Freemasonry: As American As Apple Pie

Brethren,

Please forgive me for my absence from the blog–the past six weeks have been a bit insane. I’m now back on night shift at work so I have plenty of time during the day (when I should be sleeping) to ruminate on all things Masonic, and I predict the postings will come at a more regular basis over the next several weeks.

Given that we just passed Memorial Day, I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about the intersection between Freemasonry and the hallmarks of being a good American citizen [1] Our Masonic connection to our country runs much deeper our simple habit of saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of lodge meetings. Instead, the very obligations, duties, and principles we so frequently inculcate to make ourselves better men automatically lend themselves toward making us better citizens!

It is necessary to first define “good citizenship,” as it pertains to this article. Merriam-Webster defines “citizen” as “a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of that country.” [2] From this definition, we could surmise (for our purposes here, at least) that a “good citizen” is one such member of a country who, by his actions and outlook, actively makes an effort to earn those rights and protections offered to him by his country.

As Entered Apprentices, we learn to square our actions and circumscribe our passions. In order to be good citizens, we must restrain our passions and live a moral life. Reasonable discourse is seriously lacking in today’s political arena. Masonry supersedes party lines and political boundaries. Instead, as Masons, our willingness to view government policies objectively (seeing both the good and bad of a given piece of legislation) and engage in self-moderated discourse (outside of the lodge, of course) can serve to promote understanding and harmony at a grassroots level in a time of great political polarity, discontent, and uncertainty. Rectitude of life goes hand in hand with self-moderation. If we are to truly earn the freedoms we’ve been granted as American citizens, we have a responsibility to live moral lives. This morality should go above and beyond simple adherence to our laws. Instead, we have an obligation to actively strive to make our communities a better place for our fellow countrymen.

As Masons, we are taught to constantly seek more light, thus daily increasing in knowledge and virtue. It is imperative that good citizens be well-read and cognizant of the world around them. Part of earning the freedoms with which we’re entrusted as American citizens is making a conscious effort to understand those freedoms and how they differ and/or relate to those (or a lack thereof) offered by other countries around the world to their respective citizens.

The tie between Freemasonry and being a good citizen is so pronounced that Anderson devoted an entire section of his Constitutions of Masonry to that very relationship. According to Anderson, being a Mason is a direct antecedent to being a good citizen: “…[A Mason’s] obligations as a subject and citizen will not be relaxed, but enforced. He is to be a lover of quiet, peaceable and obedient to the civil powers, which yield him protection, and are set over him where he resides or works, so far as they infringe not the limited bounds of reason and religion. Nor can a real Craftsman ever be concerned in plots against the State, or be disrespectful to the magistracy; because the welfare of his country is his peculiar care.” [3] (emphasis mine)

In 1924, the Masonic Service Association of the United States published a series of short books into a collection called the “Little Masonic Library.” [4] One volume, entitled “Masonry and Americanism” sheds light on how Masonic principles can make our country a better place. 1924 was a difficult time for America. World War I had recently concluded, and despite the boom of the roaring twenties, America was still coming to grips with the tremendous loss of life incurred at the expense of the war. The political climate of the period in which this book was written, particularly regarding political discontent, parallels American society today a great deal. “Masonry and Americanism” contends that “Freemason has not one but many principles, which apply to the conditions America faces today. Those principles have heretofore been a passive force, and their influence has been felt in the world through the character of individual Masons. The challenge of the hour is that we make that force active…” [5] Our true challenge today as Masons and citizens, like back in 1924, is to  effect positive change of a wide scale. If we can band together as good men, Masons, and citizens, then perhaps we can illuminate the way for others and make this great country an even greater place for all who reside within its borders.

JR

[1] If you haven’t already done so, please pay a visit to The Midnight Freemasons for a fantastic article on Memorial Day from Bro Brian Schimian.

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/citizen

[3] James Anderson’s “Constitutions of Masonry,” Section II.

[4] I’ve got about five of the 16 volumes that make up the MSA “Little Masonic Library.” I keep telling myself one day I’ll get them all!

[5] “Freemasonry and Americanism,” page 145.

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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