First, Masonry is not a secret society. Its members do not hide the fact of membership. Its Temples or Lodges are well known to the public, and most Masonic organizations take pride in the appearance of their buildings, making their identity known to all by the Square and Compass emblem on the outside. Throughout the centuries of its existence, Masonry has taken pride in proclaiming itself to the world. The ancient Masons who built the old cathedrals of Europe put their Masonic marks upon the stones of those edifices. The modern Mason proudly wears Masonic emblems, letting the world know that he is a member of the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons.
In the past two centuries some of the brightest stars in the firmament of history were members of our Fraternity, and the story of our great American Republic was written largely by patriots who were members of the Craft.
Freemasons in America
George Washington was the first President and first of 15 Masons to serve in that high office. Thirty-one of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 23 of the 39 signers of the Constitution, more than 33 of the Justices of the Supreme Court, and many others comprise the Masonic Roll of Honor. Lafayette and James Monroe both visited Washington's Mother-Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and this Lodge furnished five other men who became generals in the army with Washington.
General MacArthur said: "Masonry embraces the highest moral laws and will bear the test of any system of ethics or philosophy ever promulgated for the uplift of man. Its requirements are the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong. Inculcating doctrines of patriotism and brotherly love, enjoying sentiments of exalted benevolence, encouraging all that is good, kind, and charitable, reprobating all that is cruel and oppressive, its observance will uplift anyone under its influence."
Masonry: Morality and a Way of Life
Second, Masonry has many definitions, all explanatory of its nature. We shall use this: it is a system of morality and a way of life, based on the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Don't be misled by this definition into thinking that Masonry is a religion. It is not a religion and does not offer a plan of personal salvation. Therefore, Masonry cannot take the place of the church. It never has and never will. Yet, it is true and axiomatic that if a Mason practices the lessons taught him, he will be a better man in all respects: a better church member, a better father, a better husband, a better citizen, and a better neighbor.
It is strange, and yet a commentary on human nature, that Masonry has been accused by some detractors as being atheistic; at the same time, others accuse it of being a religion. The first charge evolves from the fact that Masonry teaches religious liberty, will not give preference to any specific religious denomination, and refuses to interfere with a Mason's religious duties. The second charge, that of being a religion, is equally ridiculous. It is true, however, that we often call our buildings "Temples" or "Masonic Temples." It is true that all regular Lodges have altars upon which the Holy Bible is displayed. In countries where the members are not Christians or Jews, the appropriate "Book of the Law" is displayed. It is also a fact that Masonic meetings are always opened and closed with prayer. However, Masonry is not a religion, and any member who states otherwise is mistaken. The presence of the Bible in the courtroom or the offering of prayer at any public gathering does not make churches of those places. There is only one religious test for a man to become a Mason: he must believe in a Supreme Being.
Living a Certain Kind of Life
Some critics say that the Masonic Lodge should be open to all if it is so beneficial to mankind. We reply by saying that all of the great lessons of truth and morality upon which Masonry is founded, are to be found within the pages of Holy Writ. There are actually very few secrets in Masonry, and they allude to the ritual of initiation and the modes of recognition. The mere possession of such secrets by the non-Mason would not make him a Mason or a better person, for there is no magic in Freemasonry. In order for anyone to be a true Mason, he must live as such. There are several Masonic ceremonies which are usually open to the public, and they reveal much of Freemasonry. The "Burial or Memorial Service", and the "Installation of Officers" tell the non-Masons much of what the fraternity teaches. At times there are other public ceremonies, such as "Laying Foundation Stones of Public Structures", which are impressive and instructive. So, if the non-Mason wishes to learn the principles of Masonry, let him study the eternal truths of the Holy Bible and attend those public ceremonies open to all.
Contributions to Charity & Education
Another way to inform you of the meaning of Masonry is to tell you something of its benevolence, because no worthy organization can long exist unless it does something for others. Masons are builders of society and they must be at work in order to justify their existence.
One noted Masonic authority said that the Masonic Fraternity, including all of its affiliated bodies, has "contributed more time, money, and effort to the relief of the poor and distressed than any group of men in the history of mankind." Each Masonic body, whether local, regional, or national is predicated on the fact that its members must first be Master Masons.
The low dues in a local Lodge do not permit it to engage in much charity, but it contributes its part to the Grand Lodge which dispenses great benevolence. The Grand Lodge of Tennessee contributes over $250,000 per year for the care of destitute Masons, their widows and their orphans.
The York Rite of Freemasonry through the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of United States operates an Educational Loan Foundation and an Eye Foundation, with each state operating as a separate division of the national program. The Grand Commandery of Tennessee actively participates in both of these programs, and substantial amounts are loaned to worthy students each year on liberal repayment terms.
The Eye Foundation is a charity program for the benefit of those who need treatment or surgery to improve vision.
The Scottish Rite is contributing large sums of money in benevolent work, chiefly in the field of education. The Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite founded the George Washington University's School of Government with a grant of $1 million, and continues to support Fellowships for the Master's Degree in government service. The Northern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite provides scholarships and financial aid to students, with proven ability and financial need being the only tests; moreover, a major emphasis is placed on Schizophrenia Research with several million having been spent on this program.