- Are the priorities set by your obligation more important or those set by the lectures? For example, how does Masonic philosophy instruct us to choose between universal benevolence and relief only to Masonic affiliated people?
- My obligation (Indiana) lacks a section that the jurisdiction in which I currently reside (Illinois) contains; should I follow the obligation that I took while my hands rested on the VOSL or that of my current jurisdiction?
- We are obligated to uphold the constitutions/bylaws/edicts of the Grand Lodge, what if we find a conflict in the bylaws with the body of Masonic philosophy? In Illinois, we require uniform dues prices within each Lodge but does that conflict with our teachings of equity (different from equality) which might encourage a more nuanced structure?
Assigning value is likely last on this list because it is not something for a novice to attempt. The technique of assigning value requires prerequisite mastery of the other techniques (Context, Analogy and Themes). This means answering questions of, ‘What was the ritual intended to teach at the time it was composed?’, ‘What does that mean for me today?’, ‘What topics are consistently addressed or otherwise clearly emphasized as the most important?’. One must have a complete understanding of the major themes of Masonic philosophy before he can truly assess the individual thematic importance. A lack of understanding in this area opens the door for selectively prioritizing those themes which most closely adhere to one’s personal comforts. Correctly prioritizing themes requires an appropriate application of analogy and contextual understanding of the composition of ritual. Ignoring these elements ignores not only the effort of the many fraternal composers but also fails to evolve the teachings from those challenges unique to the late 18th century. Thus, assigning value cannot exist in a vacuum from the other concepts. It is the culmination of the preceding three techniques.
In this series I have attempted to present you with a systematic approach to evaluating the ritual. It may not be the only method to studying Masonic philosophy but it should provide structure to someone unsure of where to start. If we are intent on transitioning from solely memorization toward deeper understanding, Masons will need to seek to understand what the authors were trying to convey. Masons also need to be able to figure out how centuries-old teachings apply to their modern life. By assembling themes one can begin to prioritize the most important lessons. You will find yourself jumping back to contextual analysis and performing a considerable amount of personal reflection if you are critically thinking through these techniques. After all, that is the purpose of our Gentle Craft.