What is the Matter With Blue Lodges?
Bro. Burr H. Mallory
EXCEPT for a small minority, we have very little respect today for ceremony per se and not much more for ancient customs and usages. We have no nobility on this side of the pond and even our men prominent in commercial or political life are respected more for their money and influence than because of any inherent feeling of regard for their lineal descent. The idea of imperialistic power is absolutely repugnant to us.
Every institution, political, social, commercial or religious represents, in its actual working, the form and pressure of the age in which it exists. It may be very ancient, it may bear a venerated title; its aims and objects may be of the highest but to continue its existence its practice and procedure must be successively modified by successive generations. This has been the history of all such institutions because there is an order of natural sequence which can never be reversed. All such institutions no matter what their names and pretenses may be, are the effect of public opinion far more than the cause and are controlled by contemporaneous society. While a limited few receive a certain amount of culture and are influenced by the literature of antiquity the vast majority of people are controlled by the ideas of the generation immediately preceding. Usually unconscious of the fact we nevertheless build nearly all our conceptions on the basis used by our immediate predecessors: our fathers, not our forefathers. We are influenced by their ideas which we modify, just as they modified the ideas of those before. This gradually results in an almost complete change in the views held on any subject. It is for this reason that the ideas entertained several generations ago see in almost foreign to us today. Those older ideas may be interesting and instructive but they are never properly assimilated because our understanding of and our sympathy with them is incomplete. Only the fundamental truths, truths based on the most incontestable facts, can withstand this gradual mutation of time.
MASONRY is no exception. The wonderful truths which have come down to us from ancient times have invariably been communicated in a manner consistent with the times. Each precursory institution has in turn given way to its successor but the truths have remained unchanged. So today, unIess modern Masonry adapts itself more closely to the spirit of the times its force will be gradually weakened and those sublime doctrines upon which it is founded will find expression through some other medium, better adapted to enable them to reach mankind. The spirit of Masonry has existed for ages and will live as long as the human race inhabits this little grain of dust in God's great universe, but Masonic lodges as now conducted must mend their ways to keep pace with the changing conditions or else eventually give way o something else that will.
Why cannot our present ritualistic work be amended to conform to present-day conditions? Other institutions keep pace with the times or fall by the wayside. Churches are coming to a realization of that fact. Theological ideas and ceremonies are gradually changing, although if they do not do so faster, the ever increasing complaint regarding the lack of interest in their activities will increase. Forms of government change. One of the first things we did in this country was to change the method of electing our presidents when it was realized that the original procedure was unsatisfactory. Then we changed the manner of electing senators and gave women equaI suffrage. (Whenever a change in our constitution is mentioned most people think only of the 18th amendment but many useful and necessary changes have been, incorporated in it since the original document was adopted.) Business methods certainly change. No need to even mention the multitude of ways in which this is done' but certainly we do not use the practice of two hundred years ago. The same is true of our laws and legal procedure. In all these the underlying principles remain the same but the modus operandi gradually adjusts itself to conform to the changed ideas of society.
T0 make material changes in the Blue Lodge rituals will instantly be denounced by many as unthinkable and destructive. Many will contend that it is against Masonic law and authority. Well, law and authority never made anything right or wrong. Neither can they compel people to change their opinions. They may strengthen right opinions and enforce apparent compliance with wrong opinions but as sure as they run counter to accepted beliefs are they certain to ultimate failure. The history of mankind is strewn with the wrecks of institutions which have not recognized this fact.
The ritualistic changes made in the 18th century included the introduction of an entirely new degree and much else that by the wildest stretch of imagination could not be considered as emanating from Ancient Craft Masonry. They were not destructive! Unless such changes had been made it is doubtful if we would have a Masonic fraternity today. In reality what the brethren did in the 18th century was to amalgamate ancient ideas, found in and out of the Craft, into one system and bring it up to date.
As practically no changes have been made since then it is evident that the system is getting antiquated and needs revision. If this is not done the lack of interest in the Blue Lodges will continue to grow. Ultimately men of like opinions will get together in other ways without taking the trouble to go through the Masonic degrees. The present red tape makes the Blue Lodges impotent to a great extent in all public affairs. The discussion of religious and political affairs, on which good men always have and always will differ, are rightly excluded from all consideration but the Masonic lodges could and ought to wield a powerful influence in the life of the community and if they do not do so their principal object is perverted. Do they today? Possibly in some communities, but in most, no.
THE Ku Klux Klan had an almost spontaneous growth and despite various interdictions by many Grand Lodge Officers, interested a large number of the Craft. If Masonry was exerting the beneficent influence which it could and should, on broad basic principles, in conformity with its accepted doctrines, such a result would be impossible. Masonry professes to be an institution for the uplifting of mankind, is supposed to be striving for cleaner and better political, commercial and individual lives. Yet when any of its members feel that something must be done along those lines they immediately look outside the organization for the means to carry out their ideas, without recognizing the fact that they are already members of an Order which could be made far more powerful for good and tend to promote real justice and harmony than any yet devised by human wisdom, because it is founded upon those immutable principles without which there can be no love, no justice, no true manhood. Grand Masters who pronounce anathemas against the Klan and make disparaging remarks about Masonic Clubs, the Grotto or the Shrine might better ask themselves the question, "What is the matter with the way Masonic doctrines are promulgated in my jurisdiction when so many members fail to understand them?"
I HEARD a very able speaker deliver a Masonic lecture, after a degree, and in place of the ritualistic lecture. He left no doubt in the minds of the candidates regarding the origin and principles of the Fraternity. He traced briefly the connection of the present institution with the Operative Craft, the Ancient Mysteries and early civilization. He expIained the connection with King Solomon's Temple and briefly gave such esoteric work as was necessary. He told of the spread of Masonry throughout the world and the part it played in our struggle for independence. In conclusion he pointed out the objects of the institution and its practical application to everyday life. When he had finished I am certain that his hearers had a better idea of what Masonry really is and were imbued with a desire to know more about it. The Big Chief (or should I say Cheese) was present on the occasion and after the meeting was over the G. M. congratulated the speaker and said that he had given a very fine talk "but it wasn't Masonry."
At a later date I had an opportunity to hear this same G. M. deliver a lecture, which he did in truly approved ritualistic form, without deviating one iota from the phraseology. Without intimating that he was merely reciting Masonic tradition and allegory, blandly, with solemn dignified mien and sincerity of manner, told a candidate a pack of outrageous lies. Those who placed any confidence in what he said could not help but believe that they had heard a historical reminiscence which apparently was only known to the members of the Craft and which they had paid an initiation fee to learn. If the new members were at all inspired by the lecture it could only have been with the determination that they would suffer death by torture rather than tell the secrets of Freemasonry should they ever be so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of a band of bloodthirsty K. of C.'s. Any idea of Masonic principles or their practical application was certainly left for them to learn from other sources.
IF the first lecture was not Masonry and the second was, then Masonry is nothing more than a system of memory training and elocution, and instead of being based on truth is based on falsehood. Is this because it is desired that only those with especial acumen will penetrate beneath the veil of allegory and learn the truths hidden therein? Isn't it the intention to teach such truths and impress them upon the minds of the neophytes, leaving it to the individual capacity to determine the extent to which they are understood, but trying to make their assimilation easy and create a desire for more light on such subjects? Then why bury them in so much rubbish that they are not understood by many of those whose duty it is to teach them and which certainly tends to discourage further investigation? It takes a pretty keen perception on the part of a candidate to get even a glimpse of the truths hidden under our present ritualism and when in later days he visits the lodge as a full-fledged Master Mason he soon becomes discouraged and weary of the parrot-like repetition of stereotyped phrases that are practically meaningless or at least far-fetched.
The average man finds it difficult if not impossible to get rid of first impressions and opinions originally formed on any subject. Theories and ideas which they sincerely accept and beIieve frequently become to them truths the validity of which they resent being impeached. This fact is recognized by the solemnity and impressiveness with which the admission and advancement of candidates is clothed. But the meaningless phrases and useless repetition are also impressive of certain ideas, to the minds of new members especially. So true is this that many soon give up any ideas of Blue Lodge work in disgust and continue through life carrying erroneous ideas of the institution conceived from the ritualism. When practical results are sought, theoretical and metaphysical ideas are dangerous tools to use, they have to be handled with consummate skill to prevent doing more harm than good.
SOME will answer that the method of teaching by allegory and parable was employed by all the great teachers of antiquity and that only a comparatively few of their followers really understood them and grasped the underlying ideas. Very true, but those teachers used subjects that were understandable and interesting to their auditors. Christ talked to His listeners in the language of the day about everyday subjects; things that they knew about and could understand. Most of them didn't get the deep significance of His meaning but He tried hard to make them understand. He didn't repeat a lot of tommyrot that neither He nor His audience understood, like a priest saying a mass or the officers of a Masonic lodge conferring a degree.
Their individuality and ability made all great teachers interesting. We cannot all be great teachers or talk interestingly on Masonic subjects, but we have contemporaries who are able to do so. Such brothers as Haywood, Newton and many others who have probably done more to spread the gospel of Freemasonry than all the ritualistic lecturers in existence today. Why not let them modernize our present procedure? Not all at once, but gradually as we can adjust ourselves to the changes. Listen to so me dyed-in-the-wool ritualist deliver a Middle Chamber lecture. Pay particular attention to what he says about Architecture. Then read what Brother Newton says on the same subject in the opening chapter of his book "The Builders." One is aImost meaningless and certainly very uninteresting, the other is living, throbbing thought, instructive and impressive. The one only puzzles and confuses the hearer if it arouses any interest at all and is soon forgotten. The other is clear and understandable.
THE Masonic teachings which have come down to us out of the mists of antiquity, while carefully hedged about by secrecy and esotericism, were nevertheless taught in the language of their day and kept pace with the times. Masonry did the same until the early part of the 18th century, when drastic changes which almost disrupted the organization, took place. The fundamental ideas prevailed however and the ideas ingrafted into the system by the "Modernists" finally became a part of the accepted work. Since that time practically no changes have been made with the result that the present ritualistic work is an anachronism, about two hundred years behind the times.
Some will think that because our present system has existed so long it can be considered as immutable. Two hundred years compared to the life of a man or a family is a long time, but compared to the life of a nation, a civilization or an institution, it is of little consequence. The pages of history give the impression that events succeeded each other in fairly rapid succession but if we compare dates, think of the ages people lived under the dominance of eastern potentates, of the centuries of Greek civilization, the vast number of generations that lived and died under the rule of the Roman empire and the many long, weary years that elapsed between the submersion of that empire and the awakening of the human intellect in the Middle Ages, we realize that a couple of centuries amount to about as much as an equal number of snowflakes in a blizzard. See how much space two hundred years takes up on a chronological map drawn to scale!
IT may be argued that ritualism is not the cause of the trouble. Masonic lodges are certainly very much alike differing in the popularity of their officers, their personnel and environments. Comparing lodges which practically agree in such respects we find those that deviate the farthest from set ritualistic work create the most interest. Lodges that attempt to portray as well as do the work or those which have beautiful music (not provided for in the ritual!) add greatly to the impressiveness of their work and are certainly better attended and accomplish more good than sister lodges in the same city which do not use such methods. A good speaker who departs radically from the ritualistic lectures brings out a larger crowd and holds the attention of his audience better than the most eloquent elocutionist who simply repeats the stereotyped lecture. So when personnel, environments and other things which affect lodges have been taken into consideration, we still find a difference, invariably caused by ritualism. Brothers who will not come out to hear the same old song and dance will make an effort if something out of the usual routine is scheduled. Blue Lodge meetings are quite different from Shrine, Grotto and other meetings of a similar character but they all produce the same result; the bringing together of men interested in Masonry. Masonry is the nexus. So it is not lack of interest in Masonry that causes the lack of interest in the Blue Lodges but lack of interest in the manner in which it is usually presented there.
WE have two distinct natures, physical and mental. It will be readily admitted that while mental and intellectual are in many respects superior to physical pleasures, yet for one person who is interested in intellectual pleasures a hundred are interested in gratifying the physical senses. Theatres, picture shows, dance halls are more popular and better attended than scientific lectures and technical divisions of the public library. Most people are disinclined to devote spare time to the assimilation of additional knowledge unless they have some reason for being interested in a particular subject. A young man will take certain studies at night school because he is interested, not in the studies themselves, but in the benefits a knowledge of them is expected to bring him.
So with Masonry. It has many most beautiful ideals and is a subject that will repay bountifully those who seek to know more about it. But unless we recognize the human proclivity to prefer sensual pleasures and overcome this by arousing the interest of new members so that they desire to pursue the subject further, and make it possible for them to get some results when they do, we cannot blame them for following their natural inclinations; which means that the majority of them will never advance in any real knowledge of Masonry.
TO hear the addresses of some prominent members of the Craft, or read their articles in the various publications, one is led to believe that the entire membership of the vast brotherhood is imbued with the wonderful spirit of Masonry which makes it think and act in unison. As a matter of fact it is only a pitifully small handful of the membership who have anything like Masonry in their hearts. Have those prominent members never had any part in, or sensed, the petty, political, un-Masonic things that so frequently go on within the organization itself, underneath the thinly veneered surface of brotherly love? Have they never seen a brother receive "the most unkindest cut of all" at an annual election, even though "Brutus is an honorable man"? Don't they know that a multitude of Banquo's ghosts stalk brazenly into Subordinate and Grand Lodge communications, beholden to many a brother who has violated his Masonic obligations and prostituted his honor to gratify the cravings of an overweening ambition? The Morgan episode in the early part of the last century was rather convincing proof of the percentage of real Masons in the ranks of the Fraternity, and we have no good reason to believe that the conditions have improved since then.
Talk with many of the officers and members of the Order and see how many have any real knowledge of its science, philosophy or history. Don't blame them if they haven't and say that there is much excellent literature which they ought to read! They were started off wrong in the Blue Lodge and never received any enlightenment from the one place where they should be put right, the place that should be the most sacred, the most inspiring and the most instructive. What a mother is to her boy the Blue Lodge should be to the man accepted into Masonry. It may be necessary to tell him fairy tales when he is little but as his mental faculties develop, his instruction should keep pace. He may attend schools and universities in order to obtain a so-called education, but his real education, the laying of the foundation upon which to build his character and the assimilation of those principles which ought to guide him in that building, is the sacred duty and privilege of his mother. He ought to feel that at all times he can turn to her for unselfish help, knowing she will advise him truthfully and faithfully in so far as she can. And when she has been called to go on before him her memory should serve to guide and teach him in his journey through life.
But how can a mother expect a son to rely on her if she is not truthful and honest with him? No matter how well meaning her subterfuges, when he is old enough to know better, he will resent them and lose confidence in her unless he understands that she is not intentionally trying to deceive him. If mother continually repeats a lot of yarns that she doesn't even understand herself, sonny will soon grow rather skeptical. Instead of believing implicitly he will begin to wonder if it isn't unfortunately a fact that the dear old lady is getting a little "cracked."
AND so with the mother lodge which should represent everything that is good and true in Masonry. From her a Mason should get his inspiration to lead a noble Masonic life; to her he should turn for Masonic knowledge and advice. Does the average Mason do that today? Other Masonic or organizations successfully compete with the Blue Lodges as sources of Masonic inspiration and guidance. And certainly a man must go outside the Blue Lodge ritual to get any real Masonic knowledge and instruction. As a Masonic mother the Blue Lodge is something of a failure and the vast majority of her children are only casually acquainted with her. Maybe that's because they are rather unaffectionate children. I wonder. What would be the effect of making reforms in the Blue Lodge ritualistic work? It would certainly make the proceedings more understandable and interesting to the average member. And in doing that it would help to retain the interest of many members who now drift away, with the result that the chances for the Blue Lodge to do good would be greatly augmented, not only because of the additional number of members taking an interest in its activities but because of the ideas and abilities such additional members would contribute. That keeping up the interest of the members and disseminating Masonic knowledge would tend to perpetuate the Fraternity can hardly be denied, and it would also help greatly in enabling the Masonic lodge to work out the principles on which it is founded.
FAILURE to do so can only result in dry-rot as time goes on. Many will say that there never was so much interest displayed in Masonry as at present and that membership is growing by leaps and bounds. just what is Masonry really doing besides increasing its membership? Is it exerting a salutary influence on society today? How? It would be pretty difficult to make out a case to prove that its influence is growing. That the membership has grown tremendously is a matter of record, but because of the influx and the manner in which it has been handled, the institution is in reality weaker instead of stronger, because real Masons cannot be made by merely conferring degrees!