Sunday, March 30, 2008

'Mirth Missives' publisher responds to 'Taper' article

In the spirit of fairness and brotherhood, I'm reprinting below a recent email I received from TazMack, the publisher of Mirth Missives, the Jester-oriented email newsletter that was mentioned in The Taper last week.

TazMack's email:
I have been looking at your web site for, I guess, about two years now. I believe that you and Mr. Bryce bring a balanced and much needed perspective to many Masonic topics. I agree with your opening article that there is too much personal attacking going on and applaud your efforts to curb this. I believe that will lead to a greater participation.

I really would like you to get a little perspective on your story about my emails, Mirth Missives. Quotes from your article are in bold, and my explanation/response in normal face type. NOT every comment in your article receives this treatment.

I would like to thank you in advance for at least considering what I am about to relate. What you do with the information is up to you.

Sandy Frost has, alas, fooled you on several points. I shall try to enlighten you in hopes that you will edit your article to reflect the truth, as opposed to her “intuitive reporting”. But, again, what you actually do is up to you.

I never sent Sandy Frost an actual Mirth Missive. If you would like to see an actual, true copy of one, I will gladly send you one. Pick a Sunday Date in, lets say, Spring 2007 and I’ll send it to you.

The little figure you show of me jumping out of the computer is a copyrighted item, but you may use it if you so desire.

[Quote from The Taper] A February 2008 issue of a privately-owned, "unofficial" Jester-oriented newsletter titled Mirth Missives carried this comment atop its front page: [/end quote]

Notice that nowhere in any of the emails does it claim to be or insinuate that it is a Jester’s only email. This is a fiction Sandy picked up from a shrine web site --- a single anonymous source, her favorite kind of source. I had nothing to do with the web site and as soon as Sandy gave me the url, I asked them to take it down. They complied.

The e-mail has Jester information, but it is not a Jester e-mail. It has Masonic information, but it is not a masonic e-mail. It has patriotic information, but it is not a patriotic e-mail.

The disclaimer clearly states that

"This private e-mail correspondence is not affiliated with or endorsed by any corporation, organization or Internet Service Provider. The material contained herein is solely the responsibility of the author."

Additionally, this email goes to more non-Jesters than Jesters... more profane than Masons. So. Please be accurate when you describe the email as oriented towards one group or another.

into that which would rather remain hidden"

The things to remain hidden are the names, email addresses, phone numbers and other private information of members. We would not like this information exposed to crooks, who might be able to steal identities or harass men. This is the very information that she attempted to publish, causing me to assert my copyright to that information.

Would you like all the names and e-mails addresses of your subscribers published? Of course not. It’s a matter of privacy and security.

[Quote from The Taper] I don't agree with her that the contents are truly pornographic, but they are crude, juvenile, sexist and racist. The quality of the "humor" and the general layout of the e-zine remind me of something a 13-year old would create and enjoy. [/end quote]

As I prove weekly, I am not a computer professional. I am an old man doing something that keeps me busy. I do not have the computer skills of you younger folks. Think "am old geezer who types with one finger sitting at a computer".

The email also clearly states that you should pick and chose what you read. Not every item is for every recipient. Sexism and racism are in the eye of the beholder, so you have your opinion and I have mine. Clearly, you did not agree with Sandy's judgement that the e-mail was pornographic. So honest differences of opinion exist.

I don’t write the stuff, I just compile and pass it on. And just like everything else in this world, not everyone’s taste is the same. That’s why they make BOTH chocolate and vanilla.

[Quote from The Taper] If you read the comments section on Ms. Frost's article, you'll note that Mirth Missives publisher TazMack has been raising hell over the "leak" of his newsletter (he's the one who sent her a sample issue) and the list of several hundred subscribers, claiming "copyright violation." [/end quote]

I did not raise hell. I sent her the form letter that I got off the internet asking that she remove copyrighted material. Specifically, the names and email addresses of people on the directory --- as stated, this is not a subscription list, it is a directory. Past Grand Masters are on there so that other men may send them messages. The "leak" of the newsletter is irrelevant, as it is as secret as the thunder.

The “subscription list” is not a subscription list: it is a directory. Just as every person in your telephone book does not get a call from you, not everyone listed in the roster gets Mirth Missives. The actual Mirth Missive subscription list is less than 300 people. The Directory is a separate e-mail service, and Mirth Missives is another, and the other lists and notices I send to other lists are all separate and distinct, having little to do with each other.

Most people on that Directory list do get, however, what I call "GLOOM" --- obituaries.

And, by the way, I do not have a son who is a Judge, and me and my boys live in a different county from that judge. Just another example of her relying on a single source and not checking facts.

[Quote from The Taper] there's very little in the newsletter that is original.[/end quote]

Sadly true --- I compile and pass along items sent to me by subscribers, and the contributor is clearly noted before each submission. I am just not clever enough to compose too much original --- except, as you noted, for my good friend Fricke, and even most of that material is not original.

yeah, the part about controlled drugs)

Read the article. An unidentified man offers his left over blood pressure and diabetes medication. There were no takers. How many times have you been at lodge or church and hear one person offer another their excess medications. “I’d rather give it away than flush it away” was the way I understood the article.

[Quote from The Taper] The use of snippets from the newsletter that I'm publishing here falls under the Fair Use Clause. [/end quote]

That’s fine with me.

Here's the e-zine's disclaimer:

Thanx for lifting the status to e-zine … but it is not an e-zine and never aspires to be one.

Also, you left out the first part of the disclaimer, about not being endorsed by or affiliated with any organization..

"Mirth Missives is not for everyone. Particularly in business settings, some of the material may be problematic, possibly leading to sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination charges. To protect you and me, please do not receive Mirth Missives on a computer at your place of employment, or on a computer owned or installed at any fraternal or civic organization site. If you decide to print a copy of Mirth Missives, treat it as you would any other confidential mail and do not leave it lying around for prying eyes."

A little background would be enlightening... About 12 years ago, a man who worked with me received an email from a coworker on the company server. The email contained a joke that he found amusing -- it was not dirty --- it was a very clean joke about Southern Baptists not drinking in front of each other. His secretary opened the email and immediately took offense. She sued him and the company … and she won. After this gal won her suit, she complained about another coworker who kept an open bible on her desk. The coworker was obliged to take her bible home. Get my drift?

That is why the disclaimer is there. In our litigious society, people sue over anything and nothing

[Quote from The Taper] In closing, let me leave you with a joke or two from Mirth Missives.

Why not quote the non-objectionable parts... like the Roast Lines, or Yogi-Berra-Isms, or the Masonic Moment, or the Thought for the Day or the For the Trestle Board, or the Obituaries … a little balance would be nice.

I guess if your humor-meter is still stuck in the sixth grade and you spend your time at church trying to look up women's dresses, you might find Mirth Missives your "cup of tea," suitable for any private "men's organization." [/end quote]

See my comments about “Chocolate and Vanilla”.

[Quote from The Taper] But these men are Freemasons. These are the “pillars of the community.” Many of these men are present or past “illustrious potentates” and 33rd degree poobahs. The publisher of Mirth Missives wears a 33rd degree white hat.[/end quote]

I would like you to take note that you have been mis-led. This email goes to more non-Masons than Masons. The fact that some Masons enjoy potty humor does not mean that ALL masons enjoy potty humor. AND --- this is not an email that goes exclusively to Masons.

Also, the fact that someone's email address is listed in the directory does not indicate that he is a subscriber to Mirth Missives.

[Quote from The Taper] I've seen the distribution list of Mirth Missives.[/end quote]

Again, what Sandy sent you was a directory that has nothing to do with Mirth Missives per se. AND the majority of the people listed are not on the distribution list ---- but they are all Jesters. Should it be against someone's code to allow a directory of members of an organization to be published to other members?

[Quote from The Taper] I just find it disturbing that you're doing it en masse under the banner of a group associated with Freemasonry.[/end quote]

Please, be fair. This is not done under any organizations banner. And 300 is hardly en masse.

Sandy's half-truths, mis-leading rhetorical questions and sensationalism are but a few of the reasons she is so discredited. And she would greatly benefit from a fact-checker.

Widow's Son, I have held you in high regard for your insights and objectivity and ask that you fairly evaluate what I have related in this email. I trust that any Mason being thus enlightened would want to be a little more evenhanded. Even with a Mason who enjoys the occasional potty joke.

Thank you for reading this

Sincerely and Fraternally


PS --- if you think the jokes I sent were full of foul language, crude and sexists, you should see what I reject and just cant clean up.

And you can ignore the copyright at the end of this email --- it is automatically added to all my emails ... even Mirth Missives --- reprint what you like from this email.
I appreciate TazMack's email to me and am reprinting it with his permission in its entirety.

As I ponder this, I see that I have treated his Mirth Missives email newsletter in a similar way to how many of my own detractors have treated The Burning Taper — as if it is actually a Masonic publication instead of it being a publication by a Mason.

Just as I find many of his jokes, cartoons and other content "unmasonic," so too do many people find the contents of The Burning Taper "unmasonic." As TazMack says in his email, "chocolate and vanilla." We all have different likes and dislikes, different opinions of what is "moral" or "Masonic."

I regret and apologize for assuming the roster of Jester members was the subscription list for Mirth Missives.

As a firm supporter of free speech and a free press, I believe that TazMack has the right to publish his Mirth Missives and send it to whomever he chooses.

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Feminine Freemasons form new lodges in Cuba

I'm happy to see we've all used our "time out" in the Masonic Corral™ wisely, meditating on what it means to subdue our passions. Surprisingly, no major barfights or gunfights broke out. The closest you came to fighting was a gentlemanly discussion of the pros and cons of whether you should use live href links or just print the URL when linking to other sites.

The Masonic Corral Brawl™ inspired a logo'd T-shirt, which I hope you've all purchased at the gift shop as a souvenir that you've "been here, done that, got the T-shirt," as well as a nifty Masonic apron you can wear with pride to fish frys and barbeques. I've no doubt that someone somewhere is working on a Masonic Corral Brawl™ musical for the stage and screen. I'm hoping Johnny Depp will play The Widow's Son, and Alan Alda and Ben Kingsley will co-act the role of Grouchogandhi.

Since Bro. Dunn claims I'm no "journalist" (even though my first investigative, "go out in the field and interview people" news story was published with a byline in a major metropolitan daily newspaper when I was 18), and Bro. King thinks I'm a lonely, complaining, snake-oil-selling egotist, I'll refrain from writing an original article today and instead mosey back into publishing Taper articles with a piece by someone else. Perhaps it will inspire thoughtful discussion by you, the reader. Meanwhile I will retreat inside my isolation chamber (actually a big cardboard box) and spit-shine my rough ashlar until it meets the approval of my detractors.

Below is a translated article, an English version of a story that appeared Saturday on RPP Noticias, a Spanish-language news site. My thanks go out to Sister Kelly for sending me the article.

This article brings to mind several good discussion topics, including feminine Masonry and more generally, our brothers and sisters in the still-Communist post-Fidel Cuba, as well as how new lodges and grand lodges come into being.
Cuban Women Create Their First Masonic Lodges
Saturday, March 29, 2008

A group of 36 Cuban women has created the first two Masonic lodges for women, whose activities will begin next week in a country with a long tradition in this practice, which began in 1859 and included important historical figures.

"Venus" and "Victoria," the names chosen for these Cuban lodges, will open next week, a time of completion, with the support of the Feminine Grand Lodge of Chile, of the process of initiation in which twelve Cuban candidates have been immersed.

Masonry was founded in Cuba in 1859, making it one of the oldest in Latin America, and this society had as members famous historical figures such as the heroes of independence Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Antonio Maceo, José Martí, Ignacio Agramonte and Máximo Gómez.

Over the past 50 years, Freemasonry has had moments of "complexity" in its relationship with the Communist government, according to its practitioners in the island, although they never ceased to be active, and it now has around 30,000 members grouped in 341 lodges around the country.

They will be joined by two new lodges, in Havana and the western city of Pinar del Río, formed entirely by women, once the ceremony of initiation is completed next April 2.

"Our intention is that within a short time, you also will be able to have a relationship with the Grand Lodge of Cuba, to the extent that they can work with the constancy that this requires," said the Grand Master of the Feminine Grand Lodge of Masons of Chile, Oriana Valdés Sanhuesa. She is leading a delegation of 42 members of this institution that traveled to Havana for the express purpose of initiating the Cuban women.

For two years, a preparation committee headed by the Cuban Digna Gicela Medina has been preparing for this moment under the tutelage of Chilean Masons, with a cumulative experience of more than 25 years, and who were the godmothers of similar processes in Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay.

"We are still in diapers, so because of this we call ourselves a 'preparation committee' [in Spanish, there's a pun on 'birthing committee'], according to Efe Medina, who explains that there are women from 18 to 60 years old — although mostly young — among whom are housewives, florists, artists, civil servants and professionals of various types.

To be a virtuous woman, to have a good character in society, employment and family, to show an interest in studying and growing as a human, are the basic requirements for acceptance in the committee and the groups being born in other provinces of the country, according to the future Cuban Master Mason, who is a doctor by profession.

She recalled that since mid-2007 they have hoped for this time, delayed by the preparations for the trip of the Masons from Chile and that now coincides with the recent inauguration, a little more than a month ago, of President Raúl Castro.

The Grand Master of Chile told Efe that in total, they are making preparations for 24 Cuban women with the degree of Master, "So they can continue to function with the basic elements in these lodges and give instruction from a distance," until they have achieved a third lodge, an indispensable prerequisite to constitute a Grand Lodge, which according to their calculations will be in 2010.

As in other countries, in the island of Cuba Masonry has been governed by the old rules and traditions that included, among other things, that its practitioners had to be men. But the future women Masons of Cuba are optimistic and show great enthusiasm for this project, including Lissete Arias, an employee and mother of two children, who asserts that "This will be something important for women, because we are taking a quantum leap."

"Women today are working, studying, why can't we also be Freemasons and work for the good of society, good standards and good behavior," she added. Her sister in lodge, Laura Rodríguez, a composer and singer who is 32 years old, after two years in the planning group says that Cuban women "are very creative, active because of the way they live from day to day, having to survive everything that daily life presents, and the idea of creating a Masonic movement is exciting." [Translated by Clay]
Image: Cuban women forming a new Masonic lodge

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Masonic pissing contest gets corralled

There's a new sheriff in town, boys.

Picture me as a cross between Paul Newman and Walter Brennan, both of whom played Judge Roy Bean to perfection in the moving pictures.

I've grown weary of the slugfests between the few of you who continually trash this blog with your "my Masonry is better than your Masonry" rants. As Stephen Stills sang, "Nobody's right if everyone's wrong."

If you want to brawl, do it here, in the comments section to this post. Beat the hell out of each other, bang beer mugs over each others' heads, have gunfights at high noon, shoot each other in the back, whatever.

Just do it here, and only here, in this post. It's all yours. Go ahead and bookmark the permalink, and then come out a-blazin' with your six-shooter.

But consider every other article henceforth as being "west of the Pecos," where my law rules. I'm gonna run a clean town, even if I have to get Marshall Dillon and the entire Earp and Cartwright clans to back me up.

I've received far too many emails from former readers of The Taper telling me they won't participate any longer in the comments sections, or sometimes even read the articles, because of all the un-civil, un-masonic loads of bison-dung being dumped here regularly in the comments sections. No matter what the topic of the article, the comments deteriorate into nothing but pushing and shoving and "Oh, yeah? Sez who!?"

After two-plus years of an open range, I'm homesteading this place by putting up fences on this here Ponderosa. Even libertarianism has its limits. This post is your corral. Muddy it up, bloody it up. Just stay inside the fence.

— W.S., Sheriff of These Here Parts

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UGLE gives atta-girl's to female Masons

In June, 1908 Annie Besant and Lady Lutyens, wife of the architect Sir Edwin, set up the first co-ed Masonic lodge. Though it was short-lived, it changed the face (and body) of Freemasonry forever. Soon, all-female lodges sprang up, first in England, then elsewhere.

While many American Masons still think (or refuse to acknowledge) there are no female Masons, the United Grand Lodge of England is going to whoop it up for the 100th anniversary of female Masonry, The Times of London is reporting.

On June 4, an exhibition opens at UGLE headquarters in Coventry Grove celebrating the centenary of female Freemasonry.

Currently, there are about 20,000 women Masons in England, and more across the globe.

Dr. Iris Monica Oktabsova, past deputy grand master of one of the oldest branches, Lodge Equity 16, trotted out the same ol' same ol standard line when asked by The Times what Freemasonry is: "Although we are not a secret society, we are a society with secrets."

A hundred years to prepare for the interview, and that's the best the PGM could come up with.

In the 1870s, The Times reported that Annie Besant had written "an indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy and obscene book," referring to her book about birth control, The Law of Population. Now they're writing about how she helped form the first mixed-sex Masonic lodge.

The Times they are a-changing.

Image: Annie Besant as Grand Master

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

'Secrets' of Freemasonry?

When Bro. Hodapp told the world last week that the newly sworn-in governor of New York, David Paterson, was a Freemason, I was elated that finally there was an upright and honorable Mason in the public spotlight, one who would help restore Freemasonry's image, most recently tarnished by the Royal Order of Jesters prostitute story from upstate New York.

Alas, Bro. Paterson hadn't even moved his stuff into the governor's mansion before he announced that both he and his wife had had extramarital affairs. Less than a week later, the news is splashed with his "confessions" that he has used cocaine and marijuana.

As a libertarian, I don't care what he's done regarding sex or drugs. Probably half the adults in America have done similar things. In my opinion, his "transgressions" have no bearing on his ability to carry out the duties of his office. He's to be admired for 'fessing up, I suppose, not because he should have, but because sooner or later a reporter would have brought it up anyway.

But as a Freemason, I'm a bit saddened. A public figure like Gov. Paterson could have led to Freemasonry gaining some positive press, and led me to write an inspiring, upbeat, positively glowing, triumphant article about the return of quality Masonic leadership.

Instead, he's reinforced our image as partying sex addicts.

More on the Royal Jesters story out of Buffalo

Speaking of partying, sex-crazed Masons.... Former police chief, former Jester (recent news articles say he's been "kicked out" of the club) and former (I assume) Masonic brother John Trowbridge pleaded guilty last Thursday to transporting a woman from New York to Kentucky to provide prostitution services at a Royal Order of Jesters get-together in 2005. He also admitted to taking a hooker to a Jester event in Pennsylvania in 2006.

Also charged in the case were former New York Supreme Court Justice Ron Tills and his law clerk, Michael Stebick. Presumably both men have not yet made a plea and will stand trial for violation of the federal Mann Act.

"Mirth Missives"

Investigative reporter Sandy Frost has apparently angered certain Jesters with her recent articles. A February 2008 issue of a privately-owned, "unofficial" Jester-oriented newsletter titled Mirth Missives carried this comment atop its front page:
A self styled "Investigative reporter, author and researcher into that which would rather remain hidden" named Sandy Frost, who lives in the Seattle area, has acquired the name and phone numbers of many Jesters. She is calling them to get an interview to bash the ROJ. You know what to do is [sic] she calls you. You can read her poison at:

Please communicate this information to your fellow Jesters at your next Court or Biliken [sic] Club gathering.
In a recent article, Ms. Frost described the contents of the newsletter as being so "pornographic as well as so sexually, racially and religiously offensive, that I will not link to it."

I don't agree with her that the contents are truly pornographic, but they are crude, juvenile, sexist and racist. The quality of the "humor" and the general layout of the e-zine remind me of something a 13-year old would create and enjoy.

Mirth Missives is peppered with cartoons that appear to be from a Playboy-type magazine. One comic panel shows a man, pants around his ankles, bending over a doctor's examining table. The caption reads, "Don't be embarrassed. You think your [sic] the first guy whose wife shoved the remote up his ass?"

There are several jokes about Viagra, including a "Fricke Door Sign," which reads: "I'm on Prozac, Rogaine and Viagra. I'm happy, hairy and horny."

One photo, intended to be "mirthful," I assume, shows an older couple sitting on a park bench, with the man reaching inside the woman's blouse. A caption added by TazMack, the publisher, says, "Fricke Spotted in the Park Last Week." Apparently, Fricke is a dentist and fellow Jester that TazMack often kids in the newsletter.

Another photo shows a man holding a sign that says, "Sorry. I'm blind. Can I feel your tits?"

If you read the comments section on Ms. Frost's article, you'll note that Mirth Missives publisher TazMack has been raising hell over the "leak" of his newsletter (he's the one who sent her a sample issue) and the list of several hundred subscribers, claiming "copyright violation." Amusingly (the only thing amusing about the newsletter), there's very little in the newsletter that is original. Other than the pokes at Fricke, the opening bit that warns about Ms. Frost's "poison," a disclaimer and one other small section that I will refrain from discussing at this time (read Sandy's article and TazMack's comment — yeah, the part about controlled drugs), all the material has been copied from other sources.

In respect of TazMack's claim of "copyright," I'm refraining from publishing the entire contents of the newsletter or linking to it. The use of snippets from the newsletter that I'm publishing here falls under the Fair Use Clause. The fact that the newsletter itself contains explicit instructions on how to forward it pretty much demolishes any claim that the newsletter is a "protected communication."
Do Not Forward This Entire E-Mail

If you decide to forward a joke or jokes via e-mail, please use your "copy and paste" feature to send just the joke, removing the headers, footers, addresses and unsuitable material.

Here's how to do it:

Point to the first letter of the text you want to copy and left click and hold down and drag the pointer to the end of the text and then let up on the left button. Now hover the pointer over the highlighted text and right click and choose copy from the pull down menu. Now open a new fresh write mail form and point to the main body of the new mail and right click and then touch on paste. Wham the copied text is pasted into your mail. Now select the subject and who you want to send it to and touch on send.


Go to the joke or information you want to send. You can press control+shift+end to select to the end of the document or control+shift+down arrow to the end of the joke. Then, press control+c for copy. Then create a new message and then press control+v to paste the information.

Here's the e-zine's disclaimer:
"Mirth Missives is not for everyone. Particularly in business settings, some of the material may be problematic, possibly leading to sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination charges. To protect you and me, please do not receive Mirth Missives on a computer at your place of employment, or on a computer owned or installed at any fraternal or civic organization site. If you decide to print a copy of Mirth Missives, treat it as you would any other confidential mail and do not leave it lying around for prying eyes."
In closing, let me leave you with a joke or two from Mirth Missives. [Warning: Contains the F-word.]
A parrot developed the bad habit of screwing the farmer's hens, making them quit laying.

The farmer tells the parrot if he does it again he will pull out every feather in the parrot's head.

The next day, the farmer again catches the parrot humping a hen, and snatches the parrot bald.

The following day, the farmer's wife hosts a formal dinner. She thinks it would be unique if the parrot greeted the guests and told them where to go. She had spent nearly a year training the parrot for this.

As the guests began entering, the parrot dutifully announced, "Ladies to the right! Gentlemen to the left!"

Spotting two bald guys entering, the parrot says, "And you two chicken-fuckers get up here with me."
Mirth really is king, huh?

Oh, sorry. Was that not funny? What about this one?
Abe went to a brothel and told the madam, "I want a girl with big boobs and a small box."

"Why?" she asked him.

"Never mind!" replied Abe. "I`m paying for it. I want a girl with big tits and a small cooze!"

"No problem," said the madam. "Go straight up the stairs to room 23."

A few minutes later there was a knock on the door, and a young woman walked in.

"Okay," she said, "are you the guy with the big mouth and the small pecker?"
I guess if your humor-meter is still stuck in the sixth grade and you spend your time at church trying to look up women's dresses, you might find Mirth Missives your "cup of tea," suitable for any private "men's organization."

But these men are Freemasons. These are the "pillars of the community." Many of these men are present or past "illustrious potentates" and 33rd degree poobahs. The publisher of Mirth Missives wears a 33rd degree white hat.

These are men I once told my son to seek out if he was ever in trouble. These are men I once assumed I could trust to behave themselves around my wife.

"Oh, W.S. It's just a small minority, a few horny old men. They're harmless. It's all in good, clean fun. Masons are all good, decent family men dedicated to the good of the community and 'making good men better.' It's just an isolated event."

I've seen the distribution list of Mirth Missives. I was very surprised at some of the names on the list. I immediately recognized at least one as a Past Grand Master, and I'm sure there are others of such "high rank." All the names on the list, I would assume, are now, or once were, active officers in their blue lodges. These are the "leaders" who instructed new candidates in rituals and lectures regarding "morality" and "keeping passions within due bounds."

Personally — again, as a libertarian — I don't care what these guys are doing. Yuck it up, boys. Take your Viagra and **** yourselves silly.

I just find it disturbing that you're doing it en masse under the banner of a group associated with Freemasonry.

We're supposed to be better than this.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

'A pious fraud'

This Easter weekend marks another (the third, I believe) Blogswarm Against Theocracy. It was first brought to my attention last year by my brother Traveling Man of the blog Movable Jewel, who wrote several eloquent articles on the matter in 2007. During this year's Easter swarm he's given us two posts, one titled "Blogs Against Theocracy," the other "There are Two Pillars in My Lodge."

I've written on the subject many times on The Taper as well.

Simply put, religion as we know it has no place in government. It's fine if people in government have religious opinions and views, but it's not their place to enact laws or policies that favor their religious persuasion or prejudices. Sunday blue laws should go. Closing government offices on "Good Friday" is ridiculous. Organized religious prayers conducted on government property — schools as well as in Congress — probably aren't such a good idea. Religionists don't play well with others; tolerance is seldom displayed.

While others write blog posts this weekend about the need for separation of church and state, I want to explore the nature of religion itself. What is it? Why do we want it or need it in our lives? Does it lead to people getting along better or does it serve to divide and inflame us? How and why has it become so intertwined with government? What are the true objectives of those who perpetuate organized religion? Why do religionists cling to antiquated, non-scientific, unreasonable ideas and seek to keep others locked in the same mindset?

Lately I've been reading the works of Thomas Paine. Not often mentioned in American history class, he wrote Common Sense, which rallied the American colonists in 1776 to take up arms against the British Crown. Without Paine, Americans might still be singing God Save the Queen and wrapping ourselves in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack.

During the mid-to-late 1770s, Paine became a celebrity and a leading figure in the struggle for American independence. Though he came from "lowly" stock (his father was a Quaker who made stays for ladies' corsets), he was soon hobnobbing with the gentry and the elite of his time: Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John and Samuel Adams.

Some of the more aristocratic members of American society, however, such as William Smith of Philadelphia and Gouverneur Morris of New York, continued to look down their noses at Paine because he was "without fortune, without family or connections, ignorant even of grammar."

Biographer John Kane, in his Tom Paine: A Political Life, called Thomas Paine "the greatest public figure of his generation."

President John Adams wrote in 1805: "I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years that Tom Paine. Without the pen of Paine the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain."

Of Paine President Thomas Jefferson wrote: "[An] advocate for human liberty, Paine wrote for a country which permitted him to push his reasoning to whatever length it would go.... No writer has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style; in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language."

Even President Abraham Lincoln, over a half century after Paine's death, said, "I never tire of reading Paine."

After the American War of Independence, Paine turned his eyes on France's revolutionary struggle while continuing to write pamphlets calling for the end of the English monarchy. He was awarded French citizenship and was elected a delegate to the National Convention. His opposition to the execution of Louis XVI led to his imprisonment for a year during the Reign of Terror.

He wrote The Age of Reason during and after his imprisonment.

When he returned to America, most of the American public turned their back on him, or worse, labeled him an "agitator" and an "atheist."

Gordon Wood, writing in the foreword to his Common Sense and Other Writings, called The Age of Reason "a penetrating critique of organized religion that struck many readers as blasphemous."

In the introduction to his edition of Paine's works, Wood says, "Unfortunately for Paine's reputation, most of the common people that he emotionally represented brought with their democratic revolution and their anti-aristocratic attitudes an intense religiosity and an evangelical Christianity that Paine never shared. Upon his return to America, Paine was attacked as a 'lying, drunken, brutal infidel,' and sympathizers like aged Samuel Adams grieved over what they took to be Paine's efforts to 'unchristianize the mass of our citizens.' Paine denied truthfully that he was ever an atheist, but it was to no avail. Every defense he made only made matters worse. He had lived by the pen and in the end he died by the pen. He became, in his biographer's words, one of 'the first modern public figures to suffer firsthand' from a scurrilous and powerful press. He was always a man out of joint with his times, and he has remained so ever since."

Though I was an avid student of American history in high school and college, and of course had heard of Thomas Paine, somehow I never read either of his most famous works, Common Sense and The Age of Reason.

When I finally discovered these two tracts, I was elated to have found a new literary and intellectual hero, a like-minded writer who expressed so handily ideas that I had long held on the subjects of both freedom and religion. To become aware that I had, without his direct influence, arrived at ideas so similar to Paine's, was a heady realization.

Thomas Paine was not an atheist, and he often said so, in public as well as in The Age of Reason itself. The tract challenged the prevailing religious beliefs, both Protestant and Catholic, and enraged many Christians who chose to refuse to think about what Paine was actually saying about religion.

In The Age of Reason, Paine held that there is no "word of God" as we define it, written in books by man. The true Word of God — true Religion itself — he argues, is Creation itself: The stars, our sun, the planets, the Earth and Nature herself, and the principles that govern them. Natural philosophy is the only true religion. He writes,
It is from the study of the true theology that all our knowledge of science is derived, and it is from that knowledge that all the arts have originated.

The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation. It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe, that we call ours, "I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, AND LEARN FROM MY MUNIFICENCE TO ALL, TO BE KIND TO EACH OTHER."

Of what use is it, unless it be to teach man something, that his eye is endowed with the power of beholding to an incomprehensible distance, an immensity of worlds revolving in the ocean of space? Or of what use is it that this immensity of worlds is visible to man? What has man to do with the Pleiades, with Orion, with Sirius, with the star he calls the North Star, with the moving orbs he has named Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, if no uses are to follow from their being visible? A less power of vision would have been sufficient for man, if the immensity he now possesses were given only to waste itself, as it were, on an immense desert of space glittering with shows.

It is only by contemplating what he calls the starry heavens, as the book and school of science, that he discovers any use in their being visible to him, or any advantage resulting from his immensity of vision. But when he contemplates the subject in this light he sees an additional motive for saying, that nothing was made in vain; for in vain would be this power of vision if it taught man nothing.
He argues that it is the study of "the internal evidence the thing carries with itself, and the evidence of circumstances that unites with it" that is imperative, not the study of dead languages and the "humble sphere of linguistry" such as ancient Latin and Greek, which were about all that was taught in what passed for centers of education during the 1,400 years since the formation of the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church.
...[T]he outrage offered to the moral justice of God by supposing him to make the innocent suffer for the guilty, and also the loose morality and low contrivance of supposing him to change himself into the shape of a man, in order to make an excuse to himself for not executing his supposed sentence upon Adam — putting, I say, those things aside as matter of distinct consideration, it is certain that what is called the Christian system of faith, including in it the whimsical account of the creation — the strange story of Eve — the snake and the apple — the ambiguous idea of a man-god — the corporeal idea of the death of a god — the mythological idea of a family of gods, and the Christian system of arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three, are all irreconcilable, not only to the divine gift of reason that God hath given to man, but to the knowledge that man gains of the power and wisdom of God, by the aid of the sciences and by studying the structure of the universe that God has made.

The setters-up, therefore, and the advocates of the Christian system of faith could not but foresee that the continually progressive knowledge that man would gain, by the aid of science, of the power and wisdom of God, manifested in the structure of the universe and in all the works of Creation, would militate against, and call into question, the truth of their system of faith; and therefore it became necessary to their purpose to cut learning down to a size less dangerous to their project, and this they effected by restricting the idea of learning to the dead study of dead languages.

They not only rejected the study of science out of the Christian schools, but they persecuted it, and it is only within about the last two centuries that the study has been revived. So late as 1610, Galileo, a Florentine, discovered and introduced the use of telescopes, and by applying them to observe the motions and appearances of the heavenly bodies, afforded additional means for ascertaining the true structure of the universe. Instead of being esteemed for those discoveries, he was sentenced to renounce them, or the opinions resulting from them, as a damnable heresy. And, prior to that time, Vigilius was condemned to be burned for asserting the antipodes, or in other words that the earth was a globe, and habitable in every part where there was land; yet the truth of this is now too well known even to be told.

If the belief of errors not morally bad did no mischief, it would make no part of the moral duty of man to oppose and remove them. There was no moral ill in believing the earth was flat like a trencher, any more than there was moral virtue in believing that it was round like a globe; neither was there any moral ill in believing that the Creator made no other world than this, any more than there was moral virtue in believing that he made millions, and that the infinity of space is filled with worlds. But when a system of religion is made to grow out of a supposed system of creation that is not true, and to unite itself therewith in a manner almost inseparable therefrom, the case assumes an entirely different ground. It is then that errors not morally bad become fraught with the same mischiefs as if they were. It is then that the truth, though otherwise indifferent itself, becomes an essential by becoming the criterion that either confirms by corresponding evidence, or denies by contradictory evidence, the reality of the religion itself. In this view of the case, it is the moral duty of man to obtain every possible evidence that the structure of the heavens, or any other part of creation affords, with respect to systems of religion. But this, the supporters or partisans of the Christian system, as if dreading the result, incessantly opposed, and not only rejected the sciences, but persecuted the professors. Had Newton or Descartes lived three or four hundred years ago, and pursued their studies as they did, it is most probable they would not have lived to finish them; and had Franklin drawn lightning from the clouds at the same time, it would have been at the hazard of expiring for it in the flames.

Latter times have laid all the blame upon the Goths and Vandals; but, however unwilling the partisans of the Christian system may be to believe or to acknowledge it, it is nevertheless true that the age of ignorance commenced with the Christian system. There was more knowledge in the world before that period than for many centuries afterwards; and as to religious knowledge, the Christian system, as already said was only another species of mythology, and the mythology to which it succeeded was a corruption of an ancient system of theism.

All the corruptions that have taken place in theology and in religion, have been produced by admitting of what man calls revealed religion. The Mythologists pretended to more revealed religion than the Christians do. They had their oracles and their priests, who were supposed to receive and deliver the word of God verbally, on almost all occasions.

Since, then, all corruptions, down from Moloch to modern predestinarianism, and the human sacrifices of the heathens to the Christian sacrifice of the Creator, have been produced by admitting of what is called revealed religion, the most effectual means to prevent all such evils and impositions is not to admit of any other revelation than that which is manifested in the book of creation, and to contemplate the creation as the only true and real word of God that ever did or ever will exist; and that everything else, called the word of God, is fable and imposition.
In case you simply skimmed the above, I'll summarize: (1) God and his goodness can be found only by studying his Creation, not by reading "revealed religion" written by men. (2) Revealed religion is nothing more than mythology colored with later writers' morals, opinions and, often, chicanery. (3) Those who held religious power realized that the advancement of science would decrease their power, and therefore sought to stymie scientific progress.

In the following passage, Paine gives credit to Martin Luther's reforms for allowing scientific study to resume outside the control of the Catholic Church, but says that the reformers didn't do anything to reform religion.
It is an inconsistency scarcely possible to be credited, that anything should exist, under the name of a religion, that held it to be irreligious to study and contemplate the structure of the universe that God has made. But the fact is too well established to be denied. The event that served more than any other to break the first link in this long chain of despotic ignorance is that known by the name of the Reformation by Luther. From that time, though it does not appear to have made any part of the intention of Luther, or of those who are called reformers, the sciences began to revive, and liberality, their natural associate, began to appear. This was the only public good the Reformation did; for with respect to religious good, it might as well not have taken place. The mythology still continued the same, and a multiplicity of National Popes grew out of the downfall of the Pope of Christendom.
The national popes of Paine's time continued down to this day. Protestantism's countless sub-categorical denominations have given us saints and sinners — you decide which is which and who is who — Dwight Moody, Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, John Hagee, Ernest Angley, James Dobson, Mike Huckabee, Jesse Jackson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Sam Kinison, Jeremiah Wright... men and women who make or made their living "revealing" their interpretations of God to anyone who will visit their church or turn on the television and pony up a tithe or donation to keep them in business.

Paine continues in The Age of Reason:
From the time I was capable of conceiving an idea and acting upon it by reflection, I either doubted the truth of the Christian system or thought it to be a strange affair; I scarcely knew which it was, but I well remember, when about seven or eight years of age, hearing a sermon read by a relation of mine, who was a great devotee of the Church, upon the subject of what is called redemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was ended, I went into the garden, and as I was going down the garden steps (for I perfectly recollect the spot) I revolted at the recollection of what I had heard, and thought to myself that it was making God Almighty act like a passionate man, that killed his son when he could not revenge himself in any other way, and as I was sure a man would be hanged that did such a thing, I could not see for what purpose they preached such sermons. This was not one of that kind of thoughts that had anything in it of childish levity; it was to me a serious reflection, arising from the idea I had that God was too good to do such an action, and also too almighty to be under any necessity of doing it. I believe in the same manner at this moment; and I moreover believe, that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system.

It seems as if parents of the Christian profession were ashamed to tell their children anything about the principles of their religion. They sometimes instruct them in morals, and talk to them of the goodness of what they call Providence, for the Christian mythology has five deities — there is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the God Providence, and the Goddess Nature. But the Christian story of God the Father putting his son to death, or employing people to do it (for that is the plain language of the story) cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better is making the story still worse — as if mankind could be improved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery is only making an excuse for the incredibility of it.

How different is this to the pure and simple profession of Deism! The true Deist has but one Deity, and his religion consists in contemplating the power, wisdom, and benignity of the Deity in his works, and in endeavoring to imitate him in everything moral, scientifical, and mechanical.
Like Paine, I too had "doubted the truth of the Christian system, or thought it to be a strange affair" at a young age.

I attended a large Southern Baptist church from the time I was two weeks old until I was 18 years old. Once free from the restraints imposed by my devout parents, I didn't go back. I'd seen enough in my years attending a "house of God," listening to the inspired revelations of con-artist preachers.

In just a few short years — those impressionable years between the ages of 12 and 16 — I saw more than enough. An Ernest Angley lookalike pastor absconded with church funds. His minister of music knocked up the 18-year old church secretary. The music man's daughter was banging half the boys in the church. A deacon shot another deacon for banging his wife. A deacon who was a police captain was arrested for shaking down the businesses in the city. A youth leader who later came out as gay took young boys downtown to march in protests against a local porn shop. I learned how to cuss from visiting the homes of my young Sunday School mates. I had my first sexual experience with a preacher's daughter.

While all this was going on, I remained (and still am, to this day) a spiritual person. I believe in God, in a Force that set the Universe in motion. Or, perhaps, the Force is the Universe Itself. I saw and see God in the Sun, the sky, the earth. I feel God's presence and existence in the breeze on my skin and the warmth on my face when I go outside each morning. I see God in the hawks of the air, and when I walk by the river. I see God in the face of my child. I'm touched by God when I'm loved by a friend.

When I feel the need to experience God as a "personality," I do so. Emerson wrote, "In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color."

But I've never seen Jesus, or seen evidence that Christians actually emulate the supposed teachings of Jesus, in their actions or in their churches. I've never felt his presence. To me, he seems a convenient mythological scapegoat for those who want to escape responsibility, or an insurance policy against a mythological Hell.

Did Jesus once live? Was he the Son of God, or, like all of us, a Son of God? Did he teach and preach how to love one another? Or was he a would-be King of the Jews, heir to the throne of Israel, descendant of David and Solomon, a convenient martyr to be resurrected as a Cosmic Front Man for a now 2,000-year old religion run by popes and preachers bent on theocratic power?

The Universe is a hell of a lot bigger than our little 25,000-miles-around blue-green marble. The Creator has a lot more important things to do than to constantly send saviors to every planet "in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy," much less the entire Universe. As Paine wrote,
From whence, then, could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest, and come to die in our world, because, they say, one man and one woman had eaten an apple? And, on the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation had an Eve, an apple, a serpent, and a redeemer? In this case, the person who is irreverently called the Son of God, and sometimes God himself, would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to world, in an endless succession of deaths, with scarcely a momentary interval of life.....

It is possible to believe, and I always feel pleasure in encouraging myself to believe it, that there have been men in the world who persuade themselves that what is called a pious fraud might, at least under particular circumstances, be productive of some good. But the fraud being once established, could not afterward be explained, for it is with a pious fraud as with a bad action, it begets a calamitous necessity of going on.

The persons who first preached the Christian system of faith, and in some measure combined it with the morality preached by Jesus Christ, might persuade themselves that it was better than the heathen mythology that then prevailed. From the first preachers the fraud went on to the second, and to the third, till the idea of its being a pious fraud became lost in the belief of its being true; and that belief became again encouraged by the interests of those who made a livelihood by preaching it.

But though such a belief might by such means be rendered almost general among the laity, it is next to impossible to account for the continual persecution carried on by the Church, for several hundred years, against the sciences and against the professors of science, if the Church had not some record or tradition that it was originally no other than a pious fraud, or did not foresee that it could not be maintained against the evidence that the structure of the universe afforded.
Organized religion, in all its guises, has as its prime motive not to make us happier or better, but to control and manipulate us through guilt and fear. That's not what my God is all about.

As the Bible says, "God is love."

After discussing the fact that God by nature cannot be a mystery — he is open and available to us all — and he does not deal in miracles, or randomly abandon the laws of nature, Paine begins to close his essay by telling us what he believes religion is and should be:
Religion, therefore, being the belief of a God and the practice of moral truth, cannot have connection with mystery. The belief of a God, so far from having anything of mystery in it, is of all beliefs the most easy, because it arises to us, as is before observed, out of necessity. And the practice of moral truth, or, in other words, a practical imitation of the moral goodness of God, is no other than our acting toward each other as he acts benignly toward all. We cannot serve God in the manner we serve those who cannot do without such service; and, therefore, the only idea we can have of serving God, is that of contributing to the happiness of the living creation that God has made. This cannot be done by retiring ourselves from the society of the world and spending a recluse life in selfish devotion.

The very nature and design of religion, if I may so express it, prove even to demonstration that it must be free from everything of mystery, and unencumbered with everything that is mysterious. Religion, considered as a duty, is incumbent upon every living soul alike, and, therefore, must be on a level with the understanding and comprehension of all. Man does not learn religion as he learns the secrets and mysteries of a trade. He learns the theory of religion by reflection. It arises out of the action of his own mind upon the things which he sees, or upon what he may happen to hear or to read, and the practice joins itself thereto.

When men, whether from policy or pious fraud, set up systems of religion incompatible with the word or works of God in the creation, and not only above, but repugnant to human comprehension, they were under the necessity of inventing or adopting a word that should serve as a bar to all questions, inquiries and speculation. The word mystery answered this purpose, and thus it has happened that religion, which is in itself without mystery, has been corrupted into a fog of mysteries.

As mystery answered all general purposes, miracle followed as an occasional auxiliary. The former served to bewilder the mind, the latter to puzzle the senses. The one was the lingo, the other the legerdemain.
Ralph Waldo Emerson suggests to us in On Self-Reliance:
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark....

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to see, — painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn....

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind....

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.
Quotations are from Thomas Paine's "The Age of Reason" and Ralph Waldo Emerson's "On Self-Reliance." The bit about the "unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy" is from Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

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After five years in Iraq, has anything been accomplished?

The fifth anniversary of the Fiasco in Iraq passed last week. This "Operation Freedom" once commanded above-the-fold headlines, and was the number one topic in our print, television and Internet news media.

Now, stories from and about Iraq comprise only about three percent of our news.

It isn't sexy or glamorous anymore. It isn't popular anymore. Beating the drums of war doesn't command the respect and inspire the patriotism it did five years ago.

Though "mission accomplished" was declared quite a while back, the Iraq Fiasco has continued, and has now lasted longer than the U.S. Civil War. It has lasted longer than World War I. It has gone on longer than World War II.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee wants to stay in Iraq another 100 years. The Democratic contenders pander to whatever crowd they are talking to, and have no real plans for war or for peace. The only candidate who would have just ended the war was famously ignored by the media (giving rise to the phrase "You lie like Anderson Cooper").

4,000 Americans have been killed. 30,000 men and women have been severely wounded; these soldiers and their families will deal with the ramifications of their injuries for the rest of their lives, and billions of dollars will be spent on their medical treatment and rehabilitation. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died or been injured, and the Iraqi infrastructure has been blown to bits. The Internet counters continue to roll upwards; the price of the Insanity in Iraq has eclipsed $505,000,000,000 (five hundred five billion dollars) in direct costs.

For what? Tell me, please. What has this War in Iraq accomplished?

Bring 'em home. Now.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Widow's Son honored with Sunshine Week award

March 16-22, 2008 is designated Sunshine Week. It is an initiative that originated in 2002 with the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Its goal is to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.

Hundreds of newspapers, broadcasters, and bloggers celebrate America's freedom by calling for more openness and honesty in local, state and federal governments and other organizations.

I don't often write about politics or the government; there are a zillion bloggers already covering those issues much better than I could.

I have simply tried to do my part in calling for openness, honesty, decency and fairness in Freemasonry.

I'm humbled that investigative reporter Sandy Frost has honored The Widow's Son with a "Sunshine Week Big Dogs Award." I'm sure there are many, many journalists and bloggers much more deserving than I am.

Thank you, Ms. Frost. And I offer my thanks to all of you for reading The Burning Taper.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Doctor's prayers (and Bob the Guardian Angel) bring man back from the dead

A Florida man who suffered a heart attack inside a hospital has been brought back from the dead thanks to a cardiologist's prayers, according to a local report aired on Miami's Channel 7, an affiliate of Fox News.

Jeff Markin walked into a hospital, collapsed and died of a heart attack, despite the hospital staff's best efforts to save them. After 40 minutes, he was given up for dead.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall told a reporter, "His face, his arms, his legs were pitch black with death. I said, 'Let's just call the code, let's end it because there's no life left.'"

Then he felt the urge to pray. Or rather, he heard a Voice telling him to pray.

The doctor's prayer — along with another jolt from the electro-paddles — resurrected dead man Markin.

Markin says he spent his time being dead in the back of a funeral home, where he met Bob, his guardian angel.

"There was a figure that identified himself as Bob, and he was going to make sure that everything was going to be OK. I'm figuring that was my guardian angel. At that time, a very peaceful feeling and very relaxed feeling came over me, and then he said he had to go and, the next thing I know, I woke up in my daughter's arms."

Image: Robin Williams in 1998's "What Dreams May Come"

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Your word, your honor, your integrity

The Masonic blog On the Level has published a short piece by Bro. Wachter of Merchantville Lodge No. 119, Pennsauken, NJ, titled "The Meaning of Freemasonry."

Cutting through the jingoistic phrases "making good men better," "a society with secrets," and "allegory veiled in symbolism," Bro. Wachter immediately gets to the heart of the matter in his definition of Freemasonry.

He writes:
The meaning of Freemasonry is best described as such: In a world of endless choices and countless temptations, this elaborate and ever changing fraternity has a way of teaching a simple principle to every individual no matter where they live or what they believe in. That principle is that while wealth, title, and fame can easily be stripped from a man, all he really has in this world is his word, his honor, and his integrity. These are the key to a great life and a great man. Without them you are nothing; with them you are all you will ever need to be.
It doesn't get any simpler than that.

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A brotherhood without boundaries

A Brotherhood without Boundaries by Bro. Jeff Peace

I had the distinct honor and pleasure of sitting with the brothers of Lafayette Lodge No. 89 [in Bethesda, Maryland] of the Grand Orient of France this past weekend, and meeting with many brothers and sisters from around globe. There were a number of different obediences in attendance, all wearing the respective regalia of their orders. I couldn’t help but think about Free-Masonry in much broader terms than I had in the past. In this lodge Free-Masonry existed without any boundaries; all were accepted and equal. The warm spirit of fraternal camaraderie was everywhere apparent.

The Grand Orient of France’s perspective of Free-Masonry is very different from that of the American Grand Lodges to which I was accustomed. They try to be a unifying force within the fraternity by bringing diverse groups of Masons together for the benefit of all Free-Masonry.

In the past I had always felt there was something wrong with labeling other people as “irregular” or “clandestine”, but at the time this concept was purely philosophical and theoretical to me. When you say that someone is “irregular” it is akin to claiming that they are illegitimate or a bastard. “Clandestine” implies that they are working to accomplish something nefarious in secret. There is simply no way to morally justify the use of these egregious and alienating terms when it comes to brothers and sisters of the greater Craft throughout the world. Anyone using these terms to define or describe good and honorable Masons is not themselves worthy of being called a Mason.

It is now clear to me that there is no such thing as the “mainstream” Craft. The idea that the Craft is divided is an illusion created by those who wish to separate and divide Masonry into opposing factions. These are not the actions of people who understand the meaning of tolerance or fraternity, but of those who wish to replace brotherly love with fear and misunderstanding.

There are many groups of Free-Masons throughout the world who share the same goals but have spent years struggling over the nature of the “Landmarks” of the Craft. My brothers and sisters THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS ANCIENT LANDMARKS. Bro. Anderson mentions the existence of “Ancient Landmarks” in his Constitutions of 1723, but he never said what they were. Fighting among ourselves over what some believe to be Ancient Landmarks is a waste of both time and energy. We need to get past this kind of thinking and begin working together for the common good of the Craft and humanity.

I am appealing to all Masons (brothers and sisters alike), and to their respective Grand Lodges, to begin the process of thinking outside the box that we have created around ourselves, and to seek amelioration among all Masons. We must find a way for all Masons to work together while allowing them the freedom to continue with their unique obediences. There is a real need for male lodges, female lodges and mixed gender lodges. People need to have the freedom to work in the ways in which they are most comfortable and confident. One size or shape does not fit all, nor will it ever.

The present path of mutually assured destruction is not in the best interest of Free-Masonry or Free-Masons. It doesn’t have to be this way because we can choose a more positive path of mutual cooperation and assistance that will lead to a new era of Masonic leadership in our communities and the world. We need to have a vision of a brother/sisterhood without boundaries; one where all Masons work together in peace and harmony.

— Bro. Jeff Peace

The Burning Taper welcomes articles of interest from all Freemasons. You may submit your articles for publication to us via email.

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The Parable of the Mouse

"The Parable of the Mouse" was submitted by a reader in response to the discussion about what non-West Virginia brethren should do regarding the problems within West Virginia Freemasonry.

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.

"What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered, but he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said: "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said: "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said: "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap alone.

That night a sound was heard throughout the house — the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught, but in the darkness, she didn't see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife.

The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.

But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

Unfortunately, the farmer's wife did not get well; she died.

So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn't concern you, remember — when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.

— Anonymous

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008): Final Odyssey

Renowned author and physicist Sir Arthur C. Clarke has died at his home in Sri Lanka. He was 90.

Although best known for his book and screenplay of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke was the author of 70 books, and was the originator of the idea for geostationary satellites. You can indirectly thank him for your satellite TV and radio service, as well as your navigational GPS. He first wrote about satellites which would hover over a single spot on earth at an altitude of 24,300 miles in the magazine Wireless World in 1945, long before satellites become a reality.

Clarke wrote several sequels to his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. They are 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey.

In his 1961 Profiles of the Future, he wrote a sentence that has come to be known as Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

In February 2001 during an interview with, Clarke stunned astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the first 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason to walk on the Moon, by saying he believed things are not as we have been told regarding our solar system. Clarke said:
I'm fairly convinced that we have discovered life on Mars. There are some incredible photographs from [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory], which to me are pretty convincing proof of the existence of large forms of life on Mars! Have a look at them. I don't see any other interpretation.
Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

Update — Sunday, March 23: Arthur C. Clarke was buried on Saturday in his adopted country of Sri Lanka. Classical music from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was played during the short funeral. The funeral was conducted per his instructions: "Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral."

His headstone reads: "Here lies Arthur C. Clarke. He never grew up and did not stop growing."

Image: The Star Child, from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

'Masonry through the (rearview) looking glass': Frank Haas' speech to the Philalathes Society

What follows is the text of the speech given by M.W. Bro. Frank Haas, expelled Past Grand Master of Masons in West Virginia, to the Philalathes Society in February, 2008. It is reprinted from the blog Masonic Crusade.

Masonry Through the (Rearview) Looking Glass

By Frank J. Haas, MPS

Thank you very much for your brave invitation. I know that there is some controversy about my being here. Some of you have examined your consciences about whether you should listen to me, break bread with me, shake hands with me, appear in the banquet room with me, stay in the same hotel as me, and where to draw the line. I respect that fidelity. I am hopeful that this will be only a temporary strain on our fraternal relations. I am honored to accept an invitation that I did not seek. I have the highest respect for The Philalethes Society, and I would not do anything intentionally to harm it.

I very much wish that the circumstances that brought us together might have been dispensed with, but I have gained a great deal of unsought notoriety of late. This Society exists to research problems confronting Freemasonry. I have a problem. Some say that I am a problem. I have been a Philalethes member for quite a few years. I can relate to you my perception and my recollection of what has happened recently to Freemasonry in West Virginia and to me, and I can offer my opinions on these events. I will tell you what happened — beginning at the end.

Listen to the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.

“I won’t!” said Alice.

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

In a similar fashion, the capital punishment of Masonry was meted out to me. Sentence first, verdict irrelevant, trial — well, details, details. I was expelled summarily by the Grand Master of West Virginia without a trial, without written charges, and without notice that my neck was in the noose. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.” To earn it, I did not even get the pleasure of stealing any money, messing around with any women, or sounding off with a temper tantrum. While I was watching a football game on a Sunday evening, I remember Grand Master Charlie L. Montgomery calling me to ask whether I would be in lodge the following evening. I said it was on my calendar. He said he “might drop in” to talk about the Oyster Night at the previous meeting of Wellsburg Lodge #2, where we hosted fifty Ohio brothers, including a surprise visit by the Grand Master of Ohio, the stalwart Ronald L. Winnett. When I walked into the lodge building on Monday, November 19, 2007, I thought it likely that the lodge would be complimented for its hospitality to two sitting grand masters. Little did I know that the lodge would soon be on probation and that expulsion edicts in advance had been researched, prepared, drafted, typed, and were soon to be read, expelling Richard K. Bosely and me, all, heartlessly, in the presence of my father.

I have been hurt by all of this, because I love this fraternity. I must guard against having my remarks today sound like nothing but sour grapes. Some unpleasant events happened. People ask me what happened. I tell them. They do not believe it and say it is impossible.

The Red Queen and Alice discussed such a circumstance in Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

“I can't believe that!” said Alice.

“Can't you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There's no use trying,” she said: “one can't believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Believe it. The reason for the expulsion: free speech. I have a sincere philosophical disagreement with Montgomery and his supporters. I believe that the grand lodge belongs to the Craft and that the brothers should decide grand lodge laws and policy with their open debates and votes, preserving always our eight Ancient Landmarks. We are not bound to look forever through a looking glass as a rearview mirror and never look at the present or toward the future. Montgomery wants no change ever, and anyone who wants any change should “go away.”

Here is how I engendered such anger. Votes matter. In West Virginia, past masters have one quarter of a vote. According to the legend, I was elected to the progressive line of grand lodge officers by a quarter of a vote. You know that you must be cautious about secret ballots: those who know should not say, and those who say may not know. I am only passing on what I was told. I had served ten years on the Committee on Work with the custody of the ritual as Deputy Grand Lecturer. I became Junior Grand Warden, but some did not want me there.

As grand master, it became my frequent practice to address the brethren at lodge meetings, and I began to conclude my speaking on the level with a time of questions of answers. There were some recurring themes in the brother’s questions, and these I decided to bring to the floor of grand lodge for consideration. Before grand lodge, I acted on three matters of business that needed no change but were compelling interpretations of existing language.

Youth. We had one active DeMolay chapter in the whole state, at the time. We had only around a hundred Rainbow Girls. I talked to the youth and their leaders, and I learned that part of their problem was our grand lodge law. Our policies were actually harming kids. Our Masonic law requires us not to allow youth organizations to meet in the lodge rooms, no matter what the lodges want. Lodges cannot give any support to the kids. Lodges cannot donate a penny. Lodges cannot even permit the parking lot to be used to raise funds by a car wash, for example. When I learned that the application of these many prohibitions, which had slowly accumulated over the years, was hurting the kids, I concluded that it was never the intention of Masonic law to be harmful to them. I thought the brothers would want fast action, so I acted with a directive to help the kids, and I set the subject for discussion at grand lodge.

Summary reprimands. We had three brothers involved in two separate incidents. News reporters initiated calls to ask for facts about Masonic buildings, which they proposed to feature in their newspaper articles. The brothers answered questions about facts and figures, numbers and dates, and these resulted in large, beautiful articles with color photographs in the newspapers of the fourth and the fifth largest cities in the state. One headline on the front page of the Sunday newspaper was worth thousands of dollars in a public relations budget: “I knew they were just and upright men.” However, the three brothers had not referred the reporters to the grand master, so he summarily issued written edicts of reprimand to be read audibly in all 140 lodges at two separate meetings. There were no trials. Sentence first. I entered an edict expunging the record because there was no constructive purpose to be achieved in having them continue.

As I prepared for the grand lodge session, I prepared a written agenda and had the various subjects of legislation distributed so that it went to the Craft with the proposals in their hands, in advance, in writing, to allow discussion to take place freely before the grand lodge session. This had not been done by a grand master for many decades, if at all.

The storm clouds began to swirl. I invited Brother Howie Damron to perform at the Grand Master’s Banquet before grand lodge opened, and he sang, “The Masonic Ring” and other favorites. Some of my predecessors objected and were turning colors in anger, and I was then implored to attend a meeting of past grand masters. The place of the meeting changed without notice to me, and I finally found them at about midnight and was told that my predecessors and all of the remaining progressive line were of the opinion that my actions and proposals were illegal and had to be withdrawn, or I would face their wrath. They said I had violated the landmarks, the Ancient Charges, the ritual, the usages and customs, and my obligation — so I was told, and this could not go forward. I said that the brothers would indeed debate and vote, and I later learned that the statements about unanimity in the room were exaggerated.

The following day, grand lodge opened, and I reported my actions and opinions to the Craft. Prominent among them was an outreach I had made to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of West Virginia through the Prince Hall Grand Master. Perhaps I went further than he would have liked, as I wrote him and telephoned him months earlier, and then visited the hotel of their grand lodge session, suggesting a meeting. For our grand lodge, I proposed language declaring it to be unmasonic conduct to refuse to seat a visitor to lodge if race was a reason, and it passed. On other subjects, the brothers voted to allow themselves the option to say the Pledge of Allegiance at lodge meetings. The brothers voted to allow handicapped candidates to petition.

We are the only grand lodge not to recognize or support the DeMolay, Rainbow Girls, or Job’s Daughters. We are the only grand lodge not to be members of the Masonic Service Association. We are the only grand lodge not to belong to a regional conference of grand masters. We are the only grand lodge to order the Scottish Rite not to perform one of their degrees, the Washington/Arnold 20th degree. The result? I am proud to say that the brothers voted not to persist in remaining a minority of one. The brothers voted to change these things.

By their votes, the brothers repealed an assortment of legislative state-wide restrictions, piled on over the decades, for specific, temporary reasons, by Masonic legislators. Dean Roscoe Pound in Masonic Jurisprudence observed, “Having no bills of rights in Masonry and hence nothing beyond a handful of vaguely defined landmarks to restrain him, what then are our barriers against the ravages of the zealous, energetic, ambitious Masonic law-maker? Legal barriers, there are none. But some of the most sacred interests of life have only moral security and on the whole do not lose thereby.”

The brothers in West Virginia voted to assert their moral security and to repeal bans of books, bans on films, and bans on slideshows, some implemented nearly fifty years ago for important reasons, apparent then, to deal with a moment in time. Royal Arch Chapter charters had been ordered to be removed from the walls of lodge rooms, but the brothers voted to allow them. Other art in a lodge room that included Masonic symbols or emblems other than the Blue Lodge had been prohibited, such as Scottish Rite or York Rite emblems or a tapestry hung on a concrete block wall, but the brothers voted to allow it — including portraits of local Past Grand High Priests and Past Grand Commanders, of whom they are justly proud.

The West Virginia brothers were forward-looking and voted to do what they thought was right. There was jubilation at the passing of the Wheeling Reforms at grand lodge in 2006. That lasted for a matter of days. Then we returned to the rearview looking glass, the rearview mirror, as the ballot was declared illegal by my successor. The vote was scorned. In my opinion, the best word to describe what is now happening as a result is: repression.

Since the Wheeling Reforms were struck down, we have heard it said that, although race is not a legitimate factor to use to exclude a qualified visitor, wink-wink, the Worshipful Master has the duty to preserve the “peace and harmony” of the lodge. So, promote peace and harmony, but, wink-wink, do not consider the race of the visitor, wink-wink.

Did you lose a thumb while fighting for your country? Which one? The left? — sign here on this membership petition. The right? We have ancient usages and customs, and we cannot put up with your kind.

Do you want a Masonic funeral? Your grandsons are prohibited from being pall bearers unless they are all Master Masons. You must explain these Masonic laws to your widow so that we do not have to leave her sobbing in the funeral home. There is no problem if you want your remains to be cremated. However, if you want your ashes to be scattered, it is “undignified” and we must walk away from your mourners, because if anyone knows that the lodge is present as a group, we will be reprimanded, again.

If youth organizations are having problems, their problems are not our problems, so be extremely careful if you try to help the kids. If our deceased brother’s obituary mentions his request that, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations should be made to a hometown hospice, which comforted and cared for him on his deathbed, then the proper action of the lodge is... send the flowers, because such charity is forbidden. We will not join the Masonic Service Association, as every other grand lodge in North America does, because it is soft on Prince Hall and they will send their publications and Short Talk Bulletins to our members without our control. We will not join the Northeast Conference of Grand Masters or any other such conference because they have ideas that conflict with our laws and mostly because those other grand lodges recognize Prince Hall Masonry.

Friends, I am proud of the Wheeling Reforms. They were distributed so that the Craft had them in their hands, in advance, in writing, most of them for the first time in their lives. We debated until the brothers voted to end debate. We voted on the merits. The Wheeling Reforms passed. They lasted — until the stroke of a pen. Dick Bosely politely but persistently sought and was denied answers about this, and because he took a little bit too much time to sit down and shut up, he was instantly stripped of his title as Deputy Grand Lecturer and two weeks later was summarily expelled, and his alleged offense was committed in the presence of the Grand Master of Ohio. I engaged in free speech saying, as quoted by Grand Master Montgomery, “the dream lives on and will not die.” Now I am left without free speech and without Freemasonry, but I still have the dream.

For my dreams, I have sustained the maximum Masonic punishment — expulsion. It hurts. It hurts a great deal. I hope that it is temporary. In another feat of Orwellian double think, my detractors have extended their hatred further by deleting my name from the website list of Past Grand Masters of West Virginia and throwing it down the memory hole. The Craft in West Virginia is a resilient bunch — Montani Semper Liberi, Mountaineers are always free. They are unsure of what to do and how. They want to do the right thing — and do that thing right, but those who would continue the repression have the upper hand for now. I do not have a call to mobilization to outline for you. I am on the outside now. Your brethren in West Virginia have voted to do what they think is right. By their votes, they made a positive statement about race relations in the fraternity. By their votes, they tried to help the kids. By their votes, they welcomed the handicapped into the Craft. By their votes, they were in favor of patriotic expression in the lodge. All for naught. We are one large fraternity divided into grand lodges. What happens to us reflects upon you. What happens to one group of your brothers affects the whole. We lecture about Masonry Universal. Search yourself, my brethren. You may find yourself with an opportunity to help, aid, and assist — not me — but your worthy brothers in West Virginia in ways, large or small. Will you go on foot and out of your way for them? You may be able to speak the truth to power. As Lincoln counseled, be on the side of the angels. Will you encourage, nourish, and cherish your brethren in the state with the second highest per capita Masonic membership with your concern and your prayers? If for nothing else but your concern and your prayers, the brethren of West Virginia will thank you, Masonry Universal will thank you, and I thank you for sticking your necks out for Freemasonry.

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