Breadcrumbs Freemasonry in Israel > Articles > Philosophy > Being Free

Being Free
Dan Doron
GDC, PGDS, PM, Reuven Lodge #1, GL of the State of Israel

Let us spend a few moments in clarifying to ourselves what freedom really is. We call ourselves "Freemasons." In what way are we free? Is this freedom important? Why do we demand that those seeking admission are free men? Furthermore, upon our entry we take certain commitments. Do these make us less free? It seems that we should try to define the meanings more clearly.

Some would, most probably, say: free in Freemasons is connected to the history of our order, and its development from a craft-guild. Since craftsmen were "free men," as opposed to vassals of the Middle-Ages, an order which developed from a guild of free men has retained their (historic) status in its name. Let us refrain from discussing this explanation, since it is not the intention of this paper to deal with historical theories concerning our order.

We say that Freemasonry is "a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory." The three words "system of morality" seem to me to be the core of our subject. They are the reason why brethren should join with complete freedom and that this freedom is a condition sine qua non for joining an order based on morality.

The freedom of someone who seeks entry is important not only because of the obvious need, that he does so from his own free will and accord and not due to coercion or solicitation. The more important aspect lies in the meaning of being a Freemason, in his basic attitudes as a man: free from prejudices, ready to judge all attitudes — including his own — with an intellectual integrity and even more important, his readiness to make a moral judgment and to defend it even when he is in minority or under strain for holding such a view.

It is quite possible that some of the readers will be reminded of the discussion between Socrates and his friends in Plato's "Crito," in which Socrates explains why one should not change one's views just because the majority thinks he is wrong, and why he should not escape prison and death, in spite of being convinced that the penalty is unjust. Socrates showed his pupils — in his unique method — that if he escapes prison and death he would betray the principles he holds true. Hence, he should remain true to himself and bear the consequences. I am sure every Master Mason would recognize this argumentation as a vital part of the legend of the third degree.

Let us go back to the meaning of morality. It seems that to be moral, to act in accordance with moral values, demands an ability and readiness to judge between right and wrong; between what is in conformity with prevailing norms and what is not. It seems that there are two necessary pre-conditions to any moral behavior: firstly, a moral choice can exist only if it rests on choosing between possible alternatives, and secondly: that this is a choice made with complete freedom and with no coercion of any kind.

Why are these two pre-conditions necessary? If there are no alternatives to choose from, there was no moral choice made and we are unable to say whether that individual is moral or not. His morality was not put to test. On the other hand, if that choice was made under coercion, there is absolutely no moral value in this choice. A moral judgment can be tested only when there was a choice between alternatives and the individual chose the one which conforms to those values and principles which are considered to be in conformity with moral norms at this time and society. Since moral norms do change, it would be wrong to judge moral choice made in a different society, basing it on our own present norms.

An example will help to understand this statement: ownership of human beings — slavery — does not conform with our present-day moral norms. It would therefore be unjust to judge acts of a slave-owner towards his legal human "property" except according to the norms prevailing at that time and place.

The freedom of a new candidate when he is obligated is important. We want to be sure that he does so on a moral basis and that he will stand by his undertakings as a Freemason. One should be aware of a difficulty which exists here: the candidate undertakes to abide by his obligation before he could make a free moral choice. Being aware of this difficulty, we promise the candidate that there is nothing in what he will undertake which is not in conformity with morality. However, the candidate himself has to take our word for it, and one could not say that he made a moral choice between alternatives, based on his complete freedom of choice.

It is interesting to note, that this very point was raised in the United Grand Lodge of England by the District Grand Master for Norfolk, Bishop Herbert, claiming that we promise the candidate that there is nothing in the obligation he is going to undertake which is contrary to his civil, moral or religious duties and beliefs, but he then undertakes bodily punishments which may be not in conformity with these duties and beliefs. As a result, the United Grand lodge of England took a stand and changed the wording of the obligation. Do we need to say more?

We have stressed the need of freedom for making a moral stand. We also said, right at the beginning, that we expect brethren to be free from prejudices and from attitudes which are not based on self examination. We expect brethren to exercise their freedom of thought every time they are required to form their opinion. To my best judgment, this demand is a pre-condition for morality in every democratic society. I do not mean only freedom as opposed to coercion, but more to a perpetual readiness to re-evaluate matters as a constant attitude without prejudices. A truly democratic way of life is based on moral behavior and on constant awareness of the limits of one's own freedom vis-à-vis the other man's right to his freedom; on awareness of the thin line dividing one's obligations and rights; on self-censoring of one's freedom as a result of recognizing the other man's right to his freedom. On free discussions void of fear from expressing one's views publicly. On the majority recognizing the minority's right to its view and on the minority accepting the right of the majority to bind all by its decisions.

In other words, to be a Freemason means to have a basic moral attitude based on constant valuation and re-valuation of every aspect of one's life, both in one's private life as well as in the society in general, and to take a moral stand based on liberty — to be democratic.

Those readers who know the Ancient Scottish Rite may remember that at the opening of the lodge in the first degree the orator says that Freemasonry is an institution seeking human happiness through tolerance and love, self-perfection, glorifying justice, truth and equality, fighting tyranny, ignorance and prejudices. Should one say more than that?

Furthermore, we give the apprentice tools with which he is expected to perfect himself in order to become fit for a moral temple. Those who may claim that we are all the product of the circumstance we grow in, and that one cannot tear oneself from the roots he was raised on, will have to agree that by using his tools, of his free will and accord, a Freemason is at least approaching free objectivity in his moral choices.

Last but not least: normally we think of freedom only in the sense of free from restrictions or limitations. However, this is perhaps the lesser freedom. The freedom to act in accordance with our freely-made moral choices and convictions makes us true Freemasons.

Are we less free as a result of undertaking commitments as brethren? On the contrary: we have chosen of our free will and accord to be committed to certain moral values. Isn't this a true expression of being free?

Well, I freely recommend that we all think about it.