September 21, 2016
Is something wrong with Freemasonry? Should Freemasonry undergo changes? These type of questions have become increasingly common as Freemasons struggle to explain the decline in membership amidst the mounting pressure to modernize the order.
First and foremost, I want to admit that Freemasons claiming that Freemasonry doesn’t have to change and that there isn’t anything wrong with it aren’t wrong. Freemasonry doesn’t have to change and in fact, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with it. Rather, it’s culture in general that has changed and thus created a necessity for change. If say, these cultural changes had not occurred then Freemasonry would be just as relevant as ever. However, culture HAS changed and those changes should be adapted to in order to spur the growth and continuation of the order.
Should Freemasonry Change?
Asserting the necessity for change implies that something is broken but outright stating that Freemasonry is broken would be disingenuous. Freemasonry isn’t broken but it has become quite dated and needs to change with the times.
A lot of Freemasons believe there is no need for change and assert that we should preserve the traditions of Freemasonry. The problem with preserving certain traditions of the order is that some of them are regarded as prejudicial in modern times. To continue those particular traditions is counterproductive to the tolerant and progressive beliefs that Freemasonry once prided itself on.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Change
From gradual changes in the Old Charges, the shift from operative to speculative masonry, the formal establishment of the order, the spread of Grand Lodges, countless changes in the content and structure of the 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 in Freemasonry and it is, therefore, counterproductive to fear and reject changes in the order.
The Loss Of Interest
The loss of interest is reflected in the decline in 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 current 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 declines.
Here is a great article discussing some of the misunderstandings in regards 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, certainly 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.
The majority of Masonic allegories are based on a religious narrative and therefore, it’s understandable that Freemasons of former times would believe that nontheists were incapable of relating to or appreciating its allegories. However, that belief is outdated and prejudicial in modern times. A nontheist is fully capable of appreciating the morality, philosophy, history, allegory, and esotericism of Freemasonry.
While concepts such as the ineffability of deity may not be of interest, a nontheist may fully appreciate and understand the concepts of duality and equilibrium or the esotericism of Freemasonry in general, such as the revealing of similarities in various religions and how it ties to astronomy or the depth of symbolism for the purpose of expression.
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 is a lot of disingenuous placation in regards to the admission of women into Freemasonry. For example, women are not able to join regular Blue Lodge Freemasonry and thereafter join branches such as the Scottish or York Rite, but instead, are relegated to side branches that are often perceived as watered-down branches of Freemasonry. These branches are not regarded as equivalent counterparts nor do they contain the same level of substance. Despite what many Freemasons might claim, it’s simply not the same as regular Blue Lodge Freemasonry and its extended branches.
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.
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 enacted 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 issue from an NPR article about this ruling is precisely the type of thing I’m referring to as dogmatic behavior in Freemasonry.
“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? )
Race & Freemasonry
The issue of 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, such as this Reddit post.
The problem is obvious. There are men of differing races that want to join regular Blue Lodge Freemasonry and not Prince Hall Freemasonry. However, because of various stigmas and issues, it makes that endeavor problematic at the very least.
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.
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, 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, I believe Millennials are better equipped to understand these references than past generations considering that we’ve grown up during the age of the internet and are used to researching things online at the click of a mouse.
A Bridge to Light is a simplified and more politically correct version of Morales & Dogma which is ironic, considering that the two major complaints Millennial Masons receive are that we’re supposedly expecting simplification and political correctness. 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.
The Matter Of Transparency
The only major change that Freemasons have made that appears to be working is the act of becoming more transparent. This is a step in the right direction and beats embarrassingly silly “solutions” like telling older Masons to “smile more”. Trivialities of that nature aren’t going to do any good for Freemasonry when it’s in need of real changes despite an endless amount of good intent.
I’ve long believed that 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 on the matter, doing NOTHING about it will only allow that perception to inform reality and therefore, 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, men of any race, people of any sexual orientation to all branches and variations is only a radical idea to Freemasons. To most of our modern society, these ideas aren’t the least radical, which shows how much Freemasonry is lacking in its sense of moral progression. If Freemasons are so concerned with preserving tradition, it should preserve the progressive principles it was once known for.