The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
A MASON’S HONOUR
Bro. Gordon D. Thompson
I would first like to thank Bro. Steve McVittie and the members of the Masonic Spring Workshop Committee for asking me to accept the position of theme speaker for the 22nd Annual Spring Workshop. I feel that it is most appropriate and necessary that we as Masons set aside a short period of time to gather, on an informal basis, to discuss Freemasonry and things Masonic, and I commend this year’s committee on their choice of theme for the workshop “A Mason’s Honour”. I, personally, believe that we, in our teachings, in our lodges, and in our lives, have not given this important aspect of Freemasonry the importance and the emphasis it deserves. You will notice that the committee did not choose the theme “Masonic Honour” but rather “A Mason’s Honour”. This is significant since they wish to emphasize the individual and not the Craft. Perhaps this is one of the shortcomings of our Freemasonry today; we look for problems and weaknesses in the Craft rather than for problems and weaknesses in the individual. should we be emphasizing the individuals rather than the lodges in order to strengthen our Fraternity?
I am sure the committee, in selecting the topic have considered you and I and every individual Mason in the jurisdiction and the honour we each have and demonstrate, or should have and should demonstrate, as a result of our membership and our training in our beloved Fraternity.
Before proceeding it is imperative that we should all have a clear understanding of what honour is; what it means; — I think it is best defined as “a fine sense of what is just and right with a readiness to apply it to one’s own conduct in relation to others”. A Mason’s honour would then appear to be “A Mason’s fine sense of what is just and right within the teachings and philosophy of Freemasonry with a readiness to apply them to one’s own conduct in relation to others”.
Accepting this definition we must then look at a Mason’s honour, not only from the point of what Masonic philosophy defines and teaches it to be, but, more importantly, what others see it to be through the cumulative actions of individual Masons.
Let us look at what others see Freemasonry to be today. But first, I believe we must realize and accept the fact that one bad apple can destroy a barrel if it is not removed. The same principle applies to our Freemasonry; the unacceptable actions of one Mason overshadow and defeat the good actions of many others.
In recent years we have seen a significant and increasing number of suspensions and expulsions resulting from Masonic trials for non-masonic conduct. We also realize, after some study, that the number prosecuted is truthfully a small segment of the total number who should, perhaps, be prosecuted. There are far too many cases where members of the Craft have been allowed to become suspended for non-payment of dues, where, if all the facts were established, Masonic charges were eligible to be laid. Shouldn’t a Mason’s honour have more bearing in making of decisions in these non-prosecuted cases?
I read all too often, disturbing comments in Master’s messages and the one I quote is similar to many others. This one followed the recognition by the lodge of a most exhilarating, uplifting and enthusiastic celebration of a significant anniversary, and I quote:
“It is unfortunate that I have to mention the poor attendance. All your officers both elected and appointed were present, as were fifteen of our Past Masters. Their presence and support was greatly appreciated. There were, however, only thirteen Master Masons present and this is a matter of great concern and regret. The Lodge needs the support of all its members, particularly on special occasions. Those who chose not to attend are not contributing to and neither are they benefitting from Freemasonry. I hope the brethren give this some deep thought and consideration”.
Again should a Mason’s honour not be the topic of discussion in such matters? Perhaps we should be asking; which is the more important — the contributing or the benefitting?
In another are there have been too many instances where Masons have received, or appear to have received, preferential treatment because they were Masons. Perhaps the most publicized and apparent case in recent times has been the Scotland Yard and London Police internal policy statements raising some doubts as to the impartiality of a policeman who is a Mason. The internal police handbook, authored by Mr. Albert Lougharne, Deputy Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, makes the following statement; “The officer, if a prescient man, will probably consider it wise to forego the prospect of pleasure and social advantage in Freemasonry so as to enjoy the unreserved regard of all those around him”. Is this the image of Freemasonry we are creating and presenting? Surely a man in Mr. Lougharne’s position had some exposure and experience which caused that statement. Why is he, and others like him, not more aware of what a Mason’s honour requires of him?
How many instances have you heard of where an individual has received preferential treatment of any nature because he is a Mason? Is it happening because that Mason’s honour and merit have earned him the privilege of first rate treatment, or is it being given merely as a result of his membership? Many jurisdictions have, or are undertaking, various programs to endeavour to improve the image of Freemasonry in their jurisdictions. I often wonder how much is being done with the individual Masons in these jurisdictions to ensure that they realize their responsibilities and understand the meaning of a Mason’s honour. This point was most emphatically demonstrated in recent times in a large American jurisdiction in one of the concordant bodies. The Shriners undertook a large public relations program through radio, press and television mediums to publicize the work of the Shriners with crippled children and their hospitals. The material was well prepared and presented by professionals and well known stars at quite a considerable cost. After the material had been presented for some weeks, an interview poll was conducted to determine what the public knew about the Shriners. The large majority of the public in their responses recognized them as the playboys with the funny hats and Arabian costumes who drank to excess and played with little scooters, etc. It is the actions of the individuals that are apparent and remembered.
In this view I recently had occasion to be looking at new cars on the sales floor while my car was being serviced. I listened to one of the salesman making his pitch to a prospective buyer and couldn’t help but notice that every part of his presentation served to enhance his statement that it was a good deal. Something you can’t turn down. I must say that I never felt that the purchase of an automobile at any time was a good deal. Yet, when I look and think about our society today, many of the actions taken by you and I are based on the relativity of what a deal it is for you and me. The emphasis is placed on “What’s in it for me”. How much of this philosophy has crept into our Freemasonry today? I think if you consider it for a while, you will agree, too much.
In recent times there has risen considerable conflict between Freemasonry and the church, where we see an open discouragement of Masonic funerals; lodges are asked to vacate rented facilities in church buildings and published statements by members of the clergy against the Order. I ask you, why? Is it because the church is unaware of a Mason’s Honour?
I note that in all public statements made and printed in various jurisdictions as to what Freemasonry is, every publication states that Freemasonry is not a religion. Why do we have to make such a statement? Are Masons using our fraternity as an excuse for not accepting their religious and church obligations? There have been, and are today, many clergy, of various faiths, who have been and are highly respected Freemasons including Dr. Howley and Dr. Geoffrey Fisher who have risen to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, the leaders of the Anglican and Episcopalian Faiths. These knowledgeable men have no problem in accepting the fact that Freemasonry is a way of life, a fraternal organization based on the belief of Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man and the Immortality of the Soul. They do not find it to be in conflict with their religion.
If we look to the origins of speculative Freemasonry in the 1700’s and early 1800’s, where the Bible was in many cases the only book available for man to read, and where the majority of men could neither read nor write, it is then quite logical that a ritual formulated in those times would be based substantially on material from the Bible. Its teachings, just like those of the religions of that day, were based upon symbolism. Our early rituals, written by Christians, were basically Christian in character, however, in order to obtain and establish universality and establish universality in the Craft the Christian references were removed from the ritual in the late 19th Century. But the fact that our ritual never had anything to do with religion. We draw from the same source and in most instances we support and complement religious principles of many faiths.
There has, however been much publicity given to those of the clergy who speak out against Freemasonry and some clergy, without any research, are accepting some of the statements made. This has been one cause of some localized conflicts between the church and the Craft.
I recently delivered a copy of a sermon delivered by Pastor Ron Carlson, in 1986, to the congregation of the People’s Church in Toronto, Ontario. Pastor Carlson is an educated man; a man who should be well versed in the teachings and virtues extolled in the Holy Bible, our Volume of the Sacred Law.
From what I can determine it appears that Pastor Carlson was for a short period of time a member of the Grand Jurisdiction of Minnesota. In his address, after stating that he has spent two years of his life, full time, researching the subject of Freemasonry, and that he does not wish to attack or tear down anyone, for he has a great love and compassion for those involved in the masonic lodge, he states that he feels most men join a Masonic Lodge for social and business reasons. True of False?
To take a look at what Freemasonry is, he asks several thought provoking Questions,
- Is it something a Christian should be involved in?
- Is it of God?
- Is it a cult? (a particular ritual of worship of a God)
- Is it compatible with biblical Christianity?
- Can man achieve their own mortality and divinity through their Lodge?
Throughout his seventeen typed page address, he takes many of our symbolic teachings back to their literal status to state that we are trying to teach ancient literal principles rather than interpreting them symbolically to teach certain moral principles in today’s society. some of the points he discusses should be considered when speaking of a Mason’s Honour. For example he speaks at length about the secrecy of Freemasonry and taking a statement from Albert Pike — quote,
“He sins against God who divulges to the unworthy the mysteries confided in him.”
Since truth is one of the teachings — the mysteries of Freemasonry — he claims that Masons are saying it is a sin to divulge the truth. Many of his arguments on various Masonic teachings are similar.
His conclusion is that the parishioners do not need a Masonic Lodge. They don’t need Freemasonry. If they are true practising Christians all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus Christ and in Him you have been made complete.
After reading and contemplating the whole address one is overwhelmed not only by the complete lack of understanding and perception of the actions of Masons, but also by the intolerance of some church leaders in society, and the vastness of the task which faces all of us as Masons.
I recently listened to a discussion group reviewing the state of society today. One of the speakers was Archbishop Remi De Roo, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Victoria B.C. He made and stressed the point that so much of what man does today is not the result of a sincere desire to assist and develop society but rather the result of a desire for personal and/or business profit. If this is indeed true we, as Masons, found some way to rationalize this into our Masonic philosophies or have we allowed our Masonic Honour to become slightly tarnished? I suppose this emphasizes the point that we must be careful not only with what we do but also with what we appear to do in the eyes of others.
We must look at ourselves and realize that the past is a part of each of us. A Masons’s Honour is not something we have developed, but rather something which has been nurtured in us by our ancestors and the world which they have shaped for us to grow in. We cannot escape yesterday. Each one of us cannot help but be moved by the rich gifts that have come to us from the past nor can any of us avoid the conclusion that we are called upon to contribute something to the world that is to be and to our brethren of the future.
This is most logical and sensible, and yet we have today a society where, in far too many instances, our individual and publicly stated belief in God does not bind us to His Commandments. I think of the commandments of Thou shalt not steal and Thou shalt not commit adultery and also our vows sworn on the Holy Bible as to the chastity of women especially those nearest and dearest to a brother. I am sure that, just like myself, a large number of you have had the knowledge or awareness of individual Masons who have broken these vows and commandments. If you look at our society today the practices are quite common when recent statistics show that in the State of California, one in every five births is registered to an unwed mother. Or the statistics, which reflect the large increase in prosecution for theft of all kinds, some of it by doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen and leaders in our communities. Yes, some of the offenders were Masons and I am sure there are more unpublicized and unreported cases where Masons are involved. What does this say about the honour of a Masons? Are we not getting our message across? Are we accepting into our Order men who are not fit and proper persons to be made Masons? If so, why?
We also pledge ourselves to obey the laws of the land in those States where we reside. Recently, I was in a discussion with some individuals, some of whom were Masons and some of whom were not regarding a well publicized prosecution of a significant sports figure for drug possession for the purpose of trafficking. the man pleaded guilty and his peers in the sports world suspended him from the sport until the end of the 1987 season. The responses from the individuals involved in the discussion were quite varied and stretched from complete agreement with the actions taken to the view that no action was necessary. I approached the two Masons who were involved in the discussion and asked them what they would do it the man prosecuted had been a Mason. After a brief discussion they agreed that they would have done nothing. As a Mason what reply would you expect?
In the preparation of this address I came across a paper prepared some years ago by an unknown author and in it he made the statement that “nobody is paying attention to Freemasonry because it’s not saying anything worth listening to.”
I have asked myself “Is this true? I must agree that there are many people including members who are not paying attention to Freemasonry but I cannot believe that there can be any denial of the value of Freemasonry’s teachings. Its tenets and principles have remained relatively unchanged over the years and its rituals and lessons carry the same influences and urgings toward brotherhood and fellowship as when Freemasonry first emerged as a speculative science.
Perhaps the author simply meant that we are not keeping up with the times. We all recognize that many standards and attitudes which guided earlier generations have been modified and altered — some even abandoned. customs have changed and many areas of human thought and practice have been altered by technology and other human advances. The world is a much smaller place today.
Masonic history has revealed that there was a time when, as an institution, Freemasonry was simple and uncomplicated. Its members faced few influences which disturbed or disrupted its purpose. Members followed practices based on myth, or fact, while enjoying fellowship to the fullest extent. Mingled with this were references to moral standards and high ideals, and there were brethren who made these the main theme of the Craft. There was, for whatever reasons, loyalty to the Fraternity. Its role was to provide a congenial atmosphere in which fellowship could be enjoyed. It was from this sense of Brotherhood that a concern for less fortunate brethren and a recognition of the need for mutual helpfulness grew to become an important characteristic of Freemasonry.
There were also deliberate actions taken to inspire, in the minds of the members, an awareness that moral standards are not only necessary but are valued only if they are worked out in the spirit of brotherhood. Our obligations are more than pledges of loyalty to an organization. They are commitments to the moral attitudes and principles of that organization.
If we accept this, is the second portion of the author’s statement correct that Freemasonry is not saying anything worth listening to? Has there been a change in Freemasonry? If there hasn’t been a change is there a need for change in emphasis? Are the values and customs — the honour of our brethren of earlier days — valid for today?
In spite of our modern communication technology and skills, we seem to have become so involved with the “principles of Masonry” as an entity, that we have lost, to a substantial degree, that loyalty to the Fraternity, resulting in a substantial weakening in our concerns for less fortunate brethren and recognition of the need for mutual helpfulness. This has resulted in much of the adverse criticism of our Order and should be one of the major topics to be addressed when discussing a Mason’s Honour.
There are many valid questions, but in your discussions and in arriving at your individual answers, always remember that there is a negative and positive side to all questions. We hear a great deal about the negative side both from without and within. If you are a practising Mason you know that there is a large group of Masons, many of whom are present here this evening, who are worthy examples and spokesmen for the positive side. In our society today, based on sensationalism, it is a fact that in most cases the negative position realizes the prominence and hence we hear all the negative and little of the positive.
In conclusion, Brethren, I think you will agree with me when I say we need clear thinking discussions amongst our members in order to help us all understand and appreciate more fully what it means to be a Mason in the world today and to realize what our commitments and responsibilities are.