Sunday, August 3, 2014
Rough Ashlar No. 17: The Brave New World of Freemasonry
Having spent a large part of my adult life in close proximity to academia, I have come to take it for granted that adults will have developed an appreciation for critical thinking. It doesn't naturally occur to me that being critical of any aspect of the world would be construed as being inherently hostile toward it.
Since Freemasons are, at least by me, assumed to be involved on some level with self-examination as a means to self-improvement if not self-perfection, I have always assumed that they of all people would appreciate this. Animosity, even toward those with whom I disagree, has never been a part of my critique whether public or private.
It appears that at least in the case of some, I have been mistaken. For that, I am sorry, but I am more bemused. I will never likely change in this regard. I believe criticism of what we perceive as wrong, when combined with critical judgement, represents a valid means of communicating with others. I certainly will not retract those criticisms I have made concerning the flaws I see in the human institution of Freemasonry, whether they represent institutional flaws or errors in attitudes among individual members of our fraternity.
Since it is possible, even probable, that some Freemasons will view me as hostile to what is commonly referred to in North America as "mainstream" Freemasonry, allow me to assert that nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that I am a Liberal Freemason. Just as I understand that all religions hold kernels of universal truth, but not all the truth, so it is with Freemasonry.
My only hope is that we can increase communication and learn that working on ourselves and our institutions is in the greater good. I believe in Universal Freemasonry, regardless of the artificial and political boundaries we have created within our institutions. Believe it or not, we are all in this together.
I do not have delusions concerning the potential impact of my observations. I hope that in some small ways my efforts will open a few minds and instigate a little more communication. It's a big hope for a modest impact. I hope this will serve as an olive branch for those who have misconstrued my intentions. For the rest, let it be a branch of acacia. Mainstream Freemasonry does not need to listen to my critiques. It would be wise however, to engage in more self-critique and introspection, not because I think it should, but because doing so will help it respond to change and strengthen.
After all of the above, I have come to my point, finally.
Freemasonry has, admittedly without intending to, entered a brave new world. It was inevitable. The internet was created and like it or not, it has changed the entire world. It is also changing Freemasonry. No, I do not envision a Freemasonry which exists only online. Nor do I think that the traditional structures of Freemasonry will morph into something radically different, although they are likely to diversify.
What I do know is that thanks to the internet, the cat is out of the bag. We have entered a world where the Masonic powers no longer control access to information. It was once sufficient to call another form of Freemasonry or those who were members of other forms of Freemasonry "apostate" or in Masonic parlance, "irregular" and ban communication with them. That worked for those masons who didn't think for themselves, and to an extent it appears to still work, although those days are numbered.
Today Freemasons encounter far more masons online in a week than only a few decades ago most would encounter in a lifetime. Without even meeting masons of other obediences, Freemasons with internet connections are going to be exposed to a wider range of information and ideas concerning Freemasonry than ever before. This combined with greater access to early documents and academic scrutiny, are pealing away layers of myths that were constructed over the past two centuries to present and maintain a monolithic view of Masonic history.
It may, given the resistance of Masonic institutions to change, take years for some of them to recognize that the world around them has changed. Some others may already realize that this will be, in fact already is, a game changer. How they respond will affect them more than it will others.
Adaptation is going to take more than clever public relations campaigns. Minds will absorb what they are exposed to, even masonic minds. The days of being able to control the flow of information has ended. It's a brave new world. The cat will not be put back in the bag.