I submit that the core purpose of Freemasonry is to make good men – not only into better men – but into Masons. Here is where we arrive at the question posed in the title of this commentary. Should all good men be made Masons? Better yet – Should all good men be eligible to be made Masons? And even further – Are all good men capable of understanding Freemasonry?
Short of the most obvious of qualifications – being a man, of proper age, of satisfactory physical wholeness, with a belief in a Supreme Being – the moral qualification (ie: being a good man) has become the primary consideration exhibited by some Freemasons and some lodges when examining the qualifications of a petitioner and even the Masonic value of an existing member. If a Mason is defined simply as a member of a regular and recognized lodge, all good men are eligible to be made Masons. The missing and often overlooked qualification, however, is that of the mental or intellectual.
It is the proper attention to the mental qualifications of men that has elevated Freemasonry above the many social organizations and fraternities that exist throughout the world. Without these qualifications, a man is unable to participate in what lies behind what it means to be a Freemason. He is unable to embark on a journey of enlightenment – the search for truth and knowledge. He is not capable of recognizing the importance and beauty of the simple structure of Freemasonry. He is unable to learn, understand, or use the rituals and lessons of the Fraternity as a springboard to appreciation of the esoteric truths hidden within. It should go without saying that a man does not have to be the next Einstein, Sagan, or Mackey to meet the necessary mental qualifications. He does, however, need to possess the capability – and desire – to expand his intellectual inventory as relates to what Freemasonry offers.
Though possibly lacking the mental qualifications as described thus far – there are men that have been described as “good Masons” because they are always available and willing to do such things as fry fish for a fundraiser, cut the grass on the lodge grounds, and participate in building maintenance or cleaning projects. These are probably good men and should be respected as such. But are they practicing Freemasonry or are they Masons in name only? Bear in mind that most all of these same tasks can be accomplished by a day laborer for hire. There is certainly nothing wrong with a Mason rolling up his sleeves and providing the necessary labor for the benefit of his lodge, but – if that is all he is capable of – he is not a practicing Freemason. He is a drone. Albert G. Mackey foresaw the danger of these types of Masons in 1875. He described them as…
…those that believe all of the Masonic teachings are imparted by their initiations into the various degrees.The acceptance of these types of men into the Ancient Fraternity of Freemasonry does a disservice to the individual man by creating the false impression that he is something that – in all practicality – he is not. It also weakens his lodge and Freemasonry in general since he now has become an example to the profane world and to new Masons. Not all good men are capable of understanding Freemasonry and – therefore – not all good men should be made Masons.
Such Masons are distinguished, not by the amount of knowledge that they possess, but by the number of jewels that they wear. They will give fifty dollars for a decoration, but not fifty cents for a book.
These men do great injury to Masonry. They have been called its drones. But they are more than that. They are the wasps, the deadly enemy of the industrious bees. They set a bad example to the younger Masons – they discourage the growth of masonic literature – they drive the intellectual men, who would be willing to cultivate masonic science, into other fields of labor – they depress the energies of our writers – and they debase the character of Speculative Masonry as a branch of mental and moral philosophy.
The Masons who do not read will know nothing of the interior beauties of Speculative Masonry, but will be content to suppose it to be something like Odd Fellows, or the Order of the Knights of Pythias – only, perhaps, a little older. Such a Mason must be an indifferent one. He has laid no foundation for zeal.
If this indifference, instead of being checked, becomes more widely spread, the result is too apparent. Freemasonry must step down from the elevated position which she has been struggling, through the efforts of her scholars, to maintain, and our lodges, instead of becoming resorts for speculative and philosophical thought, will deteriorate into social clubs or mere benefit societies.1
ADDED on 19 September 2010: See also - Should All Good Men be Made Masons? - Revisited.
1. Mackey, Albert G., Reading Masons and Masons Who Do Not Read, Voice of Masonry, June 1875.
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