Kind of a long title, but I was inspired by a question posted on Robert G. Davis’s blog about how Freemasonry can become a voice for morality worldwide. The churches are voices, and the political parties are voices that we hear constantly in the news. But 80% of the public have only the vaguest idea who Freemasons are, or what they “stand for.” Most of the public who have heard about Masons have heard about Masonic hospitals or charitable fund-raising.
Good deeds do not get much press, and those who do them do not seek publicity. So, we can’t do much about that. Leading by example as individual men is good, so far as it goes, but over the past 200 years it is hard to tell whether we are having an effect. True there is more religious tolerance now than 200 years ago, but there is also more fanaticism and hatred. Freemasonry, at the moment, is not out there speaking up for our values.
For the Craft to be a leading moral voice in the world, we only need to speak up publically as Masons, but since no single Mason speaks for the whole Craft, we can never project a unified face. No Mason wants a Masonic “Pope” but we do have leaders in the various bodies of Masonry, and we do have many good writers and speakers. Masons blogging and writing letters to the editor of their hometown paper can, at least, make that 80% who don’t know us better informed. What if a Masonic author were to be published in the New Yorker, or another magazine that is an organ of culture, not just “news”? Or what if a Mason was featured on NPR’s “Speaking of Faith” or PBS’s “Charlie Rose”? And what if they didn’t talk about charitable giving and endowments to hospitals?
What Masons do is hard to represent to the public because it isn’t a “dogma” and it isn’t externally action-packed. You cannot represent the inner tranformation of Masons or their ideals of civil discourse with CGI and 3D. Masonry, at its best, is a way of seeing, a way of looking for truth and understanding. And this sort of quest for the truth never takes sides in political or religious arguments.
Journalism majors like the two-sided argument form and I am afraid our culture has been taught to think that polarization is the only form an argument can take. You’re either pro or con. Like a debate team match. Masonry offers a way of pursuing truth that is not bipolar. Rather than trying to tear down an “opponent’s” premises and reasoning, this method tries to acknowledge that all parties to an argument have partial truth, even if it is just in their motivations. Either-Or thinking is rejected by Masonry. You do not find truth by choosing the white squares in the chequered pavement. You find it by seeing the pattern made by the black and the white.
The ubiquity of Albert Pike’s book “Morals and Dogma of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry” gives the man or woman on the street the impression that we have a Dogma. The title says it all. Nobody actually reads beyond the cover, but nearly everyone has seen a copy somewhere and assumes that Masons not only have a dogma, but that it is very long and complicated. If that person does pick up the book and read it, one will find it so obscure that one might be justified to suspect the whole thing is in code.
Masonic books and artifacts on ebay get tagged as “occult”. That tells me that even among those who know of us and are positively interested, some percentage think that we are uber-occultists and want to find out our secrets (shades of the ruffians!). Others might judge from the book shelves at Barnes and Noble that we are all about theories of our own origins from the Templars or the Gnostics, or the Mysteries of Mithras, or whatever. Ancient information kept in secret because it would be too explosive to reveal publicly. You cannot really be a positive moral influence on society that way.
A very hard sell — even if we had a way of pooling our talent to speak out. I do think that Masons have one method that is under-utilized and that is marching en masse. We make great parades, but they are usually just part of some civic celebration. We appear to be colorful party guys.
What if we marched on Washington, or London, or Paris with a message? Or even the state capitol. We would get attention certainly and make an impression. But what message? March for interfaith understanding? March for subduing our passions? What positive message could we rally around (besides charity hospitals)? If we could just articulate it and agree on the message, it might take the press and our civic leaders by surprise. A group marching on the capitol that is neither pro nor con some particular “hot-button” issue? Inconceivable.
Could we join with other groups seeking social justice and the pursuit of truth instead of fanaticism? That’s the tough part. There are so many Masons who consider themselves political conservatives that they would never march alongside environmentalists or socialists, or the usual folk marching for social justice and revolutionary ideals. Nor would liberal Masons be likely to march alongside the NRA or the Moral Majority. Those causes are seeking to sell their own brand of truth. They are not seeking truth itself — they believe they already have the truth. And other groups that say they are seeking the truth are usually trying to uncover some government plot or secret agenda, or to expose a cover-up.
When George Washington and his brother masons marched, they were marching in support of a revolution — both political and intellectual. They marched for freedom — not small matters like freedom to own guns, but large matters like the freedom of self-determination. The freedom to be yourself without persecution by governments or private citizens. Freedom not to have governments or any corporate organizations interfereing in your private life and pursuit of happiness. It seems to me that some of our moral leaders stand up for freedom, but many are trying to impose their rules on our pursuit of happiness. That is what passes for “moral’ in American society.
Can we march for true philanthropy? That is, in Greek, “love of our fellow man”? Such a march would implicitly decry all party politics based on demonizing the opposition. It would point out that obstructionist legislators are not being good and faithful citizens, but simply partisans. It would point out that religious fanatics are not seeking the truth, and do not believe in freedom. Freemasons are taught to believe in and fight for freedom. But we haven’t pehaps faced our own internal divisions caused by the ideologies of the bipolar two-party system based on a two-class system. We have the party of business owners and wannabe capitalists, on the one hand, and the party of workers and bourgeois liberals and socialists on the other hand. One dogmatically considers government taxation and regulation to be an assult on freedom. The other, equally dogmatic, considers freedom of self-determination to be something that can only be achieve by using democratic governments to counter the tendencies of free-market capitalism to turn people into wage-slaves, or abandon the poor altogether.
Bipolar politics does not seem to be able to arrive at a rational solution to this paradoxical contradiction. The conservatives believe we can do just fine without government assistance and regulation. I do not know why they believe that to be true, but they do. Liberals believe that government assistance and regulation are necessary to protect the freedom of a nation’s citizens. But conservative capitalists actually also believe in govnernment assistance, so long as it is assistance to business. Until the emergence of socialism, this was really the way governments worked. They were an organization of businesmen, moguls, and landed gentry for mutual aid and defence. The whole purpose of government was to protect and advance the interests of the propertied class.
Similarly, Liberalism has not been purely socialist. Liberals tend to like capitalism. They just don’t like it’s ugly side — the side which in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries produced pollution, poverty, slavery, and such disparity between the rich and the poor (or even the ordinary citizen) that it was impossible to believe that such an economic system in control of the government would ever secure freedom for any but a tiny fraction of the citizens. Capitalism and free markets were great, but flawed, and if nobody was free except the markets, what sort of world was that? A beautiful world for the privileged few who could make capitalism work to their advantage.
So, given this complexity over the definition of “freedom,” what are Masons to believe? What moral stance could Masonry as a whole take to guide our culture? A stance against selfishness and irresponsibility? A stance against those who fail to subdue their passions with reason and moderation? A stand against hypocrisy? A stand for wisdom, prudence, and temperance? How would that make an impact on “issue politics” and the world of dichotomy we have today?
The Masons have a way of making decisions in their lodge. They enter the lodge and set aside their differences — politics, religion, class. They meet on the level and in good faith, speaking on the square and on the level. They are dedicated to truth, not self-serving opinions or arguments. They make decisions “for the good of the lodge.” I think that this was the way our government, our democracy was intended to work by our Masonic founders. Though only a third of the writers of the constitution were Masons, it is easy to see their influence on the structure of our systems. Each house of the legislature, like the houses of parliament, are set up like lodge rooms. Americans deliberately did not create a “House of Lords” like that in England. But in our legislative governing bodies our representatives and senators do not receive Masonic training before assuming their seats. Many clearly cannot subdue their passions, and many cannot seem to grasp the idea of setting aside their differences when they enter the chamber.
How many of our legislators act upon the square and speak upon the level? What if Congress and state legislatures actually worked like Masonic lodges? Or at any rate, like lodges are supposed to work. Religious differences, class differences, and political parties left outside the door of the lodge? That’s a pretty revolutionary idea.
Unfortunately for America, political parties emerged even before our first presidency was complete. George Washington, our brother Mason, had to watch the system he had dreamed of dissolving into parties who hated each other with unbridled passions. Politics became a game of “defeat the enemy” instead of a system of civil discourse and rational problem-solving. In short, we have become a nation governed by and for fanatics.
I don’t excuse the Democratic Party from this charge. Though I agree with their ideals, the politics of the Congress as it now is can never lead to permanent solutions to our gravest problems. Our nation may die because we cannot agree with one another and set aside our differences. I think the Democratic party stands for that principle, but parties by their nature become partisan.
March and parade Freemasons, for your ideals, for reason instead of selfish emotions, for freedom for every individual.