Masonry – opinions

Bro. Patrick O’Neill,

Possibly the greatest danger to Freemasonry today is
confusion – confusion of what it is, and what it is
not. Without a clear-cut understanding of what
Freemasonry is we find ourselves involved in
extraneous matters. These diversions lure us away from
Masonry’s proper place.

After much study, Brother C.C. Hunt suggested that
“Freemasonry is an organized society of men
symbolically applying the principles of operative
masonry and architecture to the science and art of
character building.” This is very simple and is the
core of our art, and if we keep our eyes on the
central objective, we may yet preserve Masonry.

“The concern of Masonry is the science and art of
character building.” Lodges frequently fall into the
trap of engaging in many worthwhile endeavors, but
which are not the direct concern of the Masonic Lodge.
That is not to say that those endeavors are not
worthy, or that they should never be the concern of
Masons. But it does illustrate that often in trying to
do too much we lose sight of our primary purpose; we
head in all directions at once and get nowhere. Let us
consider some of the things that Freemasonry is not –
things that divert the Lodge from its central purpose
of character building. It is not a charity, though it
is charitable. It is not a service club; it is not a
place to hone one’s political or business skills. It
is not a place to make business contacts or to look
for better jobs. Freemasonry is especially not a
self-glorification society. Neither, is it a
mutual-admiration society. Many persons outside our
membership consider it to be only this. In fact, I was
told by a member that the reason he wanted to become a
Mason was because when he was doing construction work
on a Lodge he saw the master of the Lodge driving a
Corvette; he was impressed by this, and he wanted to
join Masonry to be like that man. This is certainly
the wrong reason to seek out membership in
Freemasonry. These men seek honors, not the
opportunity for service, they flaunt their insignia,
rank, and ostentatious trappings without the slightest
inkling of their symbolic meaning, and they have no
sincere dedication to those principles? If our own
members are so confused, is it any wonder we’re on the
wrong path?

History proves that elevation of the human spirit is
the product of devotion to principle, hard work, and
sacrifice. No honor worth having can be earned by
laziness, purchased with currency, or bargained for.
The only true honor is earned by merit and is extended
only through continued service to his fellow man.
There is a vast difference between self-glorification
and self-improvement. The one is ludicrous and a sham.
The other is the road to life’s fulfillment.

The member who takes office and honor for the sake of
pride and personal glory and does not understand the
deeper obligations implied, is truly the Emperor with
no clothes. He is deluded in thinking the honor is
deserved. He is an embarrassment and is actually the
object of pity, not of respect and admiration. These
men surround themselves with sycophants and “yes men,”
because they cannot stand the light of truth, they
cannot look at themselves with an objective eye.

Men are drawn to Masonry by the quality of its
members. When that quality is compromised in the
Lodge, members of a different sort will attempt to
maintain the Lodge by any manner of devices, not
Masonic. They will attempt to become a “club” which
deviates from the purpose of character building. This
“club” will pat itself on the back at every corner,
congratulating themselves for the most mediocre of
accomplishments. They will build monuments to
themselves and hang pictures and plaques on walls,
congratulating themselves for mediocre years of
service. They do not recognize the basic principle of
Masonry. This is not Freemasonry, this is a sham.

This group will join the group of hundreds of “clubs”
which had no definable purpose except self
glorification. History has respected Masonry, but
history will not be kind to the lazy, the self
promoting; the insincere. This group or “club” will
never attract the potential members and the leadership
that the fraternity needs. Self-serving back
scratching is too transparent to fool discerning men
of principle. We have seen a great number of men come
through our doors and not remain, “Why?” Is it because
we asked too much of them, or is it because they found
nothing but a shell of what was supposed be here
behind our doors? I offer that it is the latter.

Now we can continue down this path to oblivion, or we
can pull back and find our first purpose, that of
character building. Sometimes Lodges start looking for
a “purpose” so they adopt a cause or a charity, and
while these pursuits are for the greater good they do
not sustain or build the fraternity. Too often Lodges
fall victim to the idea that rather than building the
character of men we’ll build a building or we’ll fix
up the one we currently occupy. They falsely believe
that this will attract and keep members and by doing
this everything will be all right. Nothing could be
further from the truth. The purpose of Freemasonry is
character building, not building or reconditioning
buildings. Are great characters built in shiny new
edifices with marble floors and chandeliers? Possibly.
But they cannot be built without the dedication and
hard work of a mentoring group. Marble floors and new
buildings don’t build character. I can name dozens of
businessmen that while very successful in business
should never be allowed to darken the door of our
fraternity. Likewise, I can think of dozens of NFL and
pro basketball players who have shiny marble floors
and beautiful chandeliers whom I wouldn’t lower myself
to accept a petition from for membership in the
fraternity. These men might even try to buy my respect
by offering me great sums of money to rebuild the
building I occupy. They might offer to build me a
shinny new Lodge, but I would accept nothing from them
because they are insincere in their motives.

The fraternity’s major problem isn’t charitable works
or buildings, no the true problem lies in how we
choose our leaders. I liken our current system, the
progressive line, to musical chairs. The guy who is
the only one remaining in the Lodge after the other
new brothers are neglected and fail to return is the
one they put in the progressive line, regardless of
his qualifications and dedication to his job. It
should not be this way. For years now we have promoted
a series of men through our chairs who were not
qualified to advance through them; that’s not to say
they aren’t good people. They did not have the benefit
of proper training and education. They cannot properly
lead a Lodge of Masons because they don’t know how. To
the new members they appear to be confused and unsure
about what they are doing. Men of character will not
follow a fool even if he is tied to the oldest and
most successful fraternity in the world, so they
leave. We have allowed mediocrity to become the norm
and it shows now in the membership.

Is it proper to promote people just because they were
the only ones who continually showed up to Lodge or
they wanted to do it “without putting in the work or
having the leadership qualities so necessary for the
propagation of our order?” This is completely
backwards: There is no man, nor has there ever been
one, who could thrive in a leadership position with no
training and no guidance. Why wasn’t character
development and leadership development instituted as
it should have been? The answer is simple: the men who
had the responsibility of mentoring didn’t do their
jobs. No one is born a leader, leadership is taught,
cultivated, and perfected. Character is likewise
developed, it is cultivated, and it is certainly not
found in each successive chair, after simply filling
the former one with one’s buttocks.

If we were to reevaluate our priorities and
concentrate on our primary mission, namely character
building, we can then expand our duties to take care
of the widows and orphans as our obligation as Master
Masons directs. Our obligation does not say pay for
the building of a new lodge or the remodeling of a
deficient one to the exclusion of character building
or to the exclusion of those worthy distressed Master
Masons, their widows and orphans. Until we address the
fact that our foundation is buckling brick by brick,
and strengthen those “bricks,” Freemasonry will
continue to suffer. Brothers, let’s stop attacking
symptoms and address the true problems of the
fraternity, let us not fall into the trap of putting a
fresh coat of paint on our building when the
foundation is crumbling underneath us.

Keep the Faith.

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are Bro.
O’Neill’s and do not necessarily represent the views
or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any
other Masonic related body. This article is Copyright
© 2008 by Patrick O’Neill. All rights reserved.