Vol. XXVIII No. 11 — November 1950

“Yet Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves”

Oscar Wilde’s heartrending and terrible “Ballad of Reading Gaol” has no beauty except if horror well told be beautiful, but it does set forth a truth in six bitter lines:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
 By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
 Some with a flattering word;
The coward does it with a kiss,
 The brave man with a sword.

And in lodge, as in all life, when “each man kills the thing he loves” it is usually only with kindness, or over-enthusiasm, or by failure to think through a course of conduct.

Dictators, the police power, the need for a whipping-boy, passion and prejudice were used in Italy, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other states to destroy Freemasonry.

It was not destroyed, as the slow raising of the head of Masonry in Germany shows.

In this, our free country, Freemasonry has no enemies outside its doors which can harm it; it has opposition from some churches and a few fanatics, and the crook and fraud we have always with us, but in general no real threat to American Freemasonry exists.

Nor does any Freemason willingly injure his fraternity, whether he be a wildly enthusiastic member or a mere dues-payer and pin-wearer. His intentions are always good. But sometimes his execution is genuinely hurtful to the gentle Craft.

Here are listed a few of many ways in which Freemasons may help “kill the thing they love.”

The greatest disservice any brother may do his lodge is factious balloting; the casting of a black ball or cube upon a candidate not because he is undesirable as a member, but to avenge some fancied slight by the lodge, or compel some “clique” to do differently. Cases are ifrequent, but they exist. A member of some club, some race, some church is balloted down. His friends determine that “the lodge will have no more degrees until my friend is admitted!” Then the unjust and pitiful spectacle of a lodge which turns down candidate after candidate, good and true men who have done nothing but apply for membership, in order that the perpetrators of this evil may “get even”!

Factious balloting has occasionally reached such proportions and become so notorious a scandal that a grand master has had to step into the picture. While no grand master may instruct a Mason how he must ballot, and while the ballot is a brother’s own personal, exclusive and individual right and secret, any grand master may interfere in a lodge in which a great privilege is being used to injure instead ofto guard a lodge.

It hardly needs to be said that the privilege of the secret ballot carries a moral responsibility as great as if the ballot were public. By a certain type of mind, “scaring” a candidate is considered to be an excellent joke. Those who petition a lodge are told of the terrors of the “lodge goat,” thus keeping alive a form of ridicule of Freemasonry invented by its enemies more than two hundred years ago. A candidate is told that he will “back down.” The terrors of the “third degree” are expounded with laughter, winks and apparent enjoyment by these who thus soil something sacred and beautiful for the sake of a moment’s amusement — if, indeed, it is amusing to make a newcomer afraid of that which later proves to be without terror.

Such mistaken brethren are reminded that most petitions require an expression of belief in Deity, and all initiations require it; is it respectful to an order which begins with the name of the Great Architect to suggest that goats, torture and horseplay are its continuation?

The badly worked Master’s Degree is responsible for many new brethren ending their final initiation with a feeling of resentment. Emphasis upon the physical inevitably destroys emphasis upon the spiritual. The Master’s Degree is a teaching of the reality of man’s immortal hope. It is the answer to Job’s “If a man die, shall he live again?” It is the fructification of the tree of Fraternity, the climax of a preparation which has taken much time and effort. To make it beautiful, impressive, solemn, sublime, should be the aim of all concerned. To make of it a Roman holiday, a college boy’s idea of initiation to a Greek letter society, is juvenile and harmful not only to the candidate who has been told to fear no danger, but to the lodge which debases something beautiful to the level of a burlesque show.

Freemasons become interested members of many other Masonic bodies beside the Blue lodge. They are members and/or officers of the Council of Royal and Select Masters, Royal Arch Chapters, Commanderies of Knights Templar, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite and, of course, of the Shrine and Grotto.

Membership in all these is desirable. The Masonic story is retold in detail, added to, culminated in several series of beautiful degrees, and every interested Freemason who can afford them should give himself the additional information, fellowship and pleasure thus to be had.

But the instant he has signed the by-laws of his lodge, the newly-made Freemason is too often beseeched if not besieged, to "join my chapter,” “sign this petition to the rite,” “come into my commandery,” “we want you in the Shrine,” and so on. Particularly distressing is the member of the commandery who begs that the newly-made Master Mason join the chapter in order to be eligible to apply to the commandery, or the Noble of the Mystic Shrine who begs for a petition to the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite so you can get in the Shrine.[1]

Such requests belittle the chapter and the rite, each of which is a lovely end in itself. To ask a newly-made Mason to consider either only as a stepping stone, is to cry down something of value in itself.

Asking for petitions before a newly-made Mason has time to adjust to his lodge is a mistake which sometimes has serious consequences to the lodge and to the petitioner. Enthusiasts in other branches of Masonry best serve them by waiting until the new brother is acclimated to his Masonry, and surely care for his interests if they wait to present their petitions until he knows what he really wishes to do.

Any visitor who compliments a lodge by asking for a committee has the right to receive a courteous and efficient examination. Many a good and true brother has made a lodge he visited his Masonic home while in its jurisdiction because of brotherly kindness, and a few have never come again when an examination has been neither courteous nor prompt.

Brethren who understand their function on examination committees know that they are only to ascertain if the would-be visitor is a Mason in good standing. It is not their task to find out how much he knows, how good a ritualist he is, or to point out how different his ritual is from that of his examiners and how superior is theirs!

Catch questions are rude questions. “Where does a master hang his hat?” “When did you back down?” “What implements of what game resemble a certain important Mason’s word?” etc. should never be asked. A committee and a would-be visitor are three or more brethren, brought together for the purpose of establishing their Masonic bona fides, and for no other purpose. The more quickly, the more interestedly and the more kindly this is done, the happier are all at the conclusion. If protracted and suspicious, an examination can be a forbidding ordeal, offensive to a visitor and an injury to the fair name of the lodge.

The lodge fortunate enough to have an ordained minister as its chaplain is lucky indeed. Many must do with a lay brother as chaplain, although any brother may be the voice of the lodge in asking the Great Architect for His blessing on its deliberations.

With the most utter innocence of any offence, some and not always lay brethren — do offend against the underlying and fundamental principle of Freemasonry, that men of all faiths may gather happily about its altars, there to worship each his own God.

What sort of a storm of curiosity and resentment would be raised should a chaplain close his prayer: "We ask it all in the name of Ptah, god of creation.” Brethren would be prompt indeed in letting the chaplain know that Ptah was no God of theirs and not to do it again!

This nation as a whole is a Christian nation and the great majority of Freemasons belong to one or another of the Christian faiths. But there are a great many men of the Jewish faith in American lodges and the Old Testament, which is their holy book as well as that of the Christian, lies on the altar. In the Far East, where Irish, Scottish, and English lodges are holden — and, in China, some Massachusetts lodges — several books of varying faiths will be on the altar, that each candidate may choose the book which is essentially for him the book of the Holy Law.

The one right way for the lodge to pray as a whole as it does pray when the chaplain becomes the voice of the lodge — is to petition the Great Architect of the Universe and make no mention of any prophet or God or son of God of any faith, whether he be Ahura Mazda, Allah, Mohammed, Buddha, Zarasthrustra, Gautama, Isis, Osisis, always remembering the fundamental Old Charge that the religion of Masonry is "that religion in which all men agree.”

It is well understood by Masons that no member of the fraternity proselytizes. Men do not beg their friends to become Masons. A man must seek Freemasonry “of my own free will and accord.” To persuade a man to become a Mason at once destroys its power for good in his heart and makes him a prevaricator, when he is obliged to answer the question so many times asked during the degrees.

But there are ways of asking a man to become a Mason without actually saying in so many words “I wish you’d sign this petition and give me fifty dollars for the initiation fee.” These ways are harmful in that they violate the spirit of the Fraternity. A brother may point to the pin on his coat and say to a friend — “I find that mighty useful in business.” Does not friend then get the idea that Masonry is a business organization in which members go about doing favors for each other?

A brother may talk too much in public about the fun he has in lodge, the good times the lodge provides, how he and his family enjoyed the Masonic dance or picnic. If he does it to excess, will not his hearers believe that Masonry is a fun, frolic, picnic, smoker, dance, good time club? And if he joins under such a misapprehension, will he be not badly disappointed? Every man who is disappointed on receiving his degrees is a detraction, not an asset, to Freemasonry.

Too much talk of Freemasonry in public is more harmful than too little, no matter how laudatory it may be. That Mason does not even draw the knife to “kill the thing he loves” who remembers that Masonry is for Masons and for none other, and governs himself accordingly.

No Mason willingly injures his fraternity. None ever will who recall that Masonry is a brotherhood which operates by the Golden Rule. And none who keeps his own counsel and offends not against the unwritten law will ever have it said of him, as in Wilde’s dreadful verse, that he was one who killed that which best he loved on earth.

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  1. Until 2000, only members of the York or Scottish Rites could be Shriners.

The Masonic Service Association of North America