Originally Published in Carl H. Claudy's Old Tiler Talks - 1925
"Before I became a Mason," announced the New Brother, "I was under the impression it was an institution of the greatest democracy. I have gathered the idea that it was simple, unassuming; that it inculcated the principles of our government and that in it all men were equal. I am very fond of my lodge and the fellows, but I have been disappointed in that respect."
"Why, son, do you find Masonry undemocratic?" inquired the Old Tiler. "I have heard Masonry called a lot of funny names, but never that!"
"Why, yes, I do!" answered the New Brother. "Seems to me we have a lot of unwritten laws and customs which are autocratic."
"You might mention a few. I am not too old to learn!" answered the Old Tiler. "This is evidently going to be good!" he finished.
"Take this idea of not passing between the Altar and the East," began the New Brother. "It's a free country, yet here is a restriction without rhyme or reason. We salute the Master. He's just a Mason like the rest of us. We have put him into power. He is our servant, although he has the title of Master. Take the custom of the officers retiring in favor of the Grand Officers when they visit; why should we give up our authority and our seats to others no better men than we are?"
"Is that all?" asked the Old Tiler.
"Oh, there are a few more, but those will do. Explain to me where the democracy is in them!"
"When you go to church," countered the Old Tiler, "do you keep your hat on? Does your wife keep her hat on?"
"Of course she does and I don't," responded the New Brother.
"I take my hat off as a mark of respect to the House of God, of course. She keeps hers on because...well, er...Oh, it's the custom!"
"It's a free country," responded the Old Tiler. "The minister is just a man like the rest of us. Why not wear your hat? Why not have your wife take hers off?"
"But I don't take my hat off to the minister, but to God!" was the puzzled answer.
"And your wife keeps hers on because it is the custom for women to remain covered in church," responded the Old Tiler. "In lodge you don't fail to salute the Master because it is the custom, and because you are saluting, not the man who happens to be in the East by the votes of the lodge, but the exulted station he occupies. You pay respect to religion when you remove your hat in a church."
"How about passing between Altar and East?" asked the New Brother.
"That pretty custom is founded on a very happy idea," explained the Old Tiler. "The Altar is the foundation seat of Masonic light and wisdom. Upon it lie the Great Lights of Masonry. Before it rests the charter by means of which a continuously unobstructed view of the source of all Masonic wisdom, so that the lodge may never be without a direct connection with the Great Lights. It is the custom to leave the charter always in his sight, that by no chance may he fail to be responsible for its safekeeping. Nothing happens to a brother who passes between the Altar and the
East any more than would happen to a man who walked up the aisle of the church and perambulated about the lectern. But it wouldn't be polite, or respectful, or in keeping with the custom. Your respect is paid to religion or Masonry, not necessarily to the men who expound either."
"But I still don't see why a sovereign lodge must abdicate authority for any old Deputy Grand Master who comes along!"
"Then you are very obtuse!" answered the Old Tiler.
"The Deputy Grand Master represents the Grand Master, the supreme Masonic head. In him is, theoretically, all Masonic wisdom. Why should a Master not offer his gavel to such knowledge? He merely says, in effect, 'you know more than I do; your years of service and experience in the craft entitle you to supreme authority. I have less knowledge, therefore am less fit to preside than you. You have more power and authority than I, therefore I offer you its symbol while you are with us.' But note the Master says this to the *position*, not the *man*. Grand Masters do *not* always know all there is to know any more than kings or presidents do. But we pay that sovereign respect to the office they hold, while it is held by them, because of the office."
"My brother, democracy does not mean bolshevism! It does not mean socialism. It means democracy, in which men are created equal, have equal opportunity, but reverence to the power they give to those to whom they give it. The United States is a republic founded on the principles of democracy, and we are proud of our freedom and our independence, yet we remove our hats to our President and governors, and pay respect to our courts and our lawgivers, even though they be but men like ourselves. So it is in Masonry...a simple and unassuming democracy of brotherhood, in which no man loses his independence because he pays respect to authority."
"Well, of course, you are right, and I am wrong, as usual. It wasn't so good, after all, was it?"
"Not so good!" responded the Old Tiler. "But Masonic youth, like any other kind, can be forgiven much if only it is willing to learn."