David A. Stites, Sr., PM
HEREWITH we submit to the Fraternity at large one of the most challenging reports we have ever read, as made by the Committee on Masonic Education of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin to its Grand Lodge. Here is the exact situation of the Craft in America today, set forth vividly and in the best constructive spirit, describing not a theory but the conditions that confront us. Any thoughtful man must see that unless such conditions are met and overcome, Masonry will sink from the high level it has hitherto held to a level below the commonplace from which no antiquity can redeem it. These brethren tell us the plain, unwelcome truth, and it behooves us to heed it and take steps to meet the facts. Hear the report:
IN submitting its report, your Committee on Masonic Education desires to direct attention to certain untoward conditions which we believe to be quite generally recognized, which measurably impair the standing and influence of the Fraternity, and seriously interfere with its ability to make a beneficial and lasting contribution to national welfare and world civilization.
Be it understood that this report is offered in a constructive and friendly spirit; is prompted solely by love and admiration for our ancient and honorable Craft and a desire that it shall continue to be a very real factor in establishing a world-wide brotherhood.
What are these conditions?
- We have lost our perspective, our sense of relativity. We are making the conferring of degrees the "be all and the end all" of our existence. "Work," Masonically speaking, is purely ritualistic. It is acting, not living. Such was not the case with our ancient brethren. To them ritual, so far as they had say, was a means, not an end. They preferred a very real and enduring service for mankind.
- Modern Masonry is so occupied with the Initiating, Passing and Raising of candidates - with mere ritualism - that it has overlooked the most important and higher duty of making real Masons. The noviate is hurried through the degrees, and turned out into the world as a nominal Mason, with but a hazy understanding of what it is all about, with no adequate knowledge of Masonry, with little appreciation of his responsibility to the Fraternity or to society at large. Rarely does a candidate acquire any real understanding of Masonic truth while receiving the degrees. To continue making Masons without giving them an intelligent knowledge of what Masonry is, or what their responsibilities are, is little short of stupid. Masonry was never intended to be a mere degree mill. Initiation which ends with initiation, is fair neither to the Fraternity nor to the individual.
- For the great body of Craftsmen there is no work laid out, no designs upon the trestle board, hence confusion and loss of interest. There is "Work" only for the comparatively few who hold offices. Men will not attend lodge night after night and sit on the benches listening to the same lines, be they ever so beautiful and impressively rendered. Hence, it is inevitable that men lose interest and drift away. But give them "Work" worth the doing and you will hold them. Make them understand that through Masonry they may render a real service to their community, and their fellowmen, and their interest will not abate. Because of their inability to find in Masonry a field for service and fellowship, Masons everywhere are serving as active leaders in Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist and similar organizations.
- In our race for numbers we lose that fraternal spirit without which Masonry is but a sham. Our lodges have in many instances become so large that there is little opportunity for acquaintance, much less for fellowship. Masons do not meet upon the level, or part upon the square, in the modern metropolitan lodge. Officers are too busy conferring degrees to devote much time to the social amenities, or to instruct the less informed brethren.
- Commercialism is not missing from the picture. The need or desire for revenue has resulted in lax methods in the selection of material.
- In other years Masonry has played an enviable part in the building of this nation, and in the advancement of the human race. In this we glory.
THIS is a challenge which we fail to accept at our peril. What corporate contribution is Twentieth Century Masonry making to world civilization! Does it speak with a living voice, that the world will hear and heed, upon any of the vital issues that confront humanity? What does Masonry mean today, beyond the conferring of degrees and the wearing of jewelry? What real contribution is this venerable brotherhood making towards universal brotherhood or world peace, the hope, the aspiration of the ages? What program does the Masonic brotherhood offer, looking to the advancement of business ethics, of industrial accord, the amelioration of social ills? With a subtle and pernicious propaganda, boring from without and from within, weakening the foundations of the American Government and its republican institutions, in a day of lawlessness and disrespect for authority, is every Masonic Lodge in America standing militantly for loyalty to our country and its institutions and respect for law?
In our day, as through the ages gone, is Masonry an aggressive servant of country, of humanity and of God?
Believing that Masonry is not meeting its opportunities and responsibilities, your Committee offers the following resolution in the belief that, if adopted and carried out by this Grand Lodge, it will tend measurably to remove the conditions complained of.
SURELY no Mason who cares a fig for the Craft can read such a report, made by brethren who are as earnest as they are active in its service, and not give it a long pondering. In this 150th year of the history of our country, we recall with pride the part taken by Masons in the early story of the Republic. But what is it doing today - that is the question put by this report.
The series of questions under the sixth point of the report crack like rifle shots, and they hit the mark; and the reasons for the failure is set forth under the preceding points - mistaking ritualism for reality, doing nothing but passing and raising candidates, rendering no sort of service to the community; lack of knowledge of Masonry, failure of fellowship and the scramble for numbers.
From the Masonic Journal of South Africa we read reflections of the Editor after attending a meeting of the Rotary Club of his city:
AROUND us there were Masons in sufficient number to form a Lodge, perfect and regular. Amongst them were Brethren whom we had frequently met in Lodge. We had witnessed their "workings" and sat with them at refreshment, but we had not been acquainted with the real man - he was hidden behind a cloak of dignity and decorum. Now, the cloak thrown aside, we saw, as it were, the coals of Masonic brotherhood and benevolence fanned into a flame by a current of enthusiasm from without - a current engendered by the Rotary Spirit: Service above Self.
IN reflecting on this singular circumstance, our brother Editor is moved to make some pungent remarks in key with the above report as to the failure of Masonry in fellowship and service. Among other things he suggests that while we are forming study circles to improve ourselves, we ought also to form service circles to improve the lot of others. Then it will not be necessary for brethren to seek membership in other societies in order to find scope for the practice of purely Masonic principles, as is now the case.
If the old cry of "politics" is raised, the sufficient reply is that other societies do not mix in politics, but they do get something done, and, besides, the really great things that need to be done have nothing to do with politics. At any rate their meetings are alive with enthusiasm, rich in fellowship, and devoted to the interests of the common good, not utterly self-centered and inane. These are sharp words, as our brother admits, but they, need to be said, as we have said them in these pages time and again.
SUCH words are due not to impatience much less to irritation, but to the eager desire to see the greatest of all fraternities bestir itself and take its place and do its part in a time when every right influence is needed. The composite mind of America is troubled, confused, cut up into all kinds of cliques, torn by every sort of wild impulse, and needs the wise, stabilizing power of real brotherly love revealed not in words but in acts. What will Masonry do about it?
Amen - So mote it be! - AmenThe Master Mason - August 1926