Monday, February 27, 2012

Taking Liberty: Restoring Freemasonry by Returning to it a Virtue it Once Gave Us

In the Masonic Dictionary article 'Kakistocracy' Brother Dale Sabin presented a summary of the problems that beset Freemasonry, with the withering but undeniably true verdict that Freemasonry has become a kakistocracy.  We propose that it become, or rather return to what it once was, an organization that gave us the template for Liberty, reinvigorating the Craft by doing so.

Kakistocracy definition: government by the least qualified, from the Greek kakistos; worst, superlative of kakos; bad. (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition.)

As it is, Freemasonry is turned upside down.
Post- WW II Freemasonry has seen a de-evolution of the Fraternity from a grand Philosophical Order, to a pseudo- mystical public charity, under the management of men who not only misunderstand the philosophical and esoteric aspects of the Craft, but attempt to correct their irrelevance by increasing membership of like- minded individuals, and boosting public support by concentrating their efforts into charitable fundraising, which it does poorly.

To the young Candidate, we promise Philosophy; what we actually deliver is politics, bad food, incredibly boring business meetings, and badly done Ritual. The new Mason, disappointed by this subterfuge, either fades into the background, quietly and individually studying and practicing Masonry as it was meant to be, or simply becomes inactive, if he doesn't actually demit. The latter will never be seen again, the former makes himself a Master through his individual effort and study, but will never ask, or be asked, to serve in a managerial capacity.

Why? Like calls to like; incompetence breeds incompetence. In business we refer to this, usually with a chuckle, as "The Peter Principle:" an individual rises to his own level of incompetence. In Masonry, we refer to this, in all seriousness, as "advancement." The only Mason who will be tapped to serve in a Grand Lodge capacity, or would even desire to do so, under these circumstances, is the Mason who probably shouldn't have passed through our West Gate in the first place.

Of this type of Mason, Manly P. Hall says: "They can never do any harm to Freemasonry by joining, because they cannot get in ... Watch fobs, lapel badges, and other insignia do not make Masons; neither does the ritual ordain them. Masons are evolved through the self- conscious effort to live up to the highest ideals within themselves ..."

Brother Hall, usually a fairly accurate and insightful commentator on Masonry, is dead wrong in this, at least as it applies to the physical body of Freemasonry in the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. They have done nothing but harm.

There is yet a second problem contributing to our current poor leadership: lack of education. This can take a potentially good Mason, and make him worse, through no fault of his own. A Brother once said "today's inept DDGM is tomorrows incompetent Grand Master."

I would add: today's uneducated Master Mason is tomorrows inept DDGM.

Fortunately, the cure for this incompetence at the top is largely the same cure as for the rest of the problems in our Fraternity.

We resurrect liberty or we shall have death.
Without outlining them, the solutions that were presented in Brother's Sabin's article* are of limited use to reduce the problems in the Craft.  They have worth for individual lodges.  Indeed any of the familiar prescriptions as a remedy for all lodges, to be instituted by mighty Grand lodge authorities are bound to produce failure.

I suggest something else, a thoroughly Masonic (and American) idea: Liberty.

We should free the Craft from onerous and suffocating top-down authority.  Let Freemasonry return to what it was, i.e. individual lodges, sovereign, with connections to communities and built by a groups of men who are true fellows.   Give them freedom to look within the rich traditions of Freemasonry to build lodges with characteristics that suit them. 

Let the moribund lodges that have failed pass and new lodges rise or take up retired charters.  Supporting decay and failure only helps rot the Craft and place undue burden.

Encourage Freemasonry to reach out to the professionals, universities and men from groups who are given to share fellowship.  Right now lodges and grand lodges collude to keep these men from the doors of Freemasonry.  Step aside and let these men in.  This again is a question of removing the shackles from Freemasonry.

Facilitate membership or let the folks start a new lodge.  Facilitate those new lodges, find a Past Master to help get them started.

Let lodges acquire a character that they choose.  In these days we are apt to speak about diversity, though not achieve it, at least in Masonry.  There are so many ways to be diverse that all lodges will not be able to accomplish it but one place to start is a diversity of lodges!

Let the lodges develop activities of their own devising that responds to the interest of their membership.  Rather than trying to determine ways to restrict Masons or to dictate a calendar beside their essential meetings for rituals, why not leave the Masons to see how often they need to meet and what else they want to put on the calendar. 

Lodges could consider becoming centers of activity in the community again- coming out dances, baby showers, talks, memorial services, etc.   Lodges should not be forbidding and distant from the community.  That was not the character of Freemasonry during its zenith. 

Let charity return to being the work of the lodge, and let charity exist within the lodge and in endeavors of its choice.

Let Masonic education become something Masons in the lodge take upon themselves.  If you want people who will pursue Masonic education, urge lodges to select educated men!

Masonry is a system of allegory expressed in ritual and symbols, not a system for employing the underemployed or jobless at the grand lodge to act as incompetent teachers usurping one the most crucial Masonic process, i.e. the individual's processing and interpretation of the ritual and symbols!  The Mason is given resources, he is guided to where he might FREELY make his own pursuit or inquiries, he is not "taught"!   

If you want to get rid of politics don't force divided lodges to turn on themselves.  Let them part amicably and multiply!  If one group's ideas were better for lodge growth and quality we are sure to find out this way.

Grand lodges, make yourself useful!  Serve Freemasons and lodges, don't try to make Freemasons and lodges serve you.  Put materials online so Masons can read them, learn about the Craft, history, constitutions and the business conducted in their name.  To share the wonderful experiments of lodge types such as European Concept, Traditional Observance, various historic rituals, etc. make information available. To see exemplary ritual work, put it on!

Let us recall that Freemasonry is thus named because it was made of FREE men, Masters, in a time when much of society was bound in servitude.  It is therefore important for the Grand lodge and Freemasonry in general to refrain from claims of ownership and control of men.

What Thomas Jefferson said about government applies to Masonic governance as well, the government that is best governs least; Grand lodges should be afraid of failing its constituents and the constituents should never be afraid of governance.  Don't forget that it was the failure of the British colonial authorities to heed these words that caused the people to wage a revolution and start anew.  

*For the full article cited please see the Masonic Dictionary article.