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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Economist Explains: What Is Freemasonry?

Given the current wave of anti-Masonic press coverage in England so far this year, it's refreshing when a news outlet there actually publishes a rational, fairly even-handed examination of the fraternity. Check out this summary article from The Economist on Tuesday, The Economist Explains: 'What Is Freemasonry?' by K.W.
Misinformation and conspiracy abound. Is it a benign organisation or one bent on subverting government? 
THE literature on freemasonry does not offer straightforward explanations. Is it benign or bent on subverting government? Is it a community of knowledge or of the occult? Such questions are not new. Since its development in the 18th century, freemasonry has drawn the ire of the Catholic church, right-wing politicians and, more recently, Britain’s Home Office. (Fearing that masons in the police and judiciary were giving preferential treatment to other masons, the Home Office between 1998 and 2009 required judicial appointees to disclose their membership.) Freemasonry can appear incomprehensible because it contains no coherent ideology or doctrine, and is defined instead by a commitment to universal brotherhood and self-improvement. Nor does a single governing body exist. It is made up of a loose network of groups, known as lodges, that fall under regional and national grand lodges. What, then, is freemasonry all about?
Read the rest HERE. 

Perhaps the UGLE's new recent public responses have borne more positive fruit.


  1. Well…a considerable step up from the Guardian, I suppose!

    Still, there are several statements, in the piece, that seem crafted to be as negative in tone as possible and still fit within the confines of an essentially neutral treatment. A few examples:

    “Freemasonry can appear incomprehensible because it contains no coherent ideology or doctrine…” While this may be an accurate statement, if one is searching as a theologian or as a partisan politician, I daresay most Brethren would be puzzled by this declaration. Granted, the “ideology or doctrine” of Freemasonry is certainly neither simply stated nor easily comprehended. However, the Craft is certainly well grounded, in terms of an attitude toward civil authority, equality, charity, cooperation and any number of other moral & ethical expedients: hardly “incomprehensible.”

    “Freemasonry was not so inclusive as envisioned, remaining largely inaccessible to women and the working class.” “As envisioned,” by whom? The author does go on to give the Lodge some credit for an egalitarian effort, but this statement implies that Freemasonry somehow set a goal to include women and the working class and then failed to live up to its mission. The reader is left to assume hypocrisy, grounded in misogyny and elitism (And, no, I do not believe that is overstating the tone of the statement). The comment, as it pertains to women (at least apropos the English-based Craft), is patently false. We can debate endlessly (and each of us reach whatever conclusion seems most in the interest of the Craft) whether women should be included, but there is certainly no doubt that women were excluded, by design, in its foundation.

    The claim of “elitism” is as old as the fraternity and as new as the Guardian’s pandering to the prejudices of its “progressive” readership. The history of the Lodge includes a well-documented “schism” that had at least some of its basis in disagreement as to how exclusive the standard for membership (and leadership) should be. This is not, by any stretch, a settled point, and is made relevant by the fact that Masonic parlance recognizes a distinction between Masonic and “profane” thinking and behavior. The modern world considers “elite” an invariably negative term, but we should always remember that we are called upon, by our obligations, to set what is an increasingly “uncommon” example for the world.

    Finally, the article posits fundamental questions about the Lodge, but then leaves them entirely unanswered: “Is it benign or bent on subverting government? Is it a community of knowledge or of the occult?” It seems odd to me that questions so prominently featured in the lead would be left completely unanswered in the body of the article, unless, of course, the purpose were to imply that these were manifestly legitimate issues--i.e. to use them as a "tease"--and then to offer no evidence. The Economist is known for a high professional standard of writing, and it is difficult to otherwise explain why ideas positioned almost as a theme would then remain unaddressed.

    1. I can't say as I disagree with anything you said. Sadly, there seems to be no escaping the snark these days of "What about wimmin?" being a constant drumbeat. And the "benign or subversive?" crack at the end was strictly tabloid.

      I suppose what I find most distressing about articles like this is that the news site or paper never, ever seems to invite anyone who is an actual member of the fraternity to write an explanation of it. It's ALWAYS a non-Mason. Religion is always the imperfect analogy, but it's like asking an Orthodox Jew to write an explanation of the intricacies of Zen Buddhism based on his careful research of Wikipedia articles the day before the deadline. They pretend that it keeps them dispassionately unbiased, when in actuality all it really does is perpetuate falsehoods or misconceptions.

  2. Well, on the problem of women in the early foundations, there has been some scholarly work on the position of dames in medieval guilds, not only in the Continental companionage or trade lodges but specifically in operative masonry, which will be a topic at the World Conference on Fraternalism and Freemasonry in May in Washington -- see


    and in a now reprinted Westphalia Press book on Women and Freemasonry

    -- see https://www.amazon.com/New-Sources-Women-Freemasonry-Secrecy/dp/0944285864

    After i was given the freedom of the City of London I was motivated to look at the situation of women in medieval guild life and realized how extensive it was.

    1. A interesting topic, all on its own, but my point was only that women were excluded in the process of evolving the operative craft into the speculative, in Britain, and that the Economist article was, therefore, really erecting a straw man in obliquely citing that as a shortcoming of the Lodge.

      The piece didn't even make a half-hearted effort to produce what its own title foreshadowed (also a common tabloid tactic), so my comments were in regard to what I would label calculated journalistic laziness (as Chris rightly points out in his reply). That disregard for the facts actually only "stirred the pot" rather than adding clarity to the issue.

  3. There is a lot that can be said about women and the Craft. One of our challenges is that we need more scholars who integrate the various aspects of fraternalism. Professor William Moore at Boson University has done tons of work on Masonic festivals,which certainly involved women on a big scale. If not answers, at least there is material about women and the Craft waiting to be included in our descriptions and replies. I suppose cwe ant expect a reporter to do that justice if we don't ourselves. The May conference in Washington includesa lot of papers on all of that.


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