In the forum discussions on gay applicants and illicit sexual relationships recently the question has arisen about the source of our moral dogma, as far as Freemasonry is concerned. Some correspondents have suggested that the only source of moral teaching is 'God'. But as I have said in the forums, your 'God' may not be my 'God', nor should he need to be, and the moral teachings of your 'God' may well be different to the moral teachings of my 'God'.
At an earlier time in the history of the Craft we went from being an overtly Christian, often sectarian by nature, fraternity which could often have been described as Christomaniac, to a fraternity which is now overtly monotheistic and, certainly in this part of the world, non-sectarian. Amongst my friends at Lodge I know of Jews, Moslems, Buddhists and Christians of all creeds, including many Catholics of the Roman persuasion. For the Church of Rome, despite its own protestations to the contrary, is not the only body claiming to be 'Catholic'.
In some parts of the Masonic community this purge of Christo-centric notions was taken to extremes and led to some bodies becoming irregular and unrecognised when they removed the requirement that a petitioner acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being. I am sure that some of our Brethren in France and other parts of the world with irregular Grand bodies could enlighten us somewhat better on that subject than I can. It suffices to be said that one of the inalienable Landmarks of the Order is an avowed belief in a Supreme Being. This thread of belief is inherent throughout our ritual.
But what should be the source of our moral teachings and where does the diversity of religious background found in the Craft come to some common ground? Should our moral teachings be found in sources outside the Craft or is our own teaching to be found from within?
Were it advocated that 'God' should be the source of our teaching we would have a serious problem. My 'Great Architect' may not have the same moral teachings as yours, so we would not have a common moral ground, this would be disastrous, wouldn't it! So the source of our moral teachings must come from somewhere within the Craft itself. Trouble is that I have never found a document entitled "Moral Teachings of Freemasonry" anywhere, if someone finds a copy please let me know!
IT'S ALL IN THE RITUAL!
Yes folks, that's precisely where it is! Our forefathers weren't silly. You see, most of them couldn't read, or write, hence the lack of a lot of early records. Many of them were also afraid of what would happen if the Church found out what they were really up to. Remember, to many of our early Brethren the Craft was a refuge from a corrupt and morally bankrupt Church. Some jurisdictions still do not permit the printing of, or even possession of anything, purporting to be a Masonic ritual. Gee, wouldn't my Lodge officers like that, we even have a new large print ritual here for those of poor sight. Well that is one reason given for it. It seems that the Grand Secretary also had in mind that a larger ritual could not be taken into the Lodge room and used covertly by anyone!
So the teachings of our Craft are to be found in our own practices. Take out your ritual (or think about it) and look at what we agreed to do in the various obligations as we progressed through the Degrees. Then take a look at the charges and lectures in the various Degrees, now take a look at the Ancient Charges and Regulations, often found in the front of your Book of Constitutions, which should be read to each Master before he is presented to the Installed Board, with his assent to each and every one of the charges required before we can proceed with the ceremony.
If your Lodge still uses the catechitical lectures, or Prestonian Lectures as some call them, or just the lectures of the Degrees, you will find more good instruction.
Remember that much of the value of our ritual and lectures is not to be found in the actual words. Remember what we were told Freemasonry was on the night we were initiated — "It is a beautiful system of Morality, vieled in allegory and illustrated by symbols". Surely then we know that the Light we are to find in Masonry won't always be obvious, it won't always be something carved in stone on words of one syllable (or less!) which is obvious to everyone.
Another Brother observed in the forum recently that sometimes the meaning of some of our ritual becomes obscured. Changing conditions in society, loss of knowledge of old language and sometimes just a general disregard for the words of our ritual and lectures can result in a meaning being lost. But this does not mean it is lost forever. Recent advances in, for instance, the interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls should remind us that even after 2,000 years and possibly more we can go back to the words and find a lot more from them. Thus we should be careful never to allow our members, or the so-called 'ritual authorities' to change the words of our ritual. One small change, no matter how innocuous today could be the cause of an entire lesson being lost for the Freemasons of tomorrow.
In the same way we must be careful not to taint our interpretation of the allegorical lessons with sectarian religious prejudice, for I feel their could be little argument with the assertion that sectarianism is a form of prejudice in its own right. So don't bring your prejudice to the Craft. We approach the altar of the Great Architect in a state of darkness, symbolical of the ignorance of the world who are not Freemasons. Our progress around the lodge in all of the Degree ceremonies is symbolical of the progress we make towards light. When we receive that first light we may decide that we are then possessed of the knowledge which Freemasonry has to offer. But we should remember that our progression through the degrees, each time gaining a little more knowledge, reminds us that no matter how much knowledge we gain, the more we have the more we should realise we have not.
What we expect of a man as a Freemason is what we teach him in the rituals and lectures of our fraternity. But we must be ever watchful to ensure that a sincere and mature contemplation of those teachings is the design we use for constructing that spiritual edifice which each true Freemason becomes with time.