Enlightening the Profane
R.W. Bro. Jack Butters
"No, I'm not a Mason. I've never been asked to join." How many times has this been said? Usually with some indignation, in answer to the question, Are you a Mason?
It comes to some men with a shock of distinct surprise that Freemasonry asks no man to join her ranks. In it's refusal to seek members, Freemasonry stands alone among organizations.
The reasons are dual. First, Freemasonry, greater than any man, no matter how important he may be, confers honour upon her initiates. She is never honoured by any man seeking her mysteries. Second, it is an essential part of Freemasonry that a man come of "his own free will and accord". The Fraternity obligates a candidate for all time. "Once a Mason, always a Mason" is a truth. He cannot "unmake" himself as a Mason, nor can he avoid moral responsibility for the obligation he has assumed.
Could any man say, "I joined under a misapprehension, I was over persuaded, I was argued into membership". He might think himself possessed of just cause and reason for a failure to live up to his obligations. But, no man does so join. He must declare in his petition, and a dozen times during the course of his progress through the degrees, that his application is voluntary. Were any persuasion used upon him before he signed his petition, he could not truthfully state that his entry was "of his own free will and accord."
This is pretty well grounded in most Freemasons. But, sometimes it has the untoward effect of making a Mason chary of giving legitimate information about the Fraternity, properly sought for a worthy purpose. It is highly improper to say to one's friend, "I wish you'd join my lodge, I'd like to see you enjoy the advantages of Freemasonry." It is wholly legitimate to answer a serious question, asked by some man who is considering making application.
Some good Brethren, when asked questions about Masonry by the profane are puzzled as to just how much they may tell. Knowing well certain matters of which they must not speak, they are not always sure just where these end, and where begins that which may be told. Much more is tellable than is secret. Literally, thousands of books have been written on and about the Ancient Craft; the secrets of Freemasonry, could they be written at all, might be compressed within a few pages.
Let us suppose then, that we are asked by a sincere man: "Tell me something of Freemasonry. I think I would like to be a Freemason, but I know very little about it." Such a query is the key which may legitimately unlock our lips about those outward matters concerning the Fraternity which all the world may know.
We may begin by assuring the questioner that Freemasonry brings as many duties and responsibilities as it does pleasures and rewards. the Freemason becomes a link in a chain; he must be as strong as the next link or we want him not. He who looks to the Fraternity to provide all, give all, and receive nothing, should apply to some other organization.
It is legitimate to explain the structure of Freemasonry to a seriously interested questioner. Freemasons gather together in Lodges; Chartered by, and holding existence under, the Grand Lodge of the State in which they live. A Lodge comes into being when the Grand Master gives a dispensation to meet; it becomes a "regular" lodge when it's Charter is granted by the Grand Lodge.
It is no secret that Lodge has a Master, two Wardens, two Deacons, a Secretary and a Treasurer, etc. It is not, perhaps, necessary to go at length into the several duties of these Officers, but it may be wise to explain the essential difference between a Worshipful Master of a Lodge, and the President or other presiding Officer of secular bodies. A Master, once installed may not be removed by his Brethren, only by the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge. Within bounds he is all powerful in his Lodge; not the servant of his Brethren, as is the presiding Officer of a Club, but literally the Master, with power to control and limit debate, put or not put motions, open and close Lodge at his pleasure, call special meetings, and so on. All such matters are set forth in printed books and the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge.
Lodges naturally and rightly attempt to guard their West Gates against the entry of men who desire only to receive Masonic charity. For this reason it is natural to look with especially careful eyes at the petition of any man. When a man inquires regarding Freemasonry, we may well explain that while a Mason's Charity is as boundless as his ability, Freemasonry, is not, a philanthropic institution. It does not exist primarily for charitable purposes, nor is charity its greatest work. In many jurisdictions are Masonic Homes, Hospitals, Schools, Charity Foundations, intended for unfortunate members of the Fraternity, their widows and orphans — sometimes their mothers and sisters. they are not designed for the relief of the poor who are not members of the Fraternity, and those unconnected to members by blood ties. therefore, the man who desires to become a Mason that he may take advantage of its charity is turned back long before he reaches the West Gate. The more an applicant appears as if he may in the future need help, the more carefully does the investigating committee work to discover the facts.
Totally misunderstanding the purpose and the spirit of Freemasonry, some men seek it for business advantages. Freemasons naturally frown on such petitions. But scorn should not be meted out to an ignorant profane seeking knowledge. A man may be a good citizen, a good churchman, a good business man and yet know nothing of Freemasonry. If such a one, in the course of his inquiry regarding the Fraternity, exhibits an interest in the business advantages which may inure to him through membership in a Lodge, it is legitimate to explain courteously but with emphasis — that Freemasonry is not a Board of Trade, a Chamber of Commerce, a Luncheon or Commercial Club, and that it makes no effort to aid its members in commercial relations. The man who wants to become a Freemason because he thinks Freemasons can help him can never be a good Mason. He who desires Freemasonry because he thinks he can help his fellows is always a Mason in his heart. All this may be explained to the inquirer.
Often a Mason is asked by a profane: "What does Masonry stand for? What does it do?" It is much more difficult to explain to one without the mystic circle what Masonry DOES, than what it is. What Masonry "stands for" should be easy for any Freemason to explain. We may inform the inquirer that the Fraternity stands for law, order and decency; for honour, mortality and religion; for brotherhood, relief and the inculcation of truth. Parts of our ritual are printed in books. There is nothing secret about this; while we do not go about spouting non-secret ritual upon all occasions, there is no reason why we should not, and many reasons why we should, be able to point out by such quotations some of the principles of Masonry.
The essential matter is to give a true picture of the Fraternity to all who express a desire for it. Freemasonry is not a "secret society" although it is often incorrectly so called — but a "society with secrets" which is quite another matter. In a "secret society" the membership is secret. Freemasonry's membership is not secret. Our Temples are proud buildings, well built, handsome, monuments for all the world to see. A Masonic Press carries news of the Craft far and wide. Obviously, we are not secret although we possess jealously guarded "secrets".
Any profane has a natural right to know something of Masonry that he may decide whether it is an organization with which he wishes to associate. If we refrain from advertising our activities it is not because they are secret,but because they are private; not because they must not be told when there is a reason for telling them, but because we do not wish to persuade any man to our doors. We want him to come, if he comes at all, from inherent desire, from having conceived a regard for the Fraternity, from his belief that he has something to offer Masonry and that Masonry has something to offer him.
Such a man naturally asks questions of Freemasons. Once he has made inquiry, the door is opened and we may tell him much. Let us never soil our gentle craft with horrid tales of goats and "buttings" and "third degree" tortures. Let us assure him with solemnity that our ceremonies are beautiful and instructive, and that behind and beyond the veil of the degrees is a spiritual truth and a body that is the fountain and arcana of wisdom which benefits any man who recognized and in direct proportion to his ability to see behind the symbol to the reality. Let us draw his attention to the serious sides of Lodge life; charity, instruction, fellowship, mutual trust and dependence — in other words Brotherhood.
So shall we give an intelligent and Masonic answer to an intelligent and Masonic question, and perhaps, lay the foundation on which the bridge will be built over which a new initiate may walk from the North of darkness into the East of Masonic Light.