Friday, June 01, 2007

Confronting the critics: A visit to the anti-Masonic exhibit in San Francisco

In April, the Taper mentioned an anti-Masonic exhibit going on through October 1 at the Grand Lodge of California.

Bro. Erik visited the museum recently, and sent us his report. Thanks, Bro. Erik!

Confronting the Critics

"Confronting the Critics," on view at the California Grand Lodge headquarters in San Francisco through October 1st, takes a look at the history of anti-Masonic propaganda beginning with the Morgan affair all the way to the fevered imaginings of contemporary religious extremists.

As a member of a French obedience unrecognized by American Grand Lodges, this small exhibit was particularly interesting to me for the way in which it sheds light on the differing histories of continental European and Anglo/American Freemasonry and how the nature of our critics and our response to them has shaped our vastly different histories.

The exhibit begins with a look at the Morgan affair of the 1820s and 30s and how this scandal shaped the American lodge. Curator Adam Kendall says that American Masons reaction to the scandal, "was really the beginning of Masonry as we know it today in the United States, and it also created an unprecedented level of openness. At the same time, it started a process that took mainstream American Masonry in a different direction than its European counterparts."

Post-Morgan affair Freemasonry in the US went on to emphasize charitable work and operates relatively openly. But the story of continental Freemasonry evolved very differently largely because of the power and fervency of its critics, mainly the Catholic church and repressive anti-democratic governments. You’ll see no Masonic bumper stickers on the continent even today and the middle portion of "Confronting the Critics" shows why, detailing a sordid history of repression and anti-Semitism that stretches from the 18th century to the Nazis. This very different history explains in part why French Freemasonry has maintained its progressive political stance in defiance to its opponents.

The bizarre depictions of continental Masonic rituals by our opponents is a highlight in the exhibit culminating in a series of photos of a Nazi-staged reenactment of a third degree ritual replete with an incomprehensible bunch of skeletons perched on boxes scattered about the lodge room.

The exhibit ends with a set of books and a few comics by the irrepressible right wing fundamentalist nut-job Jack Chick that demonstrates that today Continental and Anglo/American Freemasonry are once again united by the fervency of our religious extremist opponents.

One sad note is the exhibit's location in a dark corner of a second floor balcony above the lobby. The Grand Lodge used to have a much larger exhibit space on the ground floor of their swanky Nob Hill headquarters but it appears to have been closed for lack of interest. Nevertheless, the content of this exhibit is much more
interesting than the miscellaneous Masonic memorabilia that I viewed the last time I visited the now closed museum and “Confronting the Critics” is well worth seeing.

The exhibit is open until October 1st and can be viewed Monday 10 to 3, Wednesday 10 to 6 and Thursday 12 to 8 or by appointment. An article and some of the artifacts from the exhibit can be seen in the newsletter of the California Grand Lodge.

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  1. I recently took a tour of some points of interest in SF with my college humanities teacher. One of our stops was Grace Cathedral. I noticed the Masonic lodge across the street when we came to the cathedral. I toured the cathedral for about 20 minutes when I was told I would have to "remove my hat", I just smiled and said "No". I left without causing a scene, a minor miracle for me, and went to the Masonic lodge across the street. None of the exhibit rooms were open, which was disappointing. Now when I visit SF at the end of the month, I can visit at least that one exhibit.

  2. The exhibit is open during the times posted:

    Mon. 10-3, Weds. 10-5, Thurs. 12-8.

    If you do not visit during those times, the exhibit will not be open. Sounds like you came on an off day.

  3. Bro. Erik and the Burining Taper,

    Thank you the report on my exhibit! I do hope that if any of you are in S.F. that you may visit "Sacking the Temple" (the real name of the exhibit).

    One thing worth noting is that the exhibit features anti masonic artifacts that were published prior to the Morgan Affair, namely a 1798 third edition of John Robison's "Proofs of a Conspiracy..." Other anti masonic pamphlets and parodies that lead to the Morgan Affair are also featured.

    Please note that the museum, library and exhibit are only open on the times posted.

  4. To Anonymous,

    I stand corrected--yes indeed the exhibit begins before the Morgan Affair.

    Looking forward to the next show.

    Bro:. Erik


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