Monday, 16 May 2011

The Dodgy Liberal Comes Out

I outed myself on Facebook last night. No, not that - I mean I announced that I was a Freemason. Mind you, I haven't ever made any particular secret of it - I just don't tend to go around festooned with squares and compasses. Why would I do such a thing? Because the Sunday Telegraph decided that they were going to have a go at the recently appointed Bishop of Ebbsfleet because he was a Freemason, and in doing so give any number of talking heads an opportunity to slander an organisation of which I am proud to be a part, and which I think is a powerful force for good.

I suppose I had better start by trying to address the conspiracy theories. First - Freemasonry is a heretical religion that worships its own god. Not true. You have to believe in a God if you want to join - one of the first questions you are asked is 'In whom do you place your trust', and the expected answer is 'In God' - but Freemasonry is open to anyone who can, in conscience, make that statement. That does mean, of course, that as a Mason I have to consider that someone else's faith is valid for that person, just as they must accept that mine is for me, but that's a whole different argument. I am indebted to a friend of mine for the analogy, but if Freemasonry is heresy then so is Alcoholics Anonymous, or any other twelve-step program. Secondly, Freemasons worship the Devil. Apart from the fact that there isn't any sort of worship going on, because we're not dealing with a religion, this is just plain comical. Or at least it would be, except for the fact that it is also a classic blood-libel sort of smear that is virtually impossible to counter. It's very difficult to prove a negative - especially to a conspiracy theorist's satisfaction. All I can say is that in nearly twenty years of membership, after a great deal of research, and with the benefit of access to plenty of people who really would know, I have never encountered anything like that. Ever.

Third, Freemasonry is corrupt, and people join it so that they can 'get on'. I have no doubt that some people join for that reason, but there aren't many of them, and they don't stay. For a start, one way to get yourself kicked out is to be convicted for any crime except a minor motoring offence. Also, the reaction of any Mason to being given a handshake and a 'nudge nudge, wink wink' would be to think 'what a plonker' follwed by 'that one certainly won't get the job'. Would you prefer to use a plumber, a mechanic or a solicitor that you knew? Probably. You could just as easily know him from that hotbed of satanic iniquity known as the Village Bowls Club as from your local Lodge. That's pretty much the limit of the networking opportunities, I'm afraid.

Fourth, it's a secret society. Well, it isn't. If it was, I wouldn't be writing this. When I joined, I made a promise to keep three things secret in each ceremony - namely a sign (of the 'I'm a little teapot' variety), a handshake and a word. I can tell you that they exist, but not what they are. It was only a promise, not a solemn blood oath, but it is something to be taken seriously nevertheless. You could torture it out of me, I suppose (actually a swift sight of the thumbscrews would probably be enough), I would break the promise in a court of law if the alternative was to be found guilty of contempt, and if it would save a life I'd tell you in a heartbeat, but otherwise - I made a promise and I intend to keep it. Just as I hope you would if I asked you to. Society with secrets? Yes. Illuminati? No.

So why did I join it? The same reason as many people do, I think. I got to know some people who were masons - and Jonathan Baker was one of them - found them to be good people whom I admired, and decided to join myself. I am immensely glad that I did. I don't think I have gained any material benefit from it at all - quite the opposite, in fact - but I have no doubt at all that I am a better person for it. The reason for this is that although Freemasonry most definitely is not a religion, it does provide a rule of life. The best way to illustrate this is to suggest that you read some of the ritual for yourself. If you click here you will find a Google document, containing a speech that is given by one of the members of the Lodge (from memory) to a relatively new Mason. The conceit is that as you move up through the three grades, starting off as an apprentice, you get progressively more complex tools to learn how to use. These are the ones for the second degree. Give it a read, and then please tell me what you find morally objectionable or incompatible with Christianity.

This post was originally titled ...Part 1. Part 2 was supposed be an attempt  to deal with the other objection that people raise about Freemasonry, namely that it is actively damaging. This Twitter post from a priest in the C.ofE. is an example of what I mean: "I've seen and experienced the sinister side in my ministry. The threats, the spiritual ties, and the spiritual fallout in lives" The person that I am quoting protects his tweets, so I haven't linked to him, but I had hoped that either he or anyone else with a similar experience would be able to reply to this post and let me know about their experiences. The conspiracy stuff with which I began is really a side-issue - it's the perceived damage that I would like to engage with - especially since it seems to run counter to everything I know about Freemasonry in general, and my experience of it in particular. Unfortunately, I haven't heard anything back (as of 8th July 2011). The offer still stands, though...


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I think the Telegraph were stirring brown material in raising this. It's a crude attempt to try and embarrass someone whose constituency is basically Anglo-Catholic. Typical Telegraph say I. I usually feel slimed when I read it.

As far as Masonry goes, the historian in me points out most bishops in the 1950's were masons, at the behest of Archbishop Fisher. I remember being told by a bishop consecrated in the 1960's all about how he was buttonholed on this subject the night before by Fisher. Hensley Henson was a Mason, mainly driven, he said, by a feeling he had missed out socially by never going to a public school or undergraduate college.

So I can't exactly be too horrified. I also remember a Methodist colleague years ago who had got into serious trouble with the bottle and told me the Masons had been much more kind and supportive to him than the Methodists about it.

Mervyn Stockwood objected seriously to Masonry. In the 1960's I suspect it was rather more secretive. I take the force of his doubts about people entering into bonds that seemingly transcended their baptismal obligations, and I am rather with Rowan on this one personally. It's not my scene.

But it's a free country, and the right of free association is an important liberty...

The Church Mouse said...

It is a legitimate story. I suspect the intention was actually to have a dig at Rowan, as the angle is mainly that the appointment is a reversal of his previous views. Rowan had blocked senior appointments of masons, and said freemasonry is not compatible with Christianity. The 1987 Synod report expressed serious concerns, but failed to adequately conclude on any sort of policy. It is fair to ask the question and Mouse would certainly like more clarity on the Church's position.

Justin Brett said...

More clarity on the CofE position would certainly be good - not least because I keep being told that the CofE has ruled that Freemasonry is not allowed, and that is certainly not the current position.

Gerry Lynch said...

A bit like pipe-smoking and beating one's children, Freemasonry has gone from being almost compulsory for Church of England bishops to being forbidden in a remarkably short space of time.

It's a funny old world. And that's speaking as someone who, personally, could not reconcile Freemasonry with their faith.

Justin Brett said...

Gerry, would you be prepared to say why you could not reconcile Freemasonry with your faith?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this well written, and articulate post. It sums up my feelings very well.

Unknown said...


Thank you for your post. I am an American who has been lurking around the Anglican blogosphere on and off for years trying to figure out my feelings about joining the Episcopal Church. I am also a freemason.

After seeing the ABC, a man I otherwise respect, renew his attack on the Craft, I decided to see what the blogs and commentators have had to say about the issue over the years. Despite knowing a good deal about anti-Masonry, I was shocked at the rancorous tone of Anglicans--both the progressive and conservative variety.

Reading it all was akin to slow excommunication-by-blog. On one Anglo-Catholic board, there were dozens of comments accusing masons of satanism, syncretism, Protestant vodoo, and corruption. Half of the posts began "My (father, uncle, grandfather, cousin) was/is a Mason." and concluded with a vicious condemnation of masons everywhere--how cold, how sad. A more even-tempered CofE blog expressed cool, calm doubt at whether my masonic membership is compatible with Christian living. My jaw dropped.

All of this resonated with me because I'm a theological conservative, i.e. I'm not comfortable with the breaking of tradition re: human sexuality's place in a Christian life currently underway in the Communion and elsewhere. For a moment, however, I felt the intense pain of being excluded, doubted, and scorned that those on the other side of the argument must feel. The feeling that I have been convicted without trial by the followers of Christ.

I've always believed all of us sinners are welcome in God's house. But I also realize--now much more clearly--how the rhetorical fallout from all this theological debate over covenants and ordinations can impair the central redemptive message of the Church. If my honest, prayerful concern about the homosexuality issue ever led me to think an exclusionary thought, or to doubt without cause the faith or worth of those with whom I disagree, I repent wholeheartedly.

So thanks again for posting this, both for your voice in the wilderness of anti-Masonry and for getting me thinking about old problems in a new way.

As a personal aside, I lived in England last year and had the privilege of enjoying the hospitality of many lodges in the PGL of Cambridgeshire. I found English masonry to be splendidly beautiful and its fellowship to be made up of men of the first rank--true gentlemen, all. I shall never forget the kindness they showed to a traveling brother, nor the central place of prayer in all their activities.

Dennis said...

Thank you for your good defense of the craft over at Thinking Anglicans. I put in my two cents worth, too. Perhaps we can't convince those who have closed their ears to hearing about the fraternity, but we can set an example for men of good will who might be interested enough to explore it on their own. A much older brother in my first lodge back in Seattle told me to never waste time trying to defend the fraternity. He said something about making my life the best argument for the craft. I should heed his good advice, but I can't. I race to the cause to defend something that means a lot to me. Thanks for your good words on that discussion board.

Anonymous said...

The Catholics and Orthodox forbid their members from becoming Freemasons-apparently, they think they will start revolutions and begin burning churches and allowing anti-church laws and separating church and state and other things.
Lots of conspiracy theories, especially among the Orthodox, about Freemasonry.

Anonymous said...

And the Left/"Progressives" are upset that the Freemasons are (usually)all-male and so a "bastion of patriarchy"; they also take away time and money and interest that might otherwise be directed towards religions (supposedly).