Present Day Tendencies and Dangers in Freemasonry
By Bro. Louis Block, P.G.M., Iowa
We are living in an age when it takes but little urging to spur a man to follow Paul's scriptural injunction to "Prove all things". In fact, there never was a time when people were so ready to submit all things "the acid test" even going so far as to jump at conclusions, and discard a thing before the test is half done.
Not only are materials, machinery and methods being tried in rapid succession, but the probe is being pushed into parties, governments, societies, institutions, churches and fraternities. Nor can the Masonic institution hope to escape trial along with the rest.
Has Masonry today any real excuse for its continued existence?
Has it any solution to offer of the trying problems that vex and harass not only the individual soul, but the soul of the world as well, till one questions whether the game is worth the candle, or life worth living at all?
Masonry can no more escape standing up to answer this question than can any of the rest of human institutions that the modern world is putting on trial.
Nothing does us quite so much good as to now and then take stock of our institutions, to find out what they mean, and what they really stand for.
To do that we must go back to first principles. We must dig down to the foundation and find out upon what the thing is bottomed. The world just now is showing a perfect passion for this sort of thing.
In the field of religion a great controversy is raging between the "modernists" and the "fundamentalists". The former are for a freer interpretation, for the loosening; of creedal chains, while the latter claim that in going back to the ancient creeds they have gone down to the foundation, although one is often tempted to wonder whether the true Foundation does not lie far deeper than all the clashing creeds in a Great Life and a Great Love that gave birth to a new Commandment, requiring not so much that we have belief, but far more that we love one another.
Let us now go down to the foundation of Masonry, and find, if we can, upon what sort of footing our building is based. We have been taught from time immemorial that the design of the Masonic Institution was to make its votaries wiser and better and consequently happier, that we should receive none knowingly into our ranks but such as were moral and upright before God and of good repute before the world. This was on the theory that such men when associated together would naturally seek each other's welfare and happiness equally with their own. In order that they might not become weary in well-doing it furnished them with a great common platform upon which they might "meet upon the level, act by the plumb, and part upon the square." It obliged them to that great "Religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be good men and true, or men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance."
That, we must all admit, is just about the broadest creed to be found in all history, and it is upon the broad foundation of this "Ancient Charge" that our beloved Institution is based. It is upon such a foundation and in the spirit of Him, who said "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" that we are taught to labour incessantly, making a persistent and proper use of the Trowel, an Instrument used for the "noble and glorious purpose of spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection, that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of friends and brothers among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who best can work and best agree".
The question is whether an institution so conceived and so founded has any part to play, any worthwhile function to perform amid the perplexities that pursue us at this present day.
Let us see.
But first let us take a look at modern life. What's the matter with it? Very, very much.
In the first place, we have allowed the plain and simple life of the pioneer days to drift into a thing so infernally intricate, so infinitely involved, so confoundedly complex, that the human mind stands appalled at the thought of it. No longer are our wants few, and plain and simple, but many and multiplex. We want so many things in such great variety and in such quick succession that half the time we don't know what we want. Our houses, our minds and our lives are so gorged with many things that we are able to digest and assimilate scarcely any of them. From the cradle to the grave it is the same. Our children have it put upon them early in life. Where once a little sister cuddled a rag-doll to her heart, she must now perforce pet a Parisian puppet festooned with fashionable furbelows. Little Bobbie must be denied his hobby-horse and must get mixed up in a meccano set. Where once the little red school house did the business we now have the kindergarten, the primary school, the secondary school and the high school, and these with all sorts of fads and frills fastened upon them. We must get into everything, and have everything, and "put on" a whole kennel full of "dog", even if we have to cheat our creditors and betray our friends to do it. A mortgage goes on the home so we can grab a graphonola, an auto, or a radio. Corned beef and cabbage have given away to camembert and caviar. Dad can no longer sit down to "supper" in his shirt sleeves, but must climb into dress clothes before he can be "served with dinner". We no longer dare to have a plain and simple bellyache, but must get along with gastritis, or colitis, or appendicitis. We dare not even go simply and: plainly crazy, but must be cursed by a "complex". And when at last it comes to the matter of making an escape from this mundane sphere we realize that the simple business of dying has become so elaborate a piece of procedure, that it were far cheaper had we kept walking around instead of trying to meet the "mortician's" bill. Once we might have been simply and plainly planted by an under taker, but "them days is gone forever!"
WE LUST FOR SPEED
In the midst of all this and making the muddle worse, we have been bitten by the speed-bug, and have fallen a victim to the skidding-sickness. We have developed a perfect passion for rapid motion. Nothing can go fast enough to suit us. Express trains rush us from Chicago to New York, ocean greyhounds scoot us from New York to London in a few short days, and high-speed cars hurl us to hell in a jiffy. We can't be patient or deliberate about anything. We are rabidly restless and can't bear to sit still. We must keep in motion. "Where do we go from here?" is the common cry. "We don't know where we are going, but we are on our way!" We want what we want when we want it. Ready-built houses and ready-to-wear clothing are the rule. We are willing to wait for nothing. Everyone is on the jump. We hurry here and there, chasing first this thing, and then that, darting about like wild water-bugs at a sewer's mouth. We are ready to "try anything once", and always crazy to try something new. When jazz fails to give us joy, then our madness manifests itself in the Marathon dance.
Realizing that something is wrong society tries to find a cure in new laws. Then we have such perfect pestilence of law-making that humanity heaves a great sigh of relief the moment Congress or the Legislature adjourns. We have too much government in business and far too little business in government. We have a cataclysm of class-legislation, each crowd crazy to hog things for its particular class, and "to hell with the other fellow". We have a whole raft of radical legislation, and less respect for law than ever before. Russia may have her Soviet slaughters, but poor America, God pity the day! has her Mer Rouge murders and her Herrin massacres. These things menace the land with dissension and disunion, disruption and disaster, with everything that divides and destroys.
And what have we as Masons to do with all this? What can we do about it?
Well, in the first place, we can awake to a realization that it is high time we no longer rested content with a mere recitation of our ritual, rules and regulations. That there is coming to us, now as never before, a clarion call to promptly and persistently put our precepts into practice. To realize again that
"A man of words and not of deeds,
Is like a garden full of weeds."
For Masonry, from time immemorial, has been ever sternly and soberly and seriously conservative and never riotously radical. Masonry has always had in her heart a withering contempt for things frantic and foolish, and has ever firmly stood for these things that make for stability and order, for strength and establishment.
WHAT DOES MASONRY STAND FOR
The trouble with far too many of us is that we don't know what our Masonry really stands for.
How many of us, I wonder, have ever truly realized that when the Master in the East has charged us saying "In the State, you are to be a quiet and peaceful subject, true to your government and just to your country. You are not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion, but patiently submit to legal authority and conform with cheerfulness to the government of the country in which you live", there was then and there laid upon our shoulders the performance of a duty as sacred, as solemn and as binding as anything contained in the obligation taken at the altar?
We cannot practice our Masonry until we have first learned to know it. Once we have learned to know it we will clearly see that there is not one of our modern perplexities but what can be solved by a faithful application of Masonic principles and precepts.
But there can be no salvation if the principles are merely preached and practised. Yet if they are practised untold good will be done.
It would simply transform the world, if, for a single year, each and every one of us would simply live up to our ancient religion "to be good Men and true - Men of Honour and Honesty."
If we are the sort of men we have prided ourselves upon being the sort who seek each other's welfare and happiness equally with our own, we will help one another to know what our Masonry means - do this by admonition, discussion, debates, study and lectures. Here is where our study clubs, our research societies and our service associations come in.
But above all else we must help each other to live the life, in the shop and the market-place, in the office and the factory, in the home and on the street, so that the blessed influence of "good men and true" may be met with everywhere.
For at the bottom the fault of the present state of things is not legal or economical, but personal and individual. It is not the system that is wrong, but the men who run it. It's high time we quit blaming a system for our own shortcomings.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Our Republic is "one made of many" and if each one of the many does his duty then, and only then, will the "Temple of our Liberties" endure. It will not do for any one of us to wait for the other to do his duty. Each one must be up and doing, acting of his own volition, sweeping before his own door, hosing his own row. It is the old question of Hiram Abiff over again; the question of individual moral responsibility, of individual fidelity, regardless of personal loss or sacrifice.
There is no need for new laws, new systems, new forms of government. There is a crying need for plain old-fashioned individual performance of duty.
"Honour and Fame from no condition rise,
Act well your part - there all the honour lies!"
Otherwise all our preaching of precepts, all our ritualizing, will be as
"A thing full of sound and fury,
Masonry has a glorious gospel, as we her votaries well know, but glorious as that gospel may be, there is another far more vitally important and that is the gospel of the individual Mason as shown in his individual life.
"THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO YOU"
"There's a sweet old story translated for man,
But writ in the long, long ago-
The Gospel according to Mark, Luke and John-
Of Christ and His mission below.
Men read and admire the gospel of Christ,
With its love so unfailing and true;
But what do they say, and what do they think,
Of the gospel according to you?
'Tis a wonderful story, that gospel of love,
As it shines in the Christ-life divine;
And, oh, that its truth might be told again
In the story of your life and mine!
Unselfishness mirrors in every scene;
Love blossoms on every sod;
And back from its vision the heart comes to tell
The wonderful goodness of God.
You are writing each day a letter to men;
Take care that the writing is true;
'Tis the only gospel that some men will read-
The gospel according to you."
THE MENACE WITHIN
When a candidate seeks admission into our fraternity we compel him to sign a petition in which he solemnly states that "he is prompted to solicit this privilege by a sincere wish of being serviceable to his fellow citizens".
Is that pure "bunk", or does it really mean something?
We are prompted to put this question by reason of the fact that there have arisen in recent years a number of organizations pretending to be Masonic that are anything but serviceable to mankind.
They pretend to be "Masonic" by reason of the fact that they permit no one to join them who is not a Master Mason because of the fact that their membership is composed of Masons only, the thoughtless Mason and the uninformed non-Mason, alike, conclude that these societies are Masonic, despite the fact that none of them have been either recognized or ratified by any governing Masonic body.
They are thus practically parading under false pretences and practising a fraud upon the innocent and unwary, thereby putting Masonry in a false light before the world.
We say parading advisedly, for their votaries seem set upon strutting the streets clad in gay, gaudy and garish garments, flaunting flaming banners, tearing the public peace to tatters with the blare of the trombone and the boom of the bass-drum.
Seeing which the citizen on the sidewalk cries, "See, there go the Masons!" The Masons, forsooth! These devotees of dazzle and din!
And the newspapers, who hate things hidden, to whom nothing secret is sacred, who persecute privacy and pray to the god of Publicity, help him to believe that Masonry is just that!
And, my brethren, unless we are awake to the danger that threatens us, Masonry is apt to degenerate into just that.
These institutions are growing in number. The other day the writer counted up fourteen of them. Grand Masters and Grand Lodge Correspondents have assailed them in no uncertain terms, and not without reason, for they are a real menace to Masonry.
They could gain no lasting foothold among men were it not for their pretended holding of a Masonic certificate of good character. In the past, to say that a thing was "Masonic" was to certify to its high standing. The story of Masonry's devotion to the great doctrines of friendship, morality and brotherly love, of the relief of the down-trodden and distressed, and her dispelling of the darkness of ignorance by the light of truth, has placed her upon the topmost pinnacle in the esteem and respect of men. These "side organizations" well know this, and they seek to slip into places of power and influence by means of their alleged Masonic passports. But unless this menace is soon curbed, the day is not distant when a certificate of Masonic membership will have lost all its meaning and value.
These nefarious organizations are a menace to Masonry in many ways.
One of the queer things about them is that the zealots who espouse the cause of these side organizations seem to have so little respect or reverence for the very institution, membership in whose ranks they make a prerequisite for joining their own order. Their candidate chasers invade the sanctity of the lodge room, interfere with the workers, make the candidate feel that the degree work is but of passing importance, a matter of mere incident on the way to the "real thing". Treating the Blue Lodge degrees as mere stepping stones, they tread beneath ruthless feet the beautiful flowers of the ritual, in a mad effort to rush the candidate into their fold. Before the apprentice is dry behind the ears he is harangued and pestered, brow-beaten and bulldozed, into joining their gang and "having a good time". The immemorial dignity and decorum of the lodge is disturbed, its noble lessons and high doctrines are discounted and disparaged, its high ideals are trailed in the dust, and the bewildered candidate comes to think that the Order exists for frivolity and not for service.
MASONRY IS SANE, STEADY, SOBER
Now Masonry has endured down the ages, solely because of its serious and earnest character, because of the sane, steady and sober quality of its aims and ideals. These "side-orders" strive to slur over all these and to substitute in their place a silly seeking for pleasure and a light-headed lust for excitement. Their rituals far too often savour of vulgarity and their horse-play verges at times even upon the obscene.
It is upon this sort of thing that these side-orders seek to have set the stamp and seal of Masonic approval, and we seem content to stand complacently by and let them get it.
They drag their "politics", their petty piques and quarrels, their disappointed ambitions to have high-sounding titles, and wear resplendent robes, into the sacred precincts of the lodge-room, disturb the work of the builders and destroy the peace and harmony of the Craft.
The sort of men who are won to the Order by this sort of thing do it no good, for they are not worth having - are not fit material for the building "of the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens".
Time was when Masonry was known as "a system of morality veiled in allegory". If this thing is not checked, how long will it be before it comes to be called a frenzy of frivolity, fed by folly"?
These "side-orders" scatter Masonry's force. They lower its aims and purposes, destroy its ancient dignity and blur the vision of its lofty ideals. They tend inevitably to wreck its power and influence by destroying its solidarity, and threaten to take away wholly its power to serve mankind.
We are coming to have far too many "play-grounds in Masonry", too much of a rush for "refreshment" in an institution anciently dedicated to "labour". Masonry is in a mighty poor business when it feeds modern society's already overwrought passion for passing pleasures. If there ever was a day when men needed to quit dallying with delights and attended to business, it is now. For the popular call nowadays seems to be for the man who will be "a good fellow", who will forget his business, let it slide, and in the end make of himself an object of Masonic charity.
We are taking far too many men into the Order who do not know what an earnest thought means, and who care less. Far too many who have neither the brains nor the desire to seek back of the symbol to the great idea thereby symbolized. These men lie within the belly of the Order like leaden lumps that will not be digested, and they are not an asset, but a liability.
And it is these very "side-orders" that lure these light-headed liabilities within our fold-bad cess to them! and at a time when, God knows! we don't need them, but do need earnest men.
If by any chance this mushroom growth of these Masonic side-shows results in any way from a reaction against a humdrum and lifeless recital of the ritual by mechanical Masons who have no idea of the meaning of the words that glide so glibly from their lips, then the remedy is not far to seek.
For, as Brother Weston of Vermont has so clearly pointed out, all the lodges need to do is to make the ritual interesting by means of lectures, readings, discussions and debates, tending to make its meaning clear; for a man simply cannot put life and force into the words he utters unless his soul is first set all aglow with their meaning.
That immortal meaning is there, hidden, buried, concealed within the ritual, and our very salvation depends upon our working it out.
Perhaps if we will do this we will be pouring Paris-green upon these parasites.
But if that doesn't work we may need a new set of Masonic police regulations that will put these bums in the bastile where they belong.
- Source: The Builder - November 1923