Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is Freemasonry?
A: Freemasonry is the largest secular, fraternal and charitable organization. It teaches moral lessons and self-knowledge through participation in a progression of initiatory Degrees.
Q: Are we a secret society?
A: We are not, but Lodge meetings, like those of many other groups, are private and open only to members. The goals and aims of Freemasonry are available to the public. Meeting places are known and in many areas are used by the local community for activities other than Freemasonry. Members are encouraged to speak openly about its existence and the contributions of Freemasonry to the world.
Q: What are the secrets of Freemasonry?
A: The secrets in Freemasonry are the traditional modes of recognition, which are not used indiscriminately, but solely as a test of membership, e.g., when visiting a Lodge where a member is not known.
Q: What happens at a Lodge meeting?
A: The meeting usually has two parts: as in any association there is a certain amount of administrative procedure - approval of minutes of the previous meeting, proposing and balloting on petitions for membership, discussing and voting on financial matters, election of officers, news and correspondence. Then there are ceremonies (or Degrees) for admitting new Masons and the annual installation of the Master and appointment of officers. The three ceremonies for admitting a new Mason instruct him in the principles and lessons taught in the Craft and feature a lecture in which the candidate's various duties are spelled out.
Q: Isn't ritual out of place in a modern society?
A: No. The ritual is a shared experience which binds the members together. Its use of drama, allegory and sybolism impresses the principles and teachings more firmly in the mind of each candidate than if they were simply passed on to him in matter-of-fact modern language.
Q: Why do Freemasons recite obligations?
A: New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in Lodge and in society. Each member aslo promises to keep confidential the traditional methods of proving that he is a Freemason, which he would use when visiting a Lodge where he is not known. Freemasons do not swear allegiances to each other or to Freemasonry. Freemasons promise to support others in times of need, but only if that support does not conflict with their duties to God, the law, their family or with their responsibilities as a citizen.
Q: Are Freemasons expected to prefer fellow Masons at the expense of others in giving job, promotions, contracts and the like?
A: Absolutely not. That would be a misuse of membership and abuse of priviledge. On his entry into Freemasonry each candidate states unequal vocally that he expects no material gain from his membership. At various stages during the three Degrees he is reminded that the concept of Brotherly Love is to be applied to the whole human race and that his charity should extend to all.
Q: Isn't it true that Freemasons only look after each other?
A: No. From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been involved in charitable activities. Since its inception, Freemasonry has provided support not only for widows and orphans of Freemasons but also for many others within the community. While some Masonic charities cater specifically but not exclusively for Masons or their dependants, others make significant contributions to non-Masonic organizations. On the local level, Lodges give substantial support to local causes.
New York Masons are proud of their Masonic Care Community in Utica, NY and the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, also in Utica. Various Grand Lodge-sponsored programs represent direct outreach to the community: the NY Masonic Child ID program: MSAT (the Masonic Student Assistance Training program), which teaches teachers and other key scholl personnel to identify, mentor, and remediate at-risk students; the many scholarships: a Blood Donor program and sposorship of youth programs.
Q: Aren't you a religion or a rival to religion?
A: Emphatically not. Freemasonry requires a belief in GOD and its principles are common to many of the world's great religions. Freemasonry does not try to replace religion or substitute for it. Every candidate is exhorted to practice his religion and to regard its holy book as the unerring standard of truth. That is why he takes his obligations on that book. Freemasonry does not instruct its members in what their religious beliefs should be, nor does it offer sacraments. Freemasonry deals in relations between men; religion deals in a man's relationship with GOD.
A Mason believes...that freedom of religion is an inalienable human right and tolerance an indispensable trait of human character; therefore,[he] will stand in [his] Lodge with Brothers of all faiths, and respect their beliefs as they respect [his], and [he] will demonstrate the spirit of Brotherhood in all aspects of his life.
Q: Why do you call God the Great Architect?
A: Freemasonry embraces all men who believe in God. Its membership includes: Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Parsees and others. The use of descriptions such as the Great Architect prevents disharmony. The Great Architect is not a specific Masonic God or an attempt to combine all gods into one. Thus, men of differing religions pray together without offense being given to any of them.
Q: Why don't some churches like Freemasonry?
A: There are elements within certain churches that misunderstand Freemasonry and confuse secular rituals with religious liturgy. Although some denominations have occasionally criticized Freemasonry, within their memberships there are many Masons and indeed others who are dismayed that the Churches should attack Freemasonry, an organization which has always encouraged its members to be active in the religion of their own choosing.
Q: Isn't Freemasonry just another political pressure group?
A: Emphatically not. While individual Freemasons will have their own views on politics and national policy, Freemasonry as a body will never express a view on either. The discussion of politics at Masonic meetings has always been prohibited.
A Mason knows that his...obligation to community extends beyond [his] local sphere and is partly fulfilled in [his] patriotism: love of [his] country, obedience to its laws and celebration of the freedoms and opportunities it symbolizes.