“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
The articles by Brothers Sean Kennedy and Stephen Dafoe regarding the decline in Freemasonry has brought many responses across the Internet. In reviewing what comments were posted in various places it seemed as if everybody had an opinion but nobody commented on the data. In many cases passionate cases were made for debunking the whole idea that Freemasonry is in some sort of distress. Rosy colored glasses led to some even declaring an unreasonable aura of negativity permeated the air and even more extreme views that this author was some kind of miserable turncoat bent on the destruction of the Craft. So much for whispering words of advice in a Brothers ear; so much for Masonic tolerance; so much for the use of logic and reason instead of raw emotion.
Yet my Brothers, the data does not lie. The data is fact. What it means for our beloved fraternity, well that is open for interpretation. And that’s fine. But the idea behind publishing these articles is to help make Freemasonry better not to see who is right or wrong about conclusions drawn. The idea was to foster reformation not dissension. What became self evident is that these articles became an affront to some who felt that they needed to bury any discourse on improvement lest they admit that Freemasonry could use some improvement.
Some may recognize that in our midst is the Masonic Restoration Foundation working for just such improvement – https://www.masonicrestorationfoundation.org/
Quoting from its purposes we hear;
“The mission of the MRF is to assist and support, through education, communication, example, and coordination of efforts among lodges, Grand Lodges, individuals and groups of Masons belonging to regularly and duly constituted lodges; the overall improvement and happiness of the individual Mason and his fraternal relationships.”
“The goal of the foundation is to restore Freemasonry to the historical and philosophical intent of its organizational founders. We believe that in so doing, Masons will return to the development of a fraternal culture of learning and intellectual growth, which will not only benefit the individual Mason, but society as a whole.”
If Freemasonry doesn’t need improvement why is there a Masonic Restoration Society?
Of all the responses that I reviewed this one stood out as a Mason that did some logical analysis not just some emotional diatribe. And that was “The Other Mason,” Wor. Istvan Horvath from Canada. His website The Other Mason contains some very interesting content and is worth looking at.
TO DIE OR NOT TO DIE
Worshipful Istvan Horvath
There is an article written by a Texas Mason that went viral and is discussed, dismissed and “fought” in all the Masonic forums and groups in North America. While the author is very careful to not attach any emotional comment to his findings, and even stated clearly he wasn’t judging only presenting the fact about the dwindling numbers of Freemasonry in America – all hell broke loose.
His article presented visual graphs showing the changes in numbers of Freemasons across America since 1959. And finally, looking at the general trend, the article presented a ‘projection’ (an otherwise valid tool for analyzing data) according to which the membership will collapse. While the title may sound controversial and definitely touches a nerve with present-day Masons, the analysis presented is not far-fetched: based on a 50-60 years time period it is logical to conclude the continuation of the trend, provided nothing happens to stop it or reverse it.
Generally, the reactions on the world wide web and social media can be put in three main groups, and interestingly (or maybe not) the reactions didn’t differ much in the USA and Canada.
Group A – These Masons consider the whole article bull*!#+ (BS), and putting their head in the sand, dismiss any findings. Lies, negativism, fake news – these are the charges brought against the author.
Group B – NIMBY. Which means Not in My Backyard. Admitting that such an issue of decreasing numbers might be of concern in other lodges, other districts or other jurisdictions… they bring anecdotal evidence that is not happening in their own “backyard”. We initiated last year X number of new Masons…
Group C – the tiny group that would like to face the facts and to have a meaningful discussion about the causes, the possible remedies, the outlook and the inevitable changes that come with the changing times. Unfortunately, they are the minority everywhere…
A. The first is the worst group – despite their conviction that they act to “defend” Masonry against the negative thinkers. They are the most dangerous as well, not just based on the sheer numbers (i.e. being the majority in any lodge and jurisdiction) but because they represent en bloc all the issues today’s Freemasonry is suffering from:
- lack of education
- fear of being called the elite of the society
- lack of ‘freethinker traditions’
- literal belief in legends from movies, fictional books, pseudo-history
- keeping dues artificially low, too low in order to make it ‘affordable’ for everyone
While we pride ourselves by enlisting all the historical celebrities from prime ministers, governors, army commanders to philosophers, scientists and poets… we almost get offended, if someone wants to see the Craft as the gathering place of today’s elite. None of these members is and will ever be able to mentor and educate new members… and even worse, if we let them do it, they will perpetuate this sad state of the Craft.
B. This group is always looking at it from the narrowest perspective: if it doesn’t happen in my lodge, it doesn’t exist. We are initiating a lot of young men. Our lodge is thriving… Even if the Ontario Grand Lodge lost 2022 members in the past year, bringing it up one is considered a negativist. The Craft is doing fine…
Read: Freemasonry after COVID
While the lodge members are claiming that they have so many candidates they need even emergent meeting because the monthly one meeting is not enough to initiate all those at the West Gate – the same lodge is not able to present an officers line of MMs [without recycling PMs] for years.
C. The last tiny group doesn’t have much chance to be heard because it is small by numbers and it is not into violent word exchange but prefers the calm, rational dialogue and discussion.
Only a few commenters looked at the data itself. Without any comments, see it for yourself!
Yes, we can debate about the we way read and interpret the data. We can argue about the causes and historical influences on the changing membership numbers. We can do many things… Except pretending that it is not happening!
I am not even saying that the dwindling numbers are necessarily a bad thing. Who knows, maybe it is necessary to reshape Freemasonry in the 21st century’s context. Personally, I think it is the latter but ultimately it will be the Craft, the coming younger members that will define how to deal with these changes. I hope their wisdom will be up to the task!
Post your thoughts below!
About the author
Istvan Horvath, MPS1, is a Master Mason2 and Royal Arch Mason3. His Masonic journey started twenty-two years ago, in 1994, in the East of Budapest, Hungary. Today he lives in Ontario, Canada, being affiliated with local lodges4. A Past Grand Librarian in his initial jurisdiction and well versed in Masonic lore in at least two languages. He also likes to read and study in the two other languages he is fluent in. Bottom line: he likes languages, linguistics and is a diligent lifetime student of Freemasonry. For the Masonic year 2018-19 he was elected and installed as the Worshipful Master of The Electric Lodge.
- Member of the Philaletes Society
- Initiated, passed and raised in his mother lodge, Egyenlőség=Equality, under the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary.
- Member in St.John’s/Hamilton chapter, District #6, Ontario
- Electric Lodge #495 GRC, Hamilton District C. Also a member of Heritage Lodge #730, the Ontario research lodge, and the Observant Templum Lucis Lodge #747.
I know that this is a dated posting, but this was a question on my mind and I think you confirmed and summarized my perception very well.
It’s a fundamental question. If we regard Freemasonary as a fixed set of values that were preserved over centuries, then we have to stay firm and let societal trends happen because we want to keep our values. If we are just after membership numbers (which I find egotistical), then we have to adapt our value to the 21 century.
Before becoming a Mason, I was in Round Table (20 years ago) and already then the same thing happened. In the 10 years in Round Table the number of tables in our region halfed, and we had to fight wrong pride of tables and amalgate to sustain sufficient members per table.
With a change in pressures – mostly work, then family, then procrastination (Internet-life), all clubs from the village sports club, through round Table, Lions, Freemasons, Rotary suffer the same.
There was a time when member numbers were so high that tables/lodges were split and the number increased. Maybe it is just time to contract and let society develop.
I am personally convinced that Masonry will never die. We just have to accept reality and adapt, but keeping firm on our values.
Here I think the Round Table motto is fitting: Adopt, Adapt, Improve.