Masonry, A Progressive Science

Gregory J. Smith, 32°, KCCH

In the Fellow Craft Degree we are told that Masonry is “a progressive science.” In the past, Masonry championed such causes as public education, free speech, one man/one vote, and other “progressive,” even radical, concepts. Discussion in Masonic Lodges and the influence of Masonic leaders were among the driving forces behind movements such as the 18th Century Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions, and many other freedom movements. It is believed that Masons were involved with the Boston Tea Party, provided guidance in the writing of the Constitution, and opened the first public schools in both England and the New World. These were progressive men, and they acted on their progressive beliefs, no matter the costs.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Lodges were places for social as well as educational activities. Dinners with great speakers and the best food available, lectures, concerts and, in the meetings, debates about the great social issues of the day -- all took place in the Lodge. We were once progressive, educational, and even entertaining. Now, in many cases, we are simply boring.

We began to change during World War II. Many Lodges became Degree mills. During the war it was not uncommon for a man to receive all three Degrees in one day. He was heading off to war, and Lodges were too busy to “mess” with educational programs or social events. They had a duty to help these men complete their Degrees in the time available. Membership rose dramatically. Times were good, and the Lodges were busy doing the “work” of Masonry, making Masons, often without much regard to providing any follow-up education or even proficiency training.

Did these new members really understand the teachings of Masonry? They acted like Masons. They treated each other well, gave to fraternal charities, and paid their dues. But in most cases they had not received the training necessary to understand the deeper teachings of Masonry. How could they? They were never given the opportunity. If they learned the ritual, most simply memorized the words and did not think about the meanings. They never learned to think about how the ritual should relate to our actions in the real world.

Some say this trend continues today. With some notable exceptions, contemporary Masonry cannot count as members the type of influential policy makers, artists, and forward-thinking members that once graced our Lodges and led our discussions. As a result, at many of our meetings we either do nothing or bicker among ourselves over issues only of concern to the Lodge and not to the outside world. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of our members never return after their Third Degree? For Masonry to return to the “progressive science” we once were, at least two things must happen.

First, the Lodges should be encouraged to bring back an ancient and honored tradition in Masonry, the office of Orator. When you read the minutes of Lodges of the 17th and 18th Centuries, you find that the Orator served as Masonic interpreter, discussion leader, and teacher. Often he began the “progressive” discussions which led to the development of many of the ideas which became the freedom and human rights movements we take for granted. Almost every Lodge today has a member capable of filling such a role.

The second action will be both painful and disruptive in the short term, but it is even more important than returning the Orator to our Lodges. The final words of the Master Mason Degree’s Working Tools Lecture should become the primary rule for ALL our actions in and concerning our Lodges: “those who best can work and best agree.”

When a Worshipful Master or the Lodge as a body makes a decision, the discussion should be over unless allowed by the Master to resume. Running to Grand Lodge, to other members who were not at the meeting when the decision was made or, worse yet, to other Lodges to complain and try to raise support for a special preference on an issue is childish and unMasonic -- and should be treated as such.

The vast majority of a Lodge’s or Master’s actions are not reversible by Grand Lodge and are none of its business. Members who are not at a meeting to participate in the discussion have no right to question a decision. Last, the discussion of one Lodge’s issues with another Lodge violates the privacy of the Lodge. The reason the Lodge door is tiled is not just to keep the profane out but to remind us that what happens inside is private.

Lodges and Worshipful Masters can no longer simply ignore a member who is continuously disruptive. Any member who chooses to disrupt the peace and harmony of the Lodge by constantly returning to old issues should be counseled in the strongest possible way to abide by the decision of the Lodge. If that fails, he should be enlightened privately to the fact that he might be happier in another Lodge or organization. As a last resort, he should be removed from the Lodge and, if necessary, Masonry, by any and all means available.

Masonry is a “progressive science.” The Craft must return to its roots and become the progressive organization it once was. This will require a shift of our internal culture. But, it is necessary if we are to return to the vibrant, active, and influential organization our teachings require us to be.