Criticism and Change
Thomas E. Weir, MPS
The Philalethes Society met at Richmond, Virginia, October 1, 1988. The meeting was begun by Most Worshipful Henry G. Law, Past Grand Master of Delaware, who quoted Francis Bacon's contention that truth consisted of inquiry, knowledge and belief (Essays 1, "Of Truth"). To Bacon's observation, PGM Law added that the aim of the Philalethes Society is not just the enjoyment of truth, but the sharing of it.
This essay hopes not only to follow Bacon's concept of Truth's "Law", but also to express a personal perception of the truth, thus fulfilling the demand of Law's "Truth", namely to be shared.
The able speakers did not extol the virtues of Masonry, but, in order (a) cited the public confusion generated by one man who apparently presumed to speak for all Masons, (b) Masonic mistakes of ritual and administration, (c) the need for communication with the public and within the Craft, (d) the need to adapt to contemporary times (as did our Founders), (e) how to react to the criticism now bombarding us, (f) the need for change and (g) personal Masonic irritations.
It seems that all these themes are cut from the same cloth. The fact is that Freemasonry was dynamic and increasing until 1968, then began to decline. What the public thinks of us might be summed up, "I don't know anything about the Masons, but they make good jars." As Cabell F. Cobbs, Deputy Grand Master of Virginia explained with conviction, something has to be done.
Why is Masonry retreating? We are not attracting younger men to ask for membership. Unless this changes, the simple fact is that Masonry as we know it, with Masonic Halls and great services and functions by Grand Lodges and appendant bodies will perish, possibly by the end of the century. If the most pessimistic predictions prove true, a person who, this year, takes the bottom position in an eleven position progressive line will find nothing when he gets to the East.
The International President of the Philalethes Society set the stage for Brother Cobb's promise of change. In contending that Masonry will either evolve by its own determination or be driven to extinction by the internal and external forces working against it. The Masonry we practice, he contends, was designed to meet the needs of the early 18th century and performed admirably until the mid-nineteenth century.
In the debate on the topic, "Freemasonry Must Answer Its Critics", what was not said made more of an impact on me than what was said. For one thing, I was surprised (when I went digging after the debate) that neither affirmative speaker quoted our friend Francis Bacon: "Silence is the virtue of fools". (De Auugmentis Scientarum 1,6)
Serious exception is taken to the fact that, of the four speakers, not one asked or stated what criticism the profane make of Masonry. Are all criticisms dismissed as invalid or are all considered equally valid, so that all must be treated equally? Is it possible to have different responses to different criticisms? There is a real need to be specific and explicit about criticism of Freemasonry. Here are examples I have recently heard.
- Masonry has corrupted the Police.
- Masonic association abuses inside information, to wit:
- Masons use favoritism to gain employment or advancement.
- Masons betray privileged information to other Masons, both personal and commercial.
- Masonry has corrupted the Courts.
- Masonry has corrupted local, regional and national governments.
- Masonry amounts to devil worship.
- Masonry is segregated.
These criticisms have been put forth at length in popular publications, and Masonry has been accused and convicted of the charges on the floors of some of the most respected church organizations in the world. Personally, as one whose life is wrapped up in the Church, I wish that in the case of Masonry, as in the cases of Joan of Arc and other non-conformists, the churches involved had shown more light than heat. Perhaps we should remember the words of the ubiquitous Francis Bacon: "What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay an Answer." (Of Truth)
WHY DO PEOPLE NOT KNOW WHAT MASONS ARE?
One Masonic wise guy says that it is because we don't do anything. There is more than a germ of truth in this aphorism. However, I once visited the office of a Shrine Temple Recorder. A mother and child were shown in. Shortly, another Mason arrived. The child needed help the family could not pay for. The case was not suitable for treatment at the Shriner's Hospitals. The unidentified Mason simply wrote out a personal check and gave it to the mother.
Publicity in such a case is unwanted, but we can do things that attract favorable attention.
CAN MASONRY CHANGE?
No Worshipful Master, nor anyone who has attended the installation of one, need be told that no man or body of men (internal or external) can change the Body of Masonry. We are not, however, told what is the Body of Masonry? Journeymen stone masons cannot change the Body of Operative Masonry. Masons can't build an enduring bad building, an ugly one perhaps but not a bad one. The laws (or Body) of Operative Masonry will bring down a bad building, the victim of its own defects.
Would it be heresy to say that the Body of Speculative Masonry is:
- Belief in God
- Brotherly love
If such is the Body of Masonry, then anything else could be changed. Personally, I would oppose a change in the rules governing the secrets of our degrees. However, we can honestly say that the secrecy incidental to the means of recognition and method of instruction in modern Freemasonry is an historical accident, left over from the days when Free (i.e., qualified operative) Masons roamed Europe in quest of work and later adapted by the Founders of Grand Lodge Masonry to suit the interests of the 18th century.
The challenge is great, as we all understand. The need to attract new personnel resources, the need to respond effectively, even if silently, to our critics and to have within the Lodge, Grand Lodge and other bodies, the best demonstration of devotion to God, morality, the Brotherhood of Man and charity to all, in a manner understood by all, will give the leaders and workers of Masonry the opportunity to welcome the 21st century as an era of more light for Masonry.