FAQs about Masonry Page 2
Why is Masonry so "secretive"?
It really isn't "secretive," although it sometimes has that reputation. Masons certainly don't make a secret of the fact that they are members of the fraternity. We wear rings, lapel pins, and tie clasps with Masonic emblems like the Square and Compasses, the best known of Masonic signs which, logically, recall the fraternity's early symbolic roots in stone masonry. Masonic buildings are clearly marked, and are usually listed in the phone book. Lodge activities are not secret -- picnics and other events are even listed in the newspapers, especially in smaller towns. Many lodges have answering machines which give the upcoming lodge activities. But there are some Masonic secrets, and they fall into two categories. The first are the ways in which a man can identify himself as a Mason -- grips and passwords. We keep those private for obvious reasons. It is not at all unknown for unscrupulous people to try to pass themselves off as Masons in order to get assistance under false pretenses. The second group is harder to describe, but they are the ones Masons usually mean if we talk about "Masonic secrets." They are secrets because they literally can't be talked about, can't be put into words. They are the changes that happen to a man when he really accepts responsibility for his own life and, at the same time, truly decides that his real happiness is in helping others. It's a wonderful feeling, but it's something you simply can't explain to another person. That's why we sometimes say that Masonic secrets cannot (rather than "may not") be told. Try telling someone exactly what you feel when you see a beautiful sunset, or when you hear music, like the national anthem, which suddenly stirs old memories, and you'll understand what we mean.
"Secret societies" became very popular in America in the late 1800's and early 1900's. There were literally hundreds of them, and most people belonged to two or three. Many of them were modeled on Masonry, and made a great point of having many "secrets." Freemasonry got ranked with them. But if Masonry is a secret society, it's the worst-kept secret in the world.
Is Masonry a religion?
The answer to that question is simple, No.
We do use ritual in meetings, and because there is always an altar or table with the Volume of the Sacred Law open if a lodge is meeting, some people have confused Masonry with a religion, but it is not. That does not mean that religion plays no part in Masonry -- it plays a very important part. A person who wants to become a Mason must have a belief in God. No atheist can ever become a Mason. Meetings open with prayer, and a Mason is taught, as one of the first lessons of Masonry, that one should pray for divine counsel and guidance before starting an important undertaking. But that does not make Masonry a "religion." Sometimes people confuse Masonry with a religion because we call some Masonic buildings "temples." But we use the word in the same sense that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Supreme Court a "Temple of Justice" and because a Masonic lodge is a symbol of the Temple of Solomon. Neither Masonry nor the Supreme Court is a religion just because its members meet in a "temple." In some ways, the relationship between Masonry and religion is like the relationship between the Parent-Teacher Association (the P.T.A.) and education. Members of the P.T.A. believe in the importance of education. They support it. They assert that no man or woman can be a complete and whole individual or live up to his or her full potential without education. They encourage students to stay in school and parents to be involved with the education of their children. They may give scholarships. They encourage their members to get involved with and to support their individual schools.
But there are some things P.T.A.s do not do. They don't teach. They don't tell people which school to attend. They don't try to tell people what they should study or what their major should be. In much the same way, Masons believe in the importance of religion. Masonry encourages every Mason to be active in the religion and church of his own choice. Masonry teaches that without religion a man is alone and lost, and that without religion, he can never reach his full potential. But Freemasonry does not tell a person which religion he should practice or how he should practice it. That is between the individual and God. That is the function of his house of worship, not his fraternity. And Masonry is a fraternity, not a religion.
What's a Masonic Bible?
Bibles are popular gifts among Masons, frequently given to a man when he joins the lodge or at other special events. A Masonic Bible is the same book anyone thinks of as a Bible (it's usually the King James translation) with a special page in the front on which to write the name of the person who is receiving it and the occasion on which it is given. Sometimes there is a special index or information section which shows the person where in the Bible to find the passages which are quoted in the Masonic ritual.
If Masonry isn't a religion, why does it use ritual?
Many of us may think of religion when we think of ritual, but ritual is used in every aspect of life. It's so much a part of us that we just don't notice it. Ritual simply means that some things are done more or less the same way each time.
Almost all school assemblies, for example, start with the principal or some other official calling for the attention of the group. Then the group is led in the Pledge of Allegiance. A school choir or the entire group may sing the school song. That's a ritual.
Almost all business meetings of every sort call the group to order, have a reading of the minutes of the last meeting, deal with old business, then with new business. That's a ritual. Most groups use Robert's Rules of Order to conduct a meeting. That's probably the best-known book of ritual in the world.
There are social rituals which tell us how to meet people (we shake hands), how to join a conversation (we wait for a pause, and then speak), how to buy tickets to a concert (we wait in line and don't push in ahead of those who were there first). There are literally hundreds of examples, and they are all rituals.
Masonry uses a ritual because it's an effective way to teach important ideas -- the values we've talked about earlier. And it reminds us where we are, just as the ritual of a business meeting reminds people where they are and what they are supposed to be doing.
Masonry's ritual is very rich because it is so old. It has developed over centuries to contain some beautiful language and ideas expressed in symbols. But there's nothing unusual in using ritual. All of us do it every day.
Why does Masonry use symbols?
Everyone uses symbols every day, just as we do ritual. We use them because they communicate quickly. When you see a stop sign , you know what it means, even if you can't read the word "stop." The circle and line mean "don't" or "not allowed." In fact, using symbols is probably the oldest way of communication and the oldest way of teaching. Masonry uses symbols for the same reason. Some form of the "Square and Compasses" is the most widely used and known symbol of Masonry. In one way, this symbol is a kind of trademark for the fraternity, as the "golden arches" are for McDonald's. When you see the Square and Compasses on a building, you know that Masons meet there. And like all symbols, they have a meaning. The Square symbolizes things of the earth, and it also symbolizes honor, integrity, truthfulness, and the other ways we should relate to this world and the people in it. The Compasses symbolize things of the spirit, and the importance of a well-developed spiritual life, and also the importance of self-control -- of keeping ourselves within bounds. The G stands for Geometry, the science which the ancients believed most revealed the glory of God and His works in the heavens, and it also stands for God, Who must be at the center of all our thoughts and of all our efforts. The meanings of most of the other Masonic symbols are obvious. For example, the gavel teaches the importance of self-control and self-discipline. The hour-glass teaches us that time is always passing, and we should not put off important decisions.
What are the requirements for membership?
The person who wants to join Masonry must be a man (it's a fraternity), sound in body and mind, who believes in God, is at least the minimum age required by Masonry in his state, and has a good reputation. (Incidentally, the "sound in body" requirement -- which comes from the stonemasons of the Middle Ages -- doesn't mean that a physically challenged man cannot be a Mason; many are). Those are the only "formal" requirements. But there are others, not so formal. He should believe in helping others. He should believe there is more to life than pleasure and money. He should be willing to respect the opinions of others. And he should want to grow and develop as a human being.
How does a man become a Mason?
Some men are surprised that no one has ever asked them to become a Mason. They may even feel that the Masons in their town don't think they are "good enough" to join. But it doesn't work that way. For hundreds of years, Masons have been forbidden to ask others to join the fraternity. We can talk to friends about Masonry. We can tell them about what Masonry does. We can tell them why we enjoy it. But we can't ask, much less pressure, anyone to join. There's a good reason for that. It isn't that we're trying to be exclusive. But becoming a Mason is a very serious thing. Joining Masonry is making a permanent life commitment to live in certain ways. We've listed most of them above -- to live with honor and integrity, to be willing to share with and care about others, to trust each other, and to place ultimate trust in God. No one should be "talked into" making such a decision. So, when a man decides he wants to be a Mason, he asks a Mason for a petition or application. He fills it out and gives it to the Mason, and that Mason takes it to the local lodge. The Master of the lodge will appoint a committee to visit with the man and his family, find out a little about him and why he wants to be a Mason, tell him and his family about Masonry, and answer their questions. The committee reports to the lodge, and the lodge votes on the petition. If the vote is affirmative -- and it usually is -- the lodge will contact the man to set the date for the Entered Apprentice Degree. When the person has completed all three degrees, he is a Master Mason and a full member of the fraternity.