Saturday, September 20, 2008

'If Masonry were perfect, what would we have left to do?'

Earlier this week I was talking on the phone with my friend and brother Don Tansey, publisher of the excellent Masonic blog Movable Jewel. We were discussing the current state of the comments section of The Burning Taper, where a "non-civil war" continues to rage between Masons from different jurisdictions, arguing about what I, at least, generally consider petty differences, but what they seem to think of as massive walls and gulfs between them.

I asked Bro. Don to write a guest editorial about the meaning of harmony within Freemasonry, using as a springboard the extreme non-harmony we've seen in the comments section of several articles on The Taper lately. Bro. Don's non-participation in commenting on various Taper articles has been noticed, and his often wise input has been missed. He told me that while he has continued to read the articles, he did not want to be caught up in the negativity of the comments section in recent months.

After receiving Bro. Don's excellent editorial below, I asked several other Masonic bloggers if they would also submit editorials of their own, with the suggested topic of "Masonic harmony, unity and discord."

This begins a series of guest editorials from Masonic bloggers, posted here in the order they are sent to me.

My thanks to my Masonic blogging brothers for their input and assistance, and for their continued contributions to Freemasonry with their own blogs.

— W.S.

If Masonry were Perfect, What Would We have Left to Do?
by Bro. Don Tansey

The following editorial does not reflect the official position of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of the State of Connecticut or any other Masonic body. They are the opinions of an individual Brother.

When the Widow's Son suggested that I write a guest editorial about not reading or participating here for The Burning Taper, I agreed with some trepidation. After all, with the recent activity here, I believed I would be placing myself "in the line of fire," as it were.

Before going further, let me dispense with a few formalities first. For those who would discount my opinions because I usually use the nom de guerre "Traveling Man" I will give my real name and Lodge affiliation. My name is Don Tansey and my Mother Lodge is St. John's Lodge #2 A.F.& A.M. in the Grand Jurisdiction of Connecticut. I am also a Research Member and the Senior Warden of The Philosophic Lodge of Research and a member of the Grand Lodge Committee For Masonic Education in the same jurisdiction.

I generally post under a pseudonym because I value my privacy. If anyone wishes to question why I place such a high value on my privacy, may I suggest doing a Google search on Rebecca Schaffer.

Upon reflection, I decided to write this piece because I really don't read much of this blog anymore. There has been more heat than light here recently, and while the articles published provide information I would have difficulty unearthing myself due to time and current familial constraints, the comments on these articles have left me cold.

Let me also state for the record that I refuse to be drawn into the various arguments that have occurred here. I prefer to take my cue from Marcus Aurelius:
From my tutor: not to be a Green or a Blue partisan at the races, or a supporter of the lightly armed or heavily armed gladiators at the Circus; endurance and frugality; to do one's own work and not be a busybody: not to welcome slanderous gossip.(1)
As for being a busybody, remember, I was invited to write this.

Some here have taken umbrage at the number of articles which highlight the misdeeds of Masons. They believe that this casts the Fraternity in a negative light.

There are others who cite these same misdeeds as evidence that the Fraternity as a whole, in all Grand Jurisdictions of the United States is, down to the very last Brother, corrupt and morally bankrupt.

To members of both of these groups, allow me to employ the words of Carl Claudy, (through the mouth of the Old Tiler):
"Yes, Masonry failed to make an impression on these men to suit you, even as Masonry has failed to make an impression on you to suit me!" snapped the Old Tiler. "That last remark you made was an unadulterated scandal! Does Masonry teach you to talk scandal? But never mind that! Let me dig a few weeds out of the scrubby, ill-tended, and unwatered garden you miscall your mind and see if we can't get it ready to grow one straight thought!

"I know Jones. He is a member of the city club, the country club, Dr. Parkin's church, and a luncheon club. Neither church nor luncheon club teach deception or foster lies. Both instruct in morality, one by precept, the other by practice. By what right do you blame Masonry for Jones' failure to tell the truth, any more than the church or the luncheon club? Is Jones' mother to blame because she didn't teach her boy never to tell a lie? How about his Sunday School teacher and his wife? Are they to blame? If not, why is Masonry to blame?

"Roberts has been accused of forgery. I don't know whether he is guilty or not. Williamson seems to have had some real justification for feeling enmity toward his doctor, although nothing justifies murder, of course. Burton may be a sinner or sinned against... I don't know. As for Larson, it will take more than your whispers of scandal to make me believe ill of a brother until I know something.

"But let us suppose Roberts a forger, Williamson a murderer, Burton a Don Juan. All these men grew up, went to school, got out in the world, joined clubs, societies, orders, became Masons, members of a church.... Why pick on Masonry as the failure when these men go wrong? Is it just? If the church of God can't keep a man straight how can Masonry be expected to?

"It is rankly unjust to blame Christ for the failures of those who profess to follow Him. Was it Christ's fault that Peter denied Him and Judas betrayed Him? Was it the fault of the religion they professed? Or was it the fault of the man, the character, the up-bringing, the times?

"Men fail, and fall, and rise and try again... or fall and stay in the mud. To those who rise Masonry has a helping hand to extend. To those who fail and stay fallen, she has charity. Not hers the fault that humanity is frail. She holds the torch; if they close their eyes to its radiance and refuse to see the narrow path that the torch illumines, will you blame the torch?

"Masonry does not fail men. Men fail Masonry. Masonry has the teachings, the thought, the ennobling influence, the example to set, the vision to show those who have eyes to see. If they close their hearts to the ennobling influence, will not profit by the example and shut their eyes to the vision, is that the fault of Masonry?

"You, my brother, have just talked scandal without proof; a whispered slander against the good name of a Mason. Has Masonry failed with you that it has not taught you tolerance, brotherly love, reticence, charity of thought? Or is the failure in you as it may be within these men you mention?"(2)
I submit to the readership of this blog that it is Masons who have failed, not Masonry. I further submit to the readership of this blog that Freemasonry is a human construct. As good, as venerable as it is — by the its very nature as a human construct it is imperfect and that to expect perfection from it flies in the face of reason. If Masonry were perfect, what work would there be for us to do?

I can envision the rebuttals already: "This blog publishes allegations! That contradicts what you wrote!"

Well, does this blog make those allegations or does it report the fact that allegations have been made? For any allegations that have been made, are there proven facts that refute them? If there are, by all means respond.

"But {insert name here} did/wrote/said {insert bone of contention here}!"

I would reply that if this is the case and you are completely consumed by the matter; you have allowed someone to fashion a prison cell for you that you have cheerfully entered, locked, and discarded the key for. Such a person, Mason or not, could hardly claim to be "free."

To quote another of my favorite works: "'Well, you asked for it,' I said. 'If your happiness depends upon what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.'"(3)

I imagine the reply to that would be, "But {insert name} did {insert action} to a Brother in {insert jurisdiction} and that can't be allowed to stand!" In such a case there are methods available to redress wrongs. There are also ways to employ those methods that do not depend on vitriol, bitterness, or ad hominem attacks disguised as biting sarcasm.

I can anticipate the reply that "I tried all the methods available to me and I still did not get justice! What about that?! WHAT ABOUT ME?!!!" I would say that there exist methods to seek justice that do not rely on base language and ad hominem attack. Public opinion can be courted in such a way as to win support and right a wrong. I have always believed that Truth armed with the dedication to see it made known can right almost any wrong.

I cannot imagine the high minded individuals we so often cite as role models resorting to long diatribes filled with invective that so often characterize the exchanges here. When I turn to the public utterances and writings of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and many others, I find examples of the English language used to stir emotion, motivate action, incite thought and cause one to stop and reflect. By and large I find little in the way of ad hominem attack or vulgarity. They stand in very sharp contrast to the material I find here.

I understand that as Masons, we are taught to control our passions — not eliminate them. But, I believe that impassioned debate should be characterized by both emotion and reason. I see no need for the level of debate to deteriorate into personal attack. Is it really to much to ask members of a supposedly civilized society to make the case for their point of view employing logic, a degree of passion that does not exceed the boundaries of polite society, and an adherence to fact?

Perhaps it is. I fully expect my words to be picked apart. It is characteristic of the times. In both the public and private arena there is the total commitment to being right. Not only to be right for one's self and maintain one's internal consistency; but to be right for all. I expect that debate over the issues that affect Freemasonry to be contested here and elsewhere as they have been. In short, I believe I will be either ignored or disparaged because so many are so firmly committed to being right. But, I can dream and hope that the dialogue in the on-line Masonic community will elevate itself to a higher plane. A level of discussion and debate that those characters in history that we admire would be proud to claim as originating from a Brother Mason, even if they wouldn't agree with it.

Recent postings here, for the most part, do not give me much cause for hope. If they continue as they have then I like so many storied aficionados of Playboy have said, will,"only read it for the articles."


(1) The Meditations , Marcus Aurelius, Translated by G.M.A. Grube, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis IN, p.3

(2) Old Tiler Talks, Carl H. Claudy

(3) Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard Bach, Dell, p.96

— Bro. Don Tansey

| | | | |


  1. This is the second great blog post I've read today. Perhaps it's a trend? Masons acting like Masons. It's a miracle! :-)

  2. Thank you Don for a well written and thoughtful piece. I had previously read the Tiler posting, it is good to be reminded of it. I am sure that I am not the only person that appreciates the time you took to post this. Thank you again. P.S. I visit your blog on a regular basis. Keep up the good work.

  3. I don't presume that Masonry has ever been "perfect," or ever will be "perfect," but if it was "MORE perfect," I'd say it would be more valuable and useful to its own members, and thereby to the world at large.

    It seems to me, however, that before Masonry can do much of practical benefit for itself or anyone else, it needs to get its own house(s) in order.

    As a famous wise man once said:

    "Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?" (Luke 6:39)

    Unfortunately, perhaps equally (or more) appropriate is:

    "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." (Matthew 15:14)

    That certainly seems to be what's happening in Masonry today. Men who might have been valuable assets to the fraternity if it was more perfect, instead choose to "let them alone," realizing they are "blind leaders of the blind," who are leading their fraternity toward the ditch of extinction through corruption, incompetence, and social irrelevance.

    While absolute perfection is probably unattainable and unrealistic, at some critical mass of imperfection, collapse surely becomes inevitable.

    -- Diogenes

  4. Well said! "Know Thyself" should be our ruling principle before we consider looking and commenting on another's "alleged" faults!

  5. Don...out of the closet so to say! Bravo Brother! You were the last one I thought would drop the comfort of the psedonym. Great post.

  6. M.M.M.

    Actually, I have used my right name once before when I believed the issue warranted it.

    I used my name here because of what I consider to be a straw-man argument of claiming that an argument has no weight because the poster will not use their right name. Not wanting my position to be dismissed out of hand, I decided to post my real name.

    In my opinion, this line of reasoning is faulty. If someone were to declare that the Poisson ratio of Strontium 90 was 0.28; it wouldn't matter a fig what name the person used, the truth would remain the same.

    I intend to go right on posting as Traveling Man as I do not want my name plastered all over the Internet.

    I would look upon it as a courtesy if others would continue to use that moniker when referring to me on-line for the reasons I cited.

    Many in the CT Masonic community, including members of the Progressive Line of the Grand Lodge know who I am and that I write Movable Jewel, so it was never an issue of trying to conceal my identity from my Brethren. I just happen to like having a certain level of privacy.

    Be Well,

    Traveling Man

  7. TM wrote:
    I used my name here because of what I consider to be a straw-man argument of claiming that an argument has no weight because the poster will not use their right name.
    In my opinion, this line of reasoning is faulty. If someone were to declare that the Poisson ratio of Strontium 90 was 0.28; it wouldn't matter a fig what name the person used, the truth would remain the same.

    TM, let me explain something.

    Not too many ages ago, those of us who populated venues like alt.freemasonry dealt with anonymous character assassins who, had they been forced to readily identify themselves, would never have posted the BS they posted. They used their anonymity to be cowards who falsely smeared individuals and the good name of Freemasonry.

    As for me, practically anyone who has been on-line in Masonic spots for any length will know who I am. I remember Tom A. when he asked questions with an eye to joining our fine fraternity. I decided to use one on the blog as a bit of a metaphor. My rank is not important. I'm just a Mason, the same as any other member of the Craft reading, from G.M. to E.A. I'm not a spokesmason. I'm just a guy spouting personal observations or passing on stuff I find interesting.

    Justa Mason

  8. Justa Mason:

    I understand your point of view; and I certainly can't argue that many are emboldened by anonymity to indulge in churlish behavior. (After all those who spray paint vulgarities on underpasses seldom do it in the light of day.)

    While I never frequented the alt.freemasonry newsgroup, I am familiar with how wild and wooly the .alt groups could get.

    One can still witness the same sort of activity at the Above Top Secret boards today.

    In reading that venue, it became clear to me that the truth about the Fraternity being posted there is of a sufficient volume and presented in such a rational fashion that it refutes the bilge being spouted by the trolls. (Hence my comments in the editorial concering truth.)

    If any Mason believes that an argument is a load of codswallop, and deserves the time and effort to be refuted, then I still maintain that the argument needs to be addressed while the name of the perpetrator is an issue that can be left aside.

    We may end up by agreeing to disagree on this issue, and that's O.K. with me. The main thrust of my article was an appeal to raise the level of debate both here and elsewhere in the on-line Masonic realm. If it manages to do that, even for a short while, I will be well pleased.

    Finally, thank you for your courtesy in using my screen name. I truly do appreciate that.

    Be Well,

    Traveling Man

  9. Masonry perfect?
    Harmony in Masonry?
    No unmasonic behavior leveled at another Masons, wife, widow, daughter or Mother?

    All pure fanstasy. Masonry actually cannot produce what is claimed its all rather a lie.

  10. If things don't change and soon Masonry will become a lie do we want that?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.