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Uncivil Unrest

January 23, 2017 7 comments

II. Of the CIVIL MAGISTRATES supreme and subordinate.

A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern’d in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates; for as Masonry hath been always injured by War, Bloodshed, and Confusion, so ancient Kings and Princes have been much dispos’d to encourage the Craftsmen, because of their Peaceableness and Loyalty, whereby they practically answer’d the Cavils of their Adversaries, and promoted the Honour of the Fraternity, who ever flourish’d in Times of Peace. So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State he is not to be countenanc’d in his Rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy Man; and, if convicted of no other Crime though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.


Freemasons in the US, at least, those not living in caves, can’t help but be aware that the recent US Presidential elections (and the equally important, although lesser discussed senatorial and representative elections) has been the most hotly contested race – and the most surprising upset –  probably since Ronald Reagan.

For reasons which I’m not inclined to discuss here, the election upset was so unexpected that the concern and complaints about it have gone on long after election day, and even after our new President was installed… err, inaugurated. Indeed, Facebook and Twitter seem to be talking about little else lately; even posts about bacon seem to be less frequent.

There is a time-honored tradition of not discussing religion or politics inside a Masonic lodge. Ostensibly to help maintain the harmony of the membership, some Freemasons mistakenly interpret this as neither subject is to be discussed at all, or as that neither subject should be discussed in any Masonic forum (either an online forum or a group at the local pub). Historically, however, it is probably the case that early lodges, not wishing to be seen as a society that might harbor traitors to the Crown or the Church, banned such discussions to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The tradition was strong enough in the early 1700s, however, to motivate Anderson to include it in his Constitutions.

I’m not surprised to see Freemasons on both sides of the election disagreement (4 sides of you include the Libertarian and Green party candidates), and frankly, given the nature of the contest, I’m not surprised to see many of them speaking out so vocally online. I am, however, a little disappointed to see some of them attacking each other, instead of limiting their arguments to attacking the candidates or their positions, characteristics, and perceived shortcomings.

While I’m all for keeping religious and political discussion out of the lodge meetings themselves (although it might liven up a few lodges after listening to the drone of the minutes), I’d argue that to keep Masons from talking about those topics with each other would be unnatural. Can you imagine the discussions that must have taken place around taverns and dinner tables in mid-1700s America? It’s conceivable that the American Revolution might not have taken place if the men – the Freemasons – of that time had interpreted the tradition the same way that so many of us do now.

Yet, despite my assertion that political discussion after the meeting (or online) is part of human nature, I’m still disappointed in how I see many of my fellow Masons going about it. Recent brain scan MRI studies have shown that political and religious thinking show up in the same areas as self-identification, meaning that our political philosophies are an intrinsic part of who we are as a person. Attacking and insulting each other is certainly not going to change anyone’s mind; if anything, human nature will just make that person dig in and more self-protective.

To be sure, some people can keep it light. Others have learned how to discuss seriously, but without rancor. It’s possible, really. But if your own argument is reduced to calling someone — whether a friend or a complete stranger — an insulting name, then maybe it’s time that you re-examine your own beliefs.  Or better yet, turn off your phone or computer and go get some fresh air.

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Masons, not Gay-sons!

October 31, 2015 11 comments

 

WBC hates gay Masons

Dateline: Atlanta, GA — Westboro Baptist Church members are coming to the support of the GL of GA over their controversial decision to make both homosexuality and fornication Masonic offenses. As reported on Chris Hodapp’s blog,:

The Grand Lodge of Georgia met yesterday (Oct 27) and the voting members upheld Grand Master Douglas McDonald’s edict outlawing homosexuality, and throwing in fornication for good measure. After several impassioned speeches on the floor against the measure, it passed with a very close vote that probably should have been counted individually, but wasn’t.

Today being Halloween, a seance was held to summon the ghost of church founder Fred Phelps, who directed the WBC to give their support to the GL of GA, which has come under fire from Freemasons around the US and other areas for their decision to pass this ruling during their recent GL session.


The seance was short-lived, and reportedly ended with the ghost of Phelps complaining about the lack of air conditioning.

 

 

The Greeks don’t want no Freaks

December 5, 2012 6 comments

Well, it’s about time that some of the Freemasons came to their senses, and we should all be thankful that Florida has the temerity to lead the way.  I’m talking, of course, about the recent edict by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Florida who is evicting anyone from the Craft who are not right-thinking, God-fearing Freemasons.

The Masonic online discussion world has been all a-Twitter over this, so there’s no need for me to go over the details, but the essentials (from the Grand Master’s Edict page) are these:

The question has arisen if certain religious practices are compatible with Freemasonry, primarily Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism.

He then natters on about some legal stuff, and writes:

I. CONCERNING GOD AND RELIGION
“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine.”……….

And then finishes up with the important part:

Therefore, as Grand Master, it is my Ruling and Decision that none of the above mentioned beliefs and/or practices are compatible with Freemasonry since they do not believe or practice one or more of the prerequisites to be a candidate for Masonry listed above.

Further, any member of the Craft that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks.

Furthermore, Freemasonry prohibits the change of any of the Ancient Landmarks, and its members admit that it is not in power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry.

It’s about time that somebody took a stand to kick out those trouble-making types who can’t commit to a real religion, and who pick some made-up theology in order to join the fraternity. My only beef is that MWGM Jorge Aladro hasn’t gone far enough.

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to Tom Hanks, Nicholas Cage, or any of those TV specials that have come up in the last five years, the Freemasons have very few actual requirements for joining. You must be a man, of lawful age, of good character, with a belief in a Supreme Creator. Some jurisdictions change the qualifications slightly, but those are the basics. Florida, apparently, has gotten tired of non-religious posers who are trying to sneak into the fraternity by claiming to be believers in completely fictitious, made-up religions like Paganism. Personally, I can’t imagine anything good coming from allowing such trouble makers into the Craft. If a real religion isn’t good enough for those people — or as is more likely the case, those people aren’t good enough for a real religion — then they are obviously rebels who will end up causing nothing but trouble for those around them.

My only concern is that Florida is about 240 years too late. Reading through my Masonic history books, I see that quite a large number of Freemasons from that time were also posers who claimed to belong to some movement called Deism. You can tell that Deism isn’t a real religion because they don’t have any churches. But even at that, listen to what those guys believed:

From Wikipedia:

Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature that he configured when he created all things. God is thus conceived to be wholly transcendent and never immanent. For Deists, human beings can only know God via reason and the observation of nature, but not by revelation or supernatural manifestations (such as miracles) – phenomena which Deists regard with caution if not skepticism. See the section Features of deism, following. Deism does not ascribe any specific qualities to a deity beyond non-intervention. Deism is related to naturalism because it credits the formation of life and the universe to a higher power, using only natural processes. Deism may also include a spiritual element, involving experiences of God and nature.[17]

So, let’s see: No churches, no bible or holy book, and a God that makes stuff and then wanders off to God who know where. Those guys from back in the late 1700s obviously were not members of a real religion, either. Too bad MWGM Alandro wasn’t around to kick them out of the fraternity, before they got themselves up to no good.

If you’re interested in reading more about this:

GM of Florida Expels Wiccans, Gnostics and Others

An Open Letter to the Grand Master of Florida

More Masonic Purging Florida Style

This article has no meaning

March 18, 2008 Leave a comment

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur because of all the family visiting, people to transport to and from airports, phone calls, and the assorted arrangements that one makes when a family member dies.

I visited my grandmother at the hospice section of the hospital where she had been checked in. She was tired, but alert; we joked about the advances in hospital technology since she had been a nurse in the 1940s. She offered me a cookie, and after an hour or so decided that she wanted to take a nap. Less than a week later she was moved to a nursing home. My wife and I drove out to visit, but she was sleeping. I stayed away for the next few days, having come down with one of those flus that’s been making the rounds. Three days later, she passed away.

She was 95 years old. She died peacefully in her sleep, in a warm room surrounded by trashy romance novels, jigsaw puzzles, and loving family members. We should all be so fortunate.

But that’s not what I’m writing about.

The funeral was almost a week later. In any group of people in which I am present, you’d come out pretty well if you had bet on me to be the one person who wasn’t following the directions. I pulled into the visitor’s parking at the funeral home, which means that I never signed in for the automobile procession, had my name logged in, etc. As it happens, this allowed me to be the first to leave the funeral home and head for the church, several blocks away. I took a turn, drove halfway down the block and something out of the corner of my eye made me slam on the brakes.

If you were the soccer mom in the minivan behind me, I’m really sorry about that.

bookeye.jpgI had happened to catch sight of the familiar square and compasses on a sign as I drove down the street; I was surprised because I hadn’t known that there was a lodge in this town. Just a few weeks earlier I had been at a lodge in the next town, in a huge, old building. This lodge, just across the river, was a complete contrast. A small, unassuming building in a residential neighborhood, with the S&C prominently displayed. I’ll have to stop in sometime.

But that’s not what I’m writing about, either.

I pulled into a side parking lot of the church, and waited in the cold for the hearse to show up. After the family had gathered, we opened the back of the car and brought the casket out to trolley and wheeled it through the outer doors of the church and waited while the other family members filed past the casket and into the pews. We then wheeled the casket up toward the sanctuary.

It has been some years since I’ve been to a Roman Catholic service, probably since before I joined the fraternity. The church was done in the architecture more common after the 1960s – open and airy, almost giving the impression that the services were taking place outdoors. But it was the imagery on the crucifix – an ornate cross carried by one of the assistants – that caught my eye.

The crucifixes that I remember seeing when I was younger tended to be thin strips of wood, supporting a small sculpture of the crucified Jesus. This version was made of wide sections, with Jesus painted in the typical crucified manner: arms outstretched, head hanging down, blood on his side.

mas-skull2.jpgBut that’s not what caught my eye. I had never seen – or at least, had never noticed – imagery around a crucifix. This one had at the bottom (under the picture of the cross itself) a skull atop what appeared to be a small pile of bones. While Connecticut Masonry does not use the skull and coffin in the ritual, it’s certainly familiar to any Mason who has seen pictures from other jurisdictions.

jd-staff.gif

sd-staff.gifLooking up, I saw on the left side of the cross-piece a stylized picture of a crescent moon. This was matched on the opposite side by a stylized picture of the sun, complete with a number of radiant streamers. Both of these pictures would have been immediately recognizable to any Mason in Connecticut who has ever carried a Deacon’s staff. The likeness was unmistakable.

 

But there’s more.

triangle.gifAt the very top of the cross was a large equilateral triangle. Inside the triangle was a dove, poised head downward. The wings, however, were partially outstretched and bisected the upper sides of the triangle, passing, or perhaps, breaking through the sides. The wings angled upward in such a way that if you had drawn a line from wingtip to the head and up to the other wingtip, you would have an angle approximating 90º.large10272lg.jpg

Just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, at some point in the service I leaned over to my 12 year old daughter. “Check out the symbols around the cross by the casket,” I whispered.

It took her about three seconds. “That’s a Mason thing, isn’t it?” she whispered back.

Okay, so it wasn’t just my imagination – the setup had vaguely Masonic undertones.

tria-conjuncta-in-uno-1811-large02.gifAs I listened to the priest describe the significance of the white shroud, the flowers, and the various other items around the area, my mind drifted off to wonder how our two organizations managed to develop the symbols that they did, and why we had similar – though not necessarily identical – explanations for them. It led me to wonder if the semiotics – the underlying symbology itself – wasn’t based on some deeper or older meanings, meanings of which we may be currently unaware. Or perhaps, meaninngs which have passed the threshold of awareness because they are such a basic part of our cultural memes.

But that’s not really what I’m writing about.

img_0087.jpgDriving from the church to the cemetery, we passed a well-known local landmark; a statue of one of our Revolutionary War heroes mounted on a horse with one foot raised. I reflected on the folklore which suggests that one foot raised means that the subject was wounded in battle, while two legs off the ground meant that he was killed in battle.

The service at the cemetery was very brief, perhaps owing to the raw, damp weather and the forecast of snow. Several of the family members tossed rose petals into the grave.

My sister rode with me on the way back home, and we passed another well-known local statue of a famous area resident who had lived until a ripe, old age in a nearby city. He was on a horse with both legs off the ground.

But that’s not what I’m writing about.

toasteroven_panasonic.jpgMy sister stayed with us overnight in order to better catch an early flight out. Although we had eaten in the afternoon, we decided to have a little snack. She put some bread into our new Italian-designed toaster-broiler-convection oven. She spent some minutes fumbling with the buttons, until I showed her the combination that would work: the one that looked like a stylized sliced section of a loaf and the other one that had wavy lines, presumably to represent heat. Very easy to follow, if you know what you’re looking for.

Sis doesn’t get out to Connecticut all that often, so we spent some time chatting, trying to catch up with each other’s lives. She’s less active with her church than she used to be, but has been spending a lot of time building up her side business as a photographer. I, of course, have been working a lot and when I’m not with my family, I’m usually doing something in my capacity as the District Grand Lecturer, which I explained was the guy in the area that tried to help the lodges in my area maintain the integrity of our ancient ceremonies that we have performed since time immemorial. I went on to explain that each ceremony has specific significance to it and teaches certain lessons in morality and natural philosophy. I also explained that while most states are similar in ritual, other countries have ceremonies and forms that are virtually unrecognizable to us – although, of course, we’re all still brothers… and in some cases, even sisters.

At that point I had to stop explaining so we could get some pizza.

But that’s not what I’m trying to write about.

The next day I dropped her off at the airport. On the way, I noticed the sign for the local Machinists and Aerospaceiam_gear_run1.gif Workers Union. There’s something familiar about it, isn’t there?

Anyway, I continued on my way to work, put in a full day, and then headed down to lodge right from the office. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, a light blinked on in the dashboard of my new truck. I’d never seen this light before, and had no idea what it meant. I parked the car and opened up the manual in the glove box to see if I could figure out what it was, but I couldn’t find it.

I hope it wasn’t anything important.dashlight.jpg

A Christmas Tall Story

December 20, 2007 4 comments

Do you suppose that the Archbishop of Canterbury reads my blog?

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that just days after I published an interesting article from Bro. John White of Connecticut about an alternate perspective on the birth of Jesus, that Dr. Rowan Williams voiced his own opinion on the matter.

From the Dec. 20, 2007 Times of London:

It’s all a Christmas tall story

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, dismissed the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men yesterday as nothing but “legend”.

There was scant evidence for the Magi, and none at all that there were three of them, or that they were kings, he said. All the evidence that existed was in Matthew’s Gospel. The Archbishop said: “Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from. It says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told.” Anything else was legend. “It works quite well as legend,” the Archbishop said.

Further, there was no evidence that there were any oxen or asses in the stable. The chances of any snow falling around the stable in Bethlehem were “very unlikely”. And as for the star rising and then standing still: the Archbishop pointed out that stars just don’t behave like that.

Although he believed in it himself, he advised that new Christians need not fear that they had to leap over the “hurdle” of belief in the Virgin Birth before they could be “signed up”. For good measure, he added, Jesus was probably not born in December at all. “Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival.”

He said the Christmas cards that show the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus, with the shepherds on one side and the Three Wise Men on the other, were guilty of “conflation”.

But in spite of his scepticism about aspects of the Christmas story, as told in infant nativity plays up and down the land, he denied that believing in God was equivalent to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.

“The thing is, belief in Santa does not generate a moral code, it does not generate art, it does not generate imagination. Belief in God is a bit bigger than that,” the Archbishop said.

Dr Williams was speaking live on BBC Radio Five to the presenter Simon Mayo when Ricky Gervais, star of The Office and a fellow guest, challenged him about the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith.

He said he was committed to belief in the Virgin Birth “as part of what I have inherited”. But belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a “hurdle” over which new Christians had to jump before they were accepted.

He hinted that decades ago he was not “too fussed” with the literal truth of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. But as time went on, he developed a “deeper sense” of what the Virgin Birth was all about. And he went on to do a literary-critical analysis of the traditional Christmas card that features, as often as not, a Virgin Mary cradling a baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, with shepherds on one side, the Three Wise Men on the other and oxen and asses all around. Sometimes the stable is depicted with snow falling all around, and often with a bright star rising in the East.

Most of it, the Archbishop said, could not have happened like that.

One of the few things that almost everyone agreed on was that Jesus’s mother’s name was Mary. That is in all the four Gospels. It was also pretty clear that Jesus’s father was called Joseph.

Dr Williams was not saying anything that is not taught as a matter of course in even the most conservative theological colleges. His supporters would argue that it is a sign of a true man of faith that he can hold on to an orthodox faith while permitting honest intellectual scrutiny of fundamental biblical texts.

The Archbishop admitted that the Church’s present difficulties, with the dispute over sexuality taking the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism, were off-putting to outsiders. “They don’t want to know about the inside politics of the Church, they want to know if God’s real, if they can be forgiven, what sort of lifestyles matter more and they want to know, I suppose, if their prayers are heard.”

Dr Williams’s views are strictly in line with orthodox Christian teaching. The Archbishop is sticking to what the Bible actually says.

A special baby is the integral part of this tale

The essential part of the Christmas story is the baby. God came to us in human form, as part of creation and absolutely integral to it. That is the heart and essence of it. This is why the last reading at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols held in churches throughout Britain at this time of year is the first few verses of John’s Gospel, about the incarnation of the “Word”. This culminates in that spine-chillingly wonderful declaration: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Without that, Christmas would be a rather vague festival.

In carols we sing about a baby, sweet and mild, one that “no crying makes”. This is wishful thinking, along with other parts of the story.

But some of it cannot be challenged, such as Mary, or in Greek, “Theotokos”, literally “God-bearer”. Her willingness to be part of God’s plan is central.

There seems little doubt that Jesus was born in a stable. The Bible says “outside the house”, and this was probably because the house was full. If it was a stable, there could have been animals at the birth of Jesus. We are also told that there were witnesses from the fields, shepherds taken by surprise by the news from the angels, rushing down from the hillsides, wondering in awe and then going back to their sheep, transformed by the coming of the baby.

The Wise Men were witnesses of the opposite kind. They were careful, calculating, educated men who think that they begin to discern God’s imminent arrival and who blunder their way across the region until they find what they think they’ve been seeking. They, too, go back transformed.

These are the really important bits of the story.

— The Rev John Jennings is a Church of England clergyman and adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury

=========

I want to call your attention to that little bit partway into the article:

“He hinted that decades ago he was not “too fussed” with the literal truth of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. But as time went on, he developed a “deeper sense” of what the Virgin Birth was all about.”

Sometimes I think that many of my brothers are so concerned with the history and origin of Masonry – Knights Templar, Druids, Medieval Stonemasons, Hebrews, Egyptians, Sumarians – that they overlook the more important, and to me, deeper meanings of our own tenets: the pursuit and development of the self through truth and honesty, perseverance, and personal integrity.

Likewise, I have a few brothers who are constantly looking for Masonic symbols in everything ranging from Buckyballs to crop circles in some effort to help them unlock the mysteries of the Universe. While such pursuits are certainly worthwhile – and indeed, I’ve done my own share of reading on those subjects – I’m now, perhaps a factor of age, maturity, or even intellectual laziness, much less concerned with finding such literal (or even metaphoric) truths, and more concerned with concentrating on smoothing out my own ashlar.

It seems that every day we see news about some fundamentalist sect which tries to push their literalist views on those around them. In such times, it’s refreshing to see that someone – especially someone in a position of authority – encouraging those around them to read more deeply in order to come to a better, more personal understanding of the real meanings behind the mythology.

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Jesus, the stonemason

December 17, 2007 2 comments

This article is by Bro. John White, a freelance writer living in Connecticut. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on the committee that produced the old Square & Compasses magazine, a quarterly publication which has been replaced by the Connecticut Freemason. The local newspaper, the Waterbury Republican-American often publishes Bro. White’s pieces on the Op-Ed pages. The following was published in 12/17/07 edition of that newspaper. I found it interesting, and thought that some of my regular readers might enjoy this.

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Jesus, the stonemason, born in a cave?

 

The story of Jesus is so deeply ingrained in the received knowledge of our culture that questioning any part of it may seem like heresy to some.

However, in one of his letters to the early church, St. Peter admonished members to “make every effort to supplement your faith … with knowledge” (II Peter 1:5, RSV). That should be borne in mind with regard to scholarly concerns being raised about Jesus’s birth and occupation which stem from what may be mistranslations in the Bible.

According to John Tiffany, writing in The Barnes Review (November/December 2006), some historians are saying Jesus was not born in a stable as conventionally believed, and likewise he was not a carpenter. Tiffany’s article, “New Revelations on the Life of Jesus,” draws upon various disciplines, primarily archaeology and linguistics, to present a different view of these matters. It is available on line at www.barnesreview.org/html/nov2006lead.html.

Our accepted notion that the birthplace of Jesus was a wooden structure comes from the art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Tiffany says. The artists who created the images drew from their experience in Europe and apparently were ignorant of life in Palestine at the time of Jesus.

Europe was a woodworking culture and animals were kept in barns. In Palestine, however, the primary construction material was stone. Caves were numerous there, and people used them as living quarters. Even today, many houses in Bethlehem are built in front of caves, just as they were in Jesus’ day.

Typically, the caves were two-level spaces in which people used the upper level for living quarters and the lower level to shelter their animals, where their rising body heat would help to warm the upper level when the weather was cold.

Many linguists, Tiffany says, now believe there may have been confusion about the words for “inn” and “second level.” Consequently, translation errors were made. A European-style inn would house guests in upper rooms away from the common area on the first floor; the guests’ animals would be stabled in a barn.

But dwelling caves in the Holy Land would have mangers placed along the lower-level cave walls for the animals. So the phrase “no room at the inn” may have meant no room in the upper level of a dwelling cave where Joseph and Mary sought shelter. Instead, they may have been offered use of the lower level where livestock lived and fed from mangers.

According to this line of thinking, then, Jesus was born in a cave, not a wooden European-style stable. Two extrabiblical texts, the Gnostic Gospel of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, say exactly that, Tiffany points out. As for Jesus’ profession, Tiffany says it is more likely he was a mason than a carpenter. The same goes for Joseph.

Translation errors are again said to be the source of the confusion. The Greek term tectone or tekton, which is translated as “carpenter,” actually means “artisan” and refers to a skilled craftsman whose medium might be metal, stone or wood. In the Middle East at the time of Jesus, wood was scarce but stone was plentiful. Since European building focused more on woodworking and carpentry, a cultural bias led to the choice of “carpenter” rather than “stonemason.”

Tiffany concludes by saying it’s possible Jesus was a woodworker, but the words used to describe him have a broader meaning than one particular vocation. Despite tradition, he says, a translation as “stonemason” may have more evidence to back it up.

John White is an author and freelance writer who lives in Cheshire.

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.

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