Vol. XVI No. 10 — October 1938

The Enemy Within

The social unrest has led to much talk — some of it loose — of the “enemies of Freemasonry” and the “campaigns against the Fraternity.” In Switzerland there was just such a campaign, which resulted in a notable victory for the order, and of course in the dictatorships Masonry has been suppressed. But it is hardly a matter for argument that the greater number of those who injure Freemasonry in this nation are more within than without the Fraternity.

No Freemason willingly hurts the Ancient Craft, of course. But men are very prone to envision the immediate good, and fail to see the long-range evil. Many influences which spring from modern times and modern ways tend to decrease attendance — autos, radio, moving pictures, etc. — and a thousand new interests compete for the average Masons interest, leaving less time for consideration of matters Masonic.

None of these can really injure the Craft; what can and does injure it, and will continue to deal it, wounds which not inconceivably may one day be mortal, are actions and points of view which forget the purposes and the unwritten laws of the order.

Those who injure Freemasonry from within affect it in two ways — they hurt it in the eyes of its own members and they hold it too lightly up to the gaze of the profane world.

No real Freemason needs to be told that the order is serious, religious in character, a high philosophy of life, a teacher and breeder of character, working gentle miracles in men’s hearts and minds. Its greatest ceremony is concerned with a dying and a living again, a lesson of immortality. It begins and ends its communications with prayer. The Bible lies open upon the altar. Square this with talk to prospective initiates of “Masonic Goats” who butt the candidate about the lodge room! In what part of Freemasonry is ritualistic encouragement to be found for the smutty story told in the anteroom? What support is there in law or ritual for making a Third Degree into a Roman holiday, in which a sublime lesson of the greatest hope of mankind is perverted into a sort of college fraternity slapstick comedy? Men do not laugh at tragedy — the instinct of the preservation of life, our own or another’s, produces only awe and pain, reverence and horror, at the untimely death of innocent people. Those who turn the wonderful ceremony of the Master’s Degree into anything less than a solemn and beautiful observance hurt the Craft in the eyes which see — eyes which might as easily see the great lesson and take it to heart and go forth comforted and strengthened.

And for this, unthinking men substitute horseplay, by so doing dealing a grievous wound to that which is old and beautiful.

The brother of all brethren who should be keenest to protect that which has been given trustingly into his charge is the master. It is to him that the Craft have a right to look for “good and wholesome instruction” as well as for that “innocent mirth,” of which the Old Charges permit enjoyment.

All masters want to make records for themselves. They want better attendance, more active lodge meetings, greater crowds of interested brethren — and most wholesome and natural are such ambitions. But the means taken to satisfy these ambitions are not always wise.

Entertainment in lodge can be of many kinds and characters and still be good, wholesome and Masonic.

But there are other sorts of entertainment which, while they may amuse and entertain and bring a crowd, not only do nothing to advance fellowship, but actually work against it. It should be noted by all masters that there is no virtue whatever in a crowded lodge room, unless from the attendance men can take home with them something more than they brought — something of fellowship, of friendship, of religion, of sweetness, of helpfulness in daily life. It is perfectly possible to pack the largest hall available with a free prize fight, or a questionable motion picture, or a monologist whose stories might be permissible for smokers if not in parlors. But to what end? Questionable entertainment offends many a thoughtful brother, and keeps away as many of the brethren on the one hand as it brings on the other.

There are degree teams and degree teams, not to be condemned by the name. But there is a chasm miles wide between that team which puts on the second section of the third degree in costume, with accessories, striving to make it a living drama instead of the usual formal ceremony, and that group of brethren, whether club, or policeman, or soldiers, or sailors, or ball players, or visiting firemen, whose conception of their work plays fast and loose with accepted ritual and puts the emphasis on muscle and not on mind. Any master who can make the Sublime Degree more sublime in the eyes of his lodge by importing a special team noted for the beauty of its work has done well. The master whose main idea is to “get out the crowd” and is willing to do so by having a team of two hundred and fifty pounders degrade the Third Degree with emphasis upon the manner of that which happens to the master builder is to be classed among those who injure the fraternity in the eyes of its members.

There are past masters who sin against the Fraternity — unconsciously, and they would be shocked if told, but none the less certainly. Not all men make good masters. Every lodge gets, occasionally, a master whose natural gifts, education and character do not fit him for the difficult art of presiding. In many lodges are past masters loathe to let go — men who were successful, who can preside, who know much, and who step down from the East dissatisfied that their term was not longer. These are very apt to become, first, critics, then helpers and finally, controllers of a weak and unskilled master. They do it, these past masters, with the best of intentions. They call to account and make public suggestions, and dictate from the sidelines and run away with the lodge under the master’s eyes.

But they hurt the lodge — and so the Fraternity — when they do so, because they injure the prestige of the Oriental Chair in the eyes of those who watch. Suggestion and advice should be welcomed by any master from any brother, let alone any past master. But the past master who insists on running the lodge through a weak presiding officer, or the weak presiding officer who permits it, both injure the reputation of the highest station.

Too much personal ambition for office hurts lodges and so, Freemasonry. It is honorable to aspire to Masonic office, if, and only if, such aspirations are dictated by a desire to serve. When the ambition is caused by a hope for personal aggrandizement, a wish to wear honors and obtain mere personal power, or, as sometimes happens, from a belief that “being master will help me in a business way” the ambition is unworthy. Especially is it unworthy when the methods of political activities in the State are introduced and a “campaign” is staged, in which votes are solicited, letters written in behalf of the candidate, etc. It makes little difference whether the position sought is an elective or an appointive one; political campaign methods are objectionable in either case and lead new brethren and those who have yet to catch the far vision of the Fraternity, to class it with Boards of Trade, Chambers of Commerce, luncheon clubs and other civic organizations in which political rivalry for office is often “part of the game.”

It is a moot question whether those who injure the Fraternity in its own eyes or those which hurt it in the eyes of the public do the most harm. Certain it is that where Freemasonry, in the eyes of the public, is a reserved, quiet, dignified organization which goes about its good works in silence and secrecy, more petitions result, than in places where the Fraternity, by unwise public demonstrations, has made itself one in the public mind with organizations having perhaps more “pep” but less reason for existence.

Freemasonry appears in public, normally and officially, on three occasions: at Masonic funerals, to lay a cornerstone; and to attend divine worship.

Unofficially, lodges hold outings, picnics, excursions, etc.

The public judges Freemasonry largely by what it sees. At a recent cornerstone laying conducted by a grand lodge, every one of the thirty brethren who took part wore afternoon clothes, silk hats, white gloves and black and white ties. They looked the part. Every officer with a speaking part, knew it, and did it well. The ceremony was dignified, solemn, and impressive. But there have been cornerstone layings in which the officiating officer wore a sack suit and a felt hat, his officers in all sorts of costumes, even yellow shoes and blue shirts, and did not know their lines, with the result that the ceremony was a joke and was so taken by the public.

Dress is more important in some sections of the country than in others. Nothing in these lines must be taken to mean that all Masonic officers must wear formal clothes on formal occasions. But they should wear them where the custom is so to do. And there is no excuse of latitude, longitude, climate or State, for any officer not knowing his work, whether he lay a cornerstone or conduct a funeral.

The ideal Masonic funeral is beautiful. That his brethren who loved him in life lay him to rest; that a worldwide order pauses to pay last respects that ancient ritual comfort the sorrowing and dry the tears of grief — this is brotherly, kind, impressive. What, then, is the public to think, if the master cannot even read the service from a book without stumbling over unfamiliar words; if there are but a bare handful of brethren in attendance; if the ceremony lacks dignity and becomes a mere mummery? Naturally there is criticism.

“But we have so few funerals — I never even attended one before, let alone tried to do one!” defended a master to his grand master to whom protest had been made.

It is not on record what the grand master said. But he might have said: “Then you have no business being master! A master is prepared for anything he may have to do. If there is but one funeral in ten years, every man who is elected master should know his funeral service well enough to read it impressively. You have made a mock of a beautiful ceremony, impressed the public with the idea that you are inefficient and that the lodge is incompetent. You should be heartily ashamed of yourself!”

Unofficially lodges hold many outings, and many of these are splendid in character, provide an opportunity for increased friendship, bring families together please the women, give children a good time. Such an outing under the direction of the lodge, is an annual event much looked forward to in thousands of communities. None who attend such affairs, well conducted, have anything but praise. But just because friends of the families who are not Masons also attend, it is essential that nothing be done which can bring criticism upon the sponsoring lodge. Liquor, gambling, horseplay will occur to all as undesirable at any function which women and children attend, but especially so in outings conducted by a Masonic lodge.

There is a growing feeling among Masonic authorities that we may go too far in matters of publicity concerning the Fraternity. Lodge notices were once purely formal. Now many lodges publish trestleboards or bulletins which partake of the nature of a “house organ” filled with news, gossip, jokes, or other spectacular attempts to interest their readers. Much of this is harmless enough, IF confined to the membership of the lodge.

But printed matter put forth in quantities gets out. It is seen by many who are not members. If such printed matter reflects a spirit of levity, and contains veiled allusions to that which should be entirely private, what other result can be expected in the public mind than: “Oh, Masonry! Just another fun-making organization!”

This standpoint has been helped by too loud demonstrations in annual conventions of some appendant orders predicating their membership on membership in the Fraternity: In several recent instances grand lodges have had to take a decided stand against actual lotteries and breaking of civil law by some of these. Nor can the fact that any organization also contributes substantially to charity excuse conduct which is unbecoming a Mason. The public does not differentiate between the Masonic lodge and the other unit — “Oh, those Masons! They just ran roughshod over everyone, and raised Cain!” The criticism given to any organization composed wholly of Masons, hurts Masonry.

Tunes change, and men change with them. Freemasonry today is not the organization it was one hundred years ago, to go no further back. Then were few Temples, and they small. Then were no Masonic homes, hospitals, orphanges; organized charity did not exist. Members were few, lodges small, visiting between lodges rare. Life was simple, amusements not numerous, travel difficult. Freemasonry today is doubtless a much greater force for good, with its greater opportunities, than it was in days gone by.

But it is also sadly true that the order today has less prestige than it had in an older day, and that the loss is not due to influences without, so much as influences within. Men join and demit, or join and are dropped N.P.D., with far more freedom than of old. It is not so difficult to pass the ballot today as it was. Men are more careless of their membership, and so, the public has less regard for it.

That Freemasonry has enemies is undoubted that they can do the Fraternity but little harm has been demonstrated. That Freemasonry has within itself those who injure it by carelessness, by inattention, by a failure to revere it, is too true to be pleasant. The remedy is not to be found without but within the Fraternity, by a return to a greater valuation of the privileges of Freemasonry and a higher regard for its great purposes, its philosophy and its religion.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!

The Masonic Service Association of North America