Saturday, May 26, 2018

Rough Ashlar No. 24: Obligations

Recently I have had several conversations with brethren of various obediences and jurisdictions on the matters of both oaths and obligations. These have led me to contemplate the differences between our masonic obligations stated and unstated, obvious and implicid.

For most the conversation seems simple and straightforward. They have sworn oaths and mostly these are interpreted in literal and unequivocable terms. They must follow the rules of the institution and must keep the secrets they have sworn to maintain. In today's Freemasonry, it would seem, if one contemplates anything related to the craft these are not among the things one considers. Yet, I would suggest that they should be. Indeed, they deserve to be on the top of the list.

As masons, we have certain obligations and foremost among those obligations ought to be to question them all.

 No, I am not suggesting that masons should not take their obligations and oaths seriously. Quite the opposite, I am suggesting that oaths and obligations that are not examined, questioned, and measured against our values both personal and masonic, are not being taken seriously. Socrates, is credited with saying that "the unexamined life is not worth living." I would suggest that the unexamined oath is not an oath at all.

As masons, we are expected to work on our rough ashlars. But it should be understood that we have collective as well as individual rough ashlars. Our masonic institutions are not perfect, nor are our rules and regulations carved in stone. They have changed and evolved both on paper (officially) and in interpretive practice (informally) for as long as Freemasonry has existed. Today there are many different Freemasonries, each with variations in oaths, regulations, and different definitions of what a "Masonic Secret" is.

Personally, I am not particularly preoccupied by the issue of Masonic secrets. We who are masons are familiar with those of our particular obedience, or at least, based upon my own informal surveys of  the matter, what Freemasons imagine them to be. In truth, there exists no Masonic Secret that has not been published, often multiple times.

But I am concerned with this: it appears that far too many masons assume that their oaths mean they have to accept things the way they are and that to challenge the status quo is tantamount to breaking their oaths. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.  Our Masonic institutions are far from perfect and have never been static.  it is our responsibility, I would suggest, to examine our institutions and if they are found to fall short of our higher standards, then we are obliged to work to improve them.

We are all entitled to different views on specific issues. I'm not going to point to any issue in particular. Rather, I wish to highlight what I would consider a "meta-issue." If we as a fraternity aim to seek more light, to smooth our rough ashlars, and to become better, than we have an obligation, I believe, to attempt to seek the same collectively. We must attempt to push our collective body to improve itself. We must seek to know ourselves, and strive to improve ourselves. We must not content ourselves with the narrowest of definitions concerning our Masonic obligations.

We cannot be content with the status quo.

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