Judge and Jury

In a recent conversation, many Freemasons were discussing the idea of Justice. What is Justice? How does a Freemason view Justice? There were, as always, a few different points of view about this topic. The core of the conversation ended on the action of judgement and who, or when, does the Freemason judge? Must we be the judge of another’s actions and character? Or, must we “judge not our Brother, lest we be judged?” There are always two sides of a passionate discussion (maybe more), and they are interesting to explore how some Freemasons view the idea of judgement.

Freemasonry has its own jurisprudence; this is a fact that many Freemasons don’t know or understand until they have been members for some time. This jurisprudence covers all aspects of a Freemason’s career, including actions taken outside of a Lodge room. This is an interesting aspect of Freemasonry’s jurisprudence and something, again, people do not necessarily understand. You don’t suddenly become a non-Freemason when you’re not in Lodge with your fellow members; you are a Freemason always, and this jurisprudence covers every aspect of your life.

LadyJustice

Another interesting aspect of Freemasonry is that Freemasons are told they should exercise their own morality, and that this morality is personal. Freemasons will not tell one another what morality they should hold, only that they should hold to it. That being the case, we cannot judge another’s morality; we can only judge whether their actions are in accordance with their words. Do we judge intentions? Can we judge intentions? This was another topic of debate: some say yes, other’s say no.

Albert Mackey, 19th Century Freemason and author, wrote several books on Masonic Jurisprudence, and they may be found through most book sellers, if one is tenacious enough. Project Gutenberg has posted Mackey’s Principles of Masonic Law at this link. This book covers Masonic crimes, qualifications of candidates, history of Masonic law, and Law as it applies to both Grand and subordinate Lodges. Quite comprehensive, it serves as the foundation for many Masonic Orders today. If one reads the text, particularly under Masonic Crimes, there are many offenses which would, by some today, be considered not crimes:

“If such, then, be the meaning of the moral law, and if every Mason is by his tenure obliged to obey it, it follows, that all such crimes as profane swearing or great impiety in any form, neglect of social and domestic duties, murder and its concomitant vices of cruelty and hatred, adultery, dishonesty in any shape, perjury or malevolence, and habitual falsehood, inordinate covetousness, and in short, all those ramifications of these leading vices which injuriously affect the relations of man to God, his neighbor, and himself, are proper subjects of lodge jurisdiction.”

How many of us Freemasons would live up to these precepts today? Freemasons, this one included, might do themselves a great favor if they continue to review these ideals often, and ask ourselves if we live up to them. I also put forth, would we have the right to judge our fellow Freemasons if we don’t first judge ourselves? What are our intentions in the judgement? What do we hope to achieve in our thoughts and actions?

Lochner’sLastJudgement

Do Freemasons actively and thoroughly judge another human? Yes, of course. In the first sense, Freemasonry is not an open-to-everyone organization. We have the duty to ensure that the Landmarks of Freemasonry are kept, and that if we suspect anyone of being dishonest, immoral, or subversive, we have a duty to call it out before that person is ever admitted to a Temple. How does the Freemason judge a neophyte? That is on the individual Freemason to find a way; asking questions of other Freemasons, inquiring with the neophyte’s friends and relations, reference checks should all be followed; background checks even are possible avenue. The point is that the voting Freemason must make a personal judgement about the character of both the candidate as well as the data provided by his fellow members.

Every time a member takes a step to the next degree, their actions are balloted upon by the Lodge. Do they fulfill the requirements as the individual Freemason sees them? That is a judgement. We just not only the actions of the Freemason but also their intentions. When I say intentions, I say the actions that expose the bent of their mind and inclination. Someone can follow the letter of the law and yet still be found wanting. The strength of Freemasonry is built on the membership’s ability to discern, discriminate in a positive way, and vote their conscience. This is far easier said than done, as in this current age we try to be ‘nice’ and ‘polite’ to everyone. It serves no one to pass a false judgement on a member; it is detrimental to the aspiring member as well as the Lodge integrity.

Simply, every Freemason has the duty and obligation to vote or ballot. Always. Each time this occurs, the Freemason casts a judgement.

Time, Death and Judgement 1900 George Frederic Watts 1817-1904 Presented by the artist 1900 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01693

Perhaps the question is not “Does or Should a Freemason judge another” but “How or What should a Freemason judge?” To cast doubt on someone because they don’t believe or act as you do seems to me to be a false judgement.

Remember that to judge something is to form “an opinion or conclusion” about someone. We do harm when we consider that everyone should be like us or think like us. If a person believes in honesty and yet lies, we may certainly judge this. If a person believes in honesty and is very vocal with her honest opinions, who are we to judge their delivery if the words are intended to build?

Their methods may be different but they are following their own morality. Judging others by their outward trappings is another false judgement. When we make assumptions about another, without even talking with them, we have done a terrible disservice to ourselves and to humanity as a whole. It should be noted that in order to form an opinion, we are saying we are “expert” in our knowledge. How expert may a judgement be if we haven’t even gotten to know another?

Masonic jurisprudence exists for a reason and in its existence lies the very fact that a Freemason must be a judge. How and why, to what ends they judge, and the knowledge to become discerning judge are part of the Freemason’s journey.

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