Review of Freemasonry

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by W.Bro.Dr.K.Jyothindra Kumar
Worshipful Master (2007) of Lodge Ananthapadmanabha.(No.280), Grand Lodge of India.
He is a member of Craft Lodges L.Aruvi No.293 and Kerala Master Lodge No.309 (GLI), Holy Royal Arch Chapter, Mark, RAM Conclave, Rose Croix, Allied Masonic Degrees, Cryptic Council-RSM and a member of Acacia Research Lodge, Chennai.

To the Masonic mind modeled by virtue and science, masonic teaching presents a great and useful challenge through out a Freemason's life - to contemplate and to act until his closing hour of existence on that perspicuous and uniquely human concept of "morality". Life experiences and the myriad of symbols, rituals, and teachings of freemasonry which lie before a freemason leads him to contemplate and guide his reflections to the next most interesting of all human studies - morality. Unlike its sister death, it is that mysterious veil which the eye of human reason can penetrate while yet alive and when assisted by that faculty called conscience, tempered by the secrets of our Masonic art, that every freemason is better the enabled, by constantly, pausing to listen to that subtle and sublime voice of Nature which quietly whispers in his ears, the right and wrong of every action and guiding him onward in the righteous path of life. 

Freemasons are humans and citizens first, and being of mature age, of their own free will and accord become freemasons next. As such they can claim no high moral ground, monopoly or much less exclusivity on morality and the application of it in their everyday lives. Indeed there are many hundreds of thousands of people who live lives which could well be described as being "masonic" in nature, but were never formally initiated into its mysteries and privileges. The difference then by analogy is that of the beauty of a wild flower in a dense forest to that of an equally beautiful flower in a nurtured city garden - the former we mostly may not, perchance see, while the latter and its beauty, some human is bound to see. The effect of masonic teachings on morality is like wise for the world to see. Chevalier de Ramsay in his famous "Oration to the initiate" stated that "sound morals" was a prime requisite of the Masonic Society in an initiate, "… in order to make them lovable men, good citizens, good subjects, inviolable in their promises, faithful adorers of G-d of love, lovers rather of virtue than of reward" .

What is the foundation of morals?

These questions are often asked - What is morality? Why should I be "good"? Are there any absolute definitions of good and bad? By whom and under what authority ? Is it at all possible to arrive at reasoned out and rational definitions of moral rights and wrongs? Why should I respect the elders and be kind to all? Why may I not lie, deceive and kill if that serves my purpose? In this era of rational and scientific thinking even moralists are not satisfied with scriptural injunctions or simplistic explanations. To answer these complex and often confounding questions, as diligent masonic students, it is necessary to look at the very genesis and basis of morality.

The Masonic system of education teaches morality to its members in an unusual way, in its rituals, and in the course of degree work. This is defined in masonic ritual as a "peculiar system of morality" which has existed for several hundred years, remains and continues to be the central feature of Freemasonry today. The old Chinese adage states:".. a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step" and so be it for our masonic study of morality. Morality is etymologically derived from the latin word "moralitas" which means manner, character, or proper behavior.


The word morality refers to the concept of human action pertaining to matters of right and wrong. The latter may be loosely interpreted as "good" and "evil". Thus morality speaks of a system of behavior with reference to right and wrong behavior. At the outset we have to distinguish the meanings of three words "moral", "immoral" and "amoral" which regularly surface in our study of morality. Immorality is flouting the conventions of one's own morality, while amoral is being without morality. A novice student, should also beware, synonyms for morality which may be interchangeably used, but in fact are different i.e.; ethics, principles, virtue and goodness. Definitions beautifully describe the depth and scope of a subject for ease of comprehension. The Catholic encyclopedia defines morality as: "Human conduct in so far as it is freely subordinated to the ideal of what is right and fitting". The American Heritage dictionary defines morality as the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.

The systematic study of morality is a branch of philosophy called Ethics which is derived from the greek word "ethos" meaning character. Ethics is the systematic study of the nature of value concepts - good and bad, right and wrong, and of the general principles thereof. In fact ethics has several branches and facets of study perhaps of direct relevance to freemasons in their quest of understanding morality so germane to our system. Applied ethics addresses questions as to how a moral outcome can be achieved in a specific situation, while normative ethics addresses how moral values should be determined. Descriptive ethics describes the morals and thus morality to which people hold to, while the fundamental nature of ethics or morality is addressed in meta-ethics. The crucial point to be reckoned is that morality is antecedent to ethics. It denotes the concrete activities of which ethics is the science. 

Morality is made up of ideals governing our free actions, is strikingly common to the human race. Though there is wide divergence as to the theories of ethics, there is a fundamental agreement among men regarding the general lines of conduct desirable in public and private life. As Mr. Hobhouse has stated: "The comparative study of ethics which is apt in its earlier stages to impress the student with a bewildering sense of the diversity of moral judgments, ends rather by impressing them with a more fundamental and far-reaching uniformity. Through the greatest extent of time and space over which we have records, we find a recurrence of the common features of ordinary morality, which to my mind at least is not less impressive than the variations which also appear"

The language of primitive peoples contains words or phrases involving concepts or ideas, which can be translated as good and bad, right and wrong, true or false. Such phrases refer not only to correctness of statement, but also to a moral quality. In many respects, the rules of primitive morality accord fairly closely with those observed in a sophisticated and civilized society. It can be safely stated that the common voice of the human race that has evolved with man proclaims morality as the adherence to truth, love, goodness, duty, peace and non-violence and that:
.. it is right to be honest and just in one's dealings; love peace; to rever one's parents; care and provide for one's family; to show benevolence to fellow humans in time of distress; to bear pain and misfortune with fortitude and the like.
.. it is wrong to kill a fellow human; to resort to mindless violence; to practice human bondage and slavery; indulge in felony and treason.

Maintaining morality demonstrates our recognition of the divinity in others and in ourselves. While these facets of morality are the black and white squares of the masonic chequered floor, some others are in shades of grey and in between. Thus the advance of morality lies not so much in the discovery of new principles, but in the better application of those already well established and accepted, in the recognition and understanding of their true basis, and widening the scope and area within which they are held to bind and in the removal of corruptions inconsistent with their observance. This is exactly what the Masonic system of education aims to achieve on the subject of morality. As Ernest Hemingway observed in Death in the Afternoon - "what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after…"

Evolution of Morality

Moralists and Freemasons, would readily concur that moral concepts and rules are closely related to the structure and thinking of society and morality is therefore relative, in the sense that, as the ends of each society vary, so do the standards of right or wrong. Various defined actions over time come to be called moral or immoral. Individuals who choose moral action are popularly held to possess "moral fiber", whereas those who indulge in immoral behavior may be labeled as socially degenerate. The evolution of morality is interesting, but needs a cautious approach. Codified morality is to be distinguished from custom, which is another way for a community to define appropriate activity, by the former's derivation from natural or universal principles. In certain religious communities, the Divine is said to provide these principles through revelation, sometimes in great detail. Such codes may be called laws, as in the Law of Moses, or community morality may be defined through commentary on the texts of revelation, as in Islamic law. 

The first ethical laws, known to us from antiquity, are those of Hammurabi, Moses, and the greek philosophers. Examples of moral codes include the Golden Rule; the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism; the ancient Egyptian code of Ma'at ;the ten commandments of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the yamas and niyama of the Hindu scriptures; and the principle of the Dessek. They deserve in depth study and are illumosinary in the context of this complex subject. The great Code of Hammurabi (18th Century BCE) is the most complete and perfect monument of Babylonian Law. The Code has provisions that regulate the laws concerning social classes, property, family, and criminal Law. The Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, delivered to the Jewish people by Moses (13th Century BCE) represent the Ethical Principles of the Jewish people, which were later accepted by the civilized world. Basic to them is the interdependence of morality and religion. They forbid the deification of Nature, as well as the making of graven images, and enjoin the observance of a day of rest, to honor one's parents, respect for property, life and a woman's honor, and eschewing any deed or thought potentially inimical to one's fellow man. The Decalogue can be regarded as the text of a Covenant between G-d and Israel. Moses' impact on the Jewish faith was to communicate a revelation of G-d as a redeeming Power, who makes exclusive ethical demands on man's will and at the same time, to build a community around that revelation. The ethical speculations in Greece by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are seminal to the evolution of moral concepts. To Plato must be credited in addition to reason and bodily desires, the existence of a third psychological element, called by him "spirit" (thynus). He related the psychological elements to the traditional four cardinal virtues so well known in the Masonic ritual. Wisdom, is the virtue of the rational part of the soul, Courage, the subordination of "spirit" to reason. Temperance, the subordination of bodily desires to reason, and Justice, the harmonious development of the whole self.

The morality which Freemasonry inculcates from the mists of time, makes its demand for liberty of conscience, for the freedom of the intellect, and for the right of all men to be equal before G-d and the Law, each respecting the rights of his fellows. It has been asserted that it is not the quantity of life, but its quality, its depth, its purity, its fortitude, and its spiritual refinement. Masonry insists upon the building of character and the practice of righteousness, upon moral culture and spiritual vision. He who achieves the highest degree of moral conduct, towards himself and towards others, in accordance with the philosophical and ethical ideas gains the respect and love of his fellow men and contributes to the formation of a society worth living in. 

Morality, Religion and Freemasonry

The relation of morality to religion, and to Freemasonry which strenuously maintains that it is not a religion has been a subject of keen debate during the past century and indeed interesting. In much recently published ethical philosophy it is strenuously maintained that right moral action is altogether independent of religion and such is the teaching alike of the Evolutionary, Positivist, and Idealist schools. In fact there is an active propaganda being carried on with a view to substitute this independent morality for morality based on the beliefs of Theism. This also takes us to the paradoxical questions - can and do atheists have morality? If they do, where do atheists get their morality from? Masonic teaching on morality when viewed in this plane is brilliant - it only demands a belief in any G-d. Yet, it is not a religion and steers clear of any controversy on the requirement of religion to be moral ! yet, Freemasonry is intensely moral in its teachings!!

The Church and many of the World religions (excepting Buddhism, which explicitly teaches the entire independence of the moral code from any belief in G-d). have ever affirmed that the two i.e.; religion and morality are essentially connected, and that morality when divested from religion, the observance of the moral law or morality is impossible. This, indeed, follows as a necessary consequence from the Church's teaching as to the nature of morality. She admits that the moral law is knowable to reason: for the due regulation of our free actions, in which morality consists, is simply their right ordering with a view to the perfecting of our rational nature. But she insists that the law has its ultimate obligation in the will of the Creator by whom our nature was fashioned, and who imposes on us its right ordering as a duty; and that its ultimate sanction is the loss of G-d which its violation must entail. Further, among the duties which the moral law prescribes are some which are directly concerned with G-d Himself, and as such are of supreme importance. Where morality is divorced from religion, it is true, reason will enable a man to recognize to a large extent the ideal to which his nature points. But much will be wanting. He will disregard some of his most essential duties. He will, further, be destitute of the strong motives for obedience to the law afforded by the sense of obligation to G-d and in the case of Freemasons to their great and solemn obligation, and the knowledge of the tremendous sanction attached to its neglect -- motives which experience has proved to be necessary as a safeguard against the influence of passions. And, finally, his actions even if in accordance with the moral law, will be based not on the obligation imposed by the Divine will, but on considerations of human dignity and on the good of human society. Such motives, however, cannot present themselves as, strictly speaking, obligatory. But where the motive of obligation is wanting, acting lacks an element essential to true morality. 

Hence, while it may be argued that atheists can and do have morality, but it is non-religious and perhaps amoral! Some atheists attribute their sense of morality, to empathy which is felt in magnitude and proportion to relationships with people, mostly to the close family, friends, ethnic group and lastly to fellow humans. From a world view, atheistic morality does not come across as powerful or as purposeful as the masonic concept of the brotherhood of man, or the fatherhood of G-d. Interestingly the golden rule of atheists states " Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Mike Evilteuf, an ardent protagonist of atheistic morality states that it relies on "enlightened self interest" and the "principle of empathy". Even an entered apprentice Free mason would readily recall that this is exactly what is taught in the Charge after initiation! So much for atheism and morality ! Indeed all roads lead to Rome !!

The Church insists upon the doctrine of original sin; Masonic ritual does not imply as much in express terms though there are allegories; e.g. - " who having defined for our instruction the limits of good and evil will reward or punish as we have obeyed or disregarded his Divine Commands". But, both do teach that in our present state there is a certain obscurity in reason's vision of the moral law, together with a morbid craving for independence impelling us to transgress it, and a lack of complete control over the passions; and that by reason of this inherited taint, man, unless supported by Divine aid, is unable to observe the moral law for any length of time; e.g. - "Let the want of light remind you that man by nature is a child of ignorance and error and would have ever remained in a state of darkness, had it not pleased the Almighty to call him to light and immortality" . Newman has admirably described from the psychological point of view this weakness in our grasp of the moral law: 
"The sense of right and wrong . . . is so delicate, so fitful, so easily puzzled, obscured, perverted, so subtle in its argumentative methods, so impressionable by education, so biased by pride and passion, so unsteady in its course, that in the struggle for existence amid the various exercises and triumphs of the human intellect, the sense is at once the highest of all teachers yet the least luminous" (Newman, "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk", in section on conscience). 

The word religions are unanimous and unequivocal in stating the rejection of religious sanction is invariably followed by a moral decay, leading rapidly to the corruptions of the most degraded periods of our history. We may see this wherever the great revolt from religion, and which is so potent a factor today, has spread. The institution of family and family life is declining or disappearing being replaced by single mothers or parents, abortions which are on the rise; the number of divorces and of suicides multiplies annually; while one of the most ominous of all symptoms is the alarming increase of juvenile crime. Mass cheating and public scandals fill the news paper pages, but the perpetrators and violators go scot free. They conclude, that for nations which have attained maturity, morality is essentially dependent on religious sanction, and that when this is rejected, morality will soon decay. Recent scientific evidence seems to give credence to this position. Research in criminology has acknowledged the inverse relation between religion and crime so beneficial to society. A comprehensive meta analysis of sixty published studies on religion and crime concluded that "..religious behaviors and beliefs exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior"

Masonic teaching on morality takes a different and positive route from religion in which the inducement of reward or the fear of punishment are not attached or proffered. It conduces good men to become better men by growth and development of morality in the individual and in the community. Four principal areas of focus in Masonic teaching may be singled out as of primary moment, namely: (1) the value of education to become fit members of regularly organised society, (2) as a citizen of the world to be exemplary in the discharge of one's civic duties (3) As an individual to practice every domestic as well as public virtue (4) As a Freemason to the excellences of character - secrecy, fidelity and obedience.

Law and Morality

Gandhiji often said that there is a moral law governing the Universe, but today few ever acknowledge it. Much of legislated law has a moral basis, with the good of society, in view. Due obedience to the law of any State which may be your place of residence or afford you its protection is an important masonic tenet. Law or justice is sanctioned through the power of the State and can be publicly enforced. Morality is regarded as a private matter where wrongs are only to the moral discredit of the person, but not such as to allow legal recourse for the wronged. It has been hotly debated whether decline of private morality ought to be legislated, in view of its impact on society and as Kant noted that the worth of moral action is in the intention. It may be said with truth that the greater part of a nation's legislation affects its morality in some way or other. This is manifestly the case with all laws connected with the family or with education; and with those, like the laws regarding drunken driving, or the restriction of pornographic and prurient literature, which have public safety and morals for their immediate object. But it is also true of all legislation which deals with the circumstances of the lives of the people. Laws, for instance, determining the conditions of labor and protecting the poor from the hands of the usurer, promote morality, for they save men from that degradation and despair in which moral life is practically impossible. Slavery is a typical case in point, which was for a very long time perfectly legal, but morally the worst atrocity possible. 

Crime and punishment and the related morality of it - whether harsh punishments will effectively serve their social purpose, any more than draconian punishments ever have, as in the argument against capital punishment. It is well accepted that the prospect of death has not reduced the number of murders and has not really deterred murderers !! The masonic fiat - in every trespass against our rules - judge with candor, admonish with friendship and reprehend with mercy sounds humane and is perhaps a realistic solution for crime and punishment! The other side of the coin is equally interesting - the law may permit what honor forbids, reminding us of the statement of the French philosopher Jacques Saurin : " the law often permits what honor forbids; instead of asking 'is it legal', more people should be asking " is it moral or honorable'?".

To think and act lawfully and morally, one ingredient has been stated to be necessary by our Seers, and Swami Sathya Sai Baba ever re-iterates it : Atma Dharma. In a word it is - "Thou shalt not do any thing that goes against thy True Nature which is that of the Eternal Atma" which can be readily observed by "Follow your Conscience for your Conscience is your Master". Shakespeare said much the same thing in Hamlet :" This above all to thine own self be true; and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man". Swami Sathya Sai Baba has given us a simple recipe: First there must be love for G-d. Then there must be fear of sin. If these two are guaranteed, then morality would automatically prevail in Society. He further states "morality has to be grown in the heart by feeding it with love; then only can we have justice, security, law and order. If love declines among the people, nations will weaken and mankind will perish ". I wonder whether it is by design or sheer accident that masonic teaching strives for and follows the same path. As Albert Einstein put it very succinctly : "The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life." 

Person, Persona and the moral core

The moral core of an individual is the extent to which that person will apply his notions of morality. It is centered on the individual and can be extended to include other people or groups. The individual sees others within the moral core as deserving to be treated in the same way the individual personally wants to be treated. The moral core is a principle that can determine how an individual applies particular moral values and beliefs. It is described in some theories of ethics as the limits to the rationality of ethics itself. From this perspective, morals are considered primarily aesthetic notions and not seen as directly shareable. Persons who fall outside of an individual's moral core are not covered by that individual's notions of morality and do not enjoy its protections. From a masonic standpoint, our ritual and teachings aim to condition and strengthen the moral core of brethren as they face and vacillate between the moral choices of right and wrong in the hum drum of every day life in a society that puts "chaos theories" to shame !!

Sociobiology and Morality

Sociobiology explores the biological basis of all social behavior, including morality. Sociobiologists claim that there are no natural morals. Actions of animals with survival instincts are internally programmed with the sole aim of survival and proliferation. Even though human beings constitute an animal species with deeply ingrained instincts like those in other animals, they differ from other animals in having acquired a large neo-cortex, power of contemplation and communication and in having evolved a social set up where the principle of survival of the fittest no longer operates. Animal instincts that human beings possess need to be curbed in order to sustain the society and social structure. These curbs take the form of laws and morals. The example of incest, is a strong case in point, which is held to be immoral is also not favored by nature to avoid recessive genes coming to the fore . Morals are thus not only social survival instincts reflected in individuals but also a biologic imperative. Spiritually evolved persons gradually give up worldly desires and do not need morals to regulate their lives. Yet, they are incapable of doing immoral deeds and their lives become embodiment of morals for common people.

Morality the life blood of Freemasonry

Morality runs like a golden thread through the dogma of Freemasonry from the Ancient Charges to the regulations and ordinances of the present day. No tenet of Freemasonry has been more consistently maintained and free from question. In the very oldest document of the Craft, the Regius MS. (c.1390), the Articles for the Master prescribed that he should be steadfast, trusty and true; must accept no thief for an apprentice lest it turn the Craft to shame', must not supplant another Master but be a brother to him; must be fair and free and do nothing that would shame the Craft. The Craftsman was charged to love G-d and Holy Church and his Master and Fellow's; work truly; be not false to the Craft; stand well in G-d's law; respect the chastity of his Master's wife and his fellow's wife and child; be a true mediator; act fairly to all; pay his debts; and swear to be no thief. Antiquity MS. (1686), as another example; it charges the Master to be a true man of G-d; to follow the golden Rule; not to take his fellow's wife in villainy or his servant or daughter; truly to pay for his meat; do no villainy whereby the Craft might be slandered; undertake no work that he is not able to finish; take only reasonable pay for work; be no common player at cards, dice, or hazard; not to go into town by night unaccompanied by a fellow to bear witness that he was in an honest place. Substantially the same was repeated in all the Gothic Constitutions. 

Nowhere did Dr. James Anderson (c.1678 - 1739) catch the spirit of the Ancient Charges so accurately as on the subject of morality. In his Constitutions of 1723, he did not attempt to make the Fraternity sacrosanct or to paint it as pretending to a degree of morality that it had not attained but, with a commendable restraint, he prescribed only ordinary standards. Masons were required to obey the moral taw, to be good men and true, men of honor and honesty; to work honestly on working days that they might live creditably on holy days, to avoid ill language and behave courteously within and without the lodge, not to envy a brother or supplant him, to avoid excess and offensive language, not to continue together too late or remain long from home after lodge, and to avoid gluttony and drunkenness. The Master was directed to take work as reasonably as possible and truly to disperse his employees' goods as though they were his own. Both the Masters and the Masons were advised to be faithful to employers and honestly finish the work. The Wardens were to be true to both Masters and to Fellows and carefully oversee the work in the Masters absence. Thus as the square - a mundane working tool teaches us the great subject of morality, no further proof need be adduced that masonic teaching is the jewel in the crown of human morality !

What Morality means to me

Rational men are entitled to a opinion on morality, which may be proclaimed, or locked up in the safe and sacred repository of the heart, but what is important is that morality should suffuse every thought, word and deed, more so for Freemasons because it is their creed. Having core beliefs, based on fundamentally sound assumptions, that engender human advancement is part of what I would call morality. Acting in harmony with basic moral principles without fear or in favor and over time makes one to live respected and die regretted. To me, to maintain a moral stance in the face of corrupting and compromising influenzes is a high bench mark. Accepting others in their sincere beliefs, and ability to change when change is indicated, through rational thinking and attaining knowledge is consistent with morality. Non-violence and a love for peace and harmony, unity and brother hood, honesty and truth are certainly moral. To forgive and forget is also a great gift of morality. After all a heart felt request to G-d for salvation makes every thing better and new; morality that was thought lost, is re-instated in a jiffy and one can start on a new slate !! The biblical story of Mary Magdalene's pardon by Jesus Christ is a shining example of the morality of forgiveness. 

The greatest insight that today's masons ought to have is the sense to discriminate between right and wrong, and to distinguish between the ideal and the practical; to act on that, what his conscience tells him is the best choice, and restoring Ordo ab Chao - order out of the mental and moral chaos amidst the crushing pressures and stresses of daily modern life. Such, my brother is the nature of the human concept of morality. Do right if you can; if questionable do not do it; and above all do no harm. No longer talk about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such !!

So Mote it Be.

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