Whither Are We Traveling? - Part One

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

On November 28, 2021; I celebrated my Ten Year anniversary of being raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.  Thinking I was being clever, I posted on Social Media a post with the above picture and the caption: "Celebrating my ten year anniversary today...those who know, know".  I received the congratulatory ego stroke that I was most likely looking for when I posted it. However, out of this came an excellent question.  Fellow Midnight Freemason contributor Randy Sanders wrote: "Awesome. What part of you changed in the decade?"  My response was: "Randy Sanders that is an excellent question.  I will just say that I personally believe that I used the common gavel to smooth some of the rough edges of my ashlar.  However, the work in the quarry never ends until I lay down my working tools.

Randy's question made me realize that as much as the past ten years have shaped me, I still have so much more work to do.  As it is said that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, I take the lessons that I've learned (oftentimes the hard way) and use those to help with my decisions in the present which will impact my future.  The future is the only thing we have control over.  We exert that control by the decisions we make here and now.  
The title of my article is an homage to one of the most powerful but probably unknown Masonic writings of the 20th century.  "Whither Are We Traveling?" was written in 1963 by Dwight L. Smith who was the Past Grand Master and then the current Grand Secretary of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Indiana Free and Accepted Masons. It is his self-examination of North American Freemasonry.  It is just as valid now in 2021 as it was in 1963.  Also, it is saddening as it is almost 60 years old now and many of the problems he addresses have not been solved in that time.  

MWB Smith begins his work with this: "The Wailing Wall is crowded these days. Masonic leaders, great and small, are lined up, each awaiting his turn to lift his voice in lamentation. The figures show a falling off of membership. Attendance at Lodge meetings is not what it used to be. The thing to do is to adopt this project or that gimmick, and then all will be well. As might be expected, the projects and gimmicks are about as impossible as they are ridiculous."  Sounds familiar right?  Remember, this was written in 1963.  

He continues with what he calls a faulty diagnosis of Freemasonry. 
"At the outset, I may as well precipitate an argument by disposing of the old favorites:

One: Whatever attendance troubles our Lodges may be having are not caused by
television, nor the automobile, nor by bowling, nor togetherness, nor any of the other “busyness” in which our restless society is engaged. A multitude of activities may contribute to a decline in Lodge attendance, but they do not constitute the cause. When we complain of lack of attendance, what we really are saying is that interest is at a low ebb, for in any organization, if there is interest, there will be attendance. No amount of television or bowling or endless “busyness” can usurp the position of eminence a Lodge of Freemasons occupies in a man’s loyalty if the Lodge is in a position to command his loyalty.

The ailment isn’t quite that simple. We are looking at the symptoms – not the disease. The real source of the trouble is within ourselves. 

Two: Such problems as we may have will not be solved by forcing men to memorize a set of questions and answers, nor by cramming books and lectures down their throats, nor by any Big Brother Plan, nor by devoting our energies and resources to other organizations or movements, however worthy they may be.
The cure isn’t that simple, either. The patient’s indisposition will not be relieved by
nostrums. The treatment, too, must come from within."

Dwight offers three basic premises for the current woes we face in Freemasonry. 

"First: The history of Freemasonry is one of ups and downs. If this brief period is one of the “downs,” it is nothing compared to some of the crises through which our Fraternity has passed.

Second: In our membership decline, we again see history repeating itself. It simply is a case of our sins catching up with us. We had a decade in which there was a membership influx that was both unhealthy and unhappy. We ran a production line; we counted new members by the hundreds of thousands; but we could count new Masons only by the score. Now comes the payoff.

Third: Whatever is wrong with Lodge attendance in 1962 was wrong 25 years ago when I was Master of my Lodge. I doubt seriously whether Lodge attendance ever has been “what it used to be.” I had to work by head off to sustain interest in 1937."

Once again, the above sounds familiar doesn't it? 

He comes to this conclusion: "We have only to look at ourselves to discover the cause for whatever unhappy days have come upon us. Our troubles are of our own making. Such corrective measures as we take must go beyond the surface; they must go to the roots of the problem or be of no avail."  

After the above conclusion, he begins his self-examination of the conditions that are causing the problem as he sees it.  He gives ten points which I have quoted below:  

"1. Let’s face it! Can we expect Freemasonry to retain its past glory and
prestige unless the level of leadership is raised above its present position? On
many an occasion in the past 14 years, Masters and Secretaries have come into
my office to ask my advice on what to do about lagging interest. Again and again
I have said, “There is nothing wrong with your Lodge, nor with Freemasonry,
that good leadership will not cure.” I believe that.

2. How well are we guarding the West Gate? Again, let’s face it. We are
permitting too many to pass who can pay the fee and little else. On every hand I
hear the same whispered complaint, “We used to be getting petitions for the
degrees from the good, substantial leaders in the community. Now we are
getting. . . .” Just what it is they are getting, you know as well as I.

3. Has Freemasonry become too easy to obtain? Fees for the degrees are
ridiculously low; annual dues are far too low. Everything is geared to speed—
getting through as fast as possible and on to something else. The Lodge demands
little and gets little. It expects loyalty but does almost nothing to put a claim on a
man’s loyalty. When we ourselves place a cheap value on Masonic membership,
how can we expect petitioners and new members to prize it?

4. Are we not worshiping at the altar of bigness? Look it in the face: too few
Lodges, with those Lodges we do have much too large. Instead of devoting our
thoughts and energies to ways whereby a new Master Mason may find a sphere of
activity within his Lodge, we let him get lost in the shuffle. Then we nag and
harangue at him because he does not come to meetings to wander around with
nothing to do. We are hard at work to make each Lodge so large that it becomes
an impersonal aggregation of strangers – a closed corporation.

5. What can we expect when we have permitted Freemasonry to become
subdivided into a score of organizations? Look at it. Each organization
dependent upon the parent body for its existence, yet each jockeying for a
position of supremacy, and each claiming to be the Pinnacle to which any
Master Mason may aspire. We have spread ourselves thin, and Ancient Craft
Masonry is the loser. Downgraded, the Symbolic Lodge is used only as a
springboard. A shortsighted Craft we have been to create in our Fraternity a
condition wherein the tail can, and may wag the dog.

6. Has the American passion for bigness and efficiency dulled the spirit of
Masonic charity? The “Box of Fraternal Assistance” which once occupied the
central position in every Lodge room has been replaced by an annual per capita
tax. That benevolence which for ages was one of the sweetest by-products of the
teaching of our gentle Craft has, I fear, ceased to be a gift from the heart and has
become the writing of a check. And unless the personal element is there, clarity
becomes as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

7. Do we pay enough attention to the Festive Board? Should any reader have to
ask what the Festive Board is, that in itself will serve to show how far we have
strayed from the traditional path of Freemasonry. Certainly the Festive Board is
not the wolfing of ham sandwiches, pie and coffee at the conclusion of a degree.
It is the Hour of Refreshment in all its beauty and dignity; an occasion for
inspiration and fellowship; a time when the noble old traditions of the Craft are

8. What has become of that “course of moral instruction, veiled in allegory and
illustrated by symbols,” that Freemasonry is supposed to be? If it is a course
of instruction, then there should be teachers, and if ours is a progressive science,
then the teaching of a Master Mason should not end when he is raised. I am not
talking about dry, professorial lectures or sermons – heavens no! That is the kind
of thing that makes Masonic education an anathema. Where are the parables and
allegories? Alas, they have descended into booklets and stunts. No wonder
interest is so hard to sustain.

9. Hasn’t the so-called Century of the Common Man contributed to making
our Fraternity a little too common? We can not expect to retain the prestige
the Craft has enjoyed in the past if we continue without challenge to permit the
standards of the picnic ground, the bowling alley, the private club and the golf
links to be brought into the Lodge hall. Whether we like it or not, a general
lowering of standards has left its mark on every Lodge in Indiana, large and

10. Are there not too many well-meaning Brethren who are working overtime to
make Freemasonry something other than Freemasonry? It was an unhappy
day when some eager beaver conceived the idea that our Craft should adopt the
methods of the service club, or the luncheon group, or the civic league, or the
Playboy outfit. Whoever the eager beaver was, he lost sight of the fact that one of
the reasons our Fraternity is prized so highly is that it does not operate like other

Dwight L. Smith then finishes with this: 
"Well, that should be enough for one dose. The following pages elaborate on the ten points enumerated above. Let me give you fair warning. In the following essays I shall call a spade a spade. Some of my readers are not going to like it. But what I have to say I believe our Craft needs to hear, and it is only for the “good of the Order” that it is said.

I shall propose no bright new ideas – not one. All I am going to advocate is that
Freemasonry remain Freemasonry; and if we have strayed from the traditional path, we had better be moving back to the main line while there is yet time to restore the prestige and respect, the interest and loyalty and devotion that once was ours."

It is my goal in the next few articles to highlight these ten points that MWB Smith elaborates on and to offer my own perspectives on his words.  Like him, I do not intend to pull any punches.  You'll either agree or disagree with him, me, or both of us. I don't agree with some of his arguments as you will see, however, I do believe that his work is a blueprint for Ancient Craft Freemasonry to follow which is still applicable today.  For those of you who like what you've read so far, you can read it here:


WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com. 

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