is ignorance in masonry a crime?
by John Edwin Mason, M.D.
NATIONAL FREEMASON - 1872
All Masons naturally seek for "more light." If they love the principles of
Freemasonry, they cherish a desire to learn more of the history and literature
of such a noble Order, and become acquainted with the law, usages, and
jurisprudence governing Freemasonry at the present day.
They desire to give information to their less informed brethren, who have just
been obligated on its holy altars.
As "education makes the man," so it also makes the Mason. The obligation taken
on the holy altar does not virtually make a man a Mason. The Masonic world
acknowledges him as such, but if he has no knowledge of Masonry, and does not
seek to obtain any, he is simply a fraud upon the Craft, and has no rights
that Masons are bound to respect. He is a living monument of the folly, so
common at the present day, of making Masons of all applicants, without
regarding their mental qualifications. A wide distinction should be made
between candidates for Masonry and the idiotic asylum.
Mr. Pointless makes application to be made a Mason, because he finds that
Masonry is very popular, and he thinks he will be able to sell more cabbages
in the market. A correct prognosis would make very little difference between
his head and the cabbage heads he sells in the market. Both are harmless
specimens of verdancy, unequalled in the vegetable kingdom.
Mr. Pointless never had an idea above an oyster in all his life. Two distinct
ideas never crept into that head at the same time, because it would cause an
explosion. The boiler would burst, like any other boiler. It was a wise
provision of nature that such boilers should burst.
He fully realizes that "The wise are happy, nature to explore; The fool is
happy that he knows no more." The committee call upon Mr. Pointless, and find
him an honest, truthful, upright man, with no bad habits, and an exemplary
member of Rev. Mr. Blowhard's church. The committee make a favorable report,
and Mr. Pointless is made a Mason in due and ancient form.
No one could measure his appreciation of the degrees by the quart or gallon.
As years roll by, his knowledge of Masonry is just about the same as that he
possesses of the differential calculus, of Socrates, or Hippocrates. He cannot
be stimulated to learn anything, because he invariably says he "has no larnin'."
He dies in good standing, without ever having been able to prove himself a
Mason, or even give the passwords.
The question arises, when Mr. Pointless dies, did Masonry make him a better
man, or make him serve his fellow-men as the Bible teaches? All must reply in
the negative. Mr. Pointless did not profit by the valuable lessons taught in
Masonry, because he knew nothing about them, and was too ignorant to learn
them. But can he be blamed for his ignorance? Most assuredly; for in this
country schools are free, and education flows like the mountain streamlet, and
he who refuses to drink at its fountain is a criminal.
The ignorance of such a man casts a stain upon Masonry. No such person can be
considered a worthy candidate. His life was not only a blank to Masonry, but
an actual disgrace. The dangerous classes are always ignorant men. Mobs and
riots originate among these classes. Ignorant men are dangerous to Masonry.
They must be kept out. In the dark days of anti-masonry, it was the ignorant
men in the Craft who rose up and took the life of our beloved Order. If dark
days come again, the same class will do the same thing. We can only judge the
future by the past. Anti- masonic conventions have been held the past year in
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Syracuse, New York; Worcester, Massachusetts; and in
various other places. The cloud is now no larger than a man's hand, but it may
increase, until it bursts into a storm that will sweep all before; it, as it
did forty years ago. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
There are too many drones in the Masonic hive, whose negligence is only
surpassed by their ignorance. They have passed through all the degrees,
but never visit their Lodges, Chapters, Councils, or Commandereries (Preceptory).
They howl once a year, when they pay their dues to the secretary, otherwise
they do not disturb the harmony of the Craft. As they joined Masonry in order
to benefit themselves, they never give a dollar for charity. They look upon
Masonry as a popular Order, but should a storm arise and its popularity be
shaken, these men would be the first to leave the ship. Then they would
declare that they never had a good opinion of it. Such hypocrites are always
ignorant men, and their ignorance is a crime in Masonry.
We have also a class of sincere and enthusiastic Masons, who are not ignorant
in one sense, yet they are in another. They have committed to memory the
ritual, so they can confer almost any degree, and yet they know so little of
the history, literature, and jurisprudence of Masonry, that any profane would
make them blush for shame if he asked them very common questions. Their
senseless gabble over the ritual makes the Craft call them "Parrot Masons,"
because they learn Masonry as the parrot learns a language. Darwin would say
that their origin could be traced back to a parrot. With contracted and narrow
ideas about Masonry, they oppose the publication of anything on Masonry in
newspapers or periodicals, and have a cold chill whenever they see a word in
print about Masonry. They have an idea that Masonry is something like a black
coal-hole, in which no light should enter. They foster ignorance, by opposing
everybody in the Order whose ideas are not as narrow as their own. They oppose
Masonic books and papers, because they educate Masons to know more than they
ever hope to possess. All their long lives they have been
"Dropping buckets into empty wells, And growing old in drawing nothing up."
Some of the most ignorant even go so far as to oppose the calling of Masonic
meetings through the daily newspapers, or the simple announcements what
degrees would be worked. They can give no reason for such foolish and
ridiculous assurances, and only refer to the fact, that King Solomon did not
publish such notices, as no newspapers then existed! If they followed King
Solomon in other things as closely as in this, they would each possess more
wives than Brigham Young. Would that be Masonic also?
"Where ignorance is bliss 'Tis
folly to be wise."
All the above-named classes need
-more light," in accordance with the strict meaning of that term in Masonry.
This light is simply more knowledge. The great question to meet now, face to
face, is how this Masonic information can be imparted. It is, perhaps, the
most important question now discussed by learned Masons all over the world.
A diagnosis of this disease in Masonry has been made, the prognosis given, and
now the remedy must be applied. There is a specific that stands ready to cure
ignorance in any form, no matter how virulent. It is reading, study, and
thinking. If Masons will only do their own thinking, and not hire it, done by
the job, there will be a radical change. If they will study Masonry as a
science, they will glean rich gems from her precious mines. If they will read
the history and literature of Masonry, they will be astonished to find so rich
a harvest. Well-informed Masons often say that Masonry has no literature. The
proceedings of Grand Lodges, Chapters, Councils, and Commanderies (Preceptory)
all over the world, the different Masonic events that are celebrated by
addresses, orations, poems, &c., all furnish a rich current literature of
The reports on foreign correspondence, in all the Grand Bodies in the United
States, compare favorably with our best magazine literature. Here is a rich
field, in which to gather information, and to obtain all the Masonic news in
every State. And yet how few Masons carefully peruse them! The writer reads
annually over three thousand pages of proceedings of Grand Bodies, and two
thousand pages of Masonic addresses, poems, and newly- published books on
Masonry, and yet feels ashamed that he only has time to read these five
The other sources of Masonic information are all good, but cannot compare with
a monthly magazine. This is unquestionably the best. Such varied information
is obtained, that any Mason who takes a monthly or weekly Masonic publication,
and reads it carefully, is generally the best educated on all Masonic
subjects, and knows also what is being done by his fraters abroad. He finds
answers to all the questions that naturally occur to an inquiring mind, and
finds it is his best Masonic companion.