By: Lance Card, Marshall
“He who is worldly, covetous, or sensual must change before he can be a good Mason.” – Morals and Dogma, Albert Pike
Our public claim is that we make good men better. This is an interesting concept that Masonry, in and of itself, makes good men better. Such a claim is false when taken at face value. Masonry does nothing. Masonry is a philosophy, a series of lessons, moral direction depicted through symbols and allegory. A more correct statement would be, Masonry provides good men with the opportunity to be better. Whether the phrase used is the incorrect but sexier, “Making good men better,” or the more correct but clunkier, “Masonry provides good men with the opportunity to be better,” the follow-up question is inevitable, “How?”
All Masons should be familiar with Albert Pike. Whether you’ve actually read the book Morals and Dogma or just heard talk of it, whether you like his doctrine or find it pithy and filled with sarcasm, Brother Pike’s work is elegant and well written, and in one chapter, in particular, he discusses the merits of a good Mason.
Yet, even with outlines and guides, even with words written by men whom you could say are so involved in Masonry, their blood is the blue of their Mother Lodge, there are disparities amongst Masons as to what Masonry is. Jurisdictions change ritual, men disregard basic guidelines in favor of what suites them best, and egos play at politics with a disregard for the teachings of the Level. So, what ingredients genuinely make up a good Mason?
Are we to take the principle tenets of Freemasonry at face value and say, these are the ingredients? Brotherly love, relief, and truth alone cannot define the value of a Mason. Surely, there is more to the concept; otherwise, an honest man who practices charity and kindness could be considered a Mason. What then, is the need for the Fraternity if any man can behave in a way that is prescribed in Christian Scriptures, Buddhist Philosophies, and many other organizations of the same ilk and be considered following the tenets of Freemasonry? Why not just involve yourself in one of the organizations mentioned above and call it good?
The answer lies in the volume of the work and the willingness of the individual to set themselves apart from the rest of society. Freemasonry is non-denominational and accepts all scripture as a part of the Great Trestleboard, providing that the message is Good. Where religion can give birth to bias, Freemasonry invites men to be free-thinkers willing to accept more than the unique teachings of a religious body. Still, free-thinking is not to be mistaken with acceptance of every way of life, every concept, and every theory. Discernment is an integral part of the operation of a Mason for without discernment; we are but the same as other men, easily influenced and corrupted. Through the wide berth of education that Freemasonry encourages, men are allowed to develop enlightened discernment that breaks through the cages of societal thinking.
It’s no wonder that a good deal of the most famous people in the world are Freemasons. They refused to accept the norm, were able to think beyond the stigmatism of social thinking, and produced excellent results. So, is it the ability to think freely and act with discernment that makes a good Mason? Not alone.
One of the basic teachings of our Ancient Fraternity is that of secrecy. This is not to promote clandestine meetings in which rebellious and cultish deeds are concocted and acted upon but instead is to test the honorable mettle of the man.
A mark of a good Mason is their ability to maintain their obligations to their Lodge, to their brother Masons, to the Grand Architect of the Universe, to their family, to their church, and to their vocations. Honesty, integrity, worthiness… each an attribute found within the fundamentals of a good Mason. To value your word as your bond, to treat your commitments as unbendable, unbreakable, and to be faithful to your obligations is vital to realizing Masonry. This begins at home, extends to the workplace, and is invaluable in your Masonic career. Without this trust, your Brothers, your family, your workplace associates, they will all recognize the color of your mettle. Your claim on the title of Freemason becomes loose and false, for you cannot be a good Mason without honesty and integrity. So, is it then the ability to think freely and act with discernment while acting with integrity and upholding your obligations that make a good Mason? Not alone.
I’ll return now to the quote at the beginning of this article and dissect the sentence. “He who is worldly…” In this case, Brother Pike isn’t referring to one of experience and sophistication, the first definition of the word, worldly. That is, in fact, what we strive for in our Masonic education. No. In this case, Brother Pike is referring to the second definition: of or concerned with material values or ordinary life rather than a spiritual existence. His ambitions for worldly success. Putting advancement or ego before your spiritual growth, before your relationship with the Grand Architect of the Universe, causes strife and inner turmoil. You forget yourself and your Masonic tenets in your pursuit of favor and glory. Does this mean that you shouldn’t strive to be the best you can be in every situation resulting in vocational advancement or being recognized for talents you hold and being asked to engage in leadership positions? Not at all. But to pursue it, to actively seek advancement for the vainglory that it provides—keeping up with the Joneses—this is where a man fails and what a good Mason avoids.
“Covetous…” is to have or show a great desire to possess something belonging to someone else. Envy, jealousy, greed… there are several synonyms for this, which is indicative of the very problem. The more words associated with the meaning, the more prevalent in our society. Such behavior is plebian and unfit of a Mason. To be a good Mason, a man must excuse themselves from such action, which is a problematic and on-going process.
“Or sensual…” gratification of the senses and physical, especially sexual, pleasure; one of the most difficult temptations to overcome, this is, perhaps, one of the most overlooked by would-be Masons. Fornication, gluttony, lust… unbecoming behaviors for any who strive to stand apart from the rest of society. These are not religious tenets to be cast aside by those who claim no affiliation with a church. These are fundamental spiritual sins to be overcome by the sophisticated and experienced Mason.
“If we are governed by inclination and not by duty; if we are unkind, severe, censorious, or injurious, in the relations or intercourse of life; if we are unfaithful parents or undutiful children; if we are harsh masters or faithless servants; if we are treacherous friends or bad neighbors or bitter competitors or corrupt unprincipled politicians or overreaching dealers in business, we are wandering at a great distance from the true Masonic light.” – Morals and Dogma, Albert Pike
So what makes a good Mason? Part of the answer lies again within the book Morals and Dogma.
“Masons must be kind and affectionate to one another. Frequenting the same temples, kneeling at the same altars, they should feel that respect and that kindness for each other, which their common relation and common approach to one God should inspire. There needs to be much more of the spirit of the ancient fellowship among us; more tenderness for each other’s faults, more forgiveness, more solicitude for each other’s improvement and good fortune; somewhat of brotherly feeling, that it be not shame to use the word, ‘Brother.’
“Nothing should be allowed to interfere with that kindness and affection: neither the spirit of business, absorbing, eager, and overreaching, ungenerous and hard in its dealings, keen and bitter in its competitions, low and sordid in its purposes; nor that of ambition, selfish, mercenary, restless, circumventing, living only in the opinion of others, envious of the good fortune of others, miserably vain of its own success, unjust, unscrupulous, and slanderous.”
To be a good Mason, a man must take advantage of the opportunities that Freemasonry provides to become enlightened and to put into action what education is received. To be a good Mason, a man must always seek further light, to be open-minded while applying the tenets and principles of Freemasonry to their critical thinking, resulting in cultivated ability to think freely. To be a good Mason, a man must regard himself as the walking advertisement for our Fraternity, living a life that is remarkably and exceptionally apart from society, that establishes the reputation of our organization and convinces the world at large of our good effects.
This is the challenge we Freemasons face daily, hourly, and by the minute. This is what sets our ancient and honorable Fraternity apart from other organizations. This is the draw of a Masonry to a good man seeking to be better. Ask yourself this, my Brother. Are you striving to be a good Mason?