Freemasonry may well be the only men’s “support group”
for ethics in the world.
The term situational Masonry was used by my Brother, Jack Tresner, 32, K.C.C.H., the other day, and the words have remained with me.
He was speaking of a Mason we both know, a Brother who seems to be able to put on and take off his Masonry at will. It’s not that I expect a Mason to manage to live consistently by the precepts of the Scottish Rite (I fail at least 10 times a day myself), but I do expect a Mason to be bothered by his own failures.
It isn’t a new problem. Albert Pike wrote in Morals and Dogma:
“A man may be a good sort of man in general, and yet a very bad man in particular; good in the Lodge and bad in the world; good in public, and bad in his family; good at home, and bad on a journey to a strange city. Many a man earnestly desires to be a good Mason. He says so, and is sincere. But if you require him to resist a certain passion, to sacrifice a certain indulgence, to control his appetite at a particular feast, or to keep his temper in a dispute, you will find that he does not wish to be a good Mason, in that particular case; or, wishing, is not able to resist his worse impulses.” (p. 151)
Pike would not have claimed perfection for himself--he fought a duel, after all, and fully understood the temptations to anger, to passion, and to doing the easy thing. Perfection is a goal, not a reality.
The issue is whether or not we strive for the goal.
I’ve recently been heavily involved in Masonic education, teaching courses in Masonry to new and some long-time Master Masons. It is a deeply rewarding experience, and I have been strongly impressed with two things. First, there is, in many new as well as experienced Masons, a strong desire amounting to a passion to know more about Masonry, this in spite of the “conventional wisdom” that “Masons aren’t interested in learning about the Fraternity and its teachings.”
My second impression is that a very large percent do not understand even their obligations, in spite of the fact that they memorized them and can repeat them back to me. The conversations tend to crash when I say, “Now, what does that really mean, how do you apply that in daily life?”
There are important exceptions, of course. One of my good friends, a knowledgeable Mason and a Past Grand Master, tells of the day, early in his Masonic career, when he took the 14. Up until that time, he had taken the name of God in vain frequently, sometimes several times in a single sentence. He determined to change that so that he could sit through the 14 without a feeling of shame. It took him a year and a half of hard work, but he made it.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to situational Masonry comes in the 31. There Pike, wily old fox that he could be, sneaks in some questions for the candidate in the guise of a play set in ancient Egypt. Only gradually do you realize that the warm feeling you’re experiencing is your own heart’s blood flowing from the wounds Pike is opening and salting. Rephrased into modern vernacular, some of the questions would read:
-“Have you felt smug and superior when some famous person was caught doing something wrong?”
-“Have you bought something and paid far less than the fair price for it because you knew the person was strapped for cash and had to sell?”
-“Have you talked about people behind their backs?”
-“Have you treated someone or thought about someone with contempt because he had less money than you, or because his clothes were torn and dirty, or because you didn’t like the way he looked, or because he ‘talked funny’?”
-“Have you sneered at people for their actions or habits, while having a different bad habit or doing other bad things yourself?”
-“Have you given to charity when you can do so ‘at a distance,’ but crossed a street to avoid a bag lady?”
-“Have you helped someone get elected to an office whether in Lodge or in government, not because he was the best person for the job but because you thought you could get a political advantage for yourself?”
-“Have you stirred up trouble between two people?”
-“Have you ‘put down’ another person’s race, or religion, or family?”
-“Have you treated someone with special respect, or wanted others to think of you as his friend, just because he had money?”
-“Have you bought things (clothing, for example) because they were less expensive than others, even if you had reason to suspect that the low price was because they were made by exploited workers?”
-“Have you refused to help a Brother Mason when you could help him?”
My hats, Masonic and otherwise, are off to you if you can honestly answer “no” to all those questions. I can’t.
The only credit I can claim is that when I do those things, a little Masonic voice whispers in my ear (actually, more often, a little Masonic boot kicks me in the seat of the trousers) and says, “Now what did you promise?”
Pike makes the point continually in Morals and Dogma that Masonry is worthless unless it makes a real change in men and unless that change is manifested in their actions in the world. But we have the responsibility for making that change in ourselves. Masonry helps. It points out the path. It shows us, through ritual and drama, the results of thoughtfulness and thoughtlessness. It allows us to group with men who are also trying to make right choices and live by a higher standard. Freemasonry may well be the only men’s “support group” for ethics in the world. But still, the change is up to us. It is a series of choices. If the famous dictum of Captain Kirk from Star Trek is correct and civilization begins when a man says “I will not kill today,” Freemasonry begins when a man says “I will not hate today,” or “I will not tell any racial jokes today,” or “I will not pass on a rumor today.”
As long as men are imperfect, Masonry will be situational to some degree. But, situation by situation, we can decide to act and think like Masons; and situation by situation, we can become better. That is the most--and the least--we can do.