Obligation in Modernity

Obligation in Modernity

Freemasonry is built on the idea of obligating yourself to perform certain tasks, with a specific set of goals in mind. The word “obligation” comes from the roots of Middle English, from the verb “oblige,” which means to formally legally or morally bind someone to a promise. North Americans are used to hearing the phrase “much obliged,” in a sort of archaic sense, which means “to be indebted or grateful.” This is a derivation of the word; the more archaic form, from where the word “obligation” comes from is “to bind (someone) by an oath, promise, or contract.” The current 21st century definition is “an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.”

The most common obligation people run into is that of marriage. Divorce rates in the United States are down, possibly because marriage rates are also down. A shift? What about other obligations we make during our lives, especially the ones to ourselves? Upwards of 25% of current high school Freshmen will never complete high school. College drop out rates are the highest they have ever been, even with the highest enrollments ever. Even fraternal and social groups suffer from those who start and, for whatever reason, drop out.

To be fair, there are many reasons for giving up the path; financial, health, and family issues may cause problems for the student or spouse. Yet, we find little effort being made to surmount those challenges; we see the heroes as ones who complete school against all odds – but those odds are sometimes no greater than odds we all face. Everyone has challenges in their life. Completing or dedicating yourself to an endeavor takes will and strength, a desire to go against the easy life and really work hard to achieve your own success, whatever that might be. In an age of “Alexa” and “Siri,” doing things for yourself is seen as too much effort.

Molecular Thoughts

People who choose an esoteric path have put themselves on an extremely hard working journey. It’s not easy. As Buddha said, “life is suffering.” Enlightenment is not found in simple meditation. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual work are all necessary. Freemasonry, an esoteric and mystery path built on the foundations of “operative masonry,” is perhaps the epitome of working esoterically and externally.

An excellent article on the “Obligations of a Freemason” can be found on Pietre-Stones. In this article, the author expounds on the obligations of the individual as well as the collective. As Freemasonry is an “individual path worked in a group/collective,” it’s very right that we also look at not only what our obligations to ourselves but also to the group. In fact, from the very onset, in our application, we are promising certain actions that are considered obligatory.

Why all this emphasis on obligation, promises, and commitment? Is there some deeply esoteric meaning in obligating yourself to someone or something? Perhaps.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ~ (John 1:1)

Much has been said about the divine logos, or, according to the Greeks, “The One Great Reason.” It’s representative of the unseen force of the universe that links us all together, whether we call it God, Love, the Divine, the Force, or whatever. Our ideas about “the Word,” and I suspect John’s as well, came from the Greek philosophers – Heraclitus, Plato, and Epictetus. Where Plato defined logos as an archetype, an idea representation of the divine in an independent-of-physical world, the Stoics refined the idea of logos to impart to it an active principle, and one which incorporated “the Reason” for all being into the function of “The Word.” It’s clear that The writer of the Gospel of John, as well as Buddhists, Jews, Taoists and others have also integrated this idea of the logos into the active Divine in the function of speaking the Word.

The divine Logos is the divine purpose, plan, or word that is the ultimate reason for the cosmos, which orders the universe and gives it meaning. That is, the sound or word has meaning, weight, in creation. As noted above, the Stoics defined logos as the law of generation in the Universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos. That is, we humans, through our actions and words have generative power. The act of committing ourselves, or creating a binding agreement to complete work has power over us, either consciously or subconsciously. It also has the power to affect other individuals and other groups. This is a ripple effect; what we achieve has a lasting effect on the world around us, and flows out from us in a physical and metaphysical wave.

LOGOS-GreekThus, in giving our “word” or “bond,” we are creating. We create not only the superficial matter – such as our place in a Lodge or our status as spouse in a marriage, but we are creating an unseen, immaterial ripple that will create an effect throughout time. We create – it’s what humans do – and through our words, we create more than just simple relationships. Each word is a spoken manifestation of divinity.

Thus, promises, obligations, and commitments have weight – perhaps even more weight than we realize – when it comes to our overall spiritual life. It is important that we chose and use them carefully.

It’s funny that some individuals see their obligations as infringements on their time, or resources, or futures; funny because most, if not all commitments, promises, and obligations are solely made as the choice of the individual.  We think the promise we make to ourselves and others is somewhat disposable, minimal, with little effect on others and perhaps not even ourselves. Divorce and breakups, broken familial relationships and school dropouts – these are the failures of not understanding ourselves and our words. Failure is always an option and do-overs are necessary – but in order to achieve relief from the suffering, we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves. Pain is inevitable, and suffering doesn’t arise from pain but from our resistance to it – from our resistance to honesty and careful thought; it comes from our resistance to speak “the Word.”

I’ll leave you with a quote from a children’s fantasy book, one which understands and captures the essence of “the Word” in a very real sense – The Wizard of Earthsea.

“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.”
― Ursula K. Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea

Hidden Mysteries of Science

Hidden Mysteries of Science

Science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” We all perform scientific acts each and every day. Being aware and present in our actual work, home life, educational pursuits, and leisure all encompass some aspect of “science,” as described above. Do we not learn relationship interaction through observation and experimentation? Of course we do! Do we study others and then experiment with things like cooking, clothing ourselves, cleaning the house, and raising children? Absolutely. Life is science.

And yet… there are the science doubters. The Washington Post did an article, in 2015, on science doubters. Entitled, “Why is Science so Hard to Believe?” the article goes on to discuss confirmation bias, the discipline of the scientific method, and why so many people would rather believe media hype or misinformation from friends rather than actual science. Media is not science and it is not gospel. We consume the media that’s easy to consume rather than do the work for ourselves. It’s easier to doubt than to verify.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has an interesting quote: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” He also said that “the universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” Both of these quotes speak to the hubris of humans – we think we know much more about the word than we really do.

In a quote from an article on National Public Radio, the author quoted his friend, a professor of Jewish philosopher, as saying “science tries to make magic real.” The author goes on to specifically outline activities, now commonplace human activities, as ones that we once thought of as magical, for example, flying. We fly without a second thought; yet, 500 years ago, to say one flew was heresy, possibly leading to death. Other examples are the knowledge of “invisible” animals capable of making humans ill, or being able to see great distances into space (the past) through a telescope. The ability for our phones to “think” and talk with us would have been quite astounding to the medieval mind.

The author continues his journey with the main difference between science and magic: his belief is that the power of magic originates within us, where as science’s power originates outside of humans. Science is a set of immutable laws of the universe. Right?

Well, no. Science updates theories based on knowledge gained from further expressions of the scientific method, and then new theories are postulated. Science is evolving, a never-stagnant set of data that we are constantly testing and proving or disproving. Magic is generally seen as not obeying the laws of nature, being outside of those “rules” or “metaphysical,” as it were. Yet, we’ve all said it: couldn’t what we see as magic just be unexplained scientific laws that we do not understand quite yet?

Why are Freemasons charged to examine and study nature and science? Nature AND science? It seems that it might be because the world is made up of both the understood and the mystery. We have many questions to answer about nature and we use science to get there. Perhaps we could say we have many questions to answer about magic and science is the method. There’s no reason we can’t have wonder and reason hanging out together in our minds. We can appreciate the brilliant stars and the awe of an eclipse and still want to know how it happens. Knowledge does not take away wonder.

I want to believe that perhaps science and magic are part of the same evolutionary cycle – what starts out as magic becomes understood by science, which breeds questions within our curious minds, wonder at something unknown, triggering us to embrace the tools of science to explore. Freemasons get to play in both realms, being co-creators on the path of humanity.