About ten days ago, Bro. Isaiah Coffey of the Kingdom of Conscience blog asked me to post a series of questions asking for your (if you're a Mason) opinions about Masonry. His hopes were to generate a series of responses to take to his brethren at his Prince Hall lodge, to show them what a broad spectrum of Masons had to say about how they feel about the current state of Freemasonry.
The post has generated maybe four or five actual sets of answers. The balance of the comments (36, so far) has turned into a free-for-all with trolls bashing Freemasonry in general, name-calling, and brothers taking jabs against each other over regularity and grand lodge integrity and various other issues far removed from the original purpose of the article.
I guess Bro. Isaiah got his answer about the current state of Freemasonry. It's not particularly pretty.
I've just realized that I haven't answered his questions, either.
So here goes.
Keep in mind I'm speaking of the Freemasonry I have perceived and experienced locally, that is, membership in an all-white small-town "regular" lodge working under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, in a town of about 2,500 and a county of about 25,000, where 98% of the population is white.
1. What has changed (good or bad) in your eyes over the course of time?
Having been a member of the fraternity for only five years, I can't speak to how it's changed locally from the distant past until now. Other than my personal experiences and opinions, which have changed drastically these past five years, I really doubt much of anything has changed in my lodge in the past 50 years or more. The group is made up of mostly men who grew up here, whose fathers and grandfathers and maybe even further back were Masons in that lodge. I can think of only a very few members who weren't "from around here." The county on the surface being predominantly a "God-fearing" religious place, I discovered that most of the brothers went to the same churches and held the same conservative Christian dogma, and that many of the brethren were, in fact, brothers, or brothers-in-law, or first cousins. These non-Masonic relationships led down two avenues. First, many of the men had long-standing family squabbles unrelated to Masonry that led to a lot of "bad talking," and secondly, many of these men had unseen and unexpected "good ol' boy" ties that I wasn't always aware of.
In general, change in the lodge is frowned upon. "That's the way we do it around here" was probably the most common phrase I heard in the lodge, second only to "Let the officers take their stations." It didn't matter if the way it had "always" been done was a tradition started two weeks earlier, or 20 years ago, or back in the Dark Ages, I was constantly seeing that the Freemasonry I had read about and expected took a backseat to how it had evolved in my lodge.
2. What do you miss the most about the Craft that doesn't take place anymore?
I miss the feeling of brotherhood that I felt during the first year or two of being a Mason. As I saw there were ties stronger than Masonic bonds between various factions and cliques, I slowly became more disillusioned.
3. What is your opinion of the Brothers of today as in contrast to those when you were Initiated, Passed and Raised?
When I first joined, I respectfully treated everyone in my lodge as a brother, and expected to be treated the same way. My high regard for some of the brothers deteriorated as I saw that not everyone took their obligations of brotherly love seriously. My first indication that brotherly love didn't "prevail" came in watching the interactions between long-time Masons. Brother X noticeably wouldn't shake hands with Brother Y, and Brother A always had some locker-room put-down ready for Brother B. Yeah, some people would call it good-natured macho male fun, always laughingly putting down someone's weight, hairstyle or beard, small stature, or joking about how someone's wife was "gonna beat you," but it just never seemed Masonic to me. I mean, I could hear (and join in) that kind of stuff by joining a bowling league, getting a job on a construction site, or becoming a regular in a bar. I had hoped I was joining a group of more enlightened, intelligent and refined men to lift me up intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. Instead of being lifted up, I just heard all their put-downs.
4. What did it mean to be a Freemason "back in your day?"
Back in "my day," otherwise known as the first three years I was a Mason, being a Freemason meant enjoying the fellowship of my lodge brothers, attending meetings, being an officer, visiting other lodges and often sitting in as an officer in their meetings, learning and teaching the rituals and catechisms, joining the York Rite, getting up at 4 a.m. to help with Masonic-sponsored events like the yearly road race for charity and the Widow's Breakfast at Christmas, taking gift baskets to shut-in widows, going to district meetings and schools of instruction, keeping the building clean, talking Masonic history and esoterica with the (very) few brothers who had an interest, and striving to be a better man.
5. What is your perspective on the Fraternity as a whole?
Freemasonry, in general, has become something different than it was intended to be. This problem is inherent in all organizations. Lofty ideals become dogma, ideas contrary to the purpose of a group creep in and eventually become set in stone, and the whole reason for being is forgotten as egos jockey for control. It happens everywhere, but it's all the more sad in Freemasonry, because without the lofty ideals, and with the now-too-common ego games, Freemasonry really is just an old man's coffee and donut club for the masses and a stroll down Ego Lane for those who think themselves important by wearing gold chains around their necks and fancy titles on their nametags.
Freemasonry can be saved, but it won't be easy. It probably cannot be saved in its current form. Grand lodges have claimed too much power, and the myrmidons have without struggle let them take it. The system, as it is, seems broken beyond repair. A new, more spiritual Freemasonry may — we can hope — rise from the ashes produced as "Rome" burns. Something new has to happen.
6. Is your perception of the Craft the same as it was when you first were made a Mason?
7. Is Freemasonry what you thought it would be?
If not, what did you expect Freemasonry to be?
Inspired by knowing a kind and helpful Mason who was my next-door neighbor when I was growing up and a kindly Mason-friend who led an exemplary life who signed my petition, and fueled by repeated readings of conspiracy theories, Masonic pseudo-histories, and Robert Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus Chronicles, I expected (or at least hoped) Freemasonry would be a morally-upright, enlightened, spiritual-minded (but not dogmatically religious) camaraderie of exemplary modern-day knights who through right thinking, good deeds, esoteric, psychological and scientific study, and perhaps a bit of "magick," made the world a better place, a group I would be proud and honored to be a part of.
Unfortunately, I found it to be something less.
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