Is something wrong with Freemasonry? Should it undergo changes? These questions have become common as Freemasons struggle to explain the decline in membership amidst the mounting pressure to modernize the order.
Should Freemasonry Change?
Asserting the necessity for change implies something is broken but nothing is necessarily broken, the order is simply dated and needs to make changes to adapt the modern world.
A great deal of Freemasons reject the notion of change and want to preserve the traditions of Freemasonry. I find this problematic not simply because some of those traditions are regarded as prejudicial in modern times, but also because it’s a counterproductive attitude to have when seeking growth and stability.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Change
From gradual changes to the Old Charges, shift from operative to speculative masonry, the formal establishment of Masonry, the spread of Grand Lodges, countless changes of content and structure in degrees and rituals, the establishment of branches such as the Scottish Rite and York Rite, to Albert Pike’s revisions of the Scottish Rite. The history of Freemasonry is full of changes that benefited and even sparked resurgences of the order. Those changes are proof that positive outcomes are possible with adaptation. In my opinion, it’s all but counterproductive to fear and reject change when historically, it has worked.
The Loss Of Interest
The loss of interest is reflected in the decline of membership that is echoed by various orders and institutions. This indicates a cultural change has caused these declines and therefore, only by adapting to these cultural changes could these declines be potentially reversed.
There are those who claim the order experiences periodic rises and falls and therefore, its decline is of no concern as it will presumably rise again. That’s a misleading and speculative claim, not to mention that it doesn’t explain the declines corresponding in other orders that weren’t corresponding in previous times. There is also the fact that this decline has lasted longer than any of the former periodic declines.
Here is a great article discussing some of the misunderstandings in regard to the membership statistics and what they could imply.
There are many cultural changes and Masonic regulations that could be the cause of these declines or at the very least, aren’t helping the growth of Freemasonry. For example, the general loss of religion, the exclusion of women from Blue Lodge and its extended branches such as the Scottish Rite and York Rite, its exclusion of homosexuals in areas such as Tennessee and Georgia, it’s exclusion of nontheists, its separation of regular Freemasonry from Prince Hall Masonry, etc.
Religion is declining while secularism is rising. It’s only a matter of time before nontheists outnumber theists. By excluding them, it does Freemasonry no good.
Freemasons of former times believed nontheists incapable of relating to or appreciating its allegories, which incorporate religious concepts and allegories, to convey esoteric truths. Furthermore, Masons of old felt nontheists incapable of understanding the moral ramifications of its teachings. This presumption is outdated and false. A nontheist can appreciate the morality, philosophy, history, allegory, esotericism, and theological motifs of Freemasonry as well as any theist.
Women & Freemasonry
“The Freemasons’ attitude towards women seems extraordinarily out of date. They are outstandingly kind to their wives and to their female employees, who are far less likely to encounter harassment or disrespect from Freemasons than from many employers or higher business executives. But the Freemasons not merely exclude women from their own ranks but also refuse to have any dealings with any other society that accepts women.” – pg. 292 of The Freemasons, Jasper Ridley
There’s a lot of disingenuous placation regarding the admission of women into Freemasonry. For example, women are not able to join the regular Blue Lodge of Freemasonry and thereafter, branches such as the York or Scottish Rite. Instead, it essentially relegates them to side branches that are often perceived to be watered-down branches of Freemasonry. These branches aren’t regarded as the equivalent or counterpart to regular Blue Lodge Freemasonry, nor do they contain the same level of substance. Despite what any Masons claims, it not the same thing and never will be.
It would do a great deal of good if women were allowed in all branches of Freemasonry, meaning regular and officially recognized branches of Freemasonry, not simply side orders. There are many great and intellectual women who would do wonderfully in the York or Scottish Rite but are unable to due to these constraints.
The main issue with the admission of women into these regular bodies of Freemasonry is its opposition by Freemasons themselves. Freemasons, especially older Masons, will conjure an endless stream of irrational excuses and pseudo-arguments with hints of prejudice to prevent anyone from making progress in this area.
“Perhaps it is a sound instinct of self-preservation which makes the Freemasons exclude women; for by the year 2030, if not earlier, no one will believe that a society which excludes women, and consists solely of old and middle-aged men, can possibly exercise any influence in political or public life, either for good or for evil.” pg. 293, The Freemasons, Jasper Ridley
Interestingly, other groups have found a lot of success in allowing and encouraging the admission of women. Lions Club International is the perfect example.
“Lions Club International reported 20,000 new members last year after decades of decline. It has 1.35 million worldwide, says spokesman Dane La Joye.
Reaching out to women has been key, La Joye says. “Women are the fastest-growing segment of our membership today,” he says.” — USA Today
Lions Clubs International has experienced a gradual decline in interest that is echoed by other orders and societies. However, it also experiences dramatic upticks of interest that are NOT seen in other orders and has more general interest. For this reason, other orders should consider following the exemplary nature of Lions Club as its appeal to women has clearly shown a difference in membership, interest, and the general acceptance of people.
Homosexuality & Freemasonry
While the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and Georgia have decided to enact Masonic laws to forbid homosexuals from Freemasonry, most Grand Lodges do NOT support this decision and have urged both Grand Lodges to lift the ban on homosexuality. However, this ( as well as many other things ) affirms the outdated nature of the order and its dogmatic behavior.
The following quotation on the matter from an NPR article about this ruling is precisely what I’m referring to as “dogmatic” behavior in the order.
“Cook suspects that the debate in Tennessee will hinge less on sympathetic appeals and more on whether a ban goes against the founding principles of Freemasonry.” – NPR ( For Freemasons, Is Banning Gays Or Being Gay Un-Masonic? )
It’s my simple assertion that dated ‘traditions’ or ‘principles’ of the order are holding it back, and if by viewing the abandonment of them as a ‘compromise’ of the order, it only serves as an expose of prejudice or at the very least, lack of critical thought.
Race & Freemasonry
Race in Freemasonry is complicated. While most Freemasons aren’t racist and welcome men of any color to their lodges, there are areas that won’t. This has been admitted and discussed in many posts that are inquiring about Freemasonry, all of which are generally viewed as unfortunate.
The problem is obvious. There are men of differing races that want to join regular Blue Lodge Freemasonry and not the ‘relegated’ Prince Hall Freemasonry. However, because of various stigmas and issues, it makes the endeavor of conjoining problematic.
There will no tradition of PH or BL Freemasonry if Freemasonry does not survive. It’s in their best interest to preserve Freemasonry itself than to allow it to dwindle into darkness by separating variations of the order. If Freemasonry unites many of its variations and branches, it will do a great deal of good for the order and consolidate its sense of strength and membership.
Skull and Bones suffered similar reactions to their lack of diversity and progression. However, Skull and Bones decided to make some changes and have experienced positive results. Freemasons should not fear those type of changes as the pattern emerging is that making these type of changes has resulted positively.
Stop Blaming Millennials
Ironically, many older Freemasons often blame the decline in Freemasonry on Millennials despite the fact that the decline in Masonic membership started before the Millenials were even born. There are also claims that the Millennial Masons are just too lazy and expect the degrees, rituals, and relative literature to be simplified to accommodate their needs. In truth, it was in the early and mid 90’s that most of the simplification of the craft occurred. For example, the abandoning of Morales & Dogma for A Bridge to Light with the admission that Morales & Dogma is a “tough” read and that “The vast majority of today’s candidates neither enjoy nor comprehend”, its complexity. (Rex R. Hutchens, A Bridge to Light, Introduction To The Revised Edition )
I’m a Millennial and I’ve read both Morales & Dogma and A Bridge to Light countless times. I don’t feel that Morales & Dogma is a tough read nor did I find it difficult to understand the Latin, Hebrew, Greek, or Egyptian references. In fact, Millennials are far better equipped to understand these references than past generations considering that we’ve grown up during the age of the internet and are incredibly used to researching things online at the click of a button.
A Bridge to Light is a simplified and more politically correct version of Morales & Dogma which is ironic since two major complaints against Millennial Masons are that we’re supposedly expecting simplification and political correctness. On the contrary, we want the depth of old.
I believe Morales & Dogma was and still is better at expressing and alluding to the meaning and historical narratives that the degrees are based on. Morales & Dogma does avoid the admission of particular things but is more forward and outright, whereas A Bridge to Light dances around particular subjects, such as that of the Tetramorph by alluding to it but not discussing it in detail.
The only major shift in modern Masonry is the move toward more transparency. This is a great thing and I commend those who worked to push that to the forefront of Masonic matters. If anything, this is at least one fairly recent change that adapts well to modern culture.
Transparency is not only a principle but an obligation of Freemasonry.
“Rather than being a secret society, Freemasonry is a revealer of secrets.” — pg. 1, A Bridge To Light, Rex R. Hutchens
An Uncomfortable Truth
The perception that Freemasonry is failing has done a lot of damage alone and regardless of where you stand, doing nothing about it will only allow that perception to inform reality and therefore, allow it to continue growing. The only answer is to create positive changes that will stimulate the growth of the order and break that stigma.
An important thing to understand is that saying Freemasons should fully accept women, any race, and any sexual orientation to all of its branches and bodies is only a radical idea to Freemasons. To most of our modern society, these ideas aren’t the least radical, which shows just how dated and behind Freemason has become. If Freemasons are so concerned with preserving tradition then they should preserve its tradition of progressive principles, which it was founded upon.