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beyond the northeast corner

The Challenge Of Freemasonry


Richard h. sands


IT IS NOT ALWAYS EASY to uphold the fundamental principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth, or to practice such time‑honored and time‑tested virtues as faith, hope, charity, temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. Yet these should not be mere high‑sounding words devoid of meaning. As the final charge in the Ceremony of Initiation tells us, they must be carried into active operation. In keeping them strong and pure we must be determined and persistent. Only if we hew to the line shall we win for others and for ourselves the three great social treasures, fraternity, liberty, and equality.

Human nature is varied and complex. There are some, a few, who regard themselves as independent of all around them, and unrelated to others. To them life appears simple indeed. Others, many others, regard such a life as not merely simple, but as unrealistic and selfish. They say that man cannot insulate himself from the world; he is affected by other men and in turn he must have social responsibility and reach out to relate to them. A third group recognizes that this view of life is broader, but still flat, superficial, and horizontal. Man has an instinctive awareness of higher things, and aspires to attain them. If life is to have any depth of meaning or richness, it must operate not only in this horizontal plane, but also in a vertical plane. Those who are firmly attached to the basic tenets of Freemasonry inevitably are associated with this last group.

Let us consider these two planes more closely. The horizontal relationships between the "I" and the "you" or the "it" we share daily in all our activities. In addition, as members of the Craft we acknowledge our belief in a Supreme Being who transcends the earthly realm. Thus each of us has experienced the vertical relationship, between the "I" and the "Supreme Being". Once the horizontal and vertical relationships become integrated into the life of the individual, a new dimension is added to our understanding, and life comes to have a richer, fuller, deeper meaning.

With this integration comes a new freedom. All men seek freedom, but few actually find it. Some believe that they have found it when they bend or break the shackles of discipline and do as they please. In recent decades this attitude has won increasing currency, but it leads only to greater tyranny. Freedom cannot be freedom unless it is disciplined. In the words of our first Grand Master, "There is no liberty without the supremacy of the law". A disciplined freedom sets boundaries. Of course the Mason is expected to pay due obedience to the laws of the land. But the boundaries, the limitations of which we speak, are not just the human laws imposed on us from without, the sociological laws dictated by majority opinion; for if the opinion of the majority should shift, these laws might be rescinded. No, the limitations referred to above include the moral law, the constant awareness of what is right, the unchanging virtues, the eternal principles inculcated by religious teachings, the landmarks and tenets of Freemasonry.

Here then is one challenge to Freemasonry. Every member is challenged to live according to the principles of his faith and the principles of the Craft. The challenge requires action! The challenge requires action now! Are you content to be a Mason in name only, carried along through life by every whim and fancy of society? Or are you, my brother, courageous enough to apply yourself to meet the challenge of your Masonic obligation?

This Changing Society

We live in a technological age. Scientific research since the Second World War has placed vast quantities of knowledge on everyone's doorstep, and the volume of this knowledge has been doubling every few years. Such great strides in the sciences have brought prosperity, and in many ways the present age appears good and worthwhile. But they have also brought great changes in society, some of which are less welcome. The population has a fluidity or mobility which is without precedent in history. Youth is full of unrest. Protests increase in number. Violence rises like an ugly serpent.

All these changes raise a number of questions. Can Freemasonry survive in a technological society? Must Freemasonry change when society changes? If society gives up the disciplines of former years, does this imply that Freemasonry must forsake its basic teachings?

Let us look briefly at this changing society. In former years one chose a vocation and remained in it for life. Often to carry out his responsibilities one had to perform capably in several areas, as "a Jack of all trades". Today people need not stay committed to a single line of work. They are prepared to undergo periodic retraining to fit themselves for other callings. At the same time they are specializing in much narrower areas of responsibility. This increased specialization has brought about a mobility in our society. Families are no longer established in a community for a lifetime. Instead, large corporations now require their personnel to pack up and move, family and all, not just within the community but across the land, and even to other countries and continents.

Distances seem shorter than before. Technology has enabled men to plumb the depths of outer space, and even to walk on the surface of the moon. Air travel has made the world smaller, by bringing the great cities within mere hours of one another. The world no longer consists of many tribes or nations isolated by time and space. It is one large community struggling to live in an age of ever increasing technology. Yet within this "global village" there are still barriers, walls, curtains, some of them set up by the very technological thinking that removed others. True, the advance of science has brought labor-saving inventions, convenient devices and efficient machines that have added to man's comfort, and it has brought prosperity. But not all people nor all nations have benefited equally. Some parts of the world are still under-developed, under-privileged and exploited in the name of progress. Though the age of affluence is sweet like the rose-bud, it may bear at its heart the canker-worm.

Affluence has made men, and nations, want independence. Some who have achieved this independence have become selfish and indifferent; they "couldn't care less" what happens to others. Some, more altruistic, have seen the spiritual advantages that come with independence; and so there is an increasing concern for the "have nots" of the entire world, regardless of race, color, or creed. In many countries there has been a trend towards the redistribution of wealth and the provision of social welfare for all. This no doubt rights many wrongs, and the Mason will patiently submit to the decisions of the supreme legislature. But we may observe in passing that political legislation can never take the place of brotherly love, relief, and truth in the heart of the individual man.

Technology has also affected communication. News items are flashed into our homes minutes after they have occurred, and the images of the television screen involve us immediately in the lives and problems of others. One observer has even concluded that the newscasters are the priests of our modern society, and the newscasts and special televised news events are the rituals of a new "participatory society" (Gibson Winter, Being Free: Reflections on America's Cultural Revolution, Macmillan, 1970, page 19).

Man is bombarded by the mass media of communication. His thoughts and reactions are often conditioned and manipulated by saturation. Advertisers know this, and fill the television screen with commercials. Politicians know this, and let the facile slogan serve the role of thought. Manufacturers know this, and guide the whim of fashion to produce planned obsolescence and to create an artificial demand for their goods. We even hear of countries where history books are constantly being rewritten, to bring the past into conformity with the present.

Not only has technology complicated our work‑a‑day lives, but our social relationships too are more highly organized and complex. As a result families, instead of being drawn closer together, are being driven further apart. The "alienation" of the young, their radical and rebellious activities, the growing permissiveness of society, the rejec­tion of the "establishment" and its old morality, all have shown up in one form or another in many countries of the world. Ostensibly such protests have different causes in different areas, but there may be a single underlying reason. An outstanding American psychologist refers the unrest among our youth to the "feeling that 'youth has no future' because modern technology has made them obsolete—that they have become socially irrelevant and, as persons, insignificant" (Bruno Bettelheim, "Obsolete Youth", in Encounter for September, 1969).

Such is the society in which we live. Not all the influences and ideas that have come with technology are to be opposed, condemned, or destroyed. Many of the problems of our age arise from man's inability to handle his prosperity within the framework of society. The confusion which assails the mind of man has weakened his convic­tions; it has led society to desire, and sometimes to demand, the alteration of long‑established standards of behavior. The question remains, "Must we all be completely overtaken by the trends of this technological society? We have permitted technology to become a deity" (Gibson Winter, Being Free, page 141). All around us we see the spiritual Supreme Being whom we acknowledged on our entry into the lodge gradually being displaced. Our society is, more and more, living only on the horizontal plane. It would be all too easy to acquiesce, if only to avoid being scorned, laughed at, or ostracized.

Masonry exists in the midst of society. Let us return to the questions we asked earlier. Can Masonry survive in a technological society, where so many of the ancient beliefs have been uprooted, shifted, and in some cases all but destroyed? Is there a place for Masonry's fundamental principles in a society as transient and changeable as ours? Should it adjust its standards to conform to those of the changing society in which it exists?

The answers are plain and unequivocal. The Landmarks of Masonry include a belief in God, and a conviction that He has revealed His will to man. A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law, for he knows that the Most High has defined for his instruction the limits of good and evil. He knows that there are such things as Right and Wrong in an absolute sense. The fundamental principles of Masonry are the foundations of a healthy society. It is encouraging to recall how history repeats itself. Whenever the guide lines of society are bent, redirected, or removed too far, then mankind tends to return to the absolute standards set forth in the Volume of the Sacred Law. Whether this return is to be effected by accident, circumstance, condition or intention, it is our responsibility to work toward it.

If we believe that Masonry will continue, and that our society is to maintain some form of stability in the midst of such great changes, then each one of us is being challenged. How seriously are we taking our obligations? Are we establishing our lives upon the cardinal and theological virtues? Are we promoting the fundamental principles of Freemasonry? How enthusiastically are we serving as Masons in our homes, our communities, our country? Brethren, are the ancient Landmarks worth the struggle so far as we are concerned? Each of us is now challenged to make his decision. Each must decide for what or for whom he will live and die.

Responding to the Challenge

Once we have taken the decision, we will find that we have a tremendous contribution to make to Freemasonry. What do we have to offer? Masonry, we are told, strives to make good men into better men. We may therefore venture to hope that every Mason tries to practice the virtues and to display sound moral judgment, not only within the lodge but outside it as well.

In addition the Grand Architect of the Universe grants us all, to a greater or lesser degree, three other great gifts. First, He gives us a span of time to live out our lives. During his lifetime a man makes many decisions. He may decide to live to himself, grasping for worldly possessions, and forgetting that "no man is an island, entire of itself". Or he may resolve to have a genuine concern for his neighbors, being involved in their welfare and relieving their needs as opportunity arises. This requires a sharing of time. No man can keep every moment of life for himself. If we are to get the most out of life, we must share our time, at least to some extent, with others.

Now if we become involved with others in this way, we are also using our talents or abilities. In most situations time alone is not enough, there has to be something else working with it. Not all of us are equally endowed with talents, not all are capable of doing all things equally well. We differ in abilities. Our gift may be simply listening to the troubled soul, or to the outpourings of a bereaved and broken heart. Or it may be providing guidance for one who knows not where to turn. Or it may be using the skills of our daily vocation to help a fellow worker. Or we may be called upon to provide leadership to the young, or to the elderly.

Besides time and abilities each of us has worldly possessions in varying amounts. Often we think of these in terms of money, because that is the medium of exchange in our economic system. To relieve the needs of others we can use our money and our other material possessions. In fact not to use them when a chance presents itself is an abuse. If we employ our abilities, possessions, and time to help others, we need not proclaim what we have done. In the lodge or outside it we will without pretension do that which is good, not for ourselves, but for the cause of good.

Your whole life is made up of Abilities, Time, and Possessions, Gifts from God.

Your Abilities include natural talents and skills which you have learned.


Your Time is divided between work and rest.


Your Possessions divide between property you hold and money you earn.


How you manage your whole life, responsibly or carelessly, generously or selfishly imaginatively or fearfully, is your Stewardship.

All gifts belong to God and you are the responsible caretaker for a little while.

To be a good steward is to be able to offer each day, as an act of worship,

    Abilities well used,

    Time well spent,

    Possessions well distributed.

                        -Author Unknown

Being a Mason means much, much more than simply belonging to another organization that is respected in the community. Freemasonry is much, much more than just another association where you hear fine‑sounding lectures and forget them. Each of you has undertaken to answer and obey all lawful signs and summonses; you should attend your lodge whenever you can, pleading thereto no excuse save sickness or the pressing emergencies of your public or private avocations. Each of you has the responsibility of sharing your time, not only in the lodge but beyond it. Each of you is responsible for the use of your abilities and possessions for the benefit of the lodge, the Craft, and the world at large, so far as may fairly be done without injury to yourself or your family. If the fundamental principles of Masonry are observed, your abilities, time, and possessions will be expended for the benefit of all mankind, and your Masonry will be meaningful. Herein lies the challenge of Freemasonry in the midst of a changing society. Accept the challenge and let your Masonic principles live!

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Last modified: March 22, 2014