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Chips and Dips

September 28, 2012 4 comments

Regular readers of this blog — all 19 of you — have probably seen a few of my attempts at parody or send up of some of the odd or bizarre conspiracy theories that I’ve run across. The thing about parody, though, is that it compels you to be even more bizarre than the object of parody itself, and sometimes that’s just downright difficult. Case in point: A recent article in the Huffington Post, an online news magazine whose author suggests that the Masonic Child ID Program (known around the US and Canada as MasoniChIP, or some variation thereof) is not only unnecessary,  but is actually part of a nefarious plan by those nefarious Freemasons to collect the DNA of children around North America for, err, nefarious purposes. Nefariously, of course.

You can read the article if you want more details, but in essence, Amy MacPherson suggests (and I write that because she never seems to actually reach any conclusion, or present enough evidence to state outright)  that because the CHIPS programs do not have a direct connection to government-run DNA databases, people should be wary of allowing them (CHIPS volunteers) to actually take any information.

MacPherson does raise several salient points, but it’s sad to see that she couldn’t spend an extra ten or fifteen minutes on Google to find answers to her questions.

In the US and Canada, the MasoniChIP volunteers do not save any of the personal information. There are a number of reasons for this, but we really do not have the resources to store backup copies, nor would we want the responsibility for ensuring their retrievability. Anyone who has seen the basement of a typical lodge in New England knows exactly what I mean: Some lodges are candidates for those Hoarders episodes. “You can’t throw that away! Don’t you know that old John Smith’s grandfather donated that broken chair after he came back from the war?” or “I know that we haven’t had a DeMolay chapter here since 1962, but we can’t get rid of those moldy banners and signs because we might bring it back one day.” Appropriate for DNA storage? I don’t think so.

It’s interesting, though, that MacPherson takes issue with a volunteer group that provides a child safety service, and that it is not directly connected to a government-run DNA database (to make it easier to identify children), but doesn’t seem to bat an eye over the concept that there are government-run DNA databases in the first place! I mean, didn’t she ever watch The X-Files?

More to the point, though, is that it doesn’t appear that MacPherson interviewed any, you know, actual Masons,  let alone any involved in the program for this article.

That’s just as well, of course, because MacPherson completely missed the bigger news. We all know that the program isn’t really about Child ID at all. I mean, here we put the acronym CHIPS right in front of her, and she completely misses the real story: The program is actually about inserting RFID tracking devices, i.e., micro-chips, into people so we can track them when we finally get that New World Order thing sorted out. We’re starting with the children, and eventually we will move to the elderly, and soon after, most people won’t think twice about giving up some DNA and fingerprint samples. Our “health care professionals” are already experts at implanting chips without the subject noticing, and with the hidden apps that we’re installing on all of those “smartphones,” it will be an easy task to sort and track anyone that we need to.

I’d like to suggest that we start with reporters who don’t know how to write a story.

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Dumb Masonidiocy

September 3, 2007 Leave a comment

A couple of years ago, I read something really interesting . The first Grand Lodge was established in England in 1717, and it only took a few years before “Masonic exposés ” began to hit the street. Even more interesting, though, is that Masonic historians believe that most of those buying the book were Masons, themselves. Many of these books went into multiple printings. Were they satisfying mere curiosity? Of course not; it appears that the Freemasons were buying the books so that they could study their own rituals at their leisure.

Were those Masons being lazy, or somehow less Masonic because of that? Personally, I think not; human nature being what it is, it seems to me that those early brothers were simply making good use of technology. I, myself, learned ritual out of a book, and for several of the larger parts actually tape-recorded myself reading from the book so I could play it in the car on my 20 minutes commute (and yes, I erased the tapes later). I have even transcribed various portions to my Palm T3 (encrypted, of course), where I could pull it out and study for a few minutes while waiting. I don’t think that doing so made my ritual any worse (or for that matter, any better) than those people who learned it “mouth to ear.” Again, I look at it as having utilized a tool that was not previously available to bygone brothers.

I mention this because over the last year I’ve had several conversations with people who speak rather disparagingly about another type of tool for Freemasons.

These tools are called “books”.

More specifically, I’m addressing two particular books: “Freemasonry for Dummies“, by Bro. Chris Hodapp, and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry”, by Bro. S. Brent Morris. Both are, in my opinion, enjoyable, entertaining, and informative books that explain a lot about the Craft, and are written in an accessible style for Masons and non-Masons alike. As I write this, Bro. Morris’ book is on my left, about halfway down on my bookshelf, where it’s been for the last few weeks since I moved it out of the “tyled” room that I suspect many of us use for the purposes of reading. I haven’t actually read Bro. Hodapp’s book, because when I was Master in 2006, I donated a copy to the lodge, and haven’t seen it since. However, I did read several chapters of it, and I’m sure that at some point it will make its way back to me.

However, I’m not here to write book reviews today.

A few days ago, Bro. Jeff Peace wrote an article that was published on The Burning Taper. Now, I happen to enjoy most of the articles I’ve seen from Bro. Peace, and generally I agree with what he has to say, and appreciate his desire to work for the betterment of Masonry. In this particular essay, which was about trying to revive Masonry, he writes:

Have we forgotten what Freemasonry is all about — what it really means? Today we have books like Freemasons for Dummies by Chris Hodapp and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry by Brent Morris. Who is buying these books? Freemasons. Are we so ignorant of our fraternity that we need a guide for dummies and idiots to teach us what we are already supposed to know?

I know that Bro. Peace did not intend to disparage either book. I did, however, find myself disturbed that he used them as an example of something that he saw as undesirable for the Craft. His contention is that the older and more established members should already be teaching such things to the new members. I think that this is admirable, but I have a different take on this. I see the large numbers of Masons purchasing these books as proof that these men are looking to jump-start their Masonic education, that they are desirous of learning and want to augment what they are gleaning in lodge. And too, both books contain excellent resources to other books, so that Masons wishing to continue their education can more readily find something of interest. While Bro. Peace and I disagree on this point, I think that we both agree that any brother who decides to further his education by picking up a book can be considered a good thing indeed.

Unfortunately, several comments to this Burning Taper article, as well as others in the past, suggest that some people simply don’t “get” the concept of “Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide” books. Here’s an example:

Bro Tom,
I have never read any book that falls within the “Dummies” and “Complete Idiots Guide” genre. Wheteher dealing with masonry or chess or conspiracies or proper ways to give self enema’s.

Maybe it has to do with wanting to read masonic stuff by Pike or Hall, Or By PHD’s like Dr. Margret Jacobs and Dr. Steven Bullock.

Why in name of TGAOU would any self respecting human being want to be categorized as an idiot or dummy and that these books are perfect for me?

I know there is not much pride left in education and the attempt to RAISE our intellectual status by reading up, instead of down in level is foriegn today.

Okay, allow me to help ease the transition for some of you. Back in the early days of personal computers, businesses would buy them, plunk them on your desk, and make you pretty much responsible for getting them to work. Anyone who is new to PCs within the last five years has no idea what those of us went through in the 80s and 90s – before “plug’n’play”, before “WYSIWYG”, before USB, and certainly before you could be assured that of having someone nearby who knew how to reset the BIOS, switch jumpers, or sit on hold to a support center 12 time zones away.

Enter “DOS for Dummies”, written in the early 90s, followed by a number of other computer related books by the same publishing company. The books were well-written, and aimed at people who needed just enough information to get things working. The “Dummies” appellation – like the “Complete Idiot’s” one to come later – was a bit of self-deprecating, gentle humor. Back in 1990, probably 3/4 of computer users felt like a “dummy” at some point simply because computers at the time were almost overwhelming. But as the publishing titles increased, it became obvious that the public was crazy to get books that presented information on a variety of subjects that could be presented in a simple, easy-to-follow format. Computer books were followed by a wide range of other books, and now you can find such topics as cooking, finance, yoga, history, home repair, personal relationships, religion, health, diet, pole dancing, microbiology, sports, and sex.

Most people understand the self-deprecating humor in the “Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide” titles, and considering that many of the books are written by authors who have more advanced texts in the field, I can’t imagine any shame in picking up a copy. In fact, I have a “Dummies” book on writing VBA macros for Excel; a few months after I finished it, I was ready to buy a very large, advanced book on the same subject, by the same well-known author. The first several chapters covered much of what was outlined in the bright yellow book I had purchased previously.

To be fair, though, somebody gave me a “Golf for Dummies,” and I purchased the “Idiot’s Guide” counterpart, but neither seemed to improve my game.

Neither Bro. Hodapp nor Bro. Morris asked me to write this, of course, and I’m sure that neither of them lose much sleep over the occasional disparaging comment from the uninformed. But it does bother me when people – especially those who claim to be brothers – criticize either the books themselves or those who buy and read them; as if the pursuit of Masonic knowledge can only proceed according to some imaginary plan that only the naysayers seem to know about.

Free your minds, my brothers, and the rest will follow.

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Go take a Pike!

August 28, 2007 2 comments

Most people who know of my online habits and haunts know that I spend what is probably an inordinate amount of time in the company of some odd and sometimes unsavory characters. No, I’m not talking about The Burning Taper (at least, not specifically); rather, I’m talking about the places on the internet where those who are predisposed against Freemasonry tend to congregate. While there are plenty of blogs, web sites and online forums, my favorite place to watch the konspiracy krowd is on Usenet. Perhaps because Usenet is the remnant of the old Internet, it is often frequented by people who one can easily imagine sitting on an overturned recycling bucket, typing away on a desk made of milk crates and boards at an old, cast-off 386 PC, with pictures of UFOs on the wall sporting, Fox Mulder-like, the catch phrase “I want to believe.”

Yes, this is my secret shame: whenever I’m feeling down and blue, or if I’ve had a bad day at work, or even if I’m just having a bad hair day, I put on my fingerless gloves, crank up the 1980s punk rock, and head down the Information Superhighway to those little dark corners of the net in order to watch – and sometimes to bait – the Anti-Masons.

Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. It’s cheaper than gambling, and easier on my health than drinking.

Anyhow, it’s long been my contention that anti-Masons tend to fall into three rather broadly defined groups; the religious, the konspiracists, and the kooks. In general, you can tell which in group an anti belongs by looking at the content and context of their argument:

“You Masons are a false religion, you worship Baphoment, and the glory of the LORD will see your downfall. You’ll burn in HELL for all eternity for promoting your lies and falsehoods!”

“Not only are you Masons in league with the Illuminati and the Council on Foreign Relations, you also have a secret lair underneath the Denver Airport.”

“Damn kids – get the hell off of my lawn! Just ‘cos your fathers are Freemasons, you think that I won’t try to take you all to court for harassment? I know all those Masons look out for each other downtown, but I’ll be sittin’ on the porch with my shotgun full o’rock salt next time, y’hear me?”

Note: if you are not sure as to which group each statement belongs, then perhaps you should not be reading this.

Those people with religious objections to the fraternity are often the most difficult to deal with because they aren’t often swayed by reason. Unfortunately, they are more often swayed by sensationalized and overly dramatic presentations by slick-haired preachers, most of whom seem to be more interested in filling the coffers of their ministries than in promoting things like “truth” and “tolerance.” Admittedly, I have a difficult time understanding this because it seems that most of those with religious objections to Freemasonry tend to practice more fundamentalist versions of their faiths, which is often associated with very literalistic interpretations of their scriptures. One would think that such literal-minded thinking would be less prone to influence by the sensationalism peddlers.

Be that as it may, most of the arguments that I see between religious Antis and Masons seem to center around the writings of several noted Masonic authors, with the the Antis pointing to passages in various books and saying “See, you lying evil monger? This passage PROVES that Masonry is a religion,” and Masons responding by saying “You’re barmy, you daft old goat! Nobody can define the Craft that way.”

Etc., etc. Hilarity ensues.

My own perspective is that Masons intending to argue (for example) the finer points of Albus Dumbledore Albert Pike are doomed to frustration; most fundamentalists will be more interested in promoting their own views than in learning about Masonry. More to the point, Masons trying to argue the finer points of any Masonic author of a century ago will need to discuss the issues in terms of symbolism, allegory, and metaphor, all of which are unlikely to be understood by those looking at the issues with a more literal-minded perspective. Literalism itself is not necessarily a bad quality; however, it is particularly ill suited for discussions that range off into the esoteric. Masons in such situations will inevitably find that while both of you are speaking English, you will seem to lack a common language.

It’s not unlike dealing with teenagers, in that respect.

A secondary issue is that, as blogger John Ratcliff points out, most Masons (at least, in the US) aren’t all that up to speed on the esoterica. And again, this isn’t a bad thing itself – Masonry is large, it contains multitudes. However, it does mean that most Masons will actually be unfamiliar with many of the oft-quoted paragraphs of Pike, Mackey, Hall, or Hodapp. This is perfectly normal, however, and rest assured that if you are in a discussion about Pike with an anti-Mason, he or she probably has not read much of it either. In my own experience, most of the Antis who quote Pike always quote the same paragraphs, almost as if they are reading the same books or websites by the uber-Antis who all quote exactly the same passages. Of course, I also suspect that Pike’s “Morals & Dogma” is one of the top ten books that Masons pick up and put down long before they’ve finished it.

I think that my copy makes a very nice paperweight.

Since Pike is by far the most quoted author by Anti-Masons, I think it’s worth addressing some of those points directly.

One of the most difficult things for Anti-Masons understand about the Craft (and indeed, this is true even for some old-time Master Masons, as well) is that there is no underlying philosophy, doctrine or dogma to Freemasonry on which all of the members agree. That is, while Masons are encouraged to study for their own personal improvement, and while there have been some excellent writings in the past and will likely be more in the future, not one of them is accepted as doctrinal. Indeed, even Morals & Dogma – referenced probably by more Antis than actual Masons – contains this passage in the Preface:

“The teachings of these Readings are not sacramental, so far as they go beyond the realm of Morality into those of other domains of Thought and Truth. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite uses the word “Dogma” in its true sense, of doctrine, or teaching; and is not dogmatic in the odious sense of that term. Every one is entirely free to reject and dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him to be untrue or unsound. It is only required of him that he shall weigh what is taught, and give it fair hearing and unprejudiced judgment. Of course, the ancient theosophic and philosophic speculations are not embodied as part of the doctrines of the Rite; but because it is of interest and profit to know what the Ancient Intellect thought upon these subjects, and because nothing so conclusively proves the radical difference between our human and the animal nature, as the capacity of the human mind to entertain such speculations in regard to itself and the Deity. But as to these opinions themselves, we may say, in the words of the learned Canonist, Ludovicus Gomez: “Opiniones secundum varietatem temporum senescant et intermoriantur, aliæque diversæ vel prioribus contrariæ renascantur et deinde pubescant.”

So, let’s extract the basics.

1) M&D is not an authoritative, definitive, or canonical work.

2) Masons (or more specifically, Scottish Rite Masons- Southern Jurisdiction, to whom this book was given until the early 1960s) are free to disagree with Pike’s interpretations.

3) The ancient teachings described by Pike are not even a part of the ritual; they are discussed simply as an illustration of their moral evolution.

To me, it seems pretty obvious that M&D was written for Masons interested in in exploring the nature of their relationship to their Deity, written from a perspective of comparing theology of some of the older religions dating back to the Egyptians. This point is pretty obvious to most Masons, but it somehow escapes the attention of the Antis, who are more interested in extracting short passages out of context that seem to support their position that Masonry is a religion unto itself, and possibly a demon-worshiping one, at that.

Antis also have a hard time believing that not all Masons are on board with this religion thing, much less that few Masons have actually read Pike. In trying to explain that Pike was a great thinker, but that his writing might have been above most of those who received copies of this book, they express doubt. Why would the SRSJ hand out the books if it weren’t required reading, they ask. And truth be told, the explanation does sound lame: Because no one person speaks for Freemasonry; not having a dogma, Freemasonry has no requirement that its members study any particular author. One can almost imagine the raised eyebrow while Antis pose the question: Yeah, right. You expect me to believe that your organization survived several hundred years without having so much as a mission statement?

Yes, it seems unbelievable that the fraternity has survived for centuries without some kind of “mission statement,” but it’s my opinion (and since I’m a respected Masonic writer, it must be true) that the lack of a formal doctrine has actually contributed to the longevity of the Fraternity. The Ancient Charges themselves make it clear that the essential points of membership, and the qualities venerated by the membership, are to be men who are trustworthy and honest, and who have a belief in a Supreme Being.

Yes, it’s really that simple.

Again, this is the part where non-Masons get it wrong; that some men write about Freemasonry in such loving and lofty terms often reserved for religious discussion leads some of them to assume that they do so because Freemasonry actually is a religion – albeit one in which the overwhelming majority of members don’t seem to recognize it as such.
More astounding, though, is the incredible lapse in reasoning that goes along with this thinking. What kind of religion is it in which the members don’t believe they are practicing? Furthermore, considering that most Masons in the US and UK practice some form of Christianity, what kind of religion is it in which the members believe that they belong to a different religion entirely? This is akin to visiting a synagogue or church and trying to tell the people that what they are really practicing is Santaria.

It’s amazing when you think about it; the entire purpose of the Fraternity is to be exactly that: a fraternity. To develop the bonds of friendship among those who would have otherwise remained at a perpetual distance. It’s a testament to the power of this simple bonding, the creation of friendships among men of different ages, religions, ethnic backgrounds that so many men speak so highly of their experiences with the Craft. It’s difficult to explain to an Anti, or even to a non-Mason, that feeling one gets when visiting a strange city and bumping into a person wearing a ring with the Square & Compasses, or being invited to a dinner at a strange lodge while on a business trip, or even the elevation of one’s spirits at the end of a bad day at work when walking into one’s mother lodge and being greeted by people that you know. It’s not a “religious” experience in the sense that there is nothing inherently spiritual, but it can an uplifting and calming experience, especially so for men of an age who are more accustomed to being strong and silent.

At this point, the quick-witted Anti might think to ask “If no one man speaks for Masonry, then why should I believe your explanation over those of the great authors of the last century?” This is actually a very good question, and one that Masons themselves might want to consider before we tackle it in the next installment of Freemasonarianism: The Religion of Freemasonry.

Blogster Against Idiocracy

April 9, 2007 Leave a comment

With all the stuff to do over the weekend, I missed out on the “Blogswarm Against Theocracy.” I see that a few of my brother Masons were in on it, so at least our fraternity was represented.

But further looking into it made me realize that the premise – that our rights to live as we want free of interference from those that have different opinions are in danger of being compromised – is slightly misdirected. Our rights are already being eroded every day, and we fail to do anything about it.

I decided to rant about this, and since I was already considering the idea of starting a new blog for topics not strictly Masonic, this seems as good a time as any to launch. Anyone who is interested can read my perspective on the “Blogswarm Against Theocracy” over on my new blog:

That was Zen – This is Tao.

Hope to see you there.

Categories: Blogging, Idiocracy
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