Sunday, December 16, 2018

Masonry: Making Good Men Better?

I have been watching the Masonic Interwonk for quite a few years, and it has always been a mixed bag. Like all else on the internet you have to dig for the treasures, but recently certain conclusions have become more unavoidable.

In the past, I would tire of the grand number of brethren who honestly seem to represent the lowest common denominator. Increasingly though, of late it has begun to feel as if that old claim that Masonry makes good men better is just an empty slogan. I do not mean to suggest that Freemasonry doesn't have the tools for doing so nor that it has not done so. Is it possible that in the anxiety over membership we are more and more seeing a fraternity that has as its base something other than "good men?" Perhaps what Masonry is really doing now is making mediocre men insufferable.

Some may be inclined to condemn me for being snide, or cynical, or worse - unmasonic. However my words are chosen to incite - thought. Is it not possible that we have lowered the bar so far that we are guilty of having shot ourselves in the foot?

A very serious concern we should have if we are hoping to gain membership that will insure a healthy institution moving forward is whether much of our current installed base is busy chasing away exactly the type of individual we need. If you think that I am being unrealistic, I would like to suggest you haven't spent much time in any masonic forum lately. Lest you say, "but an online Masonic forum is not a lodge", I will note that nowadays, that online forum is the first place a person curious about Freemasonry will go. Unfortunately, because of the character of the discourse of most of the "legitimate" masons one encounters there,  it is most likely also the last place they will look.

Ironic as it is, the thought has occured to me that the way to get more and better membership is to accept fewer, thereby letting the water find its level.

Of course, the male craft could just start admitting women. The women would inject a healthy dose of reason, and hopefully the miscreants would make good on their threats of demitting, thereby resolving the rest of the problems.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Expecting a Different Outcome or Looking For One?

There's an old adage that the only stupid decision is doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different outcome. I think that applies pretty succinctly to the periodic efforts at rousing concern over and responding to the decline of the Craft in modern times.

I'm not going to opine that Freemasonry is dying; nor will I suggest that revival is only a few smart insights away. The majority of articles and posts on this subject take one of those two tacks. They usually throw a lot of numbers into the mill, no doubt having learnt that financial reports and business meetings are the only real Royal Secret we have, or at least the only secret the majority of us remember.

I would like to share some thoughts, or perhaps more accurately, the seed of a thought that may give birth to some useful ideas. Perhaps we have been looking at this all wrong.

One school of thought says we are on our way out and there's nothing we can do about it. Freemasonry will take its place alongside the Elks and a dozen other lesser fraternal orders. Another thinks there's nothing at all wrong and we just have to do what we have always done, just a little harder. The third school thinks pretty much the same thing except that there is some new technique we simply haven't figured out, and when we do, all will be well. Minor variations include meditations on the merits of scaled-down efficiency. What both these last two perspectives share in common is magical thinking. Magical thinking will not bring us a solution that will please us. Neither will any pedestrian, conservative ideas.

The notion that something has to radically change tends to get shot down by most schools of thought the moment it is brought up. Of course, we all know that in Freemasonry the swiftest way to be branded a heretic is to use the c-word. Change.

But it needn't be the heart of what is Freemasonry that needs change. Well, ok, Freemasonry needs to lose the business meetings, for sure, and most of the masons who manage the kitchens need to be retired, too.

However, maybe it isn't the content, but the structure that has failed us. Maybe, just maybe, we really have come to a point where the idea of independent lodges which may or may not join loose affiliational organizations makes more sense than the Grand Lodge model. Maybe, if that is too much for some to cope with, we should experiment with inverting that relationship.

In Scotland, as Bob Cooper has pointed out, the independent attitudes of individual lodges is so strong that the Grand Lodge of Scotland, on occasion gets up enough courage to offer a tentative suggestion. What it doesn't have however, is any kind of real control. That state of affairs might be exactly what North American Free

Without a doubt, most, if they think about any of these vague ruminations for more than a minute, will quickly table them. But I will say one thing which nobody will be able to contradict:

If we do not find creative ways to adapt to the challenges we are facing, change will be forced upon us. It will not be at anyone else's hands. Change will come to Freemasonry, either because we mold that change with intention, or because we have allowed it to happen through our own inaction.