Effects of Anti-Masonry on the Fraternity

Effects of Anti-Masonry on the Fraternity

By Bro... Erik McKinley Eriksson


IT is inevitable that the Masonic Institution should have been seriously affected by the great wave of anti-Masonry which followed Morgan’s disappearance. However, during the years which have intervened little has been done to determine just what happened to the Fraternity, though there has been much generalizing. Anti-Masons, even at the present time, glibly dispense the information that organized Freemasonry was exterminated and point to the disappearance of Masonry in Illinois as proof. They might also point to the fact that the Grand Lodge of Michigan became defunct for a time and that the Grand Lodge of Vermont was practically suspended for ten years. But setting forth such facts does not prove their contention for there were twenty-three other Grand Lodges which did not become defunct and which did not suspend.

Masonic historians have also failed, thus far, to make a thorough study of the effects of anti-Masonry. They, too, have been content with generalizations such as “[anti-Masonry] was disastrous to the growth and progress of the Institution.” What apparently happened in a few Grand Jurisdictions has been accepted as sufficient evidence to prove that anti-Masonry almost exterminated the Masonic Fraternity in the United States. They have pointed to the decrease in the number of lodges represented at the annual communications as illustrative of the devastation wrought by the anti-Masonic movement. But, in so doing, they have failed to consider that there might have been other factors than anti-Masonry operating to bring about a decline in Masonic strength during the period following the Morgan affair [See Image – Sketch of Morgan Affair Controversy]

When one studies the situation in each Grand Jurisdiction, separately, he becomes convinced that anti-Masonry, though a factor of great importance, was not by any means solely to blame for the low state to which the Masonic Institution fell during the decade of the thirties. In some jurisdictions, Masonry was in a low state before 1826 due to internal troubles of various kinds. In the case of most of the Grand Lodges, the percentage of lodges represented at the various communications before 1826 was not high. The development of anti-Masonry, of course, brought about a further decline in attendance.

Furthermore, in explaining the situation, especially in the thirties, there was a factor that seems entirely to have escaped the historians, and that was the prevalence of cholera in the country. During the period beginning about 1830, the whole western world was swept by an epidemic of cholera that brought death to many and created great fear among the people. It is impossible to determine just how much effect this epidemic had in causing lodges to die because the members feared to congregate. Nor can its influence in causing non-representation at the communications of the Grand Lodges be determined. Conversely, it is impossible to think that cholera did not have a harmful effect on the Institution, aiding in producing conditions which have heretofore been attributed to anti-Masonry alone.

Still another factor that must be given consideration was the financial depression and panic which occurred during the period. Whether due to the “removal of the deposits” from the Second Bank of the United States or to manipulations of the Bank, the fact remains that, beginning late in 1833 and extending into the spring of 1834, there was a widespread depression. Then followed a few years of “good times” characterized by an orgy of speculation. In 1837 a panic occurred which gripped the whole country. In some localities, its effects were felt well into the decade of the forties. The resultant difficulty of securing money must be recognized as a factor in aiding Masonry’s decline and delaying its recovery. Members could not pay their dues to local lodges, and these lodges could not discharge their obligations to the Grand Lodges.

IMPACT OF ANTI-MASONRY IN NEW YORK STATE

AN examination of the Grand Lodge Proceedings as early as 1817 reveals an unhealthy condition existing at that time in the Masonic Institution in the state. There were 293 lodges on the list but of these, only 30 were represented at the annual communication on June 4, 1817. There were 10 lodges listed as having “Ceased to Work” while 16 were listed under “Warrant Surrendered.” There were listed 47 suspensions for non-payment of dues and 5 expulsions of un-Masonic or immoral conduct. At least 17 warrants for new lodges were issued during the year, indicating that even that early an over-rapid expansion was taking place.

In 1818 only, 28 lodges were represented, and it was apparent that some action was necessary. Therefore in 1819, the “dead timber” was eliminated and the lodges were renumbered. So rapidly had new lodge been created that there still remained 323 on the list of which 82 were represented. By 1821 the lodges were again in a low state. While 79 were represented, 179 others were reported as in arrears for two years or more! In 1822 there were represented 110 lodges, and in 1823, there were 112 represented. In the latter year, internal dissensions came to a head and the Grand Lodge was split. The result was the formation of a City Grand Lodge and a Country Grand Lodge, whose rivalry in the following years was a factor of prime importance in preparing the ground for anti-Masonry.

Each Grand Lodge tries to outdo the other in chartering new lodges with the result that in some localities too many lodges were created to be properly supported. Likewise, as a result, unworthy candidates were admitted who were among the first to secede from the Fraternity after the anti-Masonic excitement began. The Country Grand Lodge, the stronger of the two, at its annual communication in 1824, granted warrants for 30 new lodges. In the same year, at its annual communication, the City Grand Lodge created 11 new lodges. At the communications the following year the Country Grand Lodge granted 46 new warrants while the City Grand Lodge granted 12.

Meanwhile, efforts were being made to reunite the Grand Lodges with the result that on June 7, 1827, they were merged. The interest aroused in the proposed merger resulted in an extraordinarily large representation, for at the communication of the merged Grand Lodges there were present the representatives of 228 lodges. It is significant that, at this merged communication, 14 petitions for warrants for new lodges were granted.

POLITICAL ENEMIES OF CRAFT

FROM the evidence presented, it should be clear that anti-Masonry alone did not bring about the decline in Masonic strength in New York. There can be no question but that anti-Masonry, once organized so as to combine religious fanatics and political opportunists, such as Thurlow Weed, William H. Seward, and Millard Fillmore [See Image – Portrait of President Fillmore] exercised a devastating effect on the Fraternity, but it is just as certain that the Masons of New York were, to some extent, to blame for their own troubles.

By early 1828, it was apparent that the anti-Masonic movement was having an effect on the Masonic Institution. In fact, from the time of the beginning of the Morgan investigations and trials, there had been public renunciations of Masonry by members in western New York. A group of these gave encouragement to political anti-Masonry by holding conventions at Le Roy on Feb. 19 and July 4, 1828.

WITHIN THE FRATERNITY

THE attendance at the Annual Communication of 1828 was only slightly affected, as there were 130 lodges represented, as compared with 142 represented in the two Grand Lodges in 1825. However, during the year 1828, only 3 warrants for new lodges were issued and these were the last for some years. There were 103 suspensions for non-payment of dues and 8 expulsions for un-Masonic conduct as compared with 38 suspensions and 9 expulsions in the combined lodges in 1825.

After 1828, the effects of anti-Masonry, on the individual Masons, on the local lodges, and on the Grand Lodge began to be more apparent. Early in 1829 occurred the first organized movement looking to the surrender of the local lodge charters. On Feb. 20, a circular was issued by 76 Masons of Ontario County recommending to the lodges and chapters of western New York “the expediency of returning their charters.” On March 13, six lodges of Monroe County, including that at Rochester, surrendered their charters to the Grand Lodge in “acquiescence to public opinion.” However, contrary to a rather general opinion, this example was not widely followed. On May 5, 1829, delegates from 19 lodges in Cayuga and Onondaga Counties held a meeting. Instead of adopting the course taken by the Monroe County Masons, they drew up an address disclaiming all knowledge of the Morgan affair prior to Morgan’s disappearance and denying all the charges made against the Fraternity. They declared:

We venerate Masonry for its antiquity, we admire it for its moral principles, and we love it for its charity and benevolence.

The following resolution was also adopted:

Resolved, That in the opinion of this convention it would be inexpedient and improper to take measures for the surrender of Masonic charters, and that our brethren be respectfully advised to adopt no measures in relation to that subject.

Similar action was taken by a convention of 114 delegates representing 14 lodges and 5 Royal Arch Chapters of Chenango, Cortland, and Madison Counties, held Sept. 2, 1829. Complete figures show that, during the whole period of the anti-Masonic excitement, only 76 lodges, out of the 484 existent in 1825, surrendered their charters.

Forty-three fewer lodges were represented at the 1829 Annual Communication than were represented the previous year. The fact that the dues of 23 lodges were remitted, shows that many Masons were not paying their dues, though only 22 individuals were reported during the year as suspended for that reason. It should be noted in passing that in 1829 the anti-Masons made unsuccessful attempts to secure the passage of laws by the New York legislature forbidding “extra-judicial oaths” and barring Masons from serving on juries when one party in a case was a Mason and the other was not.

THE GRAND LODGE VISITORS

At the 1831 session, the Grand Lodge hesitated to take drastic action against delinquent lodges. It contented itself with passing a resolution declaring that lodges which had not met for a year or more should forfeit their warrants if they did not meet before June 1832. A resolution was also passed requiring lodges in arrears for ten years or more to make returns by the time of the next annual communication or forfeit their warrants.

In June 1832, communication of the Grand Lodge, the threatened drastic action was taken. The warrants of 5 lodges were forfeited because a “citation” of the last annual communication had not been answered; 84 lodges which had made no returns since 1822 also had their warrants forfeited. The Grand Secretary was likewise instructed to demand the warrants of 23 lodges which had not met for over a year. This form of procedure was also followed in later communications so that, by 1836, no less than 338 lodges had had their warrants forfeited by the Grand Lodge; 45 of these later forfeitures occurred in 1833, 89 in 1834, and 92 in 1835. While this drastic action cleared out the dead lodges, it was not without its complications, for, out of all the warrants ostensibly surrendered or forfeited, only 54 had been collected by the Grand Secretary in 1836. The scattering about of the old warrants presented an excellent opportunity for the development of clandestine Masonry and for a time constituted a serious problem.

THE TURNING OF THE TIDE

SO far as anti-Masonry was concerned, the year 1836 marked the turning point for the Masonic Fraternity in New York. At the communication in June of that year, the Grand Secretary, James Herring, made a significant report in which he reviewed the events of the past ten years. He called attention to the fact that anti-Masonry in the state was rapidly dying out and that “the revival of Masonic labors and usefulness begins to be manifest.” As concrete evidence of this there was presented the petition of Ark Lodge, No. 160, to be restored, which petition was granted. Later in the year, two other lodges were revived.

In 1837, Masonry in New York was well on the road to recovery when its progress was interrupted by another split in the Grand Lodge growing out of an attempt to discipline certain Masons of New York City for promoting a Masonic procession on St. John’s Day (June 24, 1837) without authority. From this time on, the lack of prosperity in the New York Grand Lodge cannot be blamed on anti-Masonry but must be attributed chiefly to the strife among the Masons themselves. However, the Panic of 1837 must not be overlooked as a factor in hindering the recovery of Masonry in New York. But in spite of these factors, additional lodges were restored, and in 1839 the first new lodge since 1828 was granted a warrant. By 1843 there were 93 lodges in the state and the number was increasing rapidly.

In reviewing the anti-Masonic period in New York, several facts stand out as especially interesting. Out of 53 counties in the state, the lodges in 29 counties were entirely extinct in 1836, either through surrender or forfeiture of warrants. Even in New York County, where anti-Masonry made little headway politically, only 22 out of 43 lodges were alive in 1836. Altogether, there were at that time only 71 lodges left in the state, and 14 of these were not in good standing. As a result of the decline in the lodges the Grand Lodge resources dropped from $5,301 in 1827-1828 to $1,631 in 18351836. It is apparent that hundreds of Masons in the state, if they did not openly secede, at least allowed their membership to lapse. But many others dared to defy their persecutors and kept many local lodges, as well as the Grand Lodge, alive and functioning during the period. Great credit must be given to General Morgan Lewis, a veteran of the Revolution, who was Grand Master, 1830-1843, and to James Herring, the Grand Secretary, 1829-1845. The leadership of these two men during the period was of inestimable benefit to the New York Masons.

ANTI-MASONRY IN VERMONT

FROM New York, as has been pointed out,2 anti-Masonry spread to the neighboring states. In no state were its effects more noticeable than in Vermont. By 1828 the excitement had produced enough effect to reduce the Grand Lodge attendance from 52 in 1827 to 39 in 1828. When the annual communication was held at Montpelier, in October of 1829, 40 out of the 68 lodges then under Charter, were represented. In only 13 of them had there been any initiations during the year.

At this communication, two important things were done. One was to elect Nathan B. Haswell of Burlington as Grand Master and Philip C. Tucker of Vergennes as Deputy Grand Master. The former served continuously until 1847 with Tucker as his Deputy and then was succeeded by the latter. It was these two men who were chiefly instrumental in bringing the Masonic Institution in Vermont through the period of anti-Masonic persecution. The other important action was to issue the famous “Appeal to the Inhabitants of Vermont . . .”

THE POLITICAL FACTOR

THE bitterness with which the presidential campaign of 1832 was fought in Vermont was probably responsible for the decline in the representation at the annual communication from 39 in 1831 to 10 in 1832. It was noised abroad that at the next session of the Grand Lodge in 1833 another attempt would be made to secure its dissolution. This resulted in 34 lodges being represented. On Oct. 9, 1833, a preamble and resolution calling for the surrender of the local charters and the dissolution of the Grand Lodge was introduced. Again, there was heated debate, but when the vote was taken, the resolution was defeated 79 to 42.

After the adjournment of the Grand Lodge, the Grand officers, on Oct. 21, 1833, published an address to the people of the state. They reviewed the history of Masonry in Vermont and pointed out that of 73 charters issued since 1794, there were 68 still in force. They charged that those who sought to secure the surrender of charters were not animated by “an honest intention to pacify public opinion,” but had “far less honorable motives.” They denied that the Masonic Institution had interfered with politics or religion, and closed by warning the people of the dangerous precedent that would be established by the success of the movement to exterminate Masonry.

Only 7 lodges were represented in 1834. The chief business consisted of drawing up and adopting six resolutions, including a reaffirmation of a resolution passed at the previous communication giving lodges permission to surrender their charters, “a measure calculated to relieve [those] who wished to retire from Masonry.” At this session the time of the annual communications was changed from October to January, and, as a result, no meeting was held in 1835.

EMERGENCY MEASURES TAKES BY GRAND LODGE

ON Jan. 13 of 1836, the Grand Lodge met at Burlington, with only nine Grand officers present. These proceeded to elect officers and then passed the following resolution:

Resolved, That the Grand Master, Grand Treasurer and Grand Secretary, with such of the Grand Lodge as may make it convenient, be and they are hereby authorized to attend at the hall of such Lodge on the 2nd Wednesday of January, A. L. 5837 and adjourn said Lodge to the 2nd Wednesday of January, A. L 5838, and thereafter biennially.

This instruction was complied with, and the form of the Grand Lodge organization was preserved until Jan. 14, 1846, when a convention was held at Burlington on the invitation of Grand Master Haswell, sent privately to trusted Masons in the state. Forty-three delegates attended the meeting on the date set. After the convention had considered the matter of reviving the Grand Lodge, the meeting was dissolved, and the Grand Lodge was declared to be opened, with ten lodges represented. With this beginning, the recovery of the Masonic Institution in Vermont proceeded slowly but surely.

RESPONSE IN MAINE AND NEW HAMPSHIRE

UP to 1829, there was no tangible evidence that Freemasonry in Maine had been affected by anti-Masonry. Between 1825 and 1829 there were ten new lodges chartered, raising the total from 48 in the first-mentioned year to 58 in 1829. At the annual communication at Portland, Jan. 15, 1829, it was reported that three new charters had been issued within the past year. However, at this communication, the Grand Lodge representation was only 23 as compared with 38 in 1828. Further evidence that anti-Masonry was making itself felt is seen in the fact that 18 lodges were reported to have “unsettled accounts” as compared with one so reported in 1827. At the 1830 communication, official notice was for the first time taken of anti-Masonry when a report was submitted by a committee on “the subject of the peculiar duties of Masons at the present time.” The committee advised against the issuance of a public address for the purpose of vindicating Masonry and urged Masons to “quietly let the tempest take its course” endeavoring “to vindicate the sincerity of their profession by a well-ordered life and conversation.”

IN 1831, the Grand Lodge by-laws were amended so as to provide for holding the annual communications at Augusta, in the hope that the decline in representation would be halted. In this hope, the Masons of Maine were doomed to disappointment, for the representation declined until in 1837 only the representatives of one lodge together with the Grand officers were present at the annual communication on Jan. 19. At this session, the Charter of one Lodge was declared forfeited. But the lowest point of Masonic activity in Maine had not yet been reached.

When the time arrived for the annual communication on Jan. 20, 1842, not one lodge was represented. Neither was the Grand Master present, so the various Grand offices with the exception of that of Grand Secretary were filled by Grand officers pro-tem.

It was not until 1844 that Freemasonry in Maine may be said to have definitely started on the upgrade. At the annual communication at Augusta on Jan. 18, there were represented 19 lodges. Among these were one which had surrendered its charter in 1836 and the one whose charter had been forfeited in 1837. As the representatives of both were allowed to vote this amounted to virtual restoration, though formal restoration did not take place until later. It was decided to again hold the annual communications at Portland Action was also taken to restore such lodges as desired it. Thereafter, satisfactory progress toward complete recovery was made, though quite slowly at first. When the Grand Lodge, on July 4, 1845, broke the ground for the “Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad,” it was evident that the spirit of persecution in Maine had melted away.


NOTES

J. Hugo Tatsch, THE BUILDER, August 1926.

2  Erik McKinley Eriksson, THE BUILDER, December 1926.

Article originally published – “Effects of Anti-Masonry on the Masonic Fraternity, 1826-1856” by Erik McKinley Eriksson, THE BUILDER, February 1927, Vol. 8. No. 2.

The Lesser of Two Evils: A Masonic Perspective

The Lesser of Two Evils: A Masonic Perspective

Written by Bro... Marcus Radiant


I WRITE not to persuade anyone to vote one way or another, nor to condemn or venerate one’s decisions in life, but to examine the reason why we choose. In my Masonic circle of friends, there are those that lean conservative and those that lean liberal, and every four years, I hear the same argument from both sides:

“We must choose the candidate that is least evil.”

Nobody ever seems satisfied with the choices, so they opt for the age-old logical fallacy, choosing the lesser of two evils. No doubt, this supposed logical decision is the source of comfort for many. The problem with this line of logic is that the choice between the lesser evil and greater evil is still evil. This type of decision making is an abdication of choice. It forces a person into a conundrum of choosing between two options are neither desirable.

We certainly do not apply this logic (I hope) to choosing a relationship, a spouse, a friend, or even a career. Do we raise our children to seek the least bad or the greatest good? 

In Masonry, we are directed to follow the “undeviating line of righteousness.” Aided by the Level, Plumb, and Square, we are always to make choices that are morally correct, ones that measure up and conform to the system of morality which we ascribe.

More to the point, every crime against Humanity was justified by this argument of choice. Genocide, slavery, conquest, and every form of coercion is firmly planted on the argument that the oppressor represents the lesser evil, fighting the greater evil. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all used this line of thinking to align their people into the path of destruction.

THE APPLICATION OF MASONIC VIRTUES

A person who chooses the lesser of two evils forfeits the Masonic Virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. These cardinal ideas mark the path of every Freemason throughout the world being the foundation of a Masonic system of Morality and cannot be ignored in times of ease or trouble. When we make choices out of fear, we fail to live up to our Masonic obligations.

Prudence is ignored when we make decisions on fear, rather than wisdom. Fortitude is lost when we make the easiest decisions. Temperance is neglected when we make decisions without moderation. Finally, Justice can never be achieved while we choose the lesser of two evils.

In this final virtue, there is no compromise, for if the rights of one person are violated, then the rights of all are violated. Anything less than perfect justice is tyranny, and this notion should be repugnant to any Freemason. This choice, though it may seem obvious, is indeed the root of all evil. For in any choice that one pardons ill based on the frailty of human perspective, evil has advanced.

In our delusion, we believe that we have not compromised our values, our morality, that by taking the “lesser” road we have done good and promoted righteousness. 

Yet, for all the power of justification, we have surrendered the only power that each of us truly possesses, our moral rectitude. With every compromise, the integrity of the Temple of Humanity is degraded; every time we look the other way we debase the fabric of society. How can the perfection of Humanity ever be achieved with such inferior logic? 

Machiavelli wrote in his famous book The Prince:

“Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.”

Not only is this quote insidious; it is immoral in light of Humanity’s achievements. It is a description of the impulse of our reptilian mind, of our primitive self, once needed to navigate the tumultuous landscape of the wilderness, but now an obstacle to overcome. We have evolved in cooperation and mutual support. We have grown and prospered by the moral imperative of noble thoughts and courageous actions. If we are deserving of the title human, then we should act like one, choosing only that which follows the plumbline of our moral values. If the choice requires us to deviate from what is right, then we have marked ill. 

TAKING THE HIGHER ROAD: THE DUTY OF A MASON

Before the balloting of a candidate into Freemasonry, we are told by the Master of the Lodge to vote our conscience.

Ballot Box

This simple truth should be the guiding star of our political decisions. Each must vote according to their moral compass, choosing leaders and policies that appear good, not a compromise of values, but as a choice of what is right. 

Do your duty, no matter the consequences. These sweet words of Freemasonry still fill my mind every time I am confronted with a hard decision. Choosing the lesser of two evils is half a choice, or at worst, no choice at all. Always vote your conscience. And if the right choice does not appear, continue to look, for in the search you may find exactly that which you seek. 

As Masons, we are directed to take the higher road, always and everywhere. It is a fallacy that there only exist: two choices, two destinations, two forces. The insidious powers of duality are always narrowing our senses into two opposite and extreme choices. But isn’t choice a spectrum rather than a fork in the road? Did not our ancient Brethren, whether Alchemist, Hermeticist, or Gnostic, teach us that life is a mosaic pavement of options? The material world is a trap of choices, always leading downward into the cynical abyss of “forced” choice.

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

As Freemasons, the concept of the Word is very important to us, both in ritual, as well as in daily life. The Word represents the medium through which truth is transmitted, it’s how we express ourselves, and ultimately is the essence of the creative principle of the universe. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One interpretation is that the Word represents the abstract essence of the ideal structures of information which form reality itself, the thoughts of the G.A.O.T.U., perhaps.

On a more practical level, in day-to-day life in civil society, how we communicate with one another via language can determine our success in life, the harmony of our social environment, and in some cases can be a matter of life and death. Some would even argue that language is the primary differentiator which makes us human and places us in a category above the animals. The importance of language to human life truly cannot be overstated, but exactly how we communicate with one another is also a subject of much debate and controversy, currently.

It seems to be exceedingly difficult these days to communicate with those we disagree with in any meaningful way, and almost every discussion, particularly on the internet, tends to devolve into divisiveness and anger. This is partly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and partly because of the filter bubble or echo chamber effect, which occurs when either we or the algorithms that control what we see in social media cause us to only hear or communicate with those with whom we agree. These factors, thereby, contribute to increasingly polarized and radical views, and the atrophy of our capacity to tolerate opposing views.

Civil Discourse and Free Speech

What seems to be lacking in modern times is civil discourse. Civility, or Civil Discourse, is a long tradition of philosophy and communication, and throughout history, itFree Speech has undergone various transformations, or has at times been rejected. So, what is civility, and how should we use it in our approach to communicating on subjects where there is so much disagreement?

The root of the word civility is the same as the root for citizen, and civilization, the latin “civilis.” In the larger sphere of human life beyond communication alone, it means “working together productively to reach a common goal, often with beneficent purposes.” In other words, civility is cooperation towards a shared goal, which is the basis of civilization – hence the words’ etymological relatedness.

In communication specifically, we refer to this as civil discourse. Just like the definition of civility more generally, civil discourse is when we communicate together towards a common goal. This concept is most important, naturally, when there is a disagreement of some kind, for it’s easy to be civil when we agree. According to the principle of civil discourse, we should do everything in our capability to communicate with those we disagree with in a manner which allows us to work together towards a common goal: namely finding or approximating truth together. Alternatively, in some cases, it is simply coming to some level of mutual agreement or common ground.

The tricky part comes when civility sometimes might require us to restrict our sense of freedom of expression.

Alongside this principle of civility, we also have the concept of free speech, or freedom of expression, which, as we all know, is written into the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental right, at least insomuch as the government should not be able to prohibit it. Many people go a step further and believe that not only should we have the right not to have our speech censored by the government, but also that this should be a more broad cultural ideal; so that, in general, people are able to speak their mind without fear of retribution, ostracization, or termination from their job.

Compelled Civility and Free Speech

Today, speech and its regulation are yet another highly polarized and debated topic, to a compelled speechlarge extent along political party lines. On one side, we have those who wish to utilize authority to limit certain kinds of speech which are deemed to be harmful, such as hate speech, racism, mis-gendering, and “fake news.” On the other, we have those who believe in a fundamental concept of free speech, so that anyone should be able to speak their own opinion, regardless of the effects it might have, as long as actual threats are not being made. This includes opinions that many would find extremely offensive, perhaps even harmful in some ways, such as inciting violence.

This polarity is an interesting one and is reminiscent of many other polarities we may take notice of in nature and in human life: Chaos and Order, Progress and Conservatism, Intellect and Feeling; in a way, I can see all of these dichotomies at play in this singular issue. At times, it seems as if everything we do is some sort of interplay of opposites, and which side we identify with crosses over into other spectra of life, which might otherwise seem unrelated.

While I fall firmly onto the side of free speech as far as the government is concerned, how to approach the dichotomy of civility and free speech on a personal level is much more interesting and also relevant to the Masonic life.

To Be a Level in a World Askew

As Freemasons, we are simultaneously compelled to seek and speak truth, as well as, to unite humanity, which can seem paradoxical given all of the divisions over what is true. We are expected to tolerate differences of opinion and worldview. In our speech, as in many other aspects of our lives, we are encouraged to seek balance: the middle way. Not only that, but we also aim to serve as a balancing force on the world around us, for we believe that the truth is in the center point.

When we are able to balance free speech and civility in ourselves and when we are able to speak in a way that is not hateful or divisive without avoiding speaking our truths, webalance can act as a balancing force to the polarized culture of the day, around whatever topic of discussion we come into contact with. Part of the work we must do in the world is to be the level which brings balance to that which is askew.

In a world where polarized opinions seem to perpetuate themselves in an endless feedback loop, how do we do this? I think the answer has to be that we first seek balance in ourselves and then seek it in others. Every radical on one side has a nascent version of the opposite view and traits buried deep within them, somewhere. As in Jungian psychology, every introvert has an unconscious extrovert, or vice versa; whatever we identify with consciously, the opposite dwells in darkness within us, and it is our job to bring light to it – both in ourselves and in others.

How do we do that? We ask probing and thought provoking questions, rather than tell people what to think. We notice the imbalances in ourselves and others and seek out their counterbalance. We act as moderators, bridge builders, and help people find common ground. Perhaps most difficult of all, we maintain respect for the inner light that dwells within each individual, however concealed with the muck of dogma it might be.

Service: Who Do We Expect To Change The World?

Service: Who Do We Expect To Change The World?

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”  ~ Albert Einstein

How many of us have marveled at the courage and self-sacrifice made by a soldier saving comrades in battle or a rescue worker who has saved families from the peril of fire, flood and earthquakes. These brave souls run in to danger when all others run away from it. What is that special code of service that these rescuers live by?

I realize that firefighters, police and soldiers receive special training to face these perils, but there must also be a strong inner calling to serve humanity within these devoted360_sf_earthquake_1014 men and women, or they would have chosen other occupations. We have also heard stories of heroic behavior by ordinary citizens during catastrophes.

I recall after the earthquake in California on October 17, 1989 how the community I lived in became so cooperative and courteous with one another, looking out for each other’s welfare. “Life as usual” ended and many citizens were shocked out of their normal complacency. Instead, they moved to help others in greater danger, without thought of self.

Although life does not ask most of us to save lives from physical peril, we are all given opportunities every day to make a difference in the world. I constantly hear complaints about how the world is going in the wrong direction, politics is corrupt, food is poisoned, climate Running for Officechange is the fault of humanity, immigrants are being treated unfairly, etc.

Who is it that we expect will change the world?

We may not be able to change political corruption in an instant, but with patience and grooming future leaders, we could individually support new leaders who value the ideals that we hold dear. We could even groom ourselves as leaders for governmental office!

We may not be able to fight against the greed of corporations on our own, but we can support local organic farmers or grow our own gardens. We may not be able to combat all of climate change, but we can reduce our own carbon footprint and encourage others in our community to do the same.

Being an example to others seems to be the best way to teach. We can be a light of inspiration for those needing motivation and the light of tolerance for those feeling judged; we can offerBrother Winston Churchill our arms to hold another when they need comfort and solace; we can donate money, clothing, food, or employment to those in distress.

We can provide encouragement – to our brother who has fallen – that today is a new day. He or she can do better and even greater things starting right now; for whatever we sow today, we will reap tomorrow.

We may not be able to save the entire world. We can, however, start noticing what demands our attention during the day, and act when that still, small voice within says:

“It is your service that is urgently needed at this moment.”

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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