Have we ever heard someone answer this question with a "No."? I haven't. And I bet you haven't either. For many of us, the question doesn't even seem to be relevant. It's just one of those antiquated pieces of ritual, which may have meant something in the past but is no longer truly applicable to the world of the 21st century.
Let's ask ourselves what the question really means. Did we come to Freemasonry through our own drive? Our own want? Did we have our own inklings about this ancient Craft that just wouldn't leave us alone until we contacted a Masonic Lodge, or perhaps a Grand Lodge? Or, were we told about Freemasonry? Were we urged to join?
Think about a concept such as the "Masonic Lewis." This term is defined in the following manner: "A "lewis" is a Freemason's son, who has not yet been initiated into Freemasonry." It is supposed that such a person, a son of a Freemason who is yet to be initiated, possesses all of the requisite qualifications to become a Freemason. But was he influenced? Where do we draw the line on free will and accord?
One of my friends, Brother Drew, has regaled me with the following tale more than once.
"You see, Robert, I had been going to Masonic meetings since I was five years old. When I turned 18, my father and both my uncles approached me while I was sitting at the kitchen table. They pushed an application in front of me. It was all filled out. They said, "Just sign your name, son." So I've often asked myself, did I join of my own free will and accord?"So my Brothers, what do you think? There are many concepts within our lives that are more "holistic" in nature then things that are supposed to be taken literally. I'm often reminded of the "spirit of the law versus the letter of the law." Is "free will and accord" one of them?
We often take so many elements from our ritual as literalism. To be "freeborn,"--that is, not born into indentured slavery. "Of good report"-- to have a reputation of goodwill that precedes you. Or perhaps even a clear background check in the 21st century. To be "well recommended"— that your peers put their reputations at stake in their recommending you for the great honor of becoming a Freemason.
"Have committees forgotten to report whether these have sufficient education and intelligence to understand and value the doctrines and tenets of Freemasonry? Was it demanded of them if they came unbiased by improper solicitation and un-influenced by mercenary motives? When they answer the inquiry, did they know that truth is a divine attribute in the foundation of every virtue? Has not bitter experience yet taught us that it is better than no workmen be added to the role than ever one unworthy foot allowed to cross the threshold?"The above quote comes from a book called The Master's Lectures, which was published by Evans Lodge of Evanston, Illinois. It is a collection of essays that are truly remarkable. I chose the above quote because it touched on the idea of who we let into this fraternity. It also touches on the issue of our investigation committees, and that they aren't going far enough. The previous page to this quote above has another quote which can be directly attributed not to the investigation committee's failures, but to the individuals to whom they investigate—our potential members.
"The results of our failure in this respect are manifest first we have what may be called Masonic illiteracy. There are a great many who have received our degrees who have no clear idea as to what a Freemason actually is. Surely Masonry either stands for something definite--or it does not. If it does mean anything distinctive, then every member of the Lodge should have a clear idea on the subject."So why is free will and accord so important when considering joining Freemasonry? Can it be said that those who do not join of their own free will and accord, those who join because of influence or bias from friends and family, might never actually have an organic passion for Freemasonry? Do we want people in our fraternity who have no passion for it?
"Trooping through the doors of our preparation rooms we find an ever-increasing company composed of those from whose faces are missing the stamp of high intelligence, in whose eyes the torch of education has lighted no fires, and whose halting steps are led by friendly suggestion or quickened by the hope of gain."The above quote also comes from the same book. Pay attention to that last sentence in the quote. "… whose halting steps are led by friendly suggestion…" Does this not speak of a person who joins not of his own free will and accord?
There are a great many members within our fraternity who have joined because their fathers, uncles, mothers, or some other familial connection had a tie to Freemasonry. It's impossible to say whether or not the members who join this way have more passion or have less passion. That they should be here, or should not. That they answered the question of their own free will and accord correctly, or not.
I still wonder, however, what state our fraternity would be in today if we only let those in who asked? We always hear tales of our older members, and how their family members never talked about Freemasonry.
Perhaps, Freemasonry should be found by minds ready to see it. What about ad campaigns? What about the fraternity's larger efforts to appeal to the modern man, through the "Not Just Man" campaign? Let's think even smaller. Signs on your building. Lodges with Facebook pages and websites. Instagram feeds and blogs like this one on Freemasonry. Surely they help men find Freemasonry, but I'm still left wondering if Freemasonry would be better if it's members and existence were more like legends.
Imagine a world that exists where becoming a Freemason is like a dream. In communities, it's revered, somewhat secretive, but everybody knows that the Freemasons are here and that they have an invisible hand in uplifting the community and ensuring liberty and equality for everyone.
Imagine walking down the street, and your best friend points to a building with no markings and says, "I think the Freemasons meet in there." Imagine that world where our deeds go noticed but with plausible deniability at every turn. A world where you join because you really want to, not because somebody mentioned it, or you saw an ad or your best friend asks you to go to a festive board.
"But what about all those men who joined because of the aforementioned efforts?" I just don't have an answer for that. Perhaps Freemasonry would've taken a different trajectory. What those trajectories are, is probably not a prudent subject to get into here. But if you're smart, I think you know what they are.
Perhaps, you have an answer already. But if not, ponder on my Brothers and Sisters. The truth lies in our contemplation.
RWB Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.