Updated: Feb 27, 2020
Going all the way back to some of the very first blog posts ever penned on this site (PART ONE and PART TWO), it occurred to me that we, as Freemasons, need to think about what our identity is before we talk about "fixing" or "refining" it.
So, we established that the Craft has suffered an identity crisis of sorts in the last hundred or so years. The "Golden Age" of joining things resulted in a bloated fraternity that needed to be everything to every person, and through that process, the Craft has enjoyed a constant stream of dilution and decline.
But lo and behold, there are pockets of Masons, young and old, that are trying to stem the tide of decline, and we need to take a look at what their efforts are focused upon, and whether it further defines, or dilutes that sought-after "identity."
Are we a charity? - Of course, we as Freemasons involve ourselves in charitable things to improve the lives of those near and far: hospitals, scholarships, raising money for community needs, and the like. Does that make us, as a institution, primarily a charity? Nope, it doesnt.
Are we a social club? - We meet in granite-slabbed temples, and wood-paneled buildings alike to meet on a regular basis. We get together to eat: either lavish festive boards or soggy pancakes on a Saturday morning. We discuss social activities, and spawn a host of extraneous events outside of the Lodge room, but does this make us a social club? No, it does not.
Are we a fraternal organization? On the surface, it certainly appears so. We have a process of membership, charge dues and Initiation fees, and maintain membership based on certain general criteria: must be male, not been born into slavery (yes, this one is still present), believe in something Divine, and not be an ax murderer. So, are we a fraternal organization? Maybe.
Are we a religious institution? We pray, offer blessings, and many times invoke the name or moniker of a Creative force, whatever each person calls it. Most of us cannot open a Lodge meeting without "some" form of the Volume of Sacred Law present and on an altar. Even the presence of an altar evokes thoughts of religion. Do we veil our allegories in a curtain of religious, and most oftentimes Christianized, stories? Surely. But are we a religion, or a replacement for religion? Nope.
So what are we, and what separates us from all the other groups that exist, all of which are in decline? Let me distinguish the 10% of the Craft from the 90%, and where our identity has become obscured.
10% of the membership does 100% of the "work". Go to any state, country, or jurisdiction, and you will find this consistent pattern in almost every Lodge. In the United States, we just crossed the sub-one-million member threshold last year. So now we are down to 100,000 or less active, engaged, and participating Masons across the Nation. And that is not even the 10% that I am referring to.
I'm referring to 10% OF THE 10%. We have about 10% of the active membership that participates in Lodge functions, initiates Candidates, pursues education, and seeks to improve the quality of the Craft experience. This 10% of the 10% believes that Freemasonry offers a process of self-improvement and self-actualization through a defined Initiatic process and study of the liberal arts; which are Man's attempt to understand the mysteries of Creation, and our place within that Creation.
The other 90 or so thousand fall into one of these above categories when referring to THEIR primary purpose for being Freemasons. All the other categories of practicing Masonry can spring forth from the primary purpose of this institution; that we are that refuge from the World for people to learn how to become better, how to shape their own inner Light, and how to better cultivate that "Kingdom" within our very selves.
You BECOME more charitable as you embark upon the path toward self-actualization. It becomes natural to extend charity to those close to you, and you learn to extend that same "love-thru-works" to everything and everyone under the canopy of Creation.
You BECOME more religious, as you learn through a combination of allegory and history, what our place in the World is, and the ultimate knowledge that the Creation is more than we can ever hope to understand, comprehend, or define into "digestible" little boxes of information. With that deeper understanding, we open our mind and hearts to the ineffability of the meaning and nature of the Cosmos.
You BECOME social as you learn to better tune those rougher parts of your Human nature. Learning how to better interact with the World around you is a part of that journey, and you owe it all to that process of allegorical birth, death, and rebirth of the things that brighten our place in society.
You BECOME fraternal, through a memorable and deliberate process of Initiation. A bond of brotherhood, when said Initiation properly performed, lies at the end of every hero's journey from Apprentice to Master. You CANNOT BUT become bonded to these people, through ties far thicker and more profound than blood.
So, for the cheaters that skipped to the end: Only about 1% of Freemasonry understands and engages in pursuit our primary mission: to offer a process of self-improvement and self-actualization through a defined Initiatic process and study of the liberal arts; which are Man's attempt to understand the mysteries of Creation, and our place within that Creation.
Everything else: the charitable, social, fraternal, and religious aspects are all natural extensions of that mission, but they are not, or ever were it's primary purpose.
~~ FDTL ~~