Recently I have been reading some essays by Masons who are dismayed at all the talk about membership, dues, dress, Grand Lodge edicts and other issues that they believe bring into the mix undue discussion, debate and division — the three Ds.
For them the philosophy of Masonry, its symbolism, its virtues, its morality, its positive effect on the human soul, its way of life is the only thing that should be talked about within the Masonic Community. All this other “stuff” is divisive, irrelevant, and unneeded controversy that hurts the Craft. We can call these Masons the Philosophical Intellectuals. Who cares where we meet, what we look like and how many of us there are. Many of these PI (Philosophical Intellectuals) Masons are heavily into Internet Masonry and less involved with Lodge itself. They see Masonry as a philosophy that can exist regardless of its structure because a philosophy requires no administration or infrastructure. It requires thought, enlightenment and personal practice without encumberment. It does not need a building or a leader or authority imposed on it. Masonry is a thought that can live in the minds of humans forever. It is indestructible, a personal journey that need not be shared with others and an intellectual movement that only requires a personal commitment to its ideals and its life changing message.
On the other side we have the Structural Administrative Freemasons who tell us that high brow intellectual philosophers in the Craft are all well and good but a Society, a Brotherhood without structure is anarchy. It no longer becomes a Brotherhood they say because what is lost is the interpersonal relationships, the camaraderie that is lost by the lack of personal contact. These Freemasons may bemoan the fact that we have become slaves to “communication machines” that remove from us our ability to relate face to face with others and hamper our ability to verbally, visibly and hands on bond with others. They will say that the Intellectual philosophers in the Craft would if they could put themselves on a pedestal while shoving the more practical Freemasons to a place of obscurity in a place where they cannot be seen or heard by the vast majority of humankind. These Freemasons are being charged with destroying the peace and harmony of Masonry for the sake of personal gain or notoriety.
The Structural Administrators strike back with, well these Masons are like those who own a new fancy car and all they are concerned with is driving it around without concern for whether there is gas in the gas tank or air in the tires. They say look Christianity is the thought and churches are the communal application of the thought. And that is what is important here — the communal application, the three degrees performed by living, breathing human beings not a video on a screen, and that we practice Masonry together with others. And the power of the personal touch, the effect of face to face practice of a philosophy cannot be overstated. If you are going to have infrastructure, a building, a ritual, a dogma, a catechism, a specific set up, designated leaders and positions of official status then you are going to have rules, regulations and enforcement. Thus, issues like dues, budgets, dress, qualifications for membership, what constitutes heresy, what permission is needed, how we are constituted, what we can do, what we cannot do, who has what authority and so forth have to be decided and then rethought and reviewed as each new generation enters into the Craft. Sometimes there are issues that need to be addressed when those in authority or those without authority bend the rules or distort them. Sometimes past oversights or changes in how we view things in today’s world have to be brought up to date. For instance, should a Mainstream Grand Lodge recognize a Prince Hall Grand Lodge. As much as anyone of us would like to avoid conflict and keep Masonry pure and innocent, that’s not reality. And the failure to realize that may lead to a Brotherhood that is corrupted and even hijacked by others who want it to be something else.
Both sides have some good points to consider. If more attention was devoted to the study of Masonry, its symbolism, its virtues, how it ennobles men and how it leads us to the Great Architect of the Universe then membership would increase. There are seekers or searchers among the newest generations who want to add meaning and purpose to their lives, who want to make a difference in this world. We have that for them if we will only offer it to them. However, American Lodges failure to teach what it has to offer and only pay lip service to its philosophy is its biggest downfall. One need only compare most European Lodges who are philosophical Lodges with American Lodges who are rather Service Clubs or Social Clubs. The fact that we have this outstanding philosophy which leads Masons who practice it to a joyous and rewarding life yet in the United States we spend most of the Masonic time on fund raisers, family gatherings, community action, charity and Brand and cigar nights is exactly what is leading to our diminishing numbers. We have something great to offer yet we pass over it to practice the more mundane things that a person could get in any number of other organizations. The Philosophical Intellectuals have a great point. Masons have a philosophy that no one else has. It being the strength of our organization when we fail to give it due homage and instruct the Brothers in its ways and what it can do for them, then we are defeating the purpose of being a Mason.
Why don’t we just change the name to Distinctive Gentlemen and get on with it?
But that does not let the Philosophical Intellectuals off the hook. Burying your head in the sand when problems come up and pretending that they don’t exist to avoid controversy does not lead to long term peace and harmony. Racism, homophobia, Grand Lodge unlawful expulsions and pulling of charters, corruption, religious discrimination, Grand Lodge micromanaging can’t be swept under the rug. Deal with the problems now or let them fester. Unfortunately, in many cases we have done the latter which only makes the explosion down the line much larger than it should be, because we have these Masons who say ignore the problems, we don’t want the controversy. We will not listen. We are going to stick our fingers in our ears and hum when you bring up such subjects.
Masons are not meant to be Monks. We need to deal with the real world. And while I sympathize with the agony and the disruption of controversial problems I cannot condone doing nothing, especially when some Masons are abused by other Masons; especially when too much power is concentrated in too few hands and is used unwisely and immorally. Look at civil society today. You have those who consider President Trump great and those who think he is terrible and there is a whole lot of controversy going on. And some of it is violent. Now we, as Masons, are better than that. Yet the call for no controversy at all by ignoring problems that may be tearing our beloved Fraternity apart is a Utopian Fantasy World.
One of the problems we have in the United States is the plethora of Grand Lodges, more than Ninety (counting Prince Hall). And that is not even counting the Clandestine Operations. In much of the rest of the world there is One Grand Lodge per nation. In some others there may be two, three, four or five but nowhere near the number that we have. And believe me when I say that what one Grand Lodge does affects the reputation and the public evaluation of all the other Grand Lodges. In the Information Age none of us lives anymore in a vacuum. What I have recommended for some time is that we have some sort of National Constitution and Bill of Rights or National Masonic Code of Ethics that would codify Grand Lodge conduct. And that Grand Lodges pull recognition from those who refuse to sign it and those who violate it. If we all agreed on proper conduct, what makes a Mason, the Landmarks, the proper dispersal of power within the Grand Lodge system, the rights of the Individual Mason and the limits of Grand Lodge then there would be a whole lot less of controversy, bickering and arguing.
Further exasperating the problem are some Masons who now very rarely go to Lodge. These tend to be the Internet Masons and they tend to be Philosophical Intellectuals. If my Lodge won’t participate in the study and education of Esoteric Masonry, many say, then I can get what is lacking in Lodge by having thoughtful and educational discussions on the Internet. Unfortunately, their lack of participation in the physical Lodge is hurting Lodge Freemasonry. They have become like Monks, withdrawing from the physical practice of Freemasonry by living out the Craft in Chat Rooms, Facebook, Masonic Forums and Yahoo Masonic Groups. They produce and watch YouTube videos and Masonic Podcasts – the new rage – about Freemasonry and gain their Masonic knowledge from Social Media. But when Structural Administrative Freemasons enter these discussions the Philosophical Intellectuals balk and accuse them of a “bait and switch,” and of a deliberate attack and destroy mission.
Fortunately for the moment the Masons who divide themselves into just Internet Masons or just Lodge Masons are a minority. Many Masons still do both. Yet as the Information Age becomes all pervasive the gap widens. There is a solution to this dichotomy. The Lodge Structural Administrative Freemasons need to put back into Lodge Communications a healthy study and education in Esoteric Masonry. This must be the emphasis of the Lodge for this is what distinguishes Masonry from every other run of the mill organization out there. The Philosophic Intellectual Masons have to work with Lodge Masons in strengthening the Live Lodge Experience while at the same time helping to solve injustices, abuses, micromanaging, corrupting, watering down, dumbing down and hijacking of and in Freemasonry. In short what we need in American Freemasonry is more Masonry and Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice.
The biggest problem Freemasonry is having today is not membership but retention. New recruits come in and soon find out we are not serious about our philosophy. But that is precisely why they chose to join Freemasonry. But we don’t talk about our philosophy, we don’t teach it. So, they will take two course of action to demonstrate that disappointment.
- They will quit and demit
- They will become an Internet only Mason.
Yes, we need to listen to the Philosophical Intellectuals. The newer Generations are looking for meaning and making a difference in their lives. But they are not getting it from the Old Guard.
But today’s Philosophical Intellectual Masons need to recognize that they cannot attract new members in numbers when Freemasons are racist, homophobic, religious intolerant and misogynists. Today’s Generation just will not abide by these human failings. That’s right, you heard right. We are going to have to recognize and/or admit African Americans, Gays and Women. And just as the Structural Administrative Freemasons are going to have to admit a vastly increased Esoteric Masonic study into Masonry so also do Philosophical Masons need to help solve the problems of Grand Lodge despotism, racism, homophobia and misogyny without raising the bogeyman of controversy. When and if we attack both sides of the problem, the issues on both sides, then and only then will we once again have a thriving, growing Fraternity in the 21st Century with today’s Generation.