Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Politics of Fear and the Masonry of Exclusion

I have been contemplating the current storm surrounding Georgia and Tennessee and attempting to focus my thoughts on the matter. I've shared a few observations, but it continues to occupy my thoughts now and again during otherwise busy days. In the long run, I remain, true to my own nature, ultimately positive in my view of the situation. By that, I mean to say I view this as a good thing. Masons, of any description, have a natural tendency toward complacency. We don't like controversy, we don't like argument, and we like to allow things to evolve. But of course, complacency tends to discourage evolution. It much prefers the status quo. 

I'd like to propose considering at least for the sake of this discussion, a parallel or analogy between politics and Freemasonry. We see the affects of the politics of fear which have governed our nation now for far too long. The politics of fear and the creation of divisions between citizens which has accompanied that have damaged our nation and hurt the lives of many. A rational, thoughtful person, regardless of where their political inclination may position them, will recognize that the effects of such political manipulation is detrimental to society as a whole.

An unsentimental and honest examination of contemporary Freemasonry should make it clear that there exists similar forms of influence within Freemasonry. For the most part however, rather than presented as the claims of political leaders, the politics of division within Freemasonry are hidden in the guise of tradition. Admittedly, that remark alone is probably enough to make certain segments of the Masonic community run in search of their buckets of tar and their feather pillows. However, I am not the enemy of real tradition. False tradition, no matter however hoary it may be, should be subject to critical scrutiny.

For far too long, Freemasonry, especially in the United States has been defined, far too often by US vs. THEM, by who gets included and who is excluded, rather than by its largely vapid claims of universal brotherhood. And for the defenders of the faith among us, no, I am not attacking the one true Freemasonry. I am however, saying that we need to eliminate our contradictions and get honest, as much with ourselves as with others. 

What is Freemasonry? Is it a club for White Rednecks? Is it a club for old and comfortable businessmen? Is it an adult version of the "Our gang" clubhouse with the hand scrawled sign saying Girls keep out? Or Gays keep out? Or Blacks keep out? And does anyone take seriously the claims of "recognition" between Prince Hall and "mainstream" Grand Lodges when you can go to 99% of the lodges within the country and see either a sea of white faces or a sea of black ones?

It has to be clear to any and all, that mainstream Freemasonry today is not really ready to address the issue of gender. But today it has to face the question of Gender preference. The alternative will be the continued desanguination of  the lodge. Any thinking mason also has to realize, however persistently he pushes the realization to the back of his mind and himself into a state of denial, that eventually, all such issues of separation or division, which ultimately are polite terms for bias, whether they be related to race, gender preference, religion, or gender itself, will have to be grappled with and resolved. Ultimately, we also need to be honest that given our society as a whole, dealing with these things will mean dissolving both in word and in deed, any such barriers to membership, in the long run if not as a short term prospect.  The only real question is whether we tackle these issues while there are still functioning lodges able to consider petitions from potential initiates.

As I write this, I hear the old familiar voices ringing in my ears, that this will never be, that I am simply attacking "real" Freemasonry, etc. etc. Those are all very self applauding, and comforting ideas for those who voice them. They preclude the need to seriously consider the issue. They all reflect the politics of division and fear. "We are 'real', and you are not." "Why do you attack our fundamental traditions?" They are all disingenuous defenses. At the end of the day, I will not be directly affected by the decisions made by "mainstream" North American Freemasonry surrounding those issues. I am not gay, nor am I a woman. And I do not have to abide by the decisions of any of those Grand Lodges as my Freemasonry is less than fraternally described by many as "clandestine," a broad misuse of the term, as I am not remotely clandestine about it. After all, if there are any laws I uphold more fervently than those of the Craft, they are those of good English.

In one way, it might be argued by some that I should see the "downfall" of mainstream Freemasonry as a blessing. It would enable more growth for other forms of Masonry. However, that view, occasionally suggested by mainstream Masons, but never by the liberal masons I know, is simply wrong. The differences, the divisions within the Craft are ultimately artificial and of far less importance than the values we should be upholding. These are merely denominations, sects, and of secondary significance. Are not Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics and Copts, all Christians? Liberal Freemasonry has far more to gain from a healthy and open-minded "mainstream" Freemasonry, than from its demise. Indeed, although probably one mason in a thousand may view it this way, alas, we are all in this together. As I remarked recently and repeat here, to quote the Revolutionary Motto, and it would indeed be revolutionary for Freemasonry if we as a whole would adopt it, "United we stand, divided we fall."

That motto brings me full circle. "Mainstream" Freemasonry needs to consider what that motto means in relation to the membership of Freemasonry and Freemason's membership in that other universal fraternity - the human race. There is, despite differences of color, ethnicity, religion, language, sexual preference, and gender, only one human race. Are we going to become Universal, or continue to define ourselves by those whom we exclude? How much benefit does anyone really accrue by doing that? How much light can we seek when we limit the spectrum to a small bandwidth? Can we actually define ourselves by what we are, rather than by what we are not? Those are questions that need to be contemplated, because just as for us as a species, our survival as Freemasons depends on getting together while embracing our differences rather than trying to homogenize them.

I cannot make those decisions; other masons have to do so. Although I might wish to see a particular outcome, I offer these thoughts not to influence the decision, but to encourage a thoughtful one. Masons have decisions to make, the Lodge has work to do.

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