Masonic Random Thoughts

A place for Masonic news, thoughts, discussion and education

Irreligious Libertine

The Masonic ritual was devised in the early 18thcentury and underwent refinement into the ritual we now use during the first half of the 19thcentury. While there have been some minor changes, on the whole, it remains written in the language and style of the early 17thcentury.  We often joke about how hard it is to get the rhythm and meaning of English from this time period but we resist the urge to update the wording and syntax to 21stcentury standards.  It is felt that changing that language would risk losing some or all of the original intent of the authors.  And this is true, particularly when we look at word definitions.

An often forgotten or ignored fact about the English language is that it is very fluid and constantly evolving.  From a little used “commoner” language it has spread worldwide and dominates many areas of business and everyday life in many different countries.  The challenge with English is that often the definition of a word and its use can and does change depending on the period of history in which it was used.  An obvious example of this is the word “Charity” which now a day is mostly connoted to mean giving of money or support but in the 17thand 18thcentury had a much different meaning.  Examples of words changing their meanings based on societal changes abound both in our ritual and in everyday life.

In the obligation of the Master Mason’s degree, one of the landmarks stated is that there is a certain class of people that cannot be made a Mason.  The list is very specific and for the most part, pretty common sense if you understand the history and intent of Masonry.  But there is one class of person that most people are likely misinterpreting and that is the irreligious libertine.  When most of us hear or read that phrase, we think of a person of questionable morals, a party animal, or a low class person and on top of that behavior they seem to have no faith in Deity.  And in fact, if you look up the two words irreligious and libertine, that impression of this person would be confirmed.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines these two words as follows:

Irreligious

1neglectful of religionlacking religious emotions, doctrines, or practices

2indicating lack of religion

Libertine

1disparaginga freethinker especially in religious matters

2a person who is unrestrained by convention or morality specificallyone leading a dissolute life

So as people that were born in the 20th or 21st century, we feel well grounded in our opinion that an irreligious libertine is a pretty poor character to associate with and it makes sense we would not want to make them a Mason.

But is a morally questionable, dissolute, faithless man really what the authors of ritual were describing?  A closer look at the history and use of the word libertine will reveal that there may have been a much different reason for including such a person in the list of non-acceptable candidates.

The hunt for what might be the original intent begins in the 17thcentury.  This was a time of much upheaval in Europe and England. The Reformation and the resulting religious wars, especially the 30 years war, were quickly breaking the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church over thought, philosophy and science.  Great minds such as Newton, Huygens, Descartes and Pascal were openly proposing ideas, asking questions and conducting experiments that less than a century before would have gotten them burned at the stake by the Church.  The adoption of the scientific method, the weakening of the Church’s ability to suppress thought and investigation and the efforts of these new pioneers in thought to share and distribute this information despite the constant upheaval of war lead to the development of a new term to describe these men.  Liberty of the mind was now a recognized shift in society and these men were described as having a “free mind”.  This meant that they were thinking outside of and often rejecting the dogmatic ideas of the Church including taking a view of the Bible as being more allegory than literal fact.

The word libertine is borrowed from the Latin libertinus,which meant freedman and was used to denote a freed slave or the son of a freed slave.  In the case of the men of the 17thcentury that were expanding the boundaries, the “liberty” in libertine referred to freedom from two very important constraints: the constraint of religious orthodoxy and the constraint imposed by the authority of the ancients (e.g. Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo).

Soon the term libertine came into use to describe these freethinkers and natural philosophers (the term scientist didn’t come into use until 1833) and it was a generally positive term! Times were changing and the people of Europe and England were shaking off the chains of intellectual bondage imposed by the Church and the men doing so were seen as leaders into a brave new world by many.

(n.b. This term was also used to describe various Protestant sects in France that believed that under the gospel dispensation of grace, moral law was of no use or obligation, that faith alone is all that is necessary for salvation and nothing is sinful.  This is known as antinomianism.  The followers of this theology fully lived this idea to the disapproval of everyone else and were associated with debauchery, sensuality and depravity.  Thus, the term libertine began to take on its negative definition.)

The Church however, did not see these new freethinkers in such a positive light.  In addition, many of the new natural philosophers had talked themselves out of their faith and so after some years, nearly all freethinkers were assumed to be atheist or labeled as atheist by the Church.  While this was true for some, it was certainly not the norm of men working in these fields at that time.  It was felt (and still is by many scientist today) that you could question the theology of the Church but still have a faith in a Deity.

Nonetheless, as time went by the term libertine became more and more derogatory and associated with atheism, debauchery, sensuality and depravity which led to rumors and gossip about the morals of a libertine or freethinker, and the word became synonymous with a person of low morals and few limits as we use it today.  By the middle of the 19thcentury, libertine was no longer a sought after or welcomed sobriquet.

However, at the time our ritual was being authored, the word libertine would still have been a positive moniker and as much of Masonic ritual is about learning (the Fellowcraft degree especially) and what are often seen as Enlightenment ideas such as religious tolerance, charity towards all mankind, and associated liberal ideas. Why wouldn’t you want to make a libertine a Mason?  It would seem like a libertine as defined at that time would be a natural for inclusion in the Craft.

The answer lies in the word irreligious.  If the phrase irreligious libertine were dissected using modern definitions, then it would seem to be a redundant phrase.  It would hard to be “religious” if you were a man of compromised morals as the modern definition of libertine states, so adding the word irreligious doesn’t give a better or sharper definition of the person you want to exclude.

Now look at that phrase and the word libertine from the understanding of its definition in the 17thand 18thcentury.  This is a completely different story!  The problem isn’t that the person is a libertine. In fact it would seem to be an advantage. Being a freethinker and seeker of knowledge is part of the Masonic fabric.  The problem is having no faith…being irreligious.

While thematically, Masonry promotes learning, self-reasoning and innovation, it is always with an eye to remembering that everything is owed to Deity in whatever form you wish to perceive it.  Atheism is an anathema to the Masonic philosophy!  The authors of ritual appear to have been trying to make sure that the concept of debt to Deity was not lost as men moved forward with the new and exciting quest for knowledge that was taking place at that time. We are first introduced to this idea of faith plus reason in the Entered Apprentice charge where we are told:

There are three great duties, which as a Mason, you are charged to inculcate – to God, your neighbor and yourself.  To God, in never mentioning His name but with that reverential awe which is due from a creature to his Creator…

This is merely one place that this obligation to Deity is taught.  Ritual is full of overt and covert examples of this important basic tenet. So it wasn’t that Masonry didn’t want intelligent, inquisitive, self-reasoning men, it was that Masonry didn’t want men with those characteristics that had no faith!  This phrase was a safety stop to separate out the growing number of philosophers and scientists that had abjured or lost their faith in the face of the new knowledge.  It preserved one of the basic concepts of Masonry that man can think and grow and learn but still have a foundation in faith.

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Nebraska Masonic Relief Historic Flooding and Storm Activity, March 2019

Nebraska has experienced historic flooding in the eastern part of the state and devastating blizzards in central and western Nebraska with major loss of farm and ranching assets and income in the month of March 2019. Many of our Nebraska Masonic family members have no doubt been affected by these catastrophic events and will need assistance to get back on their feet. Here’s how you can help.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The Nebraska Masonic Relief Fund is collecting monetary donations that will be dispersed to Masonic family members affected by the floods and storms through an application process. If the donations exceed the needs of our Masonic family, the funds will be donated to other flood and storm relief efforts. Those interested in making a financial donation to support relief efforts can do so by clicking the Donate button below.

DONATE NOW

Donations can also be mailed to Grand Lodge of Nebraska, 301 N Cotner Blvd., Lincoln, NE 68505. Checks should be made payable to Grand Lodge Relief Fund, with flood/storm relief in the memo field.

Thank you so much for your support of this relief effort.

Grand Lodge Online Book Store Open!

Good News for Masonic Bookworms!

The Grand Lodge of Nebraska’s Annual Communication was only a few short weeks ago, but the Education Committee is already implementing one of its objectives for the coming year: putting a Masonic Education bookstore online!

There you’ll find many of the books that have been reviewed by Education Committee members in recent years, plus many more that have been recommended by your brethren. There’s something for everyone. Those just beginning their journey might be interested in the guilty-pleasure, “Freemasonry for Dummies,” while those further down the path may prefer “The Cave and the Light,” a fascinating history of the two greatest philosophers of the western world – Plato and Socrates.

For those brethren looking for something more adventurous, there are works of fiction, to include “The Lost Symbol” and “Crown of Serpents.” Anyone not averse to a little speculation (and what Speculative Mason is?) might enjoy the “The Rosslyn Hoax,” “The Masonic Myth,” and “Solomon’s Builders.” There are literally dozens of books included on the new books site, accompanied by helpful descriptions.

Importantly, the purchase of books from the GL website actually benefits Nebraska Masons because they are linked to the GL affiliate account.  The price of the books remain unchanged, of course, but a small percentage of all sales goes directly back to the Grand Lodge to support our many Masonic endeavors and causes.

Check it out by going to the Grand Lodge website (www.glne.org) and click on the “Book Store” button!

Paden Cottage Opens at Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children in Fremont, Nebraska

On January 3, 2018 Paden Cottage opened with the first six children moving in!

It’s been a long construction cycle but the outcome is fantastic! The girls each have their own room with a private bathroom, a study desk and plenty of room to grow and become the person they are meant to be.  And thanks to Mrs. Lindly, they each get their own quilt to brighten up their room.

A big thank you from the Director, his staff, the children and the Board of Directors of the Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children to all the wonderful donors that helped us make this vision a reality!

Special thanks to MWB Ivan Vrtiska for designing a wonderful building that feels like a cozy, welcoming HOME!

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Living the Dream in 2018

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As I thought about what to blog about as the new year starts, I thought that it’s that time of year when the holidays are over, the New Year is just starting and we are still stuck in the doldrums of winter. It’s easy during this time of year to lose sight of all the wonderful things and people in our lives. So I took some time to look at my situation and I decided that in fact I’m living the dream!

In fact, I would submit that we are all living the dream life and it is in great part due to the influence of Masonry on society. We need to recognize that fact and not only celebrate it but understand the roots of that dream.

Where did Masonry get these ideas from and what was their purpose? We need to go back to the ancient Greeks to find the beginning of the dream. Many Greek philosophers from Socrates to Aristotle to the Epicureans and Stoics spend a great deal of time thinking about what they called “the good life”. They thought that the purpose of man was to live “the good life” but defining what the good life should be is not easy and many different methods were offered. In the end, however, there are some common components that they all agreed on that would be part of living the “good life”. Among these are:

  1. Moderation

  2. Kindness to others or living in harmony with all mankind

  3. Examining your life and engaging in your life

  4. Reasoning and thinking for yourself; self-determination

  5. Know thyself – Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses

  6. And a spiritual component.

 

It was these basic core values that the Greeks dreamed of becoming the normal state of man and society. But history shows us that the dream of the “good life” was not always attainable.

Society was often brutal and repressive to those trying to follow these principles. Sometimes that repression came from the Church, which attempted to control thought, education, the progress of science and everyday living.   Sometimes that repression came from governments that have also attempted to control what their citizens can think or read or say and how they may live out their lives.

However, in the early stages of the Enlightenment, in the 1700’s, some very intelligent men came together and created the philosophy of Freemasonry. They plucked the best of the ideas from the Greeks and wove those values into allegorical lessons that could be studied and understood by all men. They then combined this with the best of the ideas from the VSL.  More importantly, by concealing the lessons in allegory, Masonry could do its work on men’s minds and souls without directly opposing either Church or State.

Masonry directly paralleled the teachings of the Greeks, whereby Masonry teaches us to:

  1. Learn to circumscribe our desire and subdue our passions – or Moderation

  2. Live within due bounds of all mankind – or Kindness to others

  3. Be lifelong lovers of the Sciences and be always busy building or helping – or examining your life and engaging.

  4. Reason and decide for ourselves.

  5. Improve ourselves in Masonry – or learning to know thyself

  6. And Masonry teaches us to offer up our adoration to our Creator and to never forget the Creator as the source of all that is around us. Thus giving us a spiritual life as well.

Thus the goal of Freemasonry was and is to change men and create a dream society where all could prosper and live the “good life”.

The biggest step towards that dream society came on July 4th, 1776 when a group of men, which were undoubtedly influenced by the Masons among them, issued a Declaration of Independence. This amazing document contained one of the most powerful and important sentences ever written:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

What an incredibly succinct way to sum up Masonic philosophy!

 

Life – Owed to our Creator and no other power

Liberty – The condition of being free, free to think, to reason, to worship and to be independent.

The pursuit of Happiness – note that the founders did not want to define happiness for all of us. They knew that happiness is different for everyone but that what was important was having the right, the ability to pursue that happiness as you see fit.

 

Each of these three “unalienable rights” can be traced directly back to our Masonic ritual and from there to the early Greek philosophers. At long last, the dream of the “good life” was about to become a reality. One of Masonry’s greatest triumphs.

It is because of the influence of Masonry on our founding fathers and many who came after them that I believe we are living today in a dream world that previous generations could barely imagine. We have the right to worship as we wish, read and speak freely, and live our lives as we wish. It doesn’t take much of an examination of the world around us to see that this is not the case everywhere and that there is still much work to be done.

So, as you look out that window at the grey skies and are counting your worries, instead, take time to count your blessings that you were born in a time and place that allows you to live the dream!

Obligations and Charges Part 3

As we’ve looked at the obligation and it’s construction in connection to obligations that were common to our founding brothers, we’ve found that there is generally a preamble where the obligant admits that he is not being coerced, that it is being witnessed by some authority or group and invokes Deity. The end of obligation then contains a further admission that there is no mental, philosophical or theosophical trickery being employed to abrogate the obligation, followed by a much more serious appeal to Deity to assist the obligant in fulfilling the obligation.

So now it’s time to 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” statements 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.

First let’s look at the obligations in common use during the 1700’s that our Brothers would have to have taken and therefore would have been very familiar with when creating the obligation for Masonry

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.

Here are four very common obligations that span the formative years of Masonry:

 

To James I (1603- 1625  / Also James IV of Scotland

King James I

I, A.B. do truly and sincerely acknowledge, profess, testify, and declare in my conscience before God and the world, that our Sovereign Lord King James, is lawful and rightful King of this realm, and of all other in his Majesties Dominions and Countries; And that the Pope neither of himself, nor by any authorities of the Church or See of Rome, or by any means with any other hath any power or authority to depose the King, or to dispose any of his Majesty’s kingdoms, or dominions, or to authorize any foreign prince to invade or annoy him, or his countries, or to discharge any of his Subjects of their allegiance and obedience to his Majesty, or to give any license or leave to any of them to bear arms, raise tumult, or to offer any violence, or hurt to his Majesty’s royal person, state, or government, or to any of his Majesty’s subjects within his Majesty’s dominions. Also, I do swear from my heart that, notwithstanding any declaration or sentence of excommunication or deposition made or granted, or to be made or granted by the Pope or his successors, or by any authority derived, or pretended to be derived from him, or his See against the King, his heirs or successors, or any absolution of the said subjects from their obedience: I will bear faith and true allegiance to his Majesty, his heirs and successors, and him or them will defend to the uttermost of my power, against all conspiracies and attempts whatsoever, which shall be made against his or their persons, their crown and dignity, by reason or color of any such sentence or declaration or otherwise, and will doe my best endeavor to disclose and make known unto his Majesty, his heirs and successors, all treasons and traitorous conspiracies, which I shall know or hear of to be against him or any of them. And I do further swear, that I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure, as impious and heretical, this damnable doctrine and position, that princes which be excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any whatsoever. And I do believe and in conscience am resolved, that neither the Pope nor any person whatsoever, hath power to absolve me of this oath, or any part thereof, which I acknowledge by good and full authority to bee lawfully ministered unto me, and do renounce all pardons and dispensations to the contrary: 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.

 

To Charles I (1625 – 1649 / Son of James 1 / Executed by Cromwell

King Charles I

I A. B. doe truely and sincercly acknowledge, professe, testifie and declare in my conscience before God and the world, That our Soveraigne Lord King CHARLES, is lawfull King of this Realme, and of all other His Majesties Dominions and Countreyes: And that the Pope neither of himselfe, nor by any Authority of the Church or See of Rome, or by an other meanes with any other, hath any power or Authority to depose the king, or to dispose of any of his Majesties Kingdomes or Dominions, or to Authorize any Forraigne Prince, to invade or annoy Him or His Countreyes, or to discharge any of his Subjects of their Allegiance and Obedience to His Majestie, or to give Licence or leave to any of them to beare Armes, raise Tumults, or to offer any violence or hurt to His Majesties Royall person, State or Government, or to any of His Majesties Subjects within His Majesties Dominions. Also I doe sweare from my heart, that, notwithstanding any Declaration or Sentence of Excommunication or Deprivation made or granted, or to be made or granted, by the Pope or his Successors, or by any Authority derived, or pretended to be derived from him or his Sea, against the said King, His Heires or Successors, or any Absolution of the said Subjects from their Obedience; I will bear faith and true allegiance to His Majestie, His Heires and Successors, and Him and Them will defend to the uttermost of my power, against all Conspiracies and Attempts whatoever, which shall be made against His or their Persons, their Crowne and Dignitie, by reason or colour of any such Sentence, or Declaration or otherwise, and will doe my best endevour to disclose and make known unto his Majesty, His Heires and Successors, all Treasons and Traitorous Conspiracies which I shall know or heare of to be against Him, or any of them. And l do further sweare, That I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure as impious and Hereticall this damnable Doctrine and Position, That Princes which be Excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, may be Deposed or Murthered by their Subjects, or any other whatsoever. And I doe beleeve, and in conscience am resolved, that neither the Pope, nor any person whatsoever hath power to absolve me of this Oath, or any part thereof; which I acknowledge by good and full Authority to bee lawfully ministered unto me, and do renounce all Pardons and Dispensations to the contrary. And all these things I doe plainely and sincerely acknowledge and sweare, according to these expresse words by me spoken, and according to the plaine and common sence and understanding of the same words, without any Equivocation, or mentall evasion or secret reservasion whatsoever. And I doe make this Recognition and acknowledgement heartily, willingly, and truely, upon the true Faith of a Christian. So help me GOD.

 

Oath of Abjuration / Test Act (1660 into the 1700’s)

Near the start of the English Civil War, on 18 August 1643 Parliament passed “An Ordinance for Explanation of a former Ordinance for Sequestration of Delinquents Estates with some Enlargements.” The enlargements included an oath which became known as the “Oath of Abjuration”:

I ..; Do abjure and renounce the Pope’s Supremacy and Authority over the Catholic Church in General, and over my self in Particular; And I do believe that there is not any Transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lords Supper, or in the Elements of Bread and Wine after Consecration thereof, by any Person whatsoever; And I do also believe, that there is not any Purgatory, Or that the consecrated Host, Crucifixes, or Images, ought to be worshipped, or that any worship is due unto any of them; And I also believe that Salvation cannot be Merited by Works, and all Doctrines in affirmation of the said Points; I do abjure and renounce, without any Equivocation, Mental Reservation, or secret Evasion whatsoever, taking the words by me spoken, according to the common and usual meaning of them. So help me God.

To George IV (1820 – 1830)

King George IV

I A.B.do sincerely promise and swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fourth, and will defend him to the utmost of my Power against all Conspiracies and Attempts whatever, which shall be made against his Person, Crown or Dignity; and I will do my utmost Endeavour to disclose and make known to His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, all Treasons and traitorous Conspiracies which may be formed against Him or Them: And I do faithfully promise to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of my Power, the Succession of the Crown which Succession, by an Act, intituled An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown, and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, is and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the Heirs of her Body, being Protestants; hereby utterly renouncing and abjuring any Obedience or Allegiance unto any other Person claiming or pretending a Right to the Crown of this Realm: And I do further declare, That it is not an Article of my Faith, and that I do renounce, reject, and abjure the Opinion, that Princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, or any other Authority of the See of Rome, may be deposed or murdered by their Subjects, or by any Person whatsoever: And I do declare, That I do not believe that the Pope of Rome, or any other Foreign Prince, Prelate, Person, State, or Potentate, hath or ought to have any Temporal or Civil Jurisdiction, Power, Superiority, or Pre-eminence, directly or indirectly, within this Realm. I do swear, That I will defend to the utmost of my Power the Settlement of Property within this Realm, as established by the Laws: And I do hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any Intention to subvert the present Church Establishment, as settled by Law within this Realm: And I do solemnly swear, That I never will exercise any Privilege to which I am or may become entitled, to disturb or weaken the Protestant Religion or Protestant Government in the United Kingdom: And I do solemnly, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare That I do make this Declaration, and every Part thereof, in the plain and ordinary Sense of the Words of this Oath, without any Evasion, Equivocation, or mental Reservation whatsoever. So help me God.

 

Do you notice anything similar in each of these obligations? 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” 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 as “escape clauses” but now see that that was a very immature way of looking at them. They are, in my opinion, valuable lessons and the unique things that set us apart from religions, cults or oppressive regimes or political systems.

Let look at each clause and see how this works:

  1. Secrets of Master Mason: Very clearly explains to whom they can be revealed but puts the onus for making sure those people are qualified to receive them on the obligant.
  2. Stand to and abide by: Binds you to the rule of the organization and it’s leader but only insofar as you are aware of the what the rules are. Ignorance can be a defense in this case.
  3. Answer and obey: Binds you to your Brothers and the Organization for taking action but also allows you to make the decision to do or not if doing so causes you harm.
  4. Help, Aid and Assist: This is a very laudable duty to take care of others but you are not to force yourself on them and you decide if they are worthy of your help.
  5. Keep the secrets of: Again we are back to secrets and again for two very specific cases, you need to make your own choice.
  6. Not be Present at: Here we delineate quite clearly several classes of people who cannot become Masons under any circumstance. However, this rule allows for the fact that you might not realize that the candidate you propose is in one of these categories. Allows for humanity.
  7. Not visit a: This clause instructs us about the company we keep but like the last one allows for the fact that you might not know you are in bad company at the time. Again, think!
  8. Cheat, Wrong or Defraud: How we treat each other on a personal basis is important and the standard is set in this clause again with the caveat that you must have knowledge that you are dealing with a Brother.
  9. Not have illicit: This clause creates a protected class of people and implies that if you know them to be such, there is a certain standard of protection expected. It also calls upon you to not allow harm of a specific type to happen to them IF you can do something about it. This demands that you make a decision, i.e. think for yourself.
  10. Masonic Word: Only one without an exception? Again, if they can’t come up with the proper position to receive it, then you don’t give it. No just taking their word that they are a Mason.
  11. Grand Hailing Sign: How far should I go to save a Brother from harm of any kind? When do I use it? It’s a decision that is left up to you to make within a framework of certain dangers. No individual of the organization is a more important life then your own. Not King, not Dictator…no one!

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” tells you without question.

Living in a society of such unparalled 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 often 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 / construction  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.

 

Questions:

  1. Do you agree or disagree that the obligations are stated such that we have to make value or situational judgments?
  2. Do you think this is part of the “training” or education that Masonry professes to offer?
  3. If you agree, how will you change your behavior knowing that these things in the obligation are not just symbolic but are real situation that you may have to face someday?
  4. Is there ever a time when blind obedience is the right strategy as a person or as a Mason?
  5. Do you think all 11 are freethinking?

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.

 

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!