What is Freemasonry? A Response to Tim Bryce

What is Freemasonry

The question of What is Freemasonry has been one I’ve tried to answer myself for many years. In a recent column, Tim Bryce took a stab at the elusive answer in a very astute and concise fashion coming to the ultimate conclusion that Freemasonry is a fraternity as “… an environment of companionship dedicated to the social development of its members.” While I don’t think his conclusion is to far from the mark, how he got there bares some consideration.

Did his conclusions go far enough?

In his conclusion, Tim says that Freemasonry is, at its core, a fraternity – debunking the notion of it being a club, philanthropy, religion or a corporation.  So, allow me to begin by considering what exactly a fraternity is.

The word fraternity has it’s origins in Old French, fraternité , with even older use from Latin, fraternitatem, which was defined as brotherhood. Rightly so, the notion of the word frater, as Tim says, was the Latin equivalent of the word brother, a term still used in some esoteric groups in present day.

The notion of the term fraternity has even older origins dating back to antiquity in the notion of the mystery cults of Rome (such as the Mithraic rites) evolving through the centuries to the trade guilds later to be embodied in American Culture through open organizations of association, at least so the Encyclopedic entry in Wikipedia would suggest.  That same article says that the American social enterprise that became Democracy was essentially an outgrowth of this notion of fraternity in that religious freedom gave cause for ideological association giving rise to a “nation of joiners” that Alexis de Tocqueville (1830) and Arthur M. Schlesinger (1944) saw fit to characterize American as.

But, that exploration may take us to far afield.  I will say that the de Tocqueville and Schlesinger’s conclusion has been challenged in more recent scholarship not as outgrowths of democracy but as institutionalization’s of civil society and the need for public engagement – an idea that turns the no religion or politics onto its head given the depth to which both are, today, the main focus of our present society.

As a fraternity, Tim’s conclusion is that while not a club, philanthropy, religion or political action committee, Freemasonry is a place where, and I’m paraphrasing here, moral men meet on common ground to act rightly to one another.  He concludes saying that men gathered like this for no more reason than to associate so.

While I can’t find a disagreement on that conclusion, one has to ask gather to for what end?  Personally, that conclusion has the taste of a mutual appreciation society, where members merely gather to congratulate one another on rank promotion and fine regalia acquisitions while debating on the cost of linen cleaning and the use of pasta sauce. This might sound glib, but if that were the case, why include the initiatic trappings to make an individual a Mason in the first place? It is in that rituals, and the ideas behind them, that I see the difference in there mere aspect of being a fraternity of self congratulators.

hindu parable about an elephnat
Blind Men Appraising an Elephant
Artist: Ohara Donshu, Japanese, died 1857
Medium: Ink and colors on paper
Place Made: Japan
Dates: early 19th century
Period: Edo Period

But, let’s take some time to analyze the elements Tim suggests the fraternity is not.  To do this, I we need to invoke an old Hindu parable on avoiding dogmatism.

In the parable on how to define an elephant we might find a good approach to how to define this conundrum of what Freemasonry is by describing its parts, or more precisely, the elements that Tim says Freemasonry is not. The Hindu telling of the parable goes something along these lines:

A number of blind men came to an elephant. Somebody told them that it was an elephant. The blind men asked, ‘What is the elephant like?’ and they began to touch its body. One of them said: ‘It is like a pillar.’ This blind man had only touched its leg. Another man said, ‘The elephant is like a husking basket.’ This person had only touched its ears. Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently. In the same way, he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that He is nothing else.
– Ramakrishna, an Indian mystic of the 19th-century

The conclusion of the parable is that no one individual is capable of defining the elephant by merely describing its parts.  That only in the summations of their totality was any consensus possible as to what, exactly, the elephant was, and even then a deaf man could still draw other conclusions rendering even further definitions.  Ultimately, the moral is that while we seek to define something, the only way to do so is by adequately and completely describing its parts.

In his piece, Tim gives us several of components saying that Freemasonry has variously been defined as a club, a corporation, a religion, a political action committee, and philanthropy.  To each of these he says that they miss the mark in defining the institution coming to the conclusion that it is merely a fraternity of association where these elements may, or may not, take place.  I argue that, to the contrary, Masonry is all of these things at various levels and at the same time while cloaked in the old fraternal notion of a fraternal society of common cause.

Is Freemasonry a Club?

While a seeming antiquated notion today, at one point in the 20th century clubs were about as diffuse as the subjects they gathered to associate about.  Garden clubs, chess clubs, book clubs, motorcycle clubs, car clubs, hunting clubs, gun clubs, card clubs… the list could go on and on. DMOZ, the open source directory, lists 132,542 clubs and more than 10,000 organizations. In some respects, Freemasonry is one just another one of these affinity clubs.

Is Freemasonry a Corporation?

The U.S. Small Business Association defines a corporation as “an independent legal entity owned by shareholders which means that “the corporation itself, not the shareholders that own it, is held legally liable for the actions and debts the business incurs.”  In Tim’s piece, he rightly states that a corporation is profitable in nature, which is the argument he makes for why Freemasonry is not a corporation.  Yet, without some profit, the organization cannot grow or anticipate any developments that might necessitate some capital investment (a new lodge, educational materials, new jewels, and so on).  At some level, even as a non-profit organization Freemasonry should function as a 501(c)10, which the IRS describes as:

A domestic fraternal society, order, or association must meet the following requirements:

  1. It must have a fraternal purpose. An organization has a fraternal purpose if membership is based on a common tie or the pursuit of a common object.  The organization must also have a substantial program of fraternal activities.
  2. It must operate under the lodge system. Operating under the lodge system requires, at a minimum, two active entities: (i) a parent organization; and (ii) a subordinate organization (called a lodge, branch, or the like) chartered by the parent and largely self-governing.
  3. It must not provide for the payment of life, sick, accident, or other benefits to its members. The organization may arrange with insurance companies to provide optional insurance to its members without jeopardizing its exempt status.
  4. It must devote its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes.
  5. It must be a domestic organization, that is, it must be organized in the United States.

So then, in this configuration, essentially, Freemasonry, under the Grand Lodge system, is a Corporation that does not take a profit, dedicating its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes. This may not apply at the lodge level, but I would suspect that most TempleBoards function as corporations to manage the infrastructure investment of the lodge building.  Does this make Freemasonry a corporation?  I would say yes and no in that while not a “corporate body” with the many denominations of Freemasonry, at its management level, it is a corporation where the lodges annually elected leaders (Worshipful Masters) to vote at shareholder meetings annually in the Grand Lodge communications electing new corporate leadership.

This corporate idea is probably most observable in the Shrine and in the Scottish Rite, both of which having many nonprofit corporations under their dominion.

mark twain on religionIs Freemasonry a Religion?

Tim makes another point in his piece that Freemasonry is not a religion, and while nearly every tract written, published and produced repeats this mantra (right down into the very landmarks of the institution) it does promote a religious lifestyle.  Further, it embraces a wide acceptance of religious thought (empirically) seeing all faiths as equal by 1) acknowledging all faiths and 2) embracing them in common cause in the lodge.

Interestingly, the early Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing (d.October, 1842) would say that “there is but one thing essential in religion and this is the doing of God’s will” but in doing so in communion, in the same sermon he says:

It is not with the voice only that man communicates with man Nothing is so eloquent as the deep silence of a crowd A sigh a low breathing sometimes pours into us our neighbour’s soul more than a volume of words There is a communication more subtle than freemasonry between those who feel alike How contagious is holy feeling.

The point of making this reference is that while Freemasonry does not espouse a religious practice, it certainly exudes a devout religious timbre that its religious tolerance allows to resonate through its many parts.

Is Freemasonry a Political Action Committee?

This was an interesting inclusion and one that I had not considered before in conjunction to Freemasonry.  The purpose of a PAC, says Opensecrets.org, is the “raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates” representing “business, labor or ideological interests.”

While no Masonic PAC exists (you can check yourself by consulting PACRONYMS, which is an alphabetical list of acronyms, abbreviations, initials, and common names of federal political action committees (PACs) identifying committees when their full names are not disclosed on campaign finance reports. My search yielded no Masonic named organizations)

What is interesting is what defines a PAC. At the Federal Level, a PAC is an organization that receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election.  Politics is that flip side of the coin to religion as taboo topics to discuss in lodge, a point Tim makes succinctly. But another point that Tim makes is that while Freemasonry believes (and actively promotes) patriotism, citizenship, and good government, its history also boasts a healthy degree of civic activism, especially in it’s fraternal political patriarchs in the likes of Famous Freemasons George Washington and nine of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. Even the Boston Tea party, while unverifiable, was planned in a ‘community center’ that sported a square and compass above its door.

Does that make Freemasonry a Political Action Committee? Probably not, but what it does suggest to me is that the gathering of like minded individuals given to common cause of idealism and faith, could still organize an activity of a political nature outside of the regular opening and closing of a lodge room in the same way they could plan a fishing trip together or organize a lodge movie night.


Is Freemasonry a Philanthropy

Tim makes a good point here in saying that Masons help others within their capacity to do so, without mandate, and peripheral goal.  While I see this as fundamentally correct, I think he equates the notion of philanthropy as holding weekly cupcake sales or canned food drives.  While I don’t mean this as a slight to Tim, I think when you look at the many charities that Masonry in some way started, influenced, or contributed to; one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the idea of just how much philanthropy is at work behind the scenes.  Remember, too, one of the chief articles of incorporation is to give to charitable causes, a task often instituted at the Grand Lodge level.  But some other past examples of tremendous Masonic philanthropy include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, built with millions of contributions,subscriptions and donations, in an era of much higher income disparity, to the present day Shrine Hospitals for Children and Scottish Rite Speech and Language programs.

While institutionally, neither of these two examples predicates the reason for being as an organization, both are examples of a deeply invested attribute of Freemasonry, namely brotherly love, which, by its Latin name, is Charity.  So while masonry itself may not be philanthropic, its does encompass the notion of a love towards mankind in its expression of brotherly love (hence the maxim brotherly love, relief, truth).  In some sense, philanthropy is the very thing that Masonry is trying to instill in those who seek out that common cause.

So What is Freemasonry?

This brings us back to the ultimate conclusion then of what the fraternity is to those who have sought it out.  Is it the sum of its parts or the individual definitions of its pieces?  How can it be none of the things Tim described when, in its operation and its roots it is, essentially, all of those things?  To quote from Tim’s piece:

Freemasonry, therefore, is not a club, philanthropy, a religion, or a PAC. Using symbols from ancient operative Masonry, Freemasonry is a place where men meet “on the level” (to promote equality), act “by the plumb” (rectitude of conduct), and part upon “the square” (to practice morality).

To the contrary, I would suggest that Masonry is a club that, ultimately, promotes philanthropy and religion in the same way a PAC or a corporation functions to grow and promote its own prosperity and agenda.  That, the ideas of the fraternity do go back centuries, but go well past the common vernacular of the 17th century to their more ancient usage in antiquity to the mystery cults of association by common cause.  The only difference is in how we choose to see ourselves – as the individual that the corporate body represents, or as the incorporation of the idea itself in the individual?

Can Freemasonry, like the elephant, be defined in its totality based upon the descriptions of its parts? Or is it a philosophical idea merely codified in its organization for its conduct?  I think Tim got it partially right, but I don’t think you can sum the totality of Freemasonry without rightly considering its parts.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts on What Freemasonry is in the comments below.

Also read:

What is Freemasonry? – Tim Bryce
A Response to Tim Bryce & Greg Stewart – Frederic L. Milliken

masonic seminar, leading a masonic lodge

Charity as a Core of Our Craft

Today’s article comes from Brother Wayne Anderson of Canada who runs a weekly Masonic Newsletter, publishing a new article each Sunday to everyone on his list. If you wish to get on Anderson’s List E-Mail him at wda_572@sympatico.ca  The Beehive has published articles with a similar point of view in regards to Masonic charity in the past. Today’s article once again reaffirms the corruption of Freemasonry in some jurisdictions.

Charity as a Core of Our Craft

The Relevancy of Charity in the Masonic World II
R.W. Bro. Thomas W. Jackson
2004 Blue Friar Lecture

300px-Square_and_compasses2My Brothers, I have had the great privilege and pleasure for more than 2 decades, to visit many Grand Lodges, in North American as well as in much of the rest of the world, and to see how Freemasonry operates over the better part of the globe.  As you might expect, one of the most striking characteristics of it, is the similarity of its principals and precepts.  It is quite evident that its basic philosophical reasons for existence are universal.  This feature is the glue that holds it together, and has done so for centuries.  The universality of Freemasonry on a world scale is totally dependent upon maintaining these principles and precepts.  That is not so say that there have not been differences between or variances within individual Grand Lodges, but Regular Freemasonry has not deviated from its basic philosophy.

One unexpected observation that I did find however was that the operational philosophies of Freemasonry did vary; depending upon the part of the world in which it existed.  The tenants of Freemasonry were ever present, but the forces driving it, made it relevant to the environment in which it existed.  Jasper Ridley, in his recent book, The Freemasons: A History of the World’s Most Powerful Secret Society, made the same observations, historically.  His observations, however, tended more to define individual Grand Lodges, or limited geographical regions.  The observations I made covered continents.

I found in Europe for example, that Freemasonry has retained much more of the philosophical qualities that characterized it in its early life.  This is not too difficult to understand since its origin was in Europe, and there was a greater degree of stability existing due to the age of the countries, and therefore with a lesser stimulus to diverge.  Hence, European Freemasonry displays a more philosophical form of Freemasonry than is found in the rest of the world.

In contrast to this philosophical style, Central America, and South America have a form of Freemasonry more driven by sociological demands of its environment. It retains the basic tenets of Freemasonry, while its operations practices tend to take on a more idealistic and progressive approach in establishing the goals of the Craft, to meet the needs of the society in which it exists.  Its idealism causes it to seek more lofty goals than is generally found elsewhere in the Masonic world.  Hence we find a more sociological form of Freemasonry.

While Mexico mirrors much of the socio-graphical qualities by which the Craft if known, probably due to an acquired complacency coupled with a lack of a force driving it.  Certainly it has been true in recent years.  Perhaps this complacency is a result of an absence of the same social needs as those in the countries to our south.  What we have evolved into however, is an organization that places much emphasis and effort on raising money and funding charities.  The resultant recognizable image of Freemasonry in North America is one of being a charitable organization.  Although charity is a core value of the Craft, it is not  the core value.  We have other core values that have crafted an organization the likes of which the world had never seen before, nor has it been matched since.

We as a North American Craft seem to have developed a driving need to raise money for charity, and as a result, I find myself out of step with much of North American leadership in this regard.  I feel strongly that this mantle of charity with which we cloak North American Freemasonry,  does a great disservice to the philosophical intent of the Craft, and has lead to a general dilution of our influence in society.

There are many charitable organizations designed for the specific purpose of promoting charitable objectives, but I know no other, whose professed purpose is to take good men and make them better.  Doctor E. Scott Ryan in his book, The Theology of Crime and the Paradox of Freedom, observed, “the wonderful work of Masonic charities is by no means synonymous with the wonderment of Masonic spirituality – and that’s a shame, when one considers how many fine charities there are and how few fine spiritualities there are”.  My brothers, think of how unique we were, how unique we are.  Think of how much and for how long, we have altered the direction taken in that ongoing quest for civility in a civil society.  Even most of the organizations modeled after us have long ago ceased to exist.  There can be little doubt, my brothers that our success and survival rests upon the uniqueness that characterizes Freemasonry.

Before I go any further, let me emphasize that I have absolutely no objection to Freemasonry’s commitment to helping others.  Indeed, it would be difficult to comprehend how we could involve good men, and avoid helping others.  This is not, however, the reason for our existence, and we depend too much upon this single feature to generate our image to society.  We, therefore limit ourselves to niches that many other organizations have inhabited longer, and were designed to do better.  And yet, long before we adopted this approach, we created more of an impact on the evolution of civil society and this world than any organization every conceived in the mind of man.  This has truly been the glowing accomplishment of Freemasonry, and is what historians are finally acknowledging about us today.

We have, in North America evolved into the world’s greatest charitable organization, but my brothers, Freemasonry is not a Charity.  It did not originate as a Charity, it did not function and survive as a Charity, it is not recognized by government agencies as a charity, and it certainly did not change the world as a Charity.  Its avowed purpose it making good men better.  By making good men better, we improve the quality of the man and therefore the quality of the world.  But of what value will be our charitable nature if we fail to survive to support any Charity.

We readily admit that we are declining, not only in numbers, but also as a visual image in modern-day society.  Even as our numbers are decreasing, even as our buildings are crumbling, even as the quality of our membership is waning, we continue to dedicate much of our effort to raising money for Charity.  We cannot continue to concentrate most of our efforts on raising money to give away.   We cannot buy admiration and respect, and my brothers; this is exactly what we are attempting to do.  To be charitable is an admirable quality, but our charitable character must never cloud our singular most important purpose, to make good men better.

There is another consideration that it would behoove us to pause and deliberate upon.  Dr. Ryan also made a very succinct observation when he stated, “if we become a charity, which we are certainly tending toward, and the government assumes that role which it is tending toward, then our purpose for existence will no longer exist”.

My brothers, history is littered with the remains of organizations, many patterned after Freemasonry, that were forced out of existence  for the very reason that the government assumed the role for which these organization existed.  Take time my brothers, to look back in North America and its fraternalism.  I was nothing short of astounded when I began to comprehend how many hundreds of fraternal organizations were created, existed, and died, many as a result in changes instituted by our governments.

Freemasonry has not been exempt from these changes.  This is one of the reasons why we may be less attractive to the current generations than we were to those of the past.  The need for brotherly love and dependence upon one another is not nearly as great today as it was in our not too distant past, simply because today the public is taxed to do what we did free for generations.  The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for many years operated the Patton School for orphan boys.  We prided ourselves in the quality of the young men we were graduating some become significant leaders in society.  Notwithstanding we were forced to close the school when the government took over the responsibility for providing foster homes at taxpayer’s expense.  The fact that we did better, and at no cost to the taxpayer was not relevant.

David T. Beito notes in his book, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967, that “fraternities have declined in influence since the depression, especially as providers of mutual aid and philanthropy” and that “We have yet to find a successful modern analog to the lodge”.  He also observed that we were moving from the character of Fraternalism to that of Paternalism”, and “in order to attract members the leadership was willing to de-emphasize their commitments and abandoned the qualities that made them distinctive”.  Please note that last comment, my Brothers, for he may be quite probably hitting upon the major cause of the decline of the Craft, both quantitatively as well as qualitatively.  He definitely reinforced, with that observation, the contention that the leadership lost sight of the qualities that made Freemasonry, Freemasonry.

Those charitable organizations that have survived, have survived with intent toward a specific charitable objective.  Freemasonry and its affiliated organizations, however, have taken the support of so many different charities, that most of our members are not even aware of them.  Do you know, for example, that in addition to our Masonic homes for children and the elderly, we support in some form, research or assistance programs involving the diseases of cancer, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, retinal disease, tuberculosis, arthritis, lung disease, cerebral palsy, leukemia, diabetes, aphesis, dyslexia, schizophrenia, kidney disease, and that certainly does not cover all.  We also have research hospitals, we provide dental care for the handicapped, we deliver food to the poor, we provide hearing dogs for the deaf, and we support major scholarship programs.  I am confident that if it were known, there are probably many other charitable projects undertaken by our subordinate lodges and affiliated bodies.

Now, if we don’t know what we support, I wonder how many outside the Craft know.  They do know, however, about the Cancer Society, The Heart Disease Foundation, The Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, and all the other charities that were designed for the specific purpose of collecting funds just for that disease.  What we are doing, is contributing our efforts and funds to support charities that will get the credit for those funds.

How did Freemasonry in North America develop into the world’s greatest Charity?  There are several factors that probably influenced this evolution, but we must remember, that according to many scholars, our philanthropic character was taken on in the Middle Ages and prior to our becoming a Speculative Craft.  During the construction of the great cathedrals, the stonemason’s set aside funds for their injured members and their families and widows.  Even today, it is still “known” that, right or wrong, “masons take care of their own”.  Note, however, this was not a public charity; it was taking care of their own.

For many people on the early in daily struggle to survive supersedes any consideration of what they might do for others.  The very concept of Charity is nonexistent, but when Freemasonry came to America it found a new soul in Charity.  Unfortunately over time it lost sight of the realization of our purpose, that of improving the world through the improvement of the man.  Our long-range vision had become drastically shortened and significantly clouded.  We are now not seeing the forest for the trees.  We have shrouded ourselves in short-term and less significant functions and lost our understanding of those great potential achievements that the Craft is capable of, and that the World deserves.  We are not only failing to recognize the impact of our past, but also the potential impact of our future.

I would suspect by now that most of you sitting here have developed the opinion that I am opposed to Freemasonry’s involvement with Charity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The charitable nature of Freemasonry has been an integral part of it, as I have noted, since prior to its conversion into its speculative form.  Without its concern for its members as well as for society in general, it could not have become what it has.   A Brotherhood of Men under the Fatherhood of God would be a lifeless shell indeed, if it lacked the essence of a charitable concern for our fellowman.

The concern I express is not what we do for Charity, but what we do not do to fulfill our purpose because of the concentration of effort we put into charity.  We might argue that by supporting charities we are making men better, and this is not untrue, but if this is all we make Freemasonry today we are failing our heritage.  My brothers, Freemasonry made this world, and did so by providing much more than charitable gifts.  It made men, better men than it took in, one man at a time.

It is imperative that we place, and keep in proper perspective the relationship of charity to Freemasonry.  If our charitable objectives, in any way distract us from the primary purpose of the Craft, it must not be tolerated.

Freemasonry in North America is at a critical crossroads in its life.  We the leaders of today are being forced to determine where it is that we really want it to go.  For over thirty years we have declined in numbers and reduced or image in society.  We have not reduced the loss or improved our image by the amount of monies we give in charity, although lord knows we tried.

The time has come for us to look at ourselves, to become more introspective, to realize that if we fail to look out for ourselves, we may very well lose our ability to look out for others.  Rest assured, there will be no one looking out for us when we need help.  Regretfully, for all that we have meant in the world, for all that we have given, there have been considerably more of the citizenry of the world looking for us to fail than to succeed.

We must become more cognizant of just how important we have been in the development of civil society.  There is perhaps no organization more ignorant of its past, than is North American Freemasonry.  We cannot afford to allow ignorance to consume us while we concentrate our efforts on programs that do not fall within the purview of our reason for existence.  We cannot continue to allow our buildings to become eyesores by which the public may judge us while we use our resources for other purposes.  We cannot continue to emphasize the need for more members, instead of more quality members.  And, we must generate an image so that those outside of us will see us more than a source of funding for other organizations.

One of Freemasonry’s greatest charitable accomplishments has been through the efforts of our members rather than through the contribution of our dollars, and those efforts were stimulated through the teaching of Masonic ideals and the encouragement of Freemasons to participate.  Thus, we fulfill our charitable commitments while fulfilling our professed philosophical purpose.  We take good men and make them better.  If we can fill that purpose and continue to be the world’s greatest Charity, then so be it.  If a choice must be made, however, let us never fail to make good men better.  That is more than our duty, that is our privileged and it is our purpose.

Kentucky holding despite splinter over Gay Masons.

The Grand Lodge of Kentucky is the latest battle ground in the fight to bring Freemasonry into the 21st century, where brothers are calling other brothers “a flaming faggot” in their sexual orientation.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader in the state of Kentucky, the W. Master of Winchester Masonic lodge was asked to resign because of his recent coming out as being gay.  His admission was enough to cause some distraught brothers to walk out on the W. Master because of their distress.

Refusing the insistence of his resignation, Frankfort lodge drafted a petition to change the state’s fraternal constitution to prohibit openly Gay men from being Masons, the proposed change saying:

“Freemasonry is pro-family and recognizes marriage as between one man and one woman. Any other relationship is a violation of the moral law and therefore unmasonic conduct. Homosexual relationships, openly professed and practiced, are a violation of the moral law and therefore unmasonic conduct. No openly homosexual Freemason shall be allowed to retain membership in this grand jurisdiction.”

Taken at the annual meeting of the Kentucky Grand Lodge, the constitutional change was rejected, but not without rumblings that there would be more on this in the future.

You can read the whole story on the Herald-Leader.

The issues does open the door to a wider consideration, that as roughly 15% of the U.S. population is gay (see the Gallup Poll data and the Demographics of sexual orientation from Wikipedia statistics) it goes without saying that so too then would the Lodge have a similar percentage of gay members.  And, as such, those brothers may or may not be out in the open, given the reaction of those around them.  is it right then to discriminate against them?

In the article, it mentions that following the vote there was a degree of grumbling that lead some observers to say that the issue would manifest again in the future to try and amend the constitution to encompass some meaning of family values so as to prohibit gay men from becoming member, which would likely mean some test administered at petition to determine orientation.

All of this is absolutely absurd, given that the fraternity is secular and precipitated on the idea of equality and liberty.  On the reverse, the Kentucky state constitution was amended to say “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as legal in Kentucky”, but this issue goes beyond the recognition of marriage to a discrimination based on preference.

The argument is that homosexuality goes against the moral law, but as I’ve pointed out in the past, which Moral Law?  As a Mason, I have to say, their argument does not wash and any man who is a just and upright individual can stand and be a Mason.  Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not a valid argument to exclude from the organization, just as race (and gender) should not be either.  To exclude by orientation like this is an undue control over someone in an area that has no consequence to their experience.

By accepting the reality that there are members who are gay, so too do we need to accept the idea of same sex partner widowers, who should be just as important in remembering as the heterosexual counterparts.  Yes, this is a dramatic awakening to very real social issue and one that is not insurmountable or destructive towards the institution.  To the contrary, to wall the Fraternity behind a morality test of pro-family/anti gay vitriol is a sure fire way to seal the future of the fraternity into a political abyss of social dis-unity.  In other words, Freemasonry would no longer be an active participant in civil society becoming instead a political club house.

What do you think?  Should Freemasonry be tolerant towards openly Gay members?

Bundled off with Freemasons-Athiests & Masons to Summit in Brussels

From the EU Observer:

Brussels is to hold an EU summit with atheists and Freemasons in the autumn, inviting them to a political dialogue parallel to the annual summit the bloc holds with Europe’s religious leaders.

It seems that in the push to make religious and non religious policy balance, following a meeting of Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muftis, the European Union is holding a mirror image summit for Atheists and Humanists. Included in the second meeting is the “non-religious” but spiritual group of Freemasons.

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David Pollock of the European Humanist Federation says of ther inclusion:

“I find it rather odd,Some of the Grand Lodges are secularist organisations, and strongly for separation of church and state, but they also retain all sorts of gobbledygook and myths such as the Great Architect of the Universe.”

Now, having lost their battle to omit a religious clause in the EU Constitutional and Lisbon Treaty, Pollock concedes that their organization has “lost that battle” saying “with the atheist summit, at least we’re being treated equally, although I’d rather if we were there along with the churches. Instead we’re being bundled off with the Freemasons.”

According to the EU Commission‘s spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein, Brussels views the Freemasons as a “community of conscience interconnected throughout Europe,” and “a form of humanist organisation.”

Its this last part that raises an interesting consideration as to the interactivity of Freemasonry and the participation (and shaping) of Civil Society by just such participation.

My guess is that American Freemasonry would rather say it has no position than to profess that its system of moral philosophy is not religious specific and characteristically more Humanistic (by definition), and therefore truly dedicated to the balance of all faiths as equal in standing, putting human rights above dogma.

It leads to an interesting question, does American Freemasonry find itself in greater leaning with the practice of the church (ecumenically speaking), or with the idea of a Humanist deism, putting the plight of mankind over and above his point of view in deity.

Is that possible in this day in age, or has the fabric of Masonry in North America changed?

Belgium has 3 major Grand Lodges including: Grand Lodge of Belgium, Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium, and the Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium with mutual recogniton between them.

The EUObserver article makes for a good read, and if I were in Brussels, I think this would be a dynamic event to attend.

If anyone wants to send an American Mason….

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Masonic Education vs. Practicing Freemasonry

I’ve been in recent mental debate over the place of Freemasonry in academia (more here) and the practice of Freemasonry in the real world.

More specifically, how Masonry is perceived in the academic sphere in a past and present light, vs. the contemporary practice of Freemasonry itself, what the fraternity is doing as a whole in creating or generating ideas and philosophy.

One of the limiting aspects of studying the Fraternity is that it has to focus on specific elements: i.e. lodges, meetings, minutes, attendance, composition of lodges in a particular area and the correspondence to and from the lodge. What it doesn’t take into account is what ritual that particular lodge is practicing, which I would suggest, dictates the ideology that is coming out of a particular area.

This becomes less of a concern as you enter into the North American Freemasonry that puts its practice squarely under the United Grand Lodge of England. With a homogenized ritual (Webb-Preston) and a stuff Grand Lodge leadership, innovation is virtually wiped clean from unique practice developing lodge to lodge. Yes, the ritual does vary state to state to some degree, but there is little change to its core metrics. As standardization goes, this is a boon for inter-recognition, but a bust ti innovating new rituals, new philosophy, and new creativity.

How I see this as relating to academia is that as more and more scholarly institutions start to come on line to study Freemasonry, what they may see is the early contribution to civil society (see Bullocks’s Revolutionary Brotherhood Jacob’s Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe, and Harlan-Jacob’s Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism) but little by way of the need to innovate in a tamed and civilized world. Rather, what will be evident is the process by which the different groups (lodges and grand lodges) work to form a network of laws (jurisprudence) to say who is and who isn’t in the main. I see this as a corporation making contractual deals to say who they “recognize” and who they “do not recognize” which is less about philosophical development, and more about partnerships and networks.

(This is a good explanation of what civil society is and how it relates to Freemasonry from the University of Antwerp)

Yet, perhaps these types of partnerships are in fact the foundation of how Freemasonry set about to (inadvertently) shape society. Imagine just such a an agreement today between a masculine Grand Lodge and feminine Grand Lodge, recognition not on principals, but on necessity, which in turn creates a new principal.

Of greater interest to me, however, is the variation of ritual which preceded the dominance of Grand Lodge Masonry (still at play in European Masonry in the milieu of Grand Lodges and Masonic Confederations like Clipsas and Lithos), where the diversity of ideas, practice, and culture become the foundation stones of the fraternity rather than a bane to it.

In many ways, I see this as the practice of Freemasonry in that it exceeds the idea of a lodge business meeting and puts it into an amplified mode of constructive operation.

I hope that academia will be able to pick up on that subtly and explore the internal mechanisms that generate its ability to make such a contribution to the creation of civil society.

In short, the question that comes to mind is as much rich history there is from the past, what is being created today that will be studied by academia tomorrow.  How is Freemasonry contributing to the creation of civil society now?

Dr. Margaret Jacob on Masonic Central

Origins of Freemasonry by Margaret Jacob

Origins of Freemasonry by Margaret Jacob

Some say that history is written by the victors.  Triumphs are in fact triumphant, and losses are only momentary set backs in a progressive path to the eventual story that you read in the history books.

But at times some histories run concurrently with others, and that there isn’t really a victor or vanquished, but instead parallel paths that points merge and blend together.  Freemasonry, it would seem, is just one of these histories where its various paths of existence seem to weave in and out of society and with other branches of itself.

For many years the fraternity has sprouted its own cadre of story tellers, its own historians.  From Anderson’s early mythologies of Freemasonry’s existence, to Yarker and Pike to name but a few, none have ever really stepped out of the box to understand the intricate workings as it relates to society.  Robinson has done some justice, as has Ridley in his work, but neither brought the study of the Freemasons out of the realm of the speculative and in to academia, at least not in any meaningful way.

It wasn’t until about a decade or so ago that the study of Freemasonry took on a more meaningful study, where today the craft stands at a turning point in the broader study of civil society.  And, at the helm of that ship is the scholarship of Dr. Margaret Jacob.

Masonry still has its arm chair and library historians, but Dr. Jacob has elevated the speculative history of our gentle craft to the hallowed halls of the university, and its from this study that our understanding of the fraternity today has far exceeding beyond what our understanding was of it before.

On Sunday, March 15, 2009, Dr. Margaret Jacob, the distinguished professor of History at UCLA, sat down with Masonic Central to  discuss her academic study of Freemasonry, as recorded in her books: The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions, Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe, and The Radical Enlightenment – Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans.

Additional topics to include: the Paradox of Masonic Secrecy in the 18th Century, Freemasonry in academia, and the role that Freemasonry occupies in the broader study of Civil Society.


It was a very interesting evening of discussion with the pre-eminent scholar of American and European Freemasonry.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Professor Jacob, or have heard said that you should, this is the program for you.  Dr. Jacob has a unique unbiased insight to our Masonic institution as her academic endeavors come from outside of the fraternity, rather than the inside.