Perspectives and Responses

Jim Tresner

Words About Words

Some non-Masons don't understand Masonry has its own vocabulary, as does almost every group, profession, and organization.

This series of articles deals with the most common charges of those who make themselves the enemies of Freemasonry. They represent the thoughts of the writer, not the "Official Pronouncements" of Masonry. But I do hope that those Brethren and non-Masons who may have wondered if there isn't "just a little fire somewhere producing all that anti-Masonic smoke," will find that smoke is sometimes produced not by a fire, but by a smoke bomb.

"If only those Masons didn't use all those words," thundered one anti-Mason, "we might know what they're talking about!" And if only those artists didn't use all that paint, we might know what they are trying to picture. Anti-Masons make a great game of finding words and phrases they don't like in Masonry. It's hard not to think of them as stereotypical spinsters, gleefully calling each other on the phone to assassinate the character of a mutual friend. ("Oh, Maud! You just won't believe what I found in a footnote on page 426!") Perhaps the greatest problem is that some non-Masons don't understand that Masonry has its own vocabulary, as does almost every group, profession, and organization. Pick up The New England Journal of Medicine, or The Harvard Law Review, and you'll instantly find that you have to learn a whole new vocabulary. Ask a guitarist, a coal miner, an apple grower, a dentist, a weaver, a chicken plucker, a locksmith and a judge at a county fair what the word "pick" means, and you'll probably get a different answer from each. Much of Masonry's vocabulary comes from British English rather than contemporary American English. Not surprising, since our Masonic Ritual came from England. "Worshipful Master" is one of their favorite targets. Overlooking the literally dozens of Masonic writers who have pointed out that "Worshipful" is simply an old term for "respected"-the British equivalent of "Honorable"- they insist it means we worship the leader of the Lodge. Then, quoting the line from Matthew 23:10 "neither be ye called masters," they assert that no Christian can be associated with any organization which uses that title. They do overlook a few things. It would mean that no Christian could take a Master's Degree in College, or attend a concert (the first violinist is the Concert Master), nor allow anyone to call him "Mister," which is just a variant of "Master." And they will have to avoid master architects, master electricians, and master plumbers. They object to the use of such terms as "mosque," "shrine," and "temple," completely overlooking the fact that those terms have specific meanings in Masonry. If a non-Mason wishes not to use those terms, that's his right. NO ONE, however, has a right to attempt to control the speech of another, nor to tell that other person what they must use a word to mean. It would be like telling a doctor that when he uses the word "cancer" he means and must mean the astrological sign of the zodiac. Again, they have no obligation to learn Masonic vocabulary, but they have no right to complain if Masons use it. And those words have a larger use than they seem to think. In our culture, such lines as "shrine of freedom" or "temple of liberty" usually refer not to places of worship but national monuments or even to the United States itself. The question of words is so complex that it will spill over into the next article as well. Until then, let me recommend to Masons, non-Masons, and anti-Masons alike that masterful summation which many of us who deal in linguistics, general semantics, the history of human thought, or interpersonal communication regard as the best statement of the nature of words. It is found in Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass. Alice and Humpty Dumpty have been talking about the nature and meaning of words.

"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, 'it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'"

Note: Following up on Gary Leaser's article "Opportunities for the Future" in the January Scottish Rite Journal, this is the third of a series of articles on the theme of "Freemasonry and Religion" which will appear in this magazine, at least one article per month. The articles are part of a continuing response for our Brethren and to the general public regarding this important subject.

Jim Tresner is the Director of the Masonic Leadership Institute and editor of The Oklahoma Mason. A volunteer writer for The Oklahoma Scottish Rite Mason and a video script consultant for the National Masonic Renewal Committee, he is also Director of the Thirty-third Degree Conferral Team and Director of the Work at the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Taken from the March 1994 Scottish Rite Journal