on the use of this passage. It is not until you look at who he was and the context in which he prophesied, that parallels to Masonic lessons become apparent.

Amos was one of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible (minor in this case does not denote lesser importance but that they wrote relatively short books compared to later prophets) who lived in the southern Kingdom of Judah and was active from 760 – 750 BCE. He was not the stereotypical prophet that we often think of from the Bible. In fact, he was a simple sheepherder and farmer of sycamore figs, a common man with no previous history or family connection to the business of prophesy. But God comes to him and instructs him to carry a very specific and important message to the Israelites. (Raising a common man to do uncommon work for God is a reoccurring theme in the Bible and may also have Masonic implications).

At this time, the Israelites have escaped Egypt and are settled in the Promised Land and have established two kingdoms…the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (from whence we get the term Jew). Things are going very well from a societal standpoint. They are quite prosperous, they are not being threatened by any of the border countries and the two Kingdoms even have an uneasy but peaceful relationship.

Unfortunately, all this wealth and comfort led to the Israelites “backsliding” on their covenant with God as the chosen people. Some had gone back to worshiping older gods from the area, they were building idols and practicing idolatry and the gap between the rich and the poor was becoming very great. This gap between the rich and the poor and the resulting social injustice is expressed in Amos 2:6-8:

 

Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;

That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:

And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.

 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. They are also convinced that if they just go though the motions of the rituals of the Torah precisely enough, then they will be prosperous forever. God, however, informs them (Amos 5:21-23):

 

21 

I hate, I despise your festivals,

  and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

   I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

    I will not look upon.

23 

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

They also believed they were exempt from punishment as the chosen people of God.

God is upset with this behavior, especially since he’s sent other prophets and various natural disasters to wake up the Israelites but they have ignored him. This is especially vexing to God as the Israelites are his chosen people and are expected to set the example.

God then chooses Amos, a common man, to go to the Northern Kingdom and explain to them what they have done and what God is about to do to correct the problem. God shows Amos several visions of coming tragedies for the Israelites. In the first vision, God is creating a storm of locusts that will eat the crops of the Israelites; however, Amos pleads successfully with God to not follow through. Then God shows Amos a vision of fire that will consume the Israelites. Amos again, successfully pleads with God not follow through and God relents. It is the third vision (Amos 7:7-8) that is used in the Fellowcraft degree and is the “operative mason” reference that we hear during perambulation.

When first encountered and without the context of what came before and after verses 7 -8, it seems pretty simple. God is using a plumb line as a metaphor to measure or judge the actions of the Israelites. The problem comes with the last line “…I will not again pass them by anymore”. As if often the case when studying the Bible or any ancient writing, the words used to translate the original may no longer mean the same thing to us in our time. The version of Amos used in the Nebraska Monitor is from the King James Version of the Bible, which was published in 1611. English has undergone a few changes since then. My first thought when hearing this last phrase was that God was going to stand by the Israelites and not ignore them. So I took it as a very positive sign about the relationship between God and the Israelites. However, this didn’t make the usage of that part of Amos in the Fellowcraft degree any more understandable to me.

It was not until after checking different translations of the passages and then reading the complete book of Amos that this began to make sense to me as a part of the Fellowcraft ritual.

In checking translations both by Jewish and Christian authors, it became clear that a more understandable (for our use of English) translation would be “…I will no longer pardon them” (www.chabad.org). So this passage is an allegory using operative masonic terms stating that God has measured his people, found them wanting and is no longer willing to look the other way or let them continue with their wayward ways! This is completely opposite of how I had been interpreting the passage. Checking different Bible translations of Amos such as the NRSV, NOAB, ASV and several Jewish translations (see source list), each agreed with the Jewish translation and used similar language. Analysis by both Jewish and Christian biblical scholars agrees that this passage is stating that God was done overlooking the actions of the Israelites and was going to take action to correct the mistakes. The analysts are in agreement that there are several main ideas that Amos is trying to teach:

 

  1. Justice, especially social justice
  2. Prayers and sacrifice do not make up for bad deeds.
  3. Behaving justly is more important than ritual.
  4. What being the Chosen People means
  5. Moral behavior. Maintaining certain moral standards.

So Amos went to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and delivered God’s message and as often happens to those who bring negative news, he was rejected and his message was ignored. Soon after, as foretold by Amos, the Assyrians came from the north and conquered Israel and eventually, the Kingdom of Judah ending this period of great prosperity for the Hebrews.

As a Mason, I choose to see a connection between the lessons of Amos and Masonry in the following manner:

  1. Choseness: The Israelites made the mistake of thinking that because they were the chosen ones by God, they were exempt from the rules. This is contrary to what God wanted them to be, which was for them to be examples to the rest of the world as to how to keep the word of God. The same can be true for Masons. We think of ourselves as a “cut above” the rest of the world and deserving of respect and certain privileges. But that is only true if we strive to do the right thing at all times and set an example for the profane world. We need to see our special place or choseness from a servant standpoint and not as being exempt from the rules.

 

  1. Justice for the poor (Social Justice): This part of Amos is particularly relevant in today’s society. The gap between the rich and poor and the need for compassion and help for the poor is greater than ever. As Masons, one of the cardinal beliefs we hold is what our ritual refers to as relief. Such an application of social justice whereby we realize and act on the idea of being one family and supporting each other will keep us from “…selling the poor for a pair of sandals”.

 

  1. Behaving justly is more important than ritual: The Israelites were simply going through the motions of the things that were required of them by God, when what was really required is that they believe in those things, practice those things both within and without the Temple with all their souls. As Masons, it is easy for us to be pious and practice perfectly within the Temple (Lodge) but it can be very hard to live those values outside in our everyday lives. Amos reminds us that prayers and sacrifice do not make up for bad deeds. Behaving justly is more important than ritual. You must live what you practice.

 

  1. Moral Behavior: As the Israelites became more prosperous and had less strife and conflict in their lives, they began to drift from the moral standards that God had set for them and that had served them in the past. We can see this same issue in our own society today but as Masons we are charged to hold ourselves to the higher standard required of us by God. Society should change to meet our standard; Masonry should not lower itself to society’s standard.

 

  1. Justice: Justice should be sought in all our actions in life. The phrase used by Amos is “And justice shall be revealed like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). This theme is repeated again in the Fellowcraft charge where we are admonished to “…reprehend with justice”.

 

The Book of Amos is trying to teach us some very important lessons: lessons that I believe are a part of our Masonic beliefs. As stated at the beginning of this paper, it is impossible to know exactly what Preston and others intended in using this passage from Amos. Regardless of the loss of the true reasons, we can use this passage to progress in Masonry by looking for parallels between the main ideas in Amos and the main tenets of Masonry and apply them to our own lives.

Sources

Websites

www.biblegateway.com

www.chabad.org

http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/o/old-testament-of-the-bible/summary-and-analysis/the-prophetic-books-amos

www.jewishvirtuallibrarary.org

www.biblehub.com

www.wikipedia.org

Printed Sources

Nebraska Monitor / Grand Lodge of Nebraska A.F. & A.M.

Nebraska Cipher / Grand Lodge of Nebraska A.F. & A.M.

The Five Books of Moses translated by Robert Alter

What Do Jews Believe? by David S. Ariel

Don’t Know Much About The Bible by Kenneth C. Davis

The Oldest Time Capsule in the U.S. Opened

Recently the oldest time capsule in the U.S. was opened and various items were shown to the press.  The press kept mentioning a cornerstone (more of a plaque really) but not what was on it.  Take a close look at the pictures below…notice anything special?  Masonry makes history once again.

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