Masonry tries to build a better world by making “better men out of good men,” by strengthening their character, improving their moral and spiritual outlook and broadening their mental horizons. It teaches men 1] principles of personal responsibility and righteousness; 2] an understanding of Freemasonry’s character; and 3] how to put these lessons into practice in daily life. In short, Freemasons believe in universal peace made possible by teaching its doctrine through the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God.
In 17th and 18th century England, Masons defined their fraternity as “a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Today we might define it as “an organized society of men who symbolically apply the principles of operative masonry and architecture to the science and art of character building.” What Freemasonry teaches is not at all secret. It teaches its members to be better men. However, based upon tradition, Freemasonry teaches through ritual — some of which is secret.
Medieval stonemasons were highly skilled craftsmen who were urgently needed at the various building projects in different countries. Therefore, the church and state gave them the unheard-of privilege of traveling freely from project to project.
Masonic scholars are not sure of the exact time at which our Craft (the Masonic fraternity) came into being and many theories have been advanced through the years. One of the more plausible is that modern Freemasonry came from the “lodges” which traveling stonemasons formed at building sites in Europe during the Middle Ages. They established the apprentice-to-journeyman-to-master system of educating men in their craft. The also kept secret their methods of building and used passwords and other means to identify themselves to each other as masons. In addition, they gave apprentices and journeymen moral instruction.
With the growth of cities, the Renaissance, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and a decline in the demand for great building projects, the special privileges of stonemasons as traveling craftsmen disappeared. As a result, they began to take in non-masons as patrons. In the 17th century, this led large numbers of “speculative” or non-working masons to become members of the stonemasons “lodges.” By the end of that century, Masonic lodges were almost wholly speculative, made up of Masons who never touched a chisel to stone.
These new Freemasons kept the old traditions. Today, we still begin new members as Entered Apprentices, the as Fellowcrafts (journeymen) and finally Master Masons. We preserve some of the original secrecy of how we teach friendship, morality, brotherly love, relief and truth. And, we still utilize the old passwords and signs.
The structure of modern Freemasonry as we know it today started with the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717. Other Grand Lodges took their charters from this and other early Grand Lodges. Today, there are Grand Lodges in most countries of the world and in each of the United States.
During the mid-18th century, the Grand Lodge of England began to introduce innovations in their ritual that alienated many members. A schism was created, splitting the Craft into two Grand Lodges. The original was labeled the “Moderns” and those who supported the traditional ritual were called the “Ancients.” After a great deal of effort and compromise, a merger of the two factions was brought about in 1813. However, we still see the effects of the schism today in the variations of the initials “A.F.& A.M.” Some Grand Lodges, such as here in Illinois, are titled A.F.& A.M.(Ancient Free & Accepted Masons). Other Grand Lodges use F.& A.M. (Free & Accepted Masons). However, all Grand Lodges work toward the same end.
Not at all. We make no secret of our existence. Our Masonic temples are publicly marked; we often advertise or announce, in advance, the times and locations of our meetings. Our ritual books are copyrighted, so the Library of Congress holds copies of them, and since they are thus already public, you will find them in book stores and public libraries everywhere. Masons usually wear Masonic rings and lapel pins in public, and often appear in parades wearing their Masonic regalia. Here in Illinois, many Masons now drive vehicles bearing license plates with the Masonic emblem on them and the proceeds from the extra cost of these license plates helps to support the fraternity’s efforts prevent drug and alcohol abuse by children. To summarize: what we teach is not a secret, but how we teach it is. In addition, we try to keep secret our modes of recognition and our obligation for the sake of tradition.
No! Masonry is not a religion, nor is it designed or intended to replace (or substitute for) religion in its members’ lives. We do not require that members belong to a church, but they may belong to any church they wish. We do ask, however, that each prospective member state that he believes in a Supreme Being. Masonry seeks only to unite men for the purpose of brotherhood, not religion.
Since we require that each prospective member profess belief in a Supreme Deity, which atheists refuse to do, no atheist can become a member of the Masonic fraternity.
Masonry takes no account of a man’s political beliefs. In fact, only two subjects are banned from discussion in a lodge: religion and politics. Masonry only requires that each member support his country’s government and obey its laws. In other words, members should be good citizens and perform their civic duties. In fact, honorable civic service is one of our teachings, although a Mason running for public office should not take advantage of his Masonic affiliation by mentioning it in his campaign speeches or advertising.
Freemasonry is more than just a fraternal or social organization. Our fraternity is based on friendship and brotherly love, so we make many worthwhile contributions to society. Nationwide, Masons contribute more than a million dollars a day to charity.
Here in Illinois, we care for Masons and their widows in our Masonic Home in Sullivan. Children in need are cared for at our Children’s Home in LaGrange, which is supported by Illinois Masons. Shriners Hospitals (all Shriners must belong to the Masonic fraternity) for burned and crippled children are constantly called upon for services to the unfortunate who might otherwise suffer for a lifetime. And addressing a critical issue that faces society today, Illinois Masonry has established its Foundation for the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Children, which trains educators in intervention and support procedures to arrest this problem in our schools and among our youth. We fund academic programs in schools and work with and support a multitude of youth organizations in communities throughout the state of Illinois.