A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, is the title of a 60’s Broadway play.
It is the sort of punch line that has been repeated since day one when something unexpected crosses your path, something ironic.
Well I can’t say that that has ever happened to me until today. I was reading in the NY Times article about the New Grand Master of Pennsylvania:
IN the final days of a year dominated by repeated — and mostly unheeded — calls for full disclosure on the part of Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, the N.F.L. and any number of other organizations, transparency arrived out of the blue from an unlikely quarter if ever there was one: the Freemasons.
Thanks go not to Dan Brown, whose latest novel, The Lost Symbol, focuses on the notoriously mysterious fraternal order, but to Tom Sturgeon, a career law-enforcement officer, who was installed as Right Worshipful Grand Master for Pennsylvania on Dec. 28. His ceremony, in a break with centuries-old Masonic tradition, was held at a convention center here and open to the public. “We need to make Freemasonry more contemporary,” Mr. Sturgeon told me, “to make it reflect 2010, not 1910 — or 1810.”
“Brethren, ladies and friends,” Mr. Sturgeon greeted the audience for his installation. “The 21st-century Masonic Renaissance starts today!”
– The Not-So-Secrets Of The Temple, by Holly Brubach, New York Times
Well that sure beats West Virginia I thought. Now maybe, just maybe, that’s something I could go along with, depending on whether he is modernizing or whether he is just turning his Grand Lodge into a Service Club. So I read on about some of the changes Grand Master Sturgeon had sprung on everybody in a flash.
I sure hope that when he steps down from the Grand East that the next Grand Master doesn’t “Haas” him. He sure has pissed off a lot of Brethren.
It was then that I decided to do an internet search and see what the poop was around and about. Who knows a dozen others could have written many bon mots on the subject already.
That’s when a funny thing happened to me on the way to the……….
The first hit on my browser WAS MYSELF! Now I am not a vain person. I don’t go around searching for myself, so to have ME pop up first on a search was……..well, kind of a shock. The hit was an essay I had written which was on Phoenixmasonry.
But what was even more interesting was the same story 7 more hits down the line but this time coming from A Partir Pedra, reprinted off The Beehive with comments before The Beehive joined Freemason Information. I do not remember A Partir Pedra asking me about publishing that story. Then again I have a lousy memory and I do not copyright my work.
Considering the relevancy of the topic I am going to republish the full story once again for the first time here. Perhaps additional comments will come in.
The Castration of Freemasonry – An American Point of View
by Wor. Frederic L. Milliken
For the past several decades, Freemasons worldwide have been preoccupied about the decline in membership. All sorts of reasons have been advanced for this decline and many different solutions have been tried to stop it, but to no avail. The line on the graph of Masonic membership continues its steady downward trend.
Lost in the turmoil of argument of reasons and solutions has been the realization that Freemasonry has developed a schism and that breaking apart is in reality about who has the best way to rebuild The Craft. It’s almost as if the Antients and the Moderns were back at it again, but this time it is not over ritual but practice.
Today’s Antients assert that Freemasonry is a personal journey of moral improvement that prepares a man to re-enter society as an individual providing to the outside world an example or role model of one who has taken the high road in life.
Speaking for Today’s Antients is Provincial Grand Master Lord Northamton, UGLE, who tells us that Freemasonry has no role in society. Speaking for the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland he states, “Freemasonry has no role outside Freemasonry and that the only influence it should be seeking is over itself and its members.” He goes on to say thatFreemasonry is simply a matter of self improvement through self discovery and education with The Craft pointing the way and that a man who brings the lessons and virtues of Freemasonry into his heart would then be expected to be an arm of improvement for society as an individual operating as such outside the Craft. But never should Freemasonry as a fraternity take any position on any public issue, he asserts. “Freemasonry is not, and should never be allowed to develop into being, a lobby group – no matter how universal and noble the cause.”(1)
Today’s “Moderns”, strongest in the U.S.A., promulgate the practice of “community Freemasonry” whereby Freemasonry as a unit has undertaken a vow of charity for all mankind and then enters society as a collective force to uplift the less fortunate.
This view is aptly put forward by MSANA’s Executive Secretary, Richard Fletcher, who acknowledges the Crafts roots in the Enlightenment but then “modernizes” that heritage into community action and involvement, code words for Institutionalized Charity. He tells us, “In my judgment there is nothing Freemasons could do that would be more important than undertaking the role of unity builder by being seen in our communities, by doing community outreach, and showing by example what it means to be part of a family, not only our own family, but the family of our state, the family of our nation. Without fully realizing it Masons used to do these things. But like the rest of the country our ‘sense of purpose’ had eroded.”(2)
Another Masonic commentator, Tony Fels, reaffirms this position on increasing Masonic membership when he says, “There seems to be much talk within the Masonic order about what it might take to spark a revival of interest, especially among younger people, in the principles and practice of fraternalism. Certainly the ongoing tendency among many Grand Lodges and local lodges to become more visible in their local communities through sponsoring scholarship funds, clean-up campaigns, and other benevolent activities will help bring the Masonic brotherhood to the attention of people who may wish to join in the fellowship of the lodge.” (3)
Absent from this tug of war over Freemason’s hearts is the fact that Freemasonry consists of two distinct divisions of actualization and that both are equally valid and both are absolutely necessary for the Complete Mason. Simply stated these two parts of the whole are:
1) That private and personal journey whereby a Mason reads and studies on his own and then applies the virtues and lessons of the Craft into his daily life, building that Temple within.
2) That gathering into Masonic community whereby Masons initiate new members, exemplify rituals and customs, cement the bonds of fraternalism through Masonic fellowship and interact with the greater community at large.
Freemasonry is then both public and private, singular or group, open or closed. It is not fair to say that the Craft is exclusively one or the other. It is a mixture of practice much as a person’s church is. One may read his Holy Book privately away from church and then apply the lessons of his religion to everybody he meets and he may privately offer his adorations to deity in the solitude of his aloneness. Or one may go to church and pray and worship in the community of believers. And one may participate in a church supper, Bible study or mission work with others, even going forth into the streets and avenues of the public at large. To say that one’s church is only about changing the heart of each individual member and does not involve the reception of spirit or transformation in group interaction is as wrong as to say the same thing about Freemasonry.
Yet we are not here to take sides and declare a winner, rather to declare that neither Today’s Antients nor Today’s Moderns have the answer, both are wrong.
The Antients have totally misinterpreted the prohibition of the Lodge involvement in politics. Politics and religion can be discussed in Lodge and Freemasonry as a fraternity can engage in politics and religion publically. It is only partisan politics and sectarian religion that are banned. That it is to say it is not the general but the specific application that leads to proselytization and the problem. This misinterpretation has caused the Antients to practice only half of Freemasonry. The half they do practice is entirely correct but half a loaf is not the whole thing, it’s like trying to walk with only one leg. Freemasonry is not designed to be practiced like Monastic Christianity with no concern or relationship with the outer world. We as Freemasons are not Monks of the Craft.
Yet the Moderns, mainly Americans, fare no better in this analysis because not only have they so downplayed the importance of instruction, education and private research and study in Freemasonry as for it to be virtually nonexistent but they have then taken the public charge as to be one that places Freemasonry’s primary role as savior of the world’s poor and less fortunate. The societal mission has been corrupted by Grand Lodges who have turned American Freemasonry into a Service Club in the name of “Masonic Awareness” whereby Masons spend all their time, money and talent on Institutional Charity whose primary purpose is Masonic publicity and the marketing of Freemasonry. This is not caring for society or an attempt to support society’s leaders in their quest for a better nation. Rather it is an attempt to buy or bribe friends. And in so doing Freemasonry, which touts itself as a noble and virtuous society, comes across as being hypocritical. It certainly isn’t a path Dale Carnegie would have chosen. Today’s Antients would say that the virtues and lessons of Freemasonry teach an individual Brother to be charitable but they do not teach a Lodge how to be the same.
To look at the traditional true path of Freemasonry regarding its role in society one only has to look at its practice shortly after its formal chartering in 1717 and the high preponderance of society’s most prominent leaders who were Freemasons. For you see there was a time when American Freemasonry counted within its ranks professional, intellectual and government leaders as well as owners and managers of businesses. Prominent men, the makers and shakers of society, were Freemasons. It must be remembered that Freemasonry was a product of the Enlightenment and the early practice of the Craft involved directly influencing society. Freemasons then had no qualms about advocating and working for democracy, separation of church and state, religious freedom and public school education for everybody. Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, John Hancock, George Washington, and a host of others, were intimately involved in the American Revolution and thus the remaking of the society of their day. The leaders of society joined Freemasonry because Freemasonry was involved in working for the betterment of society. Was that politics and religion or was it merely an expression and implementation of those inalienable rights given to all mankind by their Creator?
Today under a strict misinterpretation of the politics and religion ban, American Freemasonry does not have anything to do with the workings of society nor will it even comment on any of the freedom and rights violations made by different nations around the world or advocated by various groups here and abroad. This has made the practice of Freemasonry so bland that it has discouraged society’s leaders from becoming members. If American Freemasonry chooses not to be concerned with society why should society be concerned with Freemasonry? If Freemasonry supported society’s leaders in making a freer, better America then those leaders would once again be part of Freemasonry.
RW Brother A Goncalves of the Grand Lodge of Portugal states this case quite clearly. “We regular masons don’t live in caverns or ghettos, out of society. We live within society; we are an intimate part of it. We have special responsibilities that we assume as privileges, because they are moral and ethical obligations”. Masonry is not and cannot be passive,” he says. He goes on to assert that the problems of the individual and the problems of society meet in the commonality of freedom. Freemasonry is forever linked to The Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the Charter of Human Rights, the United Nations Charter, UNICEF and many more. He talks about The Grand Master of Chile, addressing a United States Masonic audience, emphasizing that Freemasonry is not a spokesman for any political party nor should there be any political proseltization in Lodge, yet “Grand Lodges should share some common concepts like: opposition to any tyranny that denies or restricts, in any way, human equality and individual freedom to a complete performance of democratic rights; a clear support to the right of expression and to a fair existence; the respect to the sovereignty of nations; recognition of democracy as system of government and individual aspiration to cultural improvement of any society. Democracy and masonry are substantial and active systems of social progress of Peoples, because both act as source of liberty of speech and conscience and as ferme4nt to interior and external peace».”(4)
The path to Masonic Renewal and Growth leads through a reconnection with society through a constant affirmation of its most humanitarian goals. There are four main areas that I would like to point out where Freemasonry can return a sense of purpose in its role with society.
As a world leader in toleration and acceptance of many different cultures and peoples this is an area where American Mainstream Masonry needs to get its entire house in order. There is no room in a fraternity that espouses equality among all men, for race, religious, cultural or economic discrimination to exist. Nor is there any room in American society for it either. Prince Hall Masonry has for years been a big supporter of the Civil Rights movement. They have the same prohibition in their Lodges against partisan politics and sectarian religion as Mainstream Masonry does. Yet they see no violation of that tradition by working for the same equal treatment of all men. Championing fully, anti discrimination principles will go a long way in convincing leaders of society that Freemasonry is sincere in its support.
American Masons have long been the champions of liberty. It is no coincidence that the phrase “Liberty, Equality & Fraternity” was penned. And advocating the pursuit of happiness unfettered by abridgements to God given freedoms is never unmasonic. American Masons fought to free us from British rule and then played an important role in the framing of the structure and the government of the longest running free society in the history of the world.
“To avoid politics did not mean to deny the civic. The enjoyment of social harmony by the Lodge members relied upon peace and freedom as guaranteed by the civil authorities. Each Lodge was intended as a microcosm of the ideal society.’ A Mason is a peaceable subject to those Civil Powers that guarantee the expression of fundamental freedom,’ says Giuliano Bernardo. Without Liberty, Freemasonry cannot exist.”(5)
Freemasonry was not allowed to exist under Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other despots. All tyrants have recognized that the principles of Freemasonry undermine their rule of total control. That being so, it would not be inappropriate for Freemasonry to let the world know that it is actively supporting the freedoms of all peoples. And in cases of extreme suppression and ruthlessness Freemasonry is as obligated to speak out and work for Liberty as it did during the Enlightenment for the democratization of government.
Imprisonment without cause, torture, denial of due process, enslavement, ethnic cleansing, prohibition of free speech, refusing freedom of religion and freedom of association and terrorism are just a few of the violations of human rights that can be mentioned, all of which run counter to Freemasonry’s belief in the worth of the individual, thus totally incompatible with Freemasonry. So why not say so? There is nothing politically partisan about basic human rights and the dignity of man.
Renowned historian and Masonic chronicler Dr. Margaret Jacob, recently considered a question as to what she thought would be the cause Freemasonry should champion to restore a sense of purpose to the Craft and regain its role in society.(6) She was very reluctant to answer as she said she was not a Mason but when pressed she said her choice would be Human Rights.
Freemasonry seeks to unite diverse people not divide them. It abhors coercion and the use of force except in self-defense. It does not advocate one political cause over another, one religion over another nor one race over another. Every Lodge room is an oasis of peace where peace and harmony flows. When you enter a Lodge room you leave all your differences outside the door. Freemasonry is the only organization in the world that brings together in peace and harmony men of different cultures, creeds, races, religions, economic circumstances and political persuasions. It is the biggest hope for peace the world has.
This is a favorite subject of Paul Bessel who regards Freemasonry’s role in society to be one that is a vocal proponent of the inalienable rights of man endowed by his Creator.
“This idea of Masonry’s role being to uplift society, and support democracy and freedom, is not such a radical concept. In the early 1900s it appears to have been a dominant concept in American Freemasonry. Mainstream Masonic writers spoke about Freemasonry working for the good of society, bringing men of all races, religions, and backgrounds together and promoting world peace.” (7)
Bessel reminds us that Roscoe Pound was adamant in his belief that Freemasonry must promote the universality of mankind and that H.L. Haywood regarded the important byproducts of Freemasonry to be equality, liberty and democracy. And then Bessel delivers his ringing rally cry of allowing Freemasonry to be all it can be.
Freemasonry could be, and could have been in the past, the only institution in the world that at all times in every way promotes tolerance and meeting on the level. We could be the leaders in seeking racial harmony, religious ecumenism, cooperation among men and women, civility between people who believe in different political philosophies, and friendliness among those who choose to live their lives differently from others. We could be better than the United Nations, Amnesty International, and interfaith organizations, all together, because we could be the prime organization supporting tolerance for all, everywhere, in all circumstances. This would be a unique role for Freemasonry.” (7)
By actively working for and speaking out for the elimination of discrimination, for liberty and freedom for all, for human rights and for world peace, Freemasonry can regain the respect and the involvement of the leaders of today’s society. It can interact with society as a partner in promoting what is noble, just and right, furthering the dignity and worth of each individual rather than using society to further its own ends. Freemasonry’s greatness will be acting as a vehicle through which society can improve itself, individually and collectively, for no man is an island and no institution exists in a vacuum. We are all traveling this journey of life together; we are all one.
(1) Lord Northampton
MW The Pro Grand Master
The Most Hon. the Marquess of Northampton, DL
at the European Grand Master’s Meeting on 5th & 6th November 2007
(2) Franklin, Freemasonry and the Enlightenment by Richard E. Fletcher – SHORT TALK BULLETIN, March, 2009
(3) Is Freemasonry A Religion? Learning From A 19th-Century Masonic Debate by Tony Fels – HEREDOM, Volume 15, 2007 – page 175
(4) Freemasonry Role On The 21st Century by RWB A. Gonçalves, Secretary of Morning Star Lodge No 7, Grand Regular Lodge of Portugal
(5) The Masonic Concept of Liberty, Freemasonry and the Enlightenment by W. Bro. Alex Davidson
(6) Masonic Central Radio Podcast 3/12/09, part of the mega Masonic site Freemason Information,
(7) Masonic Traditions In Our Past And Our Future by Paul M. Bessel, Presentation at La France Lodge #93, F.A.A.M., Washington, D.C., September 8, 2000
And I will also add a post comment that I made to the original article. It might seem a bit out of context, because it is. I do not feel I have the right to publish other people’s comments that came before mine.
This is a very interesting comment and brings to light some misunderstandings about how Freemasonry should act.
Freemasonry does not have all the answers. If that were so all members of the Craft would be polishing their Perfect Ashlars. Be we are not. We are all chipping away at the rough and superfluous jagged edges of our Rough Ashlars.
No human has all the truth. No human is right all the time. No human is perfect.
The second point follows the first and should be strongly emphasized to all who have a fervent belief………..in anything. One can chose a path that one thinks correct without having to, in the process, castigate and bury all contending beliefs or exterminate those who believe differently.
I then as a Christian believe I have found a way to eternal happiness and a relationship with the Almighty – a way, not the way. I can live peacefully with a Hindu who has found another way. We are both going to the same place to meet the same God, we are just on different paths. All the spokes on my bicycle wheel lead to the same center hub.
As a Freemason I don’t insist that my fellow man do it my way. I allow for the fact that his way is every bit as valuable to him as my way is to me. Of course we must agree on certain basic premises , foundations, and building blocks from which we choose the path to take our journey. That’s a given. A person who does not accept the Almighty, who believes murder is OK, who puts institutions and systems ‘ worth before the worth of the individual are just plain incompatible.
But the vast majority of people that you associate with in your daily life – the profane do not have different goals in life nor different aspirations nor different values- they have different means on how to accomplish the same ends. Their culture is different – their language, their political process, their formalized religion, their dress, their customs, their heritage may all be different. That’s OK.
Freemasonry is non judgmental. It is non judgmental on different paths chosen from the same sound, wise and time tested understanding of life. That is what makes Freemasonry tolerant.
Unfortunately many who think they have found the one and only true answer or even just the best way insist that all others do it their way or they will refuse to associate with them or allow them into their societies, institutions and groups. How sad. I, like most Freemasons, do not feel threatened by a different approach. I , like most Freemason, can live peacefully with others that see things slightly differently because I don’t want to convince them that they should change theirs.
Many in Freemasonry have interpreted all this to mean that Freemasonry can, therefore, take no open stands on anything public lest it offend somebody else and that Freemasonry is not meant to push its nose into the affairs of civil society. This of course is the opposite extreme from those that demand we must make serious stances on many specific issues and what we have been arguing against above.
These two extremes of everything or nothing , if and when they are enacted, are what is causing the main lack of membership today.
Here is where I believe we should be – right in the middle, in moderation of extreme positions. Many Freemasons have characterized the ethics and morality of Freemasonry as “the religion upon which all men agree”, that is on the points that are common to all religions So what we promulgate are certain basic secular and religious truths that are accepted by the vast majority of the inhabitants of this earth either openly or privately in their hearts. Or as stated in the American Declaration of Independence that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”. And we should be, as I make the case for it in my paper, be standing up for these basic rights, these virtues, these moral and ethical standards both publicly and privately.
But lastly these are general points upon which all men agree. The specific application of each of these general points is left up to the interpretation of each Brother. For an example Freemasonry stands squarely against murder. Now that is a general moral or ethical position upon which most religions and most human beings agree upon. So where is the disagreement then? The disagreement comes into the sub categories, that is the specific application of these general principles. In the case of murder to give you an example of a specific application – is abortion murder? Well some say abortion is murder and some say it is not. Does Freemasonry have to take a stand upon abortion to the point that once it has decided which side to support anybody on the other side cannot be a Mason? If that is what the Brother commenting is advocating then I ask him to think again.
We, as Freemasons, do not take stands on specific applications of general positions and standards. We leave the specifics, like abortion, to be a private matter between that Brother and his Maker. And we do not judge, but leave that judgment up to God. But what I have been emphasizing is that does not demand that we, as a Craft, also keep our lips sealed when in the public about the general virtues upon which we stand. We can and should proclaim outloud to the entire world that liberty, justice, democracy, freedom education and others must be adhered to and that we are in the world’s presence to remind them of their responsibility to act accordingly. How to apply them and what they mean specifically is up to the citizens of each country and state to decide working through institutions other than Freemasonry such as their church and their political party. But be not deceived into thinking that Freemasonry has to publicly stand for nothing or publicly take stands on every specific issue. That will and has been its downfall.