The Masonic Roundtable: Episode 10 – Charity

Last night on The Masonic Roundtable, we discussed the topic of Masonic charity. One of the most frequent questions I get from non-masons is: “So what do you Masons actually do?” I usually respond with something to the effect of “charity and good works,” which then usually begs the followup question “like what?”

The problem I’ve always had with answering that particular question is that Masonic charity is as boundless and varied as the men who make up their respective lodges. Yes, there are a number of “institutionalized” charities at the Appendant Body (e.g. the Shriner’s Hospital for Children [1] or the Knights Templar Eye Foundation [2]) and Grand Lodge (e.g. the Masonic Home of Virginia [3]) level of Masonry, but by and large each individual Blue Lodge makes its own decisions on charitable giving.

Last night’s discussion really gets to the heart of why we, as Masons, take pride in giving back to the community. Take a look!

JR

[1] The Shriner’s Hospital for Children does incredible work. See http://www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org for more information.

[2] http://www.knightstemplar.org/ktef/

[3] http://www.mahova.com

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Dialing Back the Esoteric Elitism

BlueRedPillMasonry

This meme has recently been making its rounds on various social media platforms and reddit threads. Taken from the movie The Matrix, it insinuates that those who join Freemasonry purely for the fellowship, social intercourse, and camaraderie are somehow living in a dream world oblivious to the esoteric mysticism inherent in the organization.

My argument is thus: Viewing Masonry through a contextual framework (or lens) of sociology and the benefits it provides society as a fraternal organization is no less honorable—or scholarly—than viewing it through one of ancient mysticism which may, or may not, have been incorporated consciously into the organization during its foundational years.

I joined Masonry for the friendship. Plain and simple. I was at a point in my life where I desperately craved male companionship of similar caliber to those close, very best friends I made my first week of college. I’m very happy to report that I’ve been able to cultivate friendships on a similar qualitative level through this organization. Given my reasons for joining, I primarily view Masonry as an organization through the contextual framework (or lens) of sociology—it is a brotherhood that applies moral lessons, as presented through various symbols and rites, as an enabling factor for the men therein to be a positive force for good in today’s world.

I have no problem with Masons who live for the esoterics. My personal opinion is that, although the learned men who formed the original tenets of the organization were no doubt versed in Renaissance enlightenment (or the precursor to it) that enacted a resurgence of interest in Hermetic mysticism (among other things), hindsight is 20/20. Yes, of course it’s neat that this particular symbol which has significance to the Masonic fraternity was found on the ruins in [your ancient civilization here]. But remember, Masons have a sordid love affair with symbolism (rivaled only by their love affair with lapel pins). One could practically pull a symbol out of a hat at random, and a Masonic connection could likely be drawn almost immediately.

My passion for Masonic scholarship lay much more along the lines of contemporary sociology. I’m fascinated by the social implications of the fraternity as a living, breathing, evolving organism. The needs and benefits of it have changed substantially since the post-WWI/WWII era membership boom. It now competes with a myriad of other social and fraternal societies that weren’t around even 50 years ago. How then does it stay relevant? What conclusions can be drawn from the difference between how it attracts men in 2014 vice how it did in 1930? What good does it bring society today, and how is that different from the good it brought society 50 years ago? These are the questions I deem more deserving of my personal time and attention, and it is my prerogative to do so.

This article is not an attempt to marginalize the merits of exploring the Masonic connection to ancient mysticism. Rather, the entire point of the fraternity is to increase in knowledge and virtue (keep seeking more light!), regardless of whether you view that “light” through the contextual framework of anthropology (moral lessons that make men better), religion and mysticism (symbols galore), or sociology (what benefit does Masonry bring society?). That said, the elitism recently intimated by a number of Masons obsessed with esoterics does little to foster constructive discourse necessary for Masonic scholarship to flourish.

JR

Background Checks for Petitioners

From Chris Hodapp’s blog “Freemasons for Dummies” (http://freemasonsfordummies.blogspot.com/2014/03/gl-of-kansas-adopts-background-checks.html):

“Michael Halleran, the new Grand Master of Kansas, reports that Kansas adopted a new resolution calling for mandatory background checks of new members at its annual meeting on March 21st. This is after two years of the program being done by edict. The previous two years showed that the program did not scare off potential members or affect membership in any way. This is a welcome change and one that should be adopted nationwide.”

It is difficult for me to agree more with Bro. Hodapp’s sentiments. If we, as Masons, are truly passionate about maintaining our status as an organization of good men who attempt to make good men better, then I see very little harm in adding an extra layer of character verification to the process. As it stands in Virginia, the onus is on the petitioner to self-report any previous convictions or troubles with the law. Granted, Masonic lodges DO investigate every candidate by committee, but it is still the petitioner’s prerogative to report any wrongdoings. And while the petitioner has to be recommended by two brethren in good standing, it’s still possible that he could conceal/omit any past misdeeds from those brethren.

I understand that making background checks mandatory would incur extra costs. In Virginia, a State Police criminal background check will run between $15 – $20 (depending on the type and scope). That said, this added cost could easily be integrated into the petition fee, and would only end up costing lodges money should the petitioner be rejected and the fee returned (unless the lodge in question marked that portion of the petition fee as non-refundable). Costs would likely be incurred at the Grand Lodge level as well as the data from these background checks would have to be stored and treated confidentially. But I sincerely feel as if those costs would be minimal compared with the added protection afforded by the implementation of background checks.

Masonry is an organization that makes good men better. But not every person who wants to be a Mason is a good man. Black balls and self-reporting only go so far in guarding the West Gate. We owe it to ourselves and the future of our fraternity to “trust, but verify” all new candidates.

JR