This, then, begs the question: If the general public is so dependent on the use of symbols in interpreting the funtioning of life, then why doesn't Freemasonry, whose central theme is symbol interpretation, enjoy a more common place in the public's interest?
I'm not sure I have an answer, but I suspect it has to do with the fact the public is far more interested in assigning a brand to their cultural icons than in connecting moral symbols with objective meaning. Morals are an entirely different package than sodas and automobiles. All modern theories of value tend to share the premise that moral values are always subjective and therefore have no independent meaning and existence. Our contemporary values are often nothing more than projections of our desires and feelings.
But this was not the way values were seen in the 19th century. As difficult as it may be for the public today to equate the Square and Compasses with values, I believe that is precisely what our forefathers intended for it to do.
A ceremonial role is always a group role. It is an expression of rank within the group just as any institutional ceremony is an expression of rank within the community. This was Masonry's foundational motivation for cornerstone laying and public dedications. These ceremonies are based on a profound sociological insight. In ceremonial drama people watch for indications of rak and honor. It doesn't matter if it is military, academic, political, religious or fraternal, we watch the dress, the staging, and the action of the players to discover what determines rank and honor in our lives.
Each traditional institution in our society may have its own brand of honor and dignity, but it derives these from social principles which are accepted by the community as a whole. Thus, the institution, thorugh the ceremonies it performs, becomes final and transcendent in the minds of the observers.
Here is how this works. and Carlyle said it very well: He who puts on a public gown must put off a private person. The formal dress of the Masons in their public ceremonies gives them a social role that has deep meaning. When we play our part in institutional and public ceremonies with dignity, we demonstrate the aura of social status and office. The public has no way of competently judging our competence as an institution. But in the majesty of our dress, our regalia, and our ceremonial forms, we put on the insignia of rank. And all who see us symbolically bow before us.
They are not bowing to us, but to the social status we fill as gentlemen and as guardians of tradition and order in society.
This is the reason we should always be conscious of the integrity we communicate when we are presenting ourselves in the public's eye. In our cornerstones and dedications, our memorial services and community partnerships, we appeal to how the public perceives status in its institutions. As a group, if we could just understand that our task as an institution is symbolically to communicate status; then we would grasp the importance of the formality of our ceremonies.
When the public sees dignity and status in what Freemasonry does and how Freemasons dress, it also becomes possible for it to connect our fraternity with tradition and stability. We become of of the "retro" incons of importance now emerging into the public's consciousness of "favored-man" status. When the public sees us in this role, everything changes.
Because everyone desires an elevation in status.