I’m a huge fan of Brother Brett McKay’s website, The Art of Manliness. I have followed his website for several years and I can tell you, with no uncertainty, that I would not be the father, the man, or the mason, that I am today had I not stumbled across his site when I needed it the most. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, I suppose.
The articles on his website are geared towards helping men become the best versions of themselves. If this already sounds very masonic to you then it should come as no surprise that many of the articles have content which can apply directly to our Fraternity. For this article I will be referencing Brother McKay’s post: Manly Honor: Part 1 – What Is Honor? and discussing how I believe this is relevant to Freemasonry.
In this article I hope to make the case that Freemasonry was once an honor group and that it can be once again if we regain certain aspects of the Fraternity which we have allowed to slip by. If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend you read the article linked above first because I will be discussing certain concepts that Brother McKay covers much more eloquently than I ever could.
Horizontal Honor In Freemasonry:
Horizontal honor, by its very nature, is difficult to obtain and requires high standards to maintain. Having horizontal honor within an honor group means that they consider you an equal but failure to adhere to the expectations of the group means that honor is lost.
As Freemasons, we are told numerous times throughout our masonic journey that we should meet and act as equals. We still do this very well, at least in the lodges I’ve been a member of, however an open West Gate means that membership is not difficult to obtain at all. To quote Brother McKay:
Honor groups must also be exclusive. If everyone and anyone can be part of the group, regardless of whether they live by the code or not, then honor becomes meaningless. Egalitarianism and honor cannot coexist.
In many places we speak of high standards in our obligations and law books, however these expectations of masonic conduct are not usually enforced very strictly and, as such, there is no shame in failing to meet our standards. Traditionally failure to live up to our standards resulted in a masonic trial and, ultimately, expulsion from the order. This rarely happens today and, as a result, we have several ruffians moving through the progressive line unchecked.
Vertical Honor In Freemasonry:
Vertical honor is about giving recognition to those who embody living by the standards of the honor group. In the case of Freemasonry, vertical honor is (or should be) what we bestow upon the officers of our lodges, most especially the Wardens and Worshipful Master. The catch to this, however, is that vertical honor cannot exist in a group if horizontal honor isn’t already present. In other words, you have to have horizontals before you can apply verticals, then you end up with perpendiculars.
As a result we have many leaders in our Fraternity which nobody honors or respects. This is because there is little or no horizontal honor in many of our lodges. When you have no horizontal honor then vertical honor cannot be given and suddenly the East is a position that simply goes to whoever is next in the progressive line and suddenly the majority of the lodge consists of Past Masters after several years, which changes the title of ‘Past Master’ from something which should be exceptional and marvelous into something common and mundane.
Freemasonry is (or used to be) an honor group in that it has standards, exclusivity, and repercussions for failing to maintain its standards. Unfortunately, the standards are rarely enforced very strictly, many lodges are not at all exclusive about their membership, and there is often no longer any expulsion for failing to live up to our standards. As such, we have an organization with all the requirements to be an honor group in place, but instead conducts itself more like a service club.
If we want membership in our Fraternity to be an honor once again, or if we want positions, titles, or even awards within our lodges to be honorable and respected once again, then we must reconsider how we can make each of our lodges an honor group once again. First by reestablishing horizontal honor and then vertical honor.
I can offer suggestions but each and every lodge is different, with its own unique needs and culture. As such, any suggestions could be considered but only taken with a grain of salt unless a lodge feels it would be a good fit. I’ll post these suggestions in my next entry.
Finally, there is much more to this topic and its parallels to Freemasonry which can be covered, and I may do so in the future. If this peeks any brother’s interest then please let me know and I’ll be glad to follow up with more content on this in the future.
I should also mention that polite and constructive comments are always welcome, I love to hear feedback from my readers. Also, if you enjoy my blog please be sure to ‘like’ my page on Facebook. Thanks for reading!