Die, heretic scum! Redux
Several brothers have now asked me pointedly why I haven’t written anything about the recent split of Halcyon Lodge from the Grand Lodge of Ohio. First of all, I haven’t written anything in
almost over a month; even some of my online friends have noticed that I’ve hardly even left any comments lately. This is because I’m getting into the year-end crush at work, and also the year-end rush in Connecticut Freemasonry. In the last month I’ve been to (or have been in) four degrees, three rehearsals, two Grand Lodge meetings, one District meeting, and several regular and special meetings at several different lodges. Somewhere in there I managed to make some family time, get a Christmas tree, do some household projects, do the single parent thing while my wife was on a business trip, and I’m sure I frittered away some spare moments as well; which means that just about every time I sat down to write something, I ended up reading the backlog of messages and then – more than once – dozing off at the keyboard.
The other reason I haven’t written anything about Halcyon, (and now, Euclid and, um, the other one, wherever it is) or the American “Grand Orient” thingie though, is because while the subject has generated enormous quantities of heat in several venues, there has been disproportionately very little light. And frankly, when I step back from the subject matter a little bit, there isn’t much worth writing about.
A small group of Freemasons worked very hard at revitalizing an older lodge. During the course of this, they ran into some Grand Lodge regulations that they believed complicated their designs. Unable to work out an amicable compromise with their Grand Lodge, they chose to turn in their charter and go it alone.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve read all about the other stuff. Allegations of financial chicanery, hot-headedness, stubborn Grand Lodge officers, politics, breaking of obligations, revolution against the established order, and disturbing the peace and littering.
Big, fat, hairy deal.
The first Grand Lodge was formed in 1717, and within twenty years lodges began splitting off, which means that it took less than a generation for lodges to develop issues with their overseeing Grand Lodge. Even a quick perusal of the literature shows that schisms in Freemasonry are surprisingly common; and although that latter half of the 20th century has been fairly quiet in that respect in the US and UK, splits and schisms in other countries have made recognition of various Grand Lodges throughout the world a mish-mash. However, it’s interesting to note that even Paul Bessel’s slightly out-of-date website on the various Grand Lodges operating within the US shows well over 200 non-mainstream (i.e., not AF&AM or Prince Hall) Grand Lodges extant. This averages to roughly six unrecognized jurisdictions per state in the US.
The point is that schisms within Freemasonry, and indeed, within almost any organization are fairly typical. To me, though, the more interesting aspect is not the schism itself, but the reaction to the split. In reading the responses on the several blogs and websites that have been carrying such discussions, I’m reminded of the old Emo Phillips joke. I posted this back in August, but under the circumstances, it bears repeating:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Well … are you religious or atheist?”
“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”
“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”
To which I said, “Then die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.
The thing that makes this joke so funny is that we all recognize that some perversity of human nature makes us less tolerant of a group that is almost like us than, than we are of some group that is very different. But we also recognize that any group that splits off from us becomes a them; this implies some kind of rejection of us; we get defensive and wonder – demand – that they explain themselves in order to make things more consistent with our own world view. This is difficult enough, but we then add to this volatile mix that they have their own reasons for splitting off, and have probably endured a long time – years, maybe decades – in harboring frustration. In order to justify splitting off, they develop a psychological or sociological rationale, which often takes to form of blaming us for actions or situations which they believe to be unfair. The result is generally a situation in which the groups, despite being very close on many other issues, harbor some animosity toward the other for some narrow range of wants or desires.
Certainly a number of my brethren have been reading the web boards and the several blogs – notably Burning Taper – and wondering why there is so much arguing. And frankly, I’ve long since stopped reading the threads on Burning Taper because I’m embarrassed, even mortified by the displays of vitriol from all sides. Personally, I’m of the mind that if you belong to an organization in which you don’t like the management, then make an attempt at trying to change things. If it doesn’t work, and if you can see that it’s going to cause some hard feelings, then get out and go to Plan B while everyone still has the opportunity to make things work.
But I also understand that we hate for people to split off from whatever groups we belong to because that implies that they weren’t happy; people who aren’t satisfied tend to break away out of anger, and others in the original group tend to see it as a rejection of established ways. This prompts the question “What was wrong with the established way?” and from that, any answer is bound to cause some kind of defensive reaction. Perhaps a Martian, unschooled in human nature, might wonder why such splits can’t be amicable affairs, but I think that most of us can well imagine that once we start to develop the “us vs them” mindset, then it’s only a matter of time before the rioting starts.
At some point, one has to take a step back and ask “Is there any evidence that would convince me that the other side is correct?” If the answer is “No,” then chances are that the people of the opposite opinion feel the same way, and the argument is at a stalemate. Go home. Sit down with a book and have a quiet scotch by the fire. Rebuild that old PC in the corner of the basement that you were going to give to your niece. Clean out the garage. Do something constructive… or not. But stop wasting your breath – or your bandwidth – once you understand that nothing is going to change, be it the situation or your mind.