Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Diversity, Maturity, and Mythology in the Masonic World

Once in a legendary Blue Moon, the Masonic Blogosphere takes up a common topic. That has happened today with the publishing of what may, depending on which side of the fence you sit upon, be a "feel good" post, or a sadly reactionary one. I refer to the post today on Freemasons for Dummies.

The idea of petitioning the government to rule on one side or another of the old argument of UGLE derived Freemasonry versus Non-UGLE derived Freemasonry is something akin to asking the government to legislate concerning whether Protestantism, Orthodoxy, or Roman Catholicism is the legitimate version of Christianity. Apart from the fact that it just won't fly, more thoughtful Masonic minds will realize it raises the issue of providing legal documentation to support the claim that the UGLE's 1717 "Grand Lodge" is the legal founder of Freemasonry. Of course, we all know that Freemasonry existed before 1717,  even Speculative Freemasonry did, and then there's the little issue of the lack of actual legal documents establishing the foundation of the Grand Lodge of 1717. The first mention of such a Grand Lodge occurs in about 1738. There exist no documents of legal incorporation, and no grounds for the argument that such an organization should hold sole legal claim to a term which had been in use well before that date.

Such legislation would have to deal with such glaring issues, and force the fraternity to separate fact from fable, something it has consistently been loath to do. Then the door would be open to the question of the authority for the foundation of the AASR. I doubt the original "Charter" that the gentlemen of Charleston produced, could it be found, would stand up to the challenge of historical scrutiny.

My point is not to engage in tit for tat. Far from it, I argue that it is time to put petty childishness behind us and start acting like rational adults. Like it or not, and despite the legends that over the last 200 years or so have come to replace rational historic research among many Freemasons, no one Freemasonic obedience or lineage gets sole claim to the name. The petty arguments that somehow non-UGLE derived Freemasons are trying to, dare I say it, hoodwink innocent people are akin to the claims of the conspiracy theorists that Freemasons are reptilian aliens from space, or spawn of the devil. They're not only disrespectful, they are totally ungrounded.  They derive from the time when, during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, "Master Masons" traveled the country selling degrees and especially the higher degrees. None, including the Gentlemen of Charleston, were any different. They and the UGLE derived groups simply attempted to shift from traveling entrepreneurship to a more sedentary corporate version. I rather suspect that if we could look at all the accounting books associated with Freemasonry over the centuries, we'd discover that the only individual who has made real money off of Freemasonry is David Icke. On that note, it might be interesting to remember that the plethora of petitions to Congress and the President that have filled the internet over the last few years seem to have only one main outcome - they serve as fund raisers or attention for the organizations, groups, and individuals who propose them.

There's little reason to respond to each of the usual objections raised to forms of Freemasonry other than those of the UGLE. They are sectarian in nature and do not stand up to hard, rational scrutiny, which is precisely why their proponents wax so emotional when discussing such matters.

This however, is an opportune moment to raise a call for rational, civil exchange across the aisles. Where is the talk of "brotherly love" and "fraternalism" when the voices of sectarianism are raised? It appears, like politics and religion, to have been banned from the lodge. If Freemasons cannot extend the hand of friendship toward members of different Masonic organizations, we have no right to assume anyone else should take us seriously.  I hate to break it to you, but a lot of people don't.

It is time to sit down as adults and learn to distinguish between fact and fiction, history and foundational mythology. We owe it to each other, and we owe it to Freemasonry. We are not going to agree on everything, and that will no doubt include some significant issues. However, adults shouldn't need total agreement to establish the bonds of friendship and cooperation. And though it is probably more than a little silly not to, we needn't exchange full visitation rights in order to do so. It is not as if everyone is dying to get into someone else's lodge. We who comprise the Liberal, Mixed, Continental and Esoteric Masonic communities (not all the same thing) know what goes on in mainstream lodges far better than most "mainstream" masons know what goes on in ours. I have read numerous versions of mainstream North American rituals, from a variety of Preston Webb rituals, to the versions used in Pennsylvania Lodges, the Royal Arch, and several versions of the Scottish Rite. How many mainstream North American masons know the history of ritual change in the Modern or French Rite, or the histories of the Schroeder or the Adonhiramite rituals for example, much less have read even one of the rituals?

What I am trying to point out is that we need to foster better understanding. It serves everyone's interest and it is in the best interest of Freemasonry. The empire is crumbling, as we all know. Efforts to legislate brand copyright in the US courts, apart from being ludicrous, will be meaningless when there are no members left to care.

As a liberal Freemason, one who has never been a member of a UGLE derived lodge, and who is perfectly happy with his choice, I care about the future of all Freemasonry - as a set of principles, as a code of life and ethics, as a system of self development and education, as a fascinating exemplar of human values, as an institution of which I am a proud member, and while I realize that it will not likely ever regain the numbers it had in the early 20th Century, I am not convinced that it isn't better off being small. I say that because, although it may grow smaller, if we as Freemasons of every ilk, choose to refocus instead of retrench, we can grow in more important ways that have nothing to do with statistics and demographics. If the leadership of the Grand Lodges fails to show wisdom, the intellectual element within Freemasonry in general, needs to take the lead.

We have an opportunity here. I hope we can find more thoughtful ways of responding to diversity than the choice our good brother Hodapp suggests.

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