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.