The Wisdom of MWB Dwight L Smith

In February 1963, Past Grand Master of Indiana Dwight L. Smith published an essay entitled Whither Are We Traveling?

He begins by declaring there is no shortage of Masonic leaders complaining of lodge membership falling off or poor attendance at lodge meetings. He also points out that little has been offered to solve these problems besides “sales talk” and “pet schemes.”

He then offered three basic premises to consider:

    1. He said the history of Freemasonry is one of ups and downs, and this brief period is one of the “downs.”
    2. The membership decline is history repeating itself; in his opinion, it is “our sins catching up with us.” He pointed out we made new members [emphasis added] by the hundreds of thousands but could count new Masons [emphasis added] in very few numbers.
    3. He said whatever was wrong with lodge attendance in 1962 was wrong 25 years ago.

MWB Smith declares that Freemasonry’s problems are of our own making, and to begin to correct them, we must face reality and be honest about the root of our problems. He outlines his opinion of what these are in the following Self-Examination section.

III. Self-Examination 


 Let’s face it! Can we expect Freemasonry to retain its past glory and prestige unless the level of leadership is raised above its present position? On many an occasion in the past 14 years, Masters and Secretaries have come into my office to ask my advice on what to do about lagging interest. Again and again, I have said, “There is nothing wrong with your Lodge, nor with Freemasonry, that good leadership will not cure.” I believe that.


How well are we guarding the West Gate? Again, let’s face it. We are permitting too many to pass who can pay the fee and little else. On every hand I hear the same whispered complaint, “We used to be getting petitions for the degrees from the good, substantial leaders in the community. Now we are getting… ” Just what it is they are getting, you know as well as I.


Has Freemasonry become too easy to obtain? Fees for the degrees are ridiculously low; annual dues are far too low. Everything is geared to speed – getting through as fast as possible and on to something else. The Lodge demands little and gets little. It expects loyalty, but does almost nothing to put a claim on a man’s loyalty. When we ourselves place a cheap value on Masonic membership, how can we expect petitioners and new members to prize it?


Are we not worshipping at the altar of bigness? Look it in the face: too few Lodges, with those Lodges we do have much too large. Instead of devoting our thoughts and energies to ways whereby a new Master Mason may find a sphere of activity within his Lodge, we let him get lost in the shuffle. Then we nag and harangue at him because he does not come to meetings to wander around with nothing to do. We are hard at work to make each Lodge so large that it becomes an impersonal aggregation of strangers – a closed corporation.


What can we expect when we have permitted Freemasonry to become subdivided into a score of organizations? Look at it. Each organization dependent upon the parent body for its existence, yet each jockeying for a position of supremacy, and each claiming to be the Pinnacle to which any Master Mason may aspire. We have spread ourselves thin, and Ancient Craft Masonry is the loser. Downgraded, the Symbolic Lodge is used only as a springboard. A shortsighted Craft we have been to create in our Fraternity a condition wherein the tail can, and may wag the dog.


Has the American passion for bigness and efficiency dulled the spirit of Masonic charity? The “Box of Fraternal Assistance” which once occupied the central position in every Lodge room has been replaced by an annual per capita tax. That benevolence which for ages was one of the sweetest by-products of the teaching of our gentle Craft has, I fear, ceased to be a gift from the heart and has become the writing of a check. And unless the personal element is there, clarity becomes as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.


Do we pay enough attention to the Festive Board? Should any reader have to ask what the Festive Board is, that in itself will serve to show how far we have strayed from the traditional path of Freemasonry. Certainly the Festive Board is not the wolfing of ham sandwiches, pie and coffee at the conclusion of a degree. It is the Hour of Refreshment in all its beauty and dignity; an occasion for inspiration and fellowship; a time when the noble old traditions of the Craft are preserved.


What has become of that “course of moral instruction, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” that Freemasonry is supposed to be? If it is a course of instruction, then there should be teachers, and if ours is a progressive science, then the teaching of a Master Mason should not end when he is raised. I am not talking about dry, professorial lectures or sermons – heavens no! That is the kind of thing that makes Masonic education an anathema. Where are the parables and allegories? Alas, they have descended into booklets and stunts. No winder interest is so hard to sustain.


Hasn’t the so-called Century of the Common Man contributed to making our Fraternity a little too common? We can not expect to retain the prestige the Craft has enjoyed in the past if we continue without challenge to permit the standards of the picnic ground, the bowling alley, the private club and the golf links to be brought into the Lodge hall. Whether we like it or not, a general lowering of standards has left its mark on every Lodge in Indiana, large and small.


Are there not too many well-meaning Brethren who are working overtime to make Freemasonry something other than Freemasonry?

The rest of the essay elaborates on the ten points presented above.

In 2005, a group calling themselves the Knights of the North began discussing MWB Smith’s essay and published Laudable Pursuit: A 21st Century Response to Dwight Smith.

In their response, they said this:

We now have some hard choices to make, and a limited time to make them. Our history of dealing with hard choices in this fraternity is a depressing signpost for the future. There is another way than the one we have been following for decades. It will be the Lodges and Masonic bodies that adapt and carry a vision forward that will survive. For too long we as leaders and protectors of this noble institution have fled the battlefield. Today is the day we turn and fight.

I’m not sure we have made the hard choices yet.


Have a Great Masonic Day!


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