Vol. XXII No. 12 — December 1944

Masonic Debate

Newer ideas in school and college may remove from the coming generation the inherent repugnance to such words as education, study, books of reference, school libraries, instruction, classes. But so far no greater curses were ever invented for the spread of Masonic knowledge than the phrases “Masonic education” and “Masonic Study Club.” We shy away from anything that smacks of our school days with an instinctive aversion as strong as it is unreasonable!

Hence any scheme which pumps Masonic knowledge into minds without making them think they are being “educated” is worth trying.

Such a device is the Masonic debate in open lodge. It provides a riot of fun for the brethren, it is enjoyed by the debating teams, and it does spread a good deal of Masonic knowledge around where it will do the most good with the least possible resistance from those who, although they know it not, are being “instructed.”

A Masonic debate should be simple in structure and designed to run not too long a time; an audience can easily be bored by even interesting talk if it continues too long.

Two teams of two brethren each, which debate for not longer than a total of forty minutes, have proved within the “boring time” limit and are easier to get together to make plans than larger and more unwieldy bodies.

Any brother of any occupation of course may be a good debater, but lawyers, especially those with court experience, usually make excellent team members.

The Master appoints two teams and either assigns a subject, or leaves it to the two teams to pick their own. The subject should of course be wholly Masonic, and of such nature as to be interesting to the brethren who will listen and judge as to the winner. The less abstruse the subject, the more it is practical in the opinion of those who will hear it, the better it is.

When the debate is to be staged, the master of ceremonies (who may either be the master or some brother to whom is delegated the job) should introduce the team; this may be done in anyway which seems good, but approximately as follows:

“Brethren, you are to be entertained by a debate upon (here name the subject). For the affirmative, you will hear Past Master John Smith and Brother Jones; for the negative, Past Master Brown and Brother Robinson.

“Brother Jones will open the debate for the affirmative. He will speak eight minutes or less. If he runs over, he will be stopped by this! (Here the master of ceremonies rings a bell or blows a whistle or toots an automobile horn; the noisier and the more emphatic the sound the more the fun).

“Past Master Brown will then answer for the negative. He also will speak for eight minutes and be stopped in the same way if his enthusiasm overstays his time.

“Past Master Smith will then speak for eight minutes in the affirmative and Brother Robinson will close in the negative.

“Each side — affirmative and negative — will then have four minutes for summing up and rebuttal of the opposing arguments. Each side will choose its own ‘summer-upper.’

“At the conclusion of the summing up, I shall ask for a vote on two questions; first, which side, affirmative or negative, do you think won the debate by presenting the best arguments in the most logical and informative way?

"Second, I shall ask for a vote on which side of the question, affirmative or negative, you think correct?

"It may seem to you that one vote is enough; I do not think so. For the affirmative side may present the best arguments, in the most logical manner and in the most attractive form, and yet you may be convinced that the negative side of the question is the right side.

“Finally, I shall award the prizes, which are two (here mention what has been selected) to the winning team.

“Let me emphasize that the purpose of this debate is to inform us all on both sides of the question; it is not a forerunner of legislation; is not intended as a criticism of any existing laws on either side; our conclusions as to winners of debate and right or wrong of affirmative or negative, will be solely for this evening and our decisions will have no legislative power or effect.

“Brother Jones, if you are ready, you may begin.”

Brother Jones states the question and proceeds to develop his argument. The chances are ten to one that time will move faster than he speaks and that he will be stopped in the middle of an impassioned sentence. Past Master Brown then speaks in the negative, followed by his fellow debaters Smith and Robinson.

Then follows the summing-up, by one brother from each side.

The result is forty minutes of talk by four brethren; too short a time for anyone to bore any audience; long enough to present well, if succinctly, the arguments on both sides of almost any Masonic question.

The lodge vote on the two questions are often split between winning and correctness of idea; the brethren may believe that one side or another did the best job and yet be wholly wrong in its premises.

The result of the whole is to get brethren to discuss some important question; the “stunt” provides a pleasant evening, and one (except for the prizes) without expense.

Prizes should be identical for the two members of the winning team; they may be as simple or as elaborate as the lodge finances or the generosity of brethren who may donate them may provide. Two books, two clocks, two fountain pens, even two lead pencils will do! And if the Master then awards a “consolation prize” to the losers in the form of two paper dunce caps, he will probably get a good laugh to close the event.

Choice of the subjects for lodge debate are as wide as Freemasonry, but they should be debatable, and not of such character that the result is a foregone conclusion. For instance, "Resolved, that Freemasonry in this state would be better off if it had no grand lodge” is hardly debatable, since such legislation would wipe Freemasonry out of existence.

Subjects suitable for debate are many in number; a few which have been tried and proved in actual lodge debates are:

“Resolved, that the Doctrine of the Perfect Youth by which Masons exclude from membership men not physically perfect, should be set aside for servicemen injured in the line of duty in war.”

“Resolved, that the unanimous ballot required to elect to membership should be changed to two-thirds majority.”

"Resolved, that the rule that the Bible must be opened at the 133rd Psalm in the First Degree, the Seventh Chapter of Amos in the Second Degree and the Twelfth Chapter of Ecclesiastes in the Third Degree should be altered to permit the Bible to be opened anywhere for any one of the three degrees.”

“Resolved, that two of the Great Lights should be denominated Square and Compass instead of Square and Compasses.”

“Resolved, that a uniform ritual for all grand lodges in the United States is desirable and should be agreed upon.”

“Resolved, that Masonic offenses should be tried before a Trial Commission, appointed by the grand master, instead of by the lodge of the accused.”

Subjects which concern practices which vary as between grand lodges should pose in the affirmative the practice opposite to that which prevails in the lodge of the debaters. Thus Masons use the “Square and Compasses” in forty-three grand lodges; in six, they use “Square and Compass.” In the forty-three grand lodges the affirmative should be “Resolved, that two Great Lights should be denominated Square and Compass.” In the six grand lodges the affirmation should be “that two Great Lights should be denominated Square and Compasses.”

In grand lodges in which the Bible may be opened anywhere, the affirmative side should be “Resolved, that the Bible should be opened at the 133rd Psalm in the First Degree, etc., the Seventh Chapter of Amos in the Second Degree, the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes in the Third Degree.”

In grand lodges in which trial by commission is the usual practice, the resolution should read: “Resolved, that trial by commission is un-Masonic and should be changed to provide trial for Masonic offenses only in constituent lodges.”

The idea is to affirm that practice which is different from that commonly known to the lodge of the debater. To affirm that which is usual and legal is to handicap the negative out of all reason and possibility of winning the argument.

The success of a debate on any of these subjects depends upon the imagination and ingenuity of the debaters. Facts must be obtained, of course; some sources are indicated at the end of this Bulletin. But in addition to marshalling its facts, a clever debating team will try to imagine what arguments its opponents will use and be prepared to answer them.

Thus, in the first subject suggested, abrogating the Doctrine of the Perfect Youth in favor of mutilated servicemen, the principal argument in the affirmative is apt to be emotional and patriotic. “Men who have given an arm or a leg for their country should not be denied the privileges of Masonry. They fought for the right to belong to Masonic lodges; to deny them the fruits of their combat is unfair and unjust. The provision requiring a man to be sound in limb and in possession of all his members came from an operative day when a mutilated man could not do the physical labor of a Master Mason; such conditions do not obtain in Speculative Masonry and therefore the old provision should be eliminated. ‘I’d rather have a brother with a wooden leg than a wooden head’” and so on.

The arguments in the negative will answer these by saying “Atheists and unbelievers have also fought for their country; should they be given the privileges of Masonry because they fought? True it is that physical perfection was a necessary operative requirement, but it has become a landmark in many grand lodges and should not be changed because of war hysteria. Where is the line to be drawn? If a man with one arm gone may be made a Mason, why stop if he has lost two arms? Can a blind man, no matter how worthy, respond to the call of a brother in distress? Is it fair to give one the privilege of succor if he cannot give it to others? So would I rather have a brother with a wooden leg than a wooden head, but no one has shown that denying the wooden leg means I must accept the wooden head” and so on.

Any clever debater knows that while a laugh at the expense of the other side enlivens his presentation of his argument, audiences, like juries, do not form judgments on humor. In the long run, a few facts are far more convincing than humor at the expense of the opposing debaters and even the emotional appeal often fails before that of hard facts.

Therefore, it is suggested that debaters depend not altogether upon native wit or forensic ability, but do a little looking up in books prior to debating.

Source material for almost any debate is to be found in any Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, (Gould, Mackey, etc.). The Proceedings of the Conference of Grand Masters are a mine of information regarding many subjects. The Masonic Service Association has many Digests on various phases of Masonic Law and custom. The Masonic Library in any grand lodge doubtless has some books on many subjects; some of the larger libraries (Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Boston, Massachusetts; Fargo, North Dakota; Waco, Texas, etc.) will have books covering practically any subject, and are usually glad to lend them for two weeks by mail.

In brief then: A Masonic debate is interesting, it is informative, it is inexpensive. It requires four brethren who can talk on their feet; it should be concerned with a practical and interesting Masonic subject. Facts speak louder than laughs or tears in the final judgment; any Masonic library or The Masonic Service Association can supply the data for almost any subject.

The Masonic Service Association of North America