Cross My Heart, Hope To Die…

This weekend was our annual grand communication and it was, once again, a depressing affair for me.

In my defense I think I’m getting better. I bought my first Masonic ring, I embraced my role as an elected officer, and I even stood up and made a very shaky plea to pass a resolution I believe would help freemasonry survive. Of course, it was shot down.

I’d probably like grand comm more if I stuck around, mingled in the hospitality suites, downed scotch with the brothers from other mothers, and generally didn’t have social anxiety, but it’s hard to see the unusual political wheels of freemasonry turn, and square that with everything you believe as a freemason.

I attended because I’m a dutiful junior warden, and I’ll attend the next two years as well, tradition prevailing.

Tradition prevailing. It’s sort of ironic. About five years ago when I attended my first grand comm I got to witness my lodge brothers make passionate, two-minute pleas to restore the ancient penalties to our state’s ritual. And I got to see it fail. The next year it failed again. This year it has failed again. By wide margin.

Through my years as a mason I’ve heard a lot of great intellectual arguments for restoring the ancient penalties, but I think as masons we are required to be truthful. Why did we ever vote to remove the ancient penalties?

There’s only one truthful reason. We wanted to be more appealing in order to fix a membership crisis.

So really we only have to ask ourselves a simple question: did it work?

The truth is it did not.

We tried a new idea and it did not work, so why not try an old idea again; an idea we know worked, and worked for hundreds of years?
I’ve heard philosophically vacant arguments from the other side. “They aren’t true,” said one. “Since we know we won’t enforce them, then masons aren’t really bound by anything in their obligation.”

This is so bizarre. Is the only thing making a freemason respectable, the terrifying fear of reprimand, suspension, or expulsion? Not conscience, or brotherly love, or even G-d?

If this is the case, then let’s let in atheists. Because the most often cited argument I hear against atheists is that they have nothing which to hold them to their word. Well this is apparently not the case, as like the rest of us they can quake in fear of divine reprimand of their own grand lodge!

Young masons today, the 18-30 year olds that the grand lodge cited the previous day are the fastest growing demographic of new masons in our state, are looking for something. No one seems to know what they’re looking for, though. Ritual? Fellowship?

Brothers, they’re looking for men of character. Men to which they may bind themselves to under sacred obligations.

They’re looking for men who will do the right thing, not because they fear reprimand, but because they will look you in the eye, take your hand, and say “Brother, I would rather have my throat cut than to sacrifice your trust in me. I would rather have my heart ripped out of my chest than to stab you in the back. Brother, I would rather be gutted than to lose your respect.”

Yes, these statements are symbolic. They’re hyperbolic. Like “cross my heart, hope to die, sick a needle in my eye,” they are exaggerations that even a six year old girl understands. They’re not literal, they’re declarations of character.

Masons have character.

In my state I would see that character restored to our ritual.


9 thoughts on “Cross My Heart, Hope To Die…

  1. Bro. Matt… Brush up your knowledge on “The Morgan Affair” and you’ll clearly see why returning the Craft to the ancient penalties is “NOT” a viable option! It almost destroyed Freemasonry in America in the early 1800’s!

    • The Morgan Affair was only an impetus for the decline in Freemasonry at the time. Like The shooting of Trevon Martin or Micheal Brown, it was a story that resonated because of issues already present. As a side not many jurisdictions name murder as being excluded from the rules of secrecy we bind ourselves to and is obviously grounds for expulsion. That makes the penalties symbolic rather than literal.

  2. We still have the ancient penalties here in Texas. I don’t believe I’ve never spoken with another Texas mason who believed the penalties were intended to be literal instead of symbolic.

  3. Frankly, I don’t know of any other jurisdiction in the planet that uses the penalties like we do. It’s an embarrassment to the craft to take them out of the obligation

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