For example, Exodus 22:18 says "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Pure and simple: God tells us to kill witches. We don't actually kill witches anymore, but some people still use this verse to "prove" celebrating Halloween or reading Harry Potter books are sins.
Leviticus is full of instructions on how to live, with many rules about who you can have sex with, what time of the month you can have sex, what foods are permissible, how to treat your slaves, etc.
Deuteronomy 14:8 explicitly says that we are not to eat pigs. There's one most Americans — certainly most Freemasons — ignore.
The entire fifth chapter of Leviticus is dedicated to instructions on how many lambs, rams, pigeons, doves and quarts of flour you must sacrifice if you commit any of the sins enumerated elsewhere in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
Though we say that we believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and that violating any single rule or commandment is a sin, we don't really mean it. In fact, some brush off the strange rules of the Old Testament by saying Jesus "threw out the old law." Others just realize that certain rules are outdated, or believe that Mosaic law was only meant to provide structure to the lives of Jewish nomads three thousand years ago.
Except, of course the Ten Commandments. Oh, and Leviticus 18:22, that famous verse used to justify gay-bashing and to prove homosexuality is a sin.
Picking and choosing which rules we'll follow, which ones we'll revere as revealed truth or ultimate law and which ones we'll just pretend aren't there, is simply human nature.
We pride ourselves on being law-abiding citizens, for example, because we don't kill, steal or beat our wives, but yet we'll think nothing of driving 90 mph or running stop lights, clearly violations of the law.
We all pick and choose our "morality," and internally justify our behavior.
We do the same thing with Masonic rules and law.
In Masonry, our "old testament" is Anderson's Constitutions, also known as the Ancient Charges of a Free Mason. We pride ourselves on following them to the letter.
Well, when we want to. When it's convenient, or when they can be used to justify a personal or political motivation. Of course we do.
Anderson's Constitutions are often cited to prove that women, atheists and "irreligious libertines" cannot be Freemasons. And yes, it's pretty clear in the Constitutions that women can't be raised as Masons. Section III says, "The persons admitted Members of a Lodge must be good and true Men, free-born, and of mature and discreet Age, no Bondmen, no Women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good Report."
What of atheists?
It's a little more complicated.
Section I says:
A Mason is oblig'd by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance.Not so cut and dried as the bit about no women, is it? Does it say an atheist can't be a Mason, or does it say, if a man becomes a Mason and "rightly understands" Masonry's teachings, he can no longer justify in his heart and mind not believing in God?
Many good Masons have fought over Anderson's meaning. Most French Masons believe in freedom of conscience above all else, and the Grand Orient of France for most of its existence has not required a man to profess theistic beliefs before becoming a Mason. American and English Masons, on the other hand, value godliness moreso than the sanctity of the individual, and pride themselves on requiring a profession of belief in God as a prerequisite for Masonic membership.
The difference in opinion on this single point has led millions of American and British Masons to deny recognition to French Masons, to deny that they are even Masons at all.
In spite of Anderson's prohibitions against women becoming Masons, there are women Masons throughout the world. British Masons accept that fact; American Masons, for the most part, refuse to accept it, even though there are many female orders practicing Masonry right here in the Land of the Free.
People have interpreted the "laws" differently. Or perhaps ignored certain laws when they are no longer meaningful, or appropriate, for a new time and place.
Sort of like Christians who eat pork.
Another set of Masonic instructions are the Ancient Landmarks. There are many of them, and the final one says that the landmarks can never be altered or changed in any way.
The problem with this is that no one can agree on what is or is not a landmark, and how many there actually are. So much for not changing anything....
If obligations also say no women, or no atheists, can or should they be changed to allow for a new interpretation of the Constitutions?
Or should the Constitutions be followed to the letter?
If your immediate response to the latter question was yes, think again.
If you said yes, then you, most likely, just kicked yourself out of Freemasonry. In fact, you may never have actually been a Freemason, for lack of proper qualifications and credentials.
I don't mean this as an insult.
I mean it like this: If you follow the Constitutions to the letter regarding who can become a Freemason, it's highly doubtful if you — or I — qualify.
Section IV is pretty clear on the type of man who can become a Mason.
No Brother can be a Warden until he has pass'd the part of a Fellow-Craft; nor a Master until he has acted as a Warden, nor Grand Warden until he has been Master of a Lodge, nor Grand Master unless he has been a Fellow Craft before his Election, who is also to be nobly born, or a Gentleman of the best Fashion, or some eminent Scholar, or some curious Architect, or other Artist, descended of honest Parents, and who is of similar great Merit in the Opinion of the Lodges.Are you a gentleman? Were you nobly born of honest parents? Are you a scholar, architect or artist?
Are these the requirements to become a Mason?
Or requirements to become a Grand Master?
Either way, this description give rises to the 18th century prerequisites of being a Mason, just as surely as does Section 1 in its wording about stupid atheists and irreligious libertines.
If we read into Section 1 a ban on atheists, shouldn't we also read into Section IV a requirement that a man have a certain educational level or mastery of an art or science?
I'm not saying we should, or we shouldn't.
I am simply pointing out the fuzzy areas of Masonic law and tradition, and urging us all to stop being so rigid about landmarks, charges and bans that we don't fully comprehend or that are more gray than black or white. Or that are obviously outdated, like the ban on women.
Freemasonry in the 21st century must progress, or it will surely die. We can be conscious of the past, using what we found there to help us cut our path into the future, but we must not worship the past, or blindly cling to it at all costs.
Rules are written for their time and place. Rules can and sometimes should be changed. Life is about expanding our knowledge and our perspectives, about evolving.
If you think differently, then you can't have any more barbecued pork.
Image: John Montague, 2nd Duke of Montagu presenting the Constitutions and the compasses to Philip, Duke of Wharton. Rev. Dr. John Desaguliers at the far right.
Masons | Masonic Law | Anderson's Constitutions | Freemasonry | Ancient Charges | Burning Taper | BurningTaper.com