Three Five Seven – # 219

Three, five, and seven
3 5 7
By Stan Shapiro MD, Grand Lodge Education Officer G.L. of MN

“The secret of Masonry, like the secret of life, can be known only by those who seek it. It is, in fact, an open secret, and each man knows it according to his quest and capacity. Like all things worth knowing, no one can know it for another and no man can know it alone.” –Dr. Joseph Fort Newton

The following is one of several responses to WB Ron Parker’s article on how to respond to the question “doesn’t everyone know that the Masons are a secret society?” which was published in the most recent T.F.S.(#218). This response was written by WB Gerald A. Edgar, who lives in Iowa, is a member of the Minnesota Grand Lodge Writers Guild and a member of the Mosaic #125 AF&AM @ Dubuque, IA.

I would respectfully disagree with Bro. Parker on several points.

One, there are THREE major qualifications for becoming a Mason & the most important was inadvertently omitted: being of good moral character.

Two, as to the statement that “it would take much more than a college education – and even that would be insufficient” to respond to a ‘secrecy query’ is simply untrue. Indeed it literally means virtually all Masons (and non-Masons!) are unqualified to respond to such questions. That type of response plays into the hands of those anti-Masons who believe ‘only advanced Masons; i.e. 33rd Degree “know” the real secrets & purposes of Masonry’. Anyone with a modicum of sense, Mason or non-Mason, can intelligently respond to the query “is Masonry a secret society?”.

Lastly, “changing the subject” just reinforces the questioner’s belief that we are indeed a “secret society”, avoiding questions, being evasive. etc.

Here is how I would propose we respond to those who ask “doesn’t everyone know that the Masons are a secret society?”

Life is series of questions, asked or implied. Our responses are predicated on two factors: do we truly understand the question and secondly, what is the questioner’s motivation? Those of you who have been competitive debaters in high school or college know there also has to be a definition of terms so we will be speaking a common language. My generation understood a virus to be the flu, not malware in my computer. ‘Soda’ in the northeastern United States means what ‘pop’ does in the Midwest.

Assuming the questioner is truly seeking knowledge and not seeking a verbal altercation (more on that later), I would commence with the definition of ‘secret’ as it relates to any entity. “So Jim, you want to know if I think Masonry is a secret society.” (repeating & rephrasing a question helps assure mutual understanding; the proverbial apples & apples) “I’ll be happy to answer Jim but let’s agree on what you mean by a ‘secret society’, ok?” “Webster’s states a ‘secret society’ in its original definition is an organization which hides its very existence much less its purpose, places of meeting, membership, etc. In some current usage it is also used to mean any organization, typically fraternal and benevolent in nature that uses confidential modes of recognition and/or initiation.

“The fact that you asked me Jim as to whether Masonry is a ‘secret society’ implies it is not secret in the old sense of a ‘secret society’ as my membership is obviously well known and YOU obviously know of Masonry’s existence! Similarly the location of our local lodge hall is obvious given its well marked location downtown, our signs on the highway entrances to our city and news items often published in the local paper”. “As to whether we have any secrets, probably very little more than many so-called public groups. Our local school board, city council and county Board of Supervisors often go into ‘closed session’, Grand Juries are held in private, the trade secrets and closed board meetings of our major employers and even the little family gatherings each of us have over our dinner tables are not subject to public scrutiny nor are contract negotiations. Yes, Masons have means of assuring each other of their membership, beyond the lapel pins, rings and watches many of us wear publicly just as you & I have special code words for our kids to use to avoid a ‘stranger danger’ situation in an emergency. Initiations also have a private content but that is to enrich the experience. Oaths are taken but they are little different in many respects than ones any may take when marrying, entering the Armed Forces, giving testimony in a trial or joining such groups as Boy Scouts’ ‘Order of the Arrow’.”

“Of course any group or individual can proclaim all sorts of things, good or bad but we usually form a good opinion by looking at who the members are. If you have a source that says Masonry is evil or is a plot by certain hidden people consider the source and then compare it the very lengthy list of prominent Americans as well as famous men world-wide who are Masons. Does your source consider George Washington, John Paul Jones, Davy Crockett, Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Simon Bolivar & Gerald Ford* to have been evil? How about Adolph Hitler, Mussolini & Stalin – they outlawed Masonry because of its philosophy of service & freedom. I guess I know which side I want to be on Jim, in fact I made that choice!”

*(throw in a name or two especially relevant to the questioner: if you know Roy Rogers is their hero, they enjoy Ringling Brother’s Circus, listen to Irving Berlin, Sousa or Duke Ellington, throw in their names; if sports fans use Johnny Bench, Scottie Pippen, Arnie Palmer or Alonzo Stagg. If a strong conservative or liberal, I’d mention Humphrey & McGovern or Goldwater & Helms. Do they like comedy; if so mention Oliver Hardy & Don Rickles? If a Veteran toss in the many Masonic war heroes, if a union member mention famous Masonic labor leaders or if a religious person the many prominent Masonic clergy & laypeople, etc. None of us are fond of criticizing our own “heroes” so turn the table on the questioner. I always find the “Duke” to be an ace in the hole; I’ve yet to meet a Masonic critic who did not retreat when faced with the fact that John Wayne was an active DeMolay, Mason & Shriner!)

Now for the questioner who has an obvious agenda & is not purely curious about Masonry. If asked if I agreed that Masonry was evil ‘like everyone else says”, I’d simply reply “Jim, have you stopped beating your wife?” (Or “Suzy, have you stopped cheating on your husband?” as the case may be). This of course is the old debater’s trick; the predetermined answer; an assumption of guilt. Then I’d probably quickly walk off with a big smile and enjoy the day.

One man’s opinion…

Gerald A. Edgar
Mosaic #125 AF&AM @ Dubuque, IA

Words To Live By: “The real secrets of Masonry are never told, not even from mouth to ear. For the real secret of Masonry is spoken to your heart and from it to the heart of your brother. Never the language made for tongue may speak it, it is uttered only in the eye in those manifestations of that love which a man has for his friend, which passeth all other loves.”– South Dakota Masonic Messenger, Feb. 1975
Extracted from the Southern California Research Lodge
‘Fraternal Review’, May 2004

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