is ignorance in masonry a crime?
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
He fully realizes that
"The wise are happy, nature to explore; The fool is happy that he knows no
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. 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 popplarity 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 all over the
world, the different Masonic events that are celebrated by addresses, orations,
poems, &c., all furnish a rich current literature of Freemasonry.
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 thousand
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 his best
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