Whither Are We Traveling - Part Eleven

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

As we finish our exploration of Dwight L. Smith's seminal work, "Whither are We Traveling?", we begin to explore his answers to the ten questions he posed for self-examination of the state of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in 1963.  The questions he asked are as important and relevant now as they were then. This week we look at Question 10: Are there not too many well-meaning Brethren who are working overtime to make Freemasonry something other than Freemasonry?

MWB Smith begins by saying that "Whither Are we traveling?" was his anxious question when he began his exploration of subjects that had disturbed him in recent years. He then recalls the promise that he made at the beginning of his exploration, stating that he: "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 loyalty and devotion that once was ours."

He continues to say that with the above he was serving notice that he would not be aligning himself with anyone who seeks to make Freemasonry over and bring it up-to-date; because he understood that in doing so, it would be out-of-date the next day. 

He then begins section one, proclaiming that in all the land there was weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth as the Masonic Gimmick Manufacturing Company, Unlimited worked overtime to "modernize" Freemasonry and align it with all the other organizations that were competing with it for the attention of what he calls the: "Tribal American".  He then lists the products of the above fictional company that he says Freemasonry is urged to try:
  • Abandon the “free will and accord” rule which has placed our Craft far above the mine run of societies, and permit outright solicitation.
  • Ape the service clubs. Get busy on “projects” galore in the best Babbitt fashion.
  • Go into the organized do-good business in a big way. Find an area of the human body that has not been exploited. Exploit it. Set a quota, have a kickoff dinner, ring the doorbells.
  • Subsidize other organizations right and left, and, in the doing, ignore, neglect and starve the parent body.
  • Feminize the Fraternity. Carry “togetherness” to even more ridiculous extremes than we have already.
  • Hire press agents to tell the world, like Little Jack Horner, what great boys we are. (“Masonry is not getting its proper share of publicity,” complains one Grand Master.) Never mind actions; concentrate on words.
  • Imitate Hollywood. Stage an extravaganza. Bring in all the groups that ever fancied themselves remotely related to Freemasonry. Form the parade, blow the bugle, beat the drums and cheapen the Fraternity.
  • Let Freemasonry “take a position” on public issues of the day. Stand up and be counted (assuming, of course, that the position the Craft takes is in line with our own pet prejudices.)
  • Go all out for materialism. Raise money; spend it. Build temples, institutions.
  • Subsidize; endow. Whatever can be had by writing a check, get it.Centralize, centralize, centralize. Pattern Freemasonry after Washington bureaucracy. Let nothing be done modestly by an individual or a Lodge; do everything on the state or national level the super-duper way. Make a great to-do about local self-government, but accept no local self-responsibility.
MWB Smith then asks: "Why does not someone suggest that we try Freemasonry?"
Going on to state that we haven't been trying it these many years.  He proclaims that we have experimented with just about everything that anyone could imagine, so why not just get back to our roots?

Let me address some of the above. I agree with many of the points above, however, there are a few that I will address that I disagree with Dwight on.  Dwight might be turning over in his grave because of many Grand Lodges that have adopted a program to invite members.  In Illinois, we call it the invitation to petition program.  It has worked with some success for many lodges, while it has not worked for others. In any case, I see nothing wrong with soliciting men that you think would be good Freemasons to join the Fraternity.   They still need to join of their own "Free will and accord".  Investigations (including background checks) still need to be done, and the west gate still needs to be guarded, however, I don't see invitations to petition doing the Craft any more harm than the one-day degree festivals, which are essentially just feeding men to the appendant bodies instead of their own Craft Lodges. 

Dwight might also be upset by the: "Not Just a Man, A Mason" campaign but I still believe that campaign alone has been very successful.  Speak to any Grand Lodge secretary if you don't believe it's having an impact.  Once again, it's still up to the individual lodges to do everything in their power to guard the West Gate, but is having too many potential candidates to interview a real issue?   

The whole idea of feminizing the Fraternity has been written about by me several times.  While I personally have no issue with Co-Ed Masonry, as I have seen a Co-Ed lodge work due to my membership in the OddFellows, I understand why many brothers have an issue with it.   This being said, I do not think that allowing Women to have their own lodges under their own Grand Jurisdictions is hurting anyone, nor do I think that they practice "Irregular" Freemasonry.  I would like nothing more than to have their lodges recognized so that I might visit them and they can visit ours but I understand that is a reality that I might not see in my lifetime.  I do think that using it as a "solution" to cure the ills of Freemasonry is a gimmick, which is a position that I used to think was a viable solution.  While I still have no ill towards them, I do not think that we would see an influx of members in allowing Women to join the Craft.   

Lastly, I think that Freemasonry should "take a position" on some public issues. We have done so in the past. Look no further than our great nation's founding to see how Freemasonry directly impacted the formation of public policy and our government. There was a time not too long ago that Masons were involved in starting public education in several states. I believe that Freemasonry is uniquely qualified to help combat the incivility that is plaguing modern society.  We should be able to stand united against the forces of darkness that plague our modern world and combat the ignorance of the conspiracy theories that Freemasonry is a target of. If we do not stand up against hatred of our members that are minorities due to their religious or ethnic background, are we being true to ourselves as an organization?  I personally believe that Freemasonry should embrace our beliefs and be proud of them. It is an unfortunate problem of modern society that everything is politicized and that even in making a statement in favor of supporting the "inalienable" rights of man, Freemasonry could find itself as a victim of that. 

MWB Smith continues into section two, stating that the greatest need of Freemasonry is a membership that has a better understanding of what Freemasonry is and what it is not. He claims that there are only a few Master Masons that know what Freemasonry is, and even fewer are those that know what Freemasonry is not.  He states that seniority and rank have little relationship to this ignorance and that the number of Masters, Past Masters, and Grand Masters who are ignorant is appalling. 

He then asks what happened, saying that we assume that Freemasonry is a fad of the mid Twentieth century and that we are impatient when Freemasonry does not behave like something that follows a conventional pattern, maintains lobbies, publishes its aims and objectives, conducts drives, and campaigns, try to grab headlines and writes checks to every benevolent society in an effort to have a finger in every pie. He then states that Freemasonry does none of these, and that isn't it strange that Freemasonry has gained a position of honor and prestige when it doesn't behave in a conventional manner. 

He begins section three by asking, "What is this Freemasonry to which I urge our Brethren to return? What are its aims and objectives? What does it do?"

He then answers by saying that the answer is the First Book of Kings, and that even that answer will come as a disappointment.  He then goes on to relate the story of Elijah and how he was in a cave on Mount Horeb convinced that he was the only one of God's children who remained faithful to his trust.  He went forth from the cave and stood upon the mountain due to a command from God.  Elijah then recounted what happened.  From this lesson, MWB Smith says that Freemasonry erects its temples within the hearts of men and that even though we may not understand what we are saying, when we state: “Through the improvement and strengthening of the character of the individual man, Freemasonry seeks to improve the

He then goes on to say that we say to candidates (I'm assuming this is from his home state of Indiana's ritual) that the "Design of the Masonic Institution is to make its votaries wiser, better, and consequently happier".  He remarks that in this statement there is no mention of mass action, pressure groups, resolutions on matters of state policy, no pro or anti discussion, no undertakings to cure the ills of the world by making everyone fit one pattern, no running around like chickens with their heads cut off in search of do-good projects to gain favorable notice, no biting of our nails to compete with the service clubs, and no endless busyness which loses sight of Freemasonry's objective.  Instead, the message of Freemasonry is the same message that Elijah recounted, that the Lord was not found in the wind, earthquakes or fires that he witnessed, but rather in that still small voice.  He then states the purpose of Freemasonry is the same as it was when the stones were hewn, squared, and numbered in the quarries in preparation for King Solomon's Temple.

The purpose of Freemasonry according to MWB Smith is to take an individual-just one man at a time and as good of a man as possible- and try to make a better man out of him. He exclaims how much the world needs that, and if that technique is outmoded then the experience of two thousand years is all wrong.  Smith goes on to say that the mere fact that men do not comprehend the purpose of Freemasonry does not mean that Freemasonry has no purpose, it only means that the stones are not being well-hewn and squared in the quarries where they are raised.  Smith then points out that Freemasonry has not been tried in the balance and found wanting: it has been found difficult and not tried. 

He goes on stating that more than anything else today, the world needs the kind of gentle healing influence in the hearts of men, and the Masonic institution is looked upon with scorn because it does not operate in the standard convention of our times; but that it is prepared to bear witness to the fact that the conventional way of life in the modern age leaves much to be desired, and that it stands upon its own majestic affirmation that the way to change human systems is to change human lives. 

He then goes on to quote Dean Roscoe Pound, who stated: "Freemasonry has more to offer the Twentieth Century than the Twentieth Century has to offer Freemasonry. "  MWB Smith then asks: "Whither, then, are we traveling?"  and says that he has come to the conclusion of his exploration of his faith in the ancient Craft and that it is unshaken, and he is convinced that the solution to Freemasonry's problems is Freemasonry, and then finishes with "Why do we not try it?"

While I agree that Freemasonry tries to be too many things to too many people, I also think that this answer taken on the surface is a cop-out.  I don't know that you can raise so many interesting questions and have so many interesting points regarding Freemasonry and truly believe that Freemasonry (as it is constituted today) is the answer to its own problems.   Instead, what I believe he is trying to say in a somewhat confusing matter is that the problems of Freemasonry will be solved in a return to those traditions that Freemasonry once embraced.  He is issuing a call to action to return to our roots.  To embrace those practices which now have been embraced by the Traditional Observance movement.  I feel that is what he is wanting.  A return to the things that worked, and having Grand Lodges embrace these things before it is too late.  

In the past eleven articles, I have done my best to address this seminal work of Freemasonry through a modern lens.  I feel that like MWB Smith, many of my own issues with the Craft would be solved by the return to the roots of Freemasonry.  The issue of course is getting your particular Masonic Jurisdiction to buy into the idea.  I hope I live to see a day in Illinois where the T.O. concept is allowed to thrive.  Until then, if you agreed with my observances, we must continue to attempt to make changes to our Constitution and By-Laws to allow Freemasonry to become what it once was.  Only together, united, can we make change happen.  It all depends on the type of Freemasonry you want.   I personally won't stop fighting until I get that. 


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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