Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rough Ashlar No. 22: Sins of the Fathers

What's in a word? How do we parse our meanings and our language when we discuss matters Masonic? I find it fascinating how brethren in some obediences, mostly those with ties to the UGLE, but not exclusively, use certain highly charged and judgmental terminology to characterize other paths within Freemasonry, always to describe those Masonic obediences which they feel themselves to be in competition with or which they find intellectually threatening.

Inevitably, when it is pointed out that the terms they are using are offensive, they quickly point to the fact that their obedience, or Grand Lodge, or some Masonic Writer 150 years ago defined the term as they use it, to assert it is correct usage. None of that of course, in any way negates the fact that the terms are offensive. What they conveniently avoid stating, although often their attitude and statements make this clear, is that they were intended to be derogatory when they were coined, and are used in that manner today. The intent then was to discredit other varieties of Freemasonry, and claim sole authority for themselves.  The intent today is to defend what they were taught, because they are usually shocked when anyone contests the legitimacy of such views. It is even more troubling when these people do not behave otherwise like low lifes and have both documentation and educated commentary to back up their statements.

Freemasonry, like almost all other human traditions, is nuanced and multifaceted. It is never monolithic, although there are never a shortage of people who would prefer it were.

Language is at issue here almost as much as the sectarian mindsets it reflects. Terms such as bogus, clandestine, spurious,  and only to a slightly lesser degree, irregular are often used to describe many forms of Freemasonry. The logic of these perceptions and judgments are so ingrained that the average Mason considers them perfectly logical and legitimate perspectives. Seldom do any but a few with broader experience or education, even consider the possibility that the premises upon which these assertions and terms are based is at best seriously flawed. In point of fact, the terms are seldom used correctly even within the so-called Masonic definitions of the terms; they are invariably used as synonyms. In fact, those who do use them tend to get defensive when someone points out to them that such language can actually be derogatory,  insulting and demeaning. It occurred to me as I wrote this that it is very much like institutionalized racism, designed to be unseen to those guilty of it. "We are not biased, this view is correct."

All of this will change over time, one way or another. Either "mainstream" masons will simply get used to other forms being around and will perhaps grudgingly adjust, or by continual exposure, they will come to change their views. Alternately, mainstream masonry will continue to shrink until the variants will mostly be of equal or greater size and their voices will have no real significance anymore. It would be nice, but probably too much to hope for, that the leaders of UGLE derived Freemasonry in the US, will see fit to drop the fossilized ideas of 200 years ago and join the 21st century.

I have recently had a discussion with some brethren, and I must admit there has been a little growth, though not nearly enough, since the last time I dealt with the topic at length. That may just be chance, but I hope it means that prolonged exposure to the wider Masonic world is giving some of my brethren pause for thought.

The terms themselves are not legitimate. In theory, regularity is an important consideration for Masons. But who in reality made it so, and does it even bear any relationship to its origins any longer? At one time, when all masons were operative masons, there was a legitimate reason for that concern. It not only was a matter of being able to perform serious work well, but was tied to one's livelihood. With the advent, not so much of speculative masonry as of the establishment of Grand Lodges, the issue became about power and influence, not safety, skill, and livelihood. One has to question why a group of men, whom we now know were not unique among masons in their day, and by no means the first or only, should represent the establishment of a universal hegemony within Masonry.

Especially when their leadership is driving Freemasonry to its grave.

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