Masonry Defined: A Liberal Masonic Education: Information Every Mason Should Have compiled by Edgar Raymond Johnston (“Originator of the Questionaire System of Masonic Education”) from the writings of Albert G Mackey and others, the revised and enlarged hardcover from National Masonic Press, circa 1939, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“The average Mason, after taking his degrees in Masonry, immediately asks himself what it all means.
Few Masons have, or will take, the time to make an exhaustive study of Masonry. It is to this class of busy Masons this work will make an especial appeal. We have culled from the writings of many eminent Masonic scholars the ‘meat’ of the subject, and present it in such form that the busy Mason can get what he wants without the necessity of extensive reading or study.
If you have gone into Masonry in the belief that there is really something to it, and you have a desire to be well informed, you will find in these pages a mine of useful information, and will be well repaid for the time spent in looking up any particular subject.
No Mason can acquire in a few days or months, or even years, all there is in Masonry. Two of the most famous Masons America has ever produced—General Albert Pike, 33°, and Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey, 33°—spent their entire lives in Masonic study. Their writings have been preserved, and the busy Mason of today can find the real facts of Masonry within easy reach.
There are thousands of Masons who can repeat the ritual, but who have no conception of what it all means. There is nothing said in the ritual that should seem mysterious. Everything in Masonry has a beautiful meaning if rightly understood, and everything done in the ritual work is meant to teach a distinct moral lesson.
Masonry would die out in five years if it had to depend upon about 85 per cent of the membership. It is the small minority—the really interested Masons—who have kept and are keeping the order alive today. These few men give unselfishly their time and intelligence as officers of the lodges. How long would any lodge last if all the members merely paid their dues, rarely if ever attended lodge, and considered their duty done? Does Masonry mean anything to you, or are you just a ‘member’? Some Masons seem to take pride in saying, ‘Oh, yes, I belong to the order, but have not been in a lodge room in years.’ Of what benefit is Masonry to this man, and what earthly benefit is he to Masonry? Then again, you will hear a Mason say, ‘I have lost interest in Masonry.’ He never had any real interest to lose. All he has lost is his curiosity. If he had been interested he would have learned something about it, and his interest would have increased instead of dying out. The Mason who pays his dues because he is ashamed not to, is simply throwing his money away. He gets no benefit whatever, and his attitude of indifference sets a bad example to the younger Masons, who look to him for inspiration and guidance.
Taking the secret work and learning the ritual does not make a Mason any more than learning its A B C’s makes a child a scholar. It is merely the cornerstone; the building is yet to be erected.
How many Masons understand the beautiful lessons of the third degree? If this lesson were learned and understood and practiced, Masonry would be on a higher plane than it is today. There would be more real Masons and fewer ‘members.’
Too many Masons say, ‘I have not the time to read,’ but they had or took the time to take their degrees and learn the lectures. The same amount of time spent in intelligent study would give them the groundwork for a real knowledge of Masonry; for, if Masonry is worth going into, it is worth knowing something about.” — E R Johnston’s Introduction