Freemasons make promises when they are initiated, and also when progressed up to Fellowcraft and Master Mason. I believe that these promises (vows /
oaths / whatever you want to call them) are one of the main reasons why non-masons are suspicious of masonic motives. I would like to put forward my
view of the masonic oath, and perhaps we can get a discussion out of it - who knows.
There seem to be three reasons why masonic oaths are disliked:
1. Freemasons promise to favor each other above non-masons.
I have to tell you this is a myth. The promise that a freemason makes, on the holy book of his choice, is to keep secret the 'modes of recognition'
of a freemason, e.g. the traditional method by which one mason could know another. This is all that an Entered Apprentice freemason promises to do.
In my constitution in the second degree a freemason further promises to try and live by the moral lessons he has already learned, and to answer
invitations to lodge meetings. In the third degree he additionally promises to:
(a) assist other freemasons fairly
as long as it doesn't cause any problems to himself
(b) to be a confidante to a brother, as long as it doesn't involve breaking the law, or the moral law
(c) defend and maintain the honour of freemasons and their families.
2. The act of making an oath is in itself wrong.
Some religious and other grouping believe that taking an oath is, in itself, wrong. IMO this is a misunderstanding of parts of the bible, but they are
entitled to their belief and are recommended not to join.
3. The penalties of breaking the oath.
It is believed that terrible things will happen to a freemason if he breaks his oath. The reality is that there are plenty of ex-masons around today
happily violating their oath with no come-back. In my constitution the penalty for breaking your promise is to be branded a...
willfully perjured individual, void of all moral worth, and totally unfit to be received into ... any ... society of men who prize honour and
virtue above the external advantages of rank and fortune.
... which for an honorable man is the worst punishment possible.
Much of freemasonry, as you might know, is symbolic. The oath is a test of merit - can this man be trusted? These days with the modes of recognition
splattered all over the internet this test is as important today as it ever was.
Promises to assist freemasons are symbolic of our wider obligation to the world at large. We are reminded that every man is our brother and that we
have an obligation to practice the morality we have learned at lodge out into society. Hence the charity, the hospitals, etc.
Some, perhaps more traditional freemasons, have misunderstood the need for secrecy and not known how much they can talk about. So they haven't talked
about anything. These days things are far more open - indeed in my constitution we have open days and selected sections of the ceremony have been
released on video and can be downloaded!
If anyone has any questions about the masonic obligation I will be pleased to try and answer, with the caveat that I can only really speak for what
happens in England. However most of the masonic world is fairly similar.