A couple of years ago, I read something really interesting . The first Grand Lodge was established in England in 1717, and it only took a few years before “Masonic exposés ” began to hit the street. Even more interesting, though, is that Masonic historians believe that most of those buying the book were Masons, themselves. Many of these books went into multiple printings. Were they satisfying mere curiosity? Of course not; it appears that the Freemasons were buying the books so that they could study their own rituals at their leisure.
Were those Masons being lazy, or somehow less Masonic because of that? Personally, I think not; human nature being what it is, it seems to me that those early brothers were simply making good use of technology. I, myself, learned ritual out of a book, and for several of the larger parts actually tape-recorded myself reading from the book so I could play it in the car on my 20 minutes commute (and yes, I erased the tapes later). I have even transcribed various portions to my Palm T3 (encrypted, of course), where I could pull it out and study for a few minutes while waiting. I don’t think that doing so made my ritual any worse (or for that matter, any better) than those people who learned it “mouth to ear.” Again, I look at it as having utilized a tool that was not previously available to bygone brothers.
I mention this because over the last year I’ve had several conversations with people who speak rather disparagingly about another type of tool for Freemasons.
These tools are called “books”.
More specifically, I’m addressing two particular books: “Freemasonry for Dummies“, by Bro. Chris Hodapp, and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry”, by Bro. S. Brent Morris. Both are, in my opinion, enjoyable, entertaining, and informative books that explain a lot about the Craft, and are written in an accessible style for Masons and non-Masons alike. As I write this, Bro. Morris’ book is on my left, about halfway down on my bookshelf, where it’s been for the last few weeks since I moved it out of the “tyled” room that I suspect many of us use for the purposes of reading. I haven’t actually read Bro. Hodapp’s book, because when I was Master in 2006, I donated a copy to the lodge, and haven’t seen it since. However, I did read several chapters of it, and I’m sure that at some point it will make its way back to me.
However, I’m not here to write book reviews today.
A few days ago, Bro. Jeff Peace wrote an article that was published on The Burning Taper. Now, I happen to enjoy most of the articles I’ve seen from Bro. Peace, and generally I agree with what he has to say, and appreciate his desire to work for the betterment of Masonry. In this particular essay, which was about trying to revive Masonry, he writes:
Have we forgotten what Freemasonry is all about — what it really means? Today we have books like Freemasons for Dummies by Chris Hodapp and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry by Brent Morris. Who is buying these books? Freemasons. Are we so ignorant of our fraternity that we need a guide for dummies and idiots to teach us what we are already supposed to know?
I know that Bro. Peace did not intend to disparage either book. I did, however, find myself disturbed that he used them as an example of something that he saw as undesirable for the Craft. His contention is that the older and more established members should already be teaching such things to the new members. I think that this is admirable, but I have a different take on this. I see the large numbers of Masons purchasing these books as proof that these men are looking to jump-start their Masonic education, that they are desirous of learning and want to augment what they are gleaning in lodge. And too, both books contain excellent resources to other books, so that Masons wishing to continue their education can more readily find something of interest. While Bro. Peace and I disagree on this point, I think that we both agree that any brother who decides to further his education by picking up a book can be considered a good thing indeed.
Unfortunately, several comments to this Burning Taper article, as well as others in the past, suggest that some people simply don’t “get” the concept of “Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide” books. Here’s an example:
I have never read any book that falls within the “Dummies” and “Complete Idiots Guide” genre. Wheteher dealing with masonry or chess or conspiracies or proper ways to give self enema’s.
Maybe it has to do with wanting to read masonic stuff by Pike or Hall, Or By PHD’s like Dr. Margret Jacobs and Dr. Steven Bullock.
Why in name of TGAOU would any self respecting human being want to be categorized as an idiot or dummy and that these books are perfect for me?
I know there is not much pride left in education and the attempt to RAISE our intellectual status by reading up, instead of down in level is foriegn today.
Okay, allow me to help ease the transition for some of you. Back in the early days of personal computers, businesses would buy them, plunk them on your desk, and make you pretty much responsible for getting them to work. Anyone who is new to PCs within the last five years has no idea what those of us went through in the 80s and 90s – before “plug’n’play”, before “WYSIWYG”, before USB, and certainly before you could be assured that of having someone nearby who knew how to reset the BIOS, switch jumpers, or sit on hold to a support center 12 time zones away.
Enter “DOS for Dummies”, written in the early 90s, followed by a number of other computer related books by the same publishing company. The books were well-written, and aimed at people who needed just enough information to get things working. The “Dummies” appellation – like the “Complete Idiot’s” one to come later – was a bit of self-deprecating, gentle humor. Back in 1990, probably 3/4 of computer users felt like a “dummy” at some point simply because computers at the time were almost overwhelming. But as the publishing titles increased, it became obvious that the public was crazy to get books that presented information on a variety of subjects that could be presented in a simple, easy-to-follow format. Computer books were followed by a wide range of other books, and now you can find such topics as cooking, finance, yoga, history, home repair, personal relationships, religion, health, diet, pole dancing, microbiology, sports, and sex.
Most people understand the self-deprecating humor in the “Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide” titles, and considering that many of the books are written by authors who have more advanced texts in the field, I can’t imagine any shame in picking up a copy. In fact, I have a “Dummies” book on writing VBA macros for Excel; a few months after I finished it, I was ready to buy a very large, advanced book on the same subject, by the same well-known author. The first several chapters covered much of what was outlined in the bright yellow book I had purchased previously.
To be fair, though, somebody gave me a “Golf for Dummies,” and I purchased the “Idiot’s Guide” counterpart, but neither seemed to improve my game.
Neither Bro. Hodapp nor Bro. Morris asked me to write this, of course, and I’m sure that neither of them lose much sleep over the occasional disparaging comment from the uninformed. But it does bother me when people – especially those who claim to be brothers – criticize either the books themselves or those who buy and read them; as if the pursuit of Masonic knowledge can only proceed according to some imaginary plan that only the naysayers seem to know about.
Free your minds, my brothers, and the rest will follow.