by Jason E. Marshall
(A version of this was originally published in the Autumn 2011 Edition of The Journal of The Masonic Society)
Freemasonry is undergoing a renaissance in popular culture thanks to books such as Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, movies likeNational Treasure, and even television shows like Sleepy Hollow. As always, our great fraternity has its detractors who believe that we are somehow evil and subversive to established religions, governments, etc. I am sure that most us have met one of these high-strung individuals up close and personally at one point or another. In the past, many of these individuals were easy to discredit or brush off; however, one of the problems that our fraternity now has, is that these detractors are now more vocal and visible than ever, thanks to the various outlets that are available to them through the internet. One can hardly Google the term “Freemason” without being inundated with anti-Masonic websites.
The fraternity is designed to help take an ordinary man of good character, and turn him into an extraordinary man. The fraternity takes a man and helps him unlock his secret treasure, which is his full hidden potential. There is a Masonic saying that, “no man is the same after arising from the Masonic alter, as he was when he first knelt there”, and that is the truth. The fraternity demands that its members take a look inside of themselves, and correct their flaws. The fraternity also demands that its members look outside of themselves, and actually take an active role in improving the world around them. Therefore, while the skullduggery that is often portrayed in popular culture, is an exaggerated take on the fraternity; there is truth to the popular notion of the role that our fraternity has played in shaping the character of great men throughout history, and that is its greatest treasure, its greatest gift.
For the anti-Masons, if the claim being levied against us is that we are somehow dangerous to the “establishment”, then I agree that we are, because the beautiful degrees of our fraternity teach men to be independent freethinkers. The Blue Lodge degrees are designed to take a rough ashlar of a man, and help him to shape himself into a more perfect ashlar. Freemasons are taught to stand up for what is right no matter what the cost. The brothers of the Scottish Rite even take an oath to stand up against oppression and do what is right, and to take on a government, religion, or any other body that oppresses its people. Therefore, if the “establishment” is somehow being oppressive, then it has a good reason to be weary, hence why the Nazi’s, the Fascists, the Communists, and numerous totalitarian governments have made sure to try and snuff out the fraternity as soon as they got into power.
So we have a choice, we can cave to the pressure of the anti-masons, which has already been done to some extent, or we can keep our standards high and tighten our belts. If we cave to the pressures of the anti-masons and open our doors wide to any man, or perhaps any woman, who desires admission, then are we doing our fraternity justice? Are we doing what our Masonic forefathers had envisioned and hoped for when they authored our magnificent system? If we cheapen the fraternity and give our secrets away to any man who is willing to listen and sign a check, then we will effectively kill our fraternity.
So what is to be done to preserve and protect the identity of the fraternity? The answer to that is simply for us to do what we do best, be what we were meant to be. Our grand fraternity has survived for centuries through the low periods after the Morgan Affair, and the high periods of the fraternal movement which swept the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. While our fraternity can no longer boast the huge membership numbers that it enjoyed in the decades that followed World War II, our fraternity is still strong. However, we are at a precipice where we must decide whether or not we will continue to be relevant, or degrade ourselves and become irrelevant. If we look at the numerous fraternities that have failed during the last century, the main reason for their failure is that they lowered their standards, and failed to live up to their true missions. The failed fraternities, lost sight of what made them great to begin with; therefore, we must keep sight of what the fraternity is truly about, we must hold fast to the philosophical soul of the fraternity.
In order to preserve the essence of the fraternity, it is essential that we provide a place where men are excited to come to Lodge. A place where men can join together with their brethren and perform the ritual which has been passed down to us from generation to generation. The Lodge must be a place of intellectual and spiritual progression. In short, the Lodge must be something that the brother cannot get anyplace else. If we lead by example, and do what the fraternity was meant to do, then we will not have a membership problem, because we will be attracting quality men, who cannot help but share their enthusiasm about the fraternity with other quality men, who will also want to join.
In conclusion, we must take a good long hard look at what the soul of the fraternity is about. We must live up to the standards that our forefathers put in place for us. We must once again become the driving force for freedom of thought, religion, and governance. We must stand strong and not waiver in our steadfast pursuit of Truth, no matter what our detractors say. We must live up to the standards of every Entered Apprentice who knocks on our doors looking for Truth.
Finally, take a little pride in being a dangerous force to those who wish to subvert freedom of thought, religion, and governance.
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