"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Why He Left, and Why We Need To Care - A Lot

L-R: Bro. Salman S. Sheikh, GM S. Eugene Herritt and Bro. Mohammed AlJumaili
Fred Milliken over on the Freemason Information blog site posted an article yesterday that every Freemason needs to read. And then read it again. And read it in your next stated meeting. And go back and read it again at least once a year. 

Grand masters and grand lodges—at least in the Anglo-American Masonic world—are continually obsessing over bringing new members into our lodges. Year after year, they nervously await the latest figures on membership statistics, and go out and try to put on a positive face when it drops another 5%, leaving the U.S. fraternity at levels we had prior to World War I. 

If I see one more editorial about "Appealing to Millennials," I'm going to start drinking again.

The truth that no one wants to face in Freemasonry is that we get plenty of new members every year. Plenty. But an enormous percentage of these fresh, eager new Freemasons are initiated, passed and raised, attend our business meetings, mingle with our members, see a couple of more degrees, maybe read a handful of books... and then they leave, in less than two years, on average. That is failure at the local lodge level. No grand master or grand lodge drives away new Masons by the barrel-full. Individual Masons and lodges do that all on their own. Why do they leave in such huge numbers? We apparently don't seem to give a particular damn as an institution, since we almost never ask them.

We have no business bringing another man into this fraternity until our own existing members learn to love it and live its teachings so much that new Masons won't leave as fast as they joined. 

Case in point: Fred put up a long essay by a young man who joined a lodge, believing what we claim about ourselves. 
Brother Salman S. Sheikh is a young Sufi Muslim man, and he joined a lodge at age 24, eagerly wanting to learn all he could about our philosophy and our symbolism, and wanting to truly be a part of that legendary brotherhood we like to call ourselves. He bought into all of the lofty pronouncements of Masonry being about meeting "on the level," about tolerance and brotherhood, about our mission to enlighten our own members, about the constant search for "more light in Masonry." He didn't make anything up in his head, he simply believed what Freemasons say about ourselves.

And he left after two years. He demitted because he encountered "bigotry, ignorance, and the total opposite of what a Mason really is."


Brother Sheikh tells his own story in his own words, so I won't paraphrase him. Please read his whole essay, "Why I Left Freemasonry: The First And Last In My Family To Do So." And then take a good, hard look at your lodge, your own words, and your own behavior, in real life, and especially online in what has become anti-social media these days. If you or the members of your lodge are actively engaging in un-Masonic conduct, in person or online, there are consequences for that. When you discourage excited Masons who are eager to study and explore the more esoteric teachings of the fraternity, there are consequences for that.

When Masons leave, the worst thing we can do is to not ask them why, and at least see if we can change conditions to prevent it in future. Brother Sheikh did us a favor by explaining his reasons in print, and offering up his own conclusions about it:

"My last advice to the Freemasons is that if you want this to continue to survive in a future where the young ones are keen with artificial intelligence and info at the palm of their hands, then you need to offer them something new that hasn’t been shown to them before. The practice of memorizing sacred texts, being on a chair/committee, contributing to charity is something that can be found in every church, synagogue and mosque throughout America. The real question is, what are you willing to help them realize in an environment where relationships, family, jobs, spirituality is on a totally different playing field then our previous generations? Once this question is addressed along with letting in clean hearted quality people, then we won’t hear the same tune every month of why the same 6-7 guys are showing in a lodge with 4-500 members. It’s a simple solution which if followed can be beneficial to the organization along with not showing them the same stuff every meeting and not letting Past Masters run their lodges. Give the new guys a chance, otherwise they will just see it as another boy’s club and move on with other adventures in life that could benefit them more. It’s a shame for me to say this but I learned more on my own and with likeminded spiritual people I had met before I even became a Mason than I have ever learned in a lodge or appendant body. That should not be the case."
I was engaged in a heated discussion last week with a Brother online. When I brought up the scary statistic of the number of new Masons who depart the fraternity in under two years, he actually responded, "Who needs a bunch of half hearted seekers of knowledge? Let them leave!" Brother Sheikh wasn't half-hearted. He truly WAS seeking knowledge - he hunted it, he begged for it, just as he had wanted real brotherhood. He tried to study it, research it, talk about it. He was excited. Instead, he found a hollow shell of what he was promised. And he encountered a clot of Masons who ignored their obligations and went right on publicly engaging in boorish behavior that was deliberately insulting, repugnant, and un-Masonic. 

Why would he have stayed?

Brother Sheikh hadn't joined some isolated rural lodge, or in a jurisdiction that some have looked down on as backward. He was in suburban Philadelphia, right in the East Coast region that likes to tout itself as more 'cosmopolitan' than the residents of flyover country, or the rural South, or the cornfield states that begin with "I." No, this problem is endemic, and we're lying as long as we point our fingers somewhere else and claim "It's those OTHER guys." And the Internet only makes the problem worse, because what a Mason says or does five states or a half a continent away still pops up every day online. After two years, Brother Sheikh decided that looking for another lodge wasn't the answer, because the un-Masonic behavior was too widespread. 

That's a broad brush, I know. But it is also reality, if enough people believe it.

Last year the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts did video interviews of several men who had joined a lodge and had demitted relatively quickly. Massachusetts did what almost no other jurisdiction has ever bothered to do: They asked WHY. And recorded the answers. If you are a grand officer or a district deputy or a membership committee member in another jurisdiction, do yourself a favor and contact Massachusetts to see a copy of it. And actually listen to what these men are saying about the fraternity they joined with such eagerness, and then left. Almost all of them regarded their decision to leave as a sad and tragic situation—they had been eager to join, and left only reluctantly. You all need to know why, and get your lodges to make some serious course corrections. Or encourage the creation of new lodges that understand.

Brother Sheikh's message makes it clear that he is looking for - and finding - what he sought in other places now. He sums up by saying:
"In conclusion, I am thankful for these last 2 years for what they were worth to make a difference in the organization of Freemasons in my state, country, and other nations to teach them the forgotten values of a true Mason and the true nature of one who listens to his heart and walks the path of God. I departed at age 26 in good standing and still have a lifetime ahead of me to do great things for other groups that are meant to cross my path. I am thankful to be the first in GL of PA’s history to do a program on Sufism and make the effort to bring Masonic understanding and unity while others are just worried about their legacies. My greatest legacy will be that I will remain in the hearts and minds of the Freemasons forever and that means I also live forever which is more important than statues or my name appearing in Grand Lodge digest decisions. Please continue to love each other in and out of lodge and practice what you preach because God’s all-seeing eye will hold us all accountable one day for all our seen and unseen actions. Before your meetings start, do a hand in hand meditation so even the brother who feels left out can feel a part of his brotherhood instead of looking bored or playing on his phone. I want you all to think about all these things I have addressed in my final message and I leave that burden on your shoulders from this point on with the mission of how you will carry this fraternity forward for future generations and not be in a desperate situation to keep numbers up. When your heart, mission, members, teachings, online image, etc. is all pure and designed to empower somebody then worrying about numbers should be the least of your worries because at the end 'My Faith is in God and God is my right.'"


There's an old saying that "You are someone's image of Freemasonry." Every one of us needs to take that to heart.  I wish I had gotten the opportunity to meet Brother Sheikh before he demitted, because he understood that. 

As long we as have members who say of our own Brethren who depart, "Let them leave," we will continue to shrink and fade. 

And that is a fate that the fraternity has earned all by itself.


The letter and Fred Milliken's commentary on it can be found HERE: "Masonic Anti-Intellectualism A Crying Shame"



UPDATE 11/12/2018: 

And then there's the flip side. 

A very good friend and Past Grand Master is very fond of quoting Cassius speaking to Brutus in Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..."

Yesterday Fred posted a follow up story to this one, and I urge everyone to read it as well. It's by a Brother who also decided to leave, because he too felt let down by the fraternity and what he saw as its shortcomings. And then he realized that perhaps the problem was really his own expectations when he joined.

And then he came back.
It was this shift in my perspective that lead me to realize that Freemasonry still had a great deal to offer, but only if I was willing to seize it. I was fortunate in the fact that I came to this realization on my own. I fear that few brothers in my shoes will do the same. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that it never gets to that point in the first place...
See Bait & Switch, I Quit or Why I Left - Part 2 HERE.

17 comments:

  1. If everyone quit over bigotry, ignorance, etc. there wouldn't be anyone left.

    Jay

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    Replies
    1. That is a sad and unfortunately too true statement

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  2. Over the years I have taken seriously the patience that Chris and other Masonic scholars I respect display about those jurisdictions which discriminate against Prince Hall Masons, Jews, African-American Masons in general, gays, and others. The view has been that time will amend. I have tried to explain that any candidate or new member will encounter this attitude despite being told about our universal brotherhood. As a professor I have been directly asked in class discussions how I can belong to an organization which discriminates. Trying to explain grand lodge jurisdictions is really impractical in such conversations. Just recently a very senior leader of the Scottish Rite when we were talking about the lack of African-American in various valleys said that "as long as grand lodges do not admit them, we don't have the problem of taking them, thank God". I used to help students who asked about joining but i no longer do so because of the possible longterm effects on their careers. I also feel we have a problem with not admitting women but having tax privileges and interfaces with a variety of situations like appearances in parades, memorial cemetery observations, and other public functions where there are increasing efforts to have diversity. So I am of the opinion that patience may be the recipe for further decline. Our history is of a society born of the Enlightenment, with its liberal values. At a dinner a few years ago a Southern grand master said to me, "Well, they kicked us out of the schools and the parks and the libraries, but they won't kick us out of lodge while I am alive."

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  3. There are damned few organizations on Earth that can rise above the the beliefs and actions of the human beings who populate them. Freemasonry is no better or worse than the Red Cross, the the Disney Corporation, OPEC, the Sierra Club, or the Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoo, in that respect. But we do a huge disservice to ourselves and to the fraternity as a whole when we tolerate open behavior that deliberately flies in the face of the very teachings we claim to espouse. And because the most recent generation of people under 30 have become hyper-sensitive to the topic of hypocrisy over public posturing vs. private behavior, combined with the immediacy of Internet communication, the damage just one or two jurisdictions - or even just individual Masons - can do by being public asses is incalculable. And we have critics who are only too happy to magnify them.

    I think Paul overstates negative effects of Masonic membership on careers, although there are indeed certain professions or avenues of work where that might be true. But we have largely done the harm to ourselves by admitting anyone with a pulse whose check managed to clear the bank, instead of holding out for better potential members and sticking to high standards. We used to have them, and every grand lodge had (and still do have) rules about public behavior. It's long past time that we started enforcing them again.

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  4. Thousands answer to the call but only a few really deserve to be initiated!

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    Replies
    1. True. And those few how do initiated need to be retained well

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  5. I plan on petitioning to join the local lodge, and have done quite a bit of research into the fraternity just to be sure it's a good institution to associate my name with. That said, it is very counter-convincining to people when you hear and read members (prominent ones too) talk about how other religions and peoples have no place within Freemasonry, Society, and the World. More so when you find that some grand lodges have actual rules in place that bar homosexuals or people of certain political ideologies—no matter how law-abiding, god-believing, and genuinely moral they might be—from gaining and maintaining membership in a supposedly apolitical non-sectarian brotherhood espousing "the Brotherhood of Mam and the Fatherhood of God".

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    Replies
    1. Please go visits several lodges, ask questions, do not beg or supplicate yourself for admission to any particular lodge. Find one that answers your questions to your satisfaction.

      Ask about leadership, further education, how active are the members, etc. Find the one that fits your needs and then petition.

      Find one that when you present yourself as someone that can and will lead you will be welcomed. Then you can begin to make a difference in your lodge and in your community.

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  6. The essay by Sheikh himself sounds like the standard intolerance displayed by millennial every day.

    I have lived in 3 countries, two of which I am a true minority, and racism is legally practiced. (In other words there are no laws that stop actual racism).

    I grew up in late seventies an 80's America, and there is not an American of his age that actually knows what racism is, they have never experienced real racism, what it comes down to, is he is intolerant of opinions different to his.

    To have an issue with either the Muslim religion or Muslim countries is not racism, as Muslim isn't a race to begin with.

    He was a Mason for a whopping 3 years and joined every major body, in PH that's called going 360, he might of written papers, but didn't actually understand anything. The idea that Wisdom comes with age comes to mind. Its experience and knowledge, he very well might of adapted a small amount of knowledge, but wasn't in long enough to have any real experience.

    People are quick to pass easy blame, I saw this when this blog mis-represented facts about my GL and in particular my Lodge which was grouped in with it, and was a completely separate matter all together.

    People are entitled to differing opinions, and differing ethics, Its a part of the Constitution, one of the five right guaranteed in the 1st Amendment. These young kids, and to put it bluntly, crotchety old Liberals, know-it-all Liberals would do well to learn the simple fact of the matter is, that their opinion is no more or less correct than the opinions they disagree with.

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  7. I wanted to use Nag Hamadi in my initiation and my lodge said that texas didnt want it....and i was watching informative weekly shows on masonry.....they told me not to do that but THEY NEVER ELABORATE, so do i be a brat and keep asking why or just try to not rock the boat more?

    Well then i went to a lodge and they were saying all the pr bullshit like masonry accepts people and "if you dont use the book of your faith then its not binding." So yeah then i freaked out and wanted to tell a room JAM PACKED of young guys to basically not join or imply it wasnt the great club i wanted it to be.

    I refuse to be apart of something that says you have to love everyone yet they obviously dont love me. Love really isnt a good thing anyway.

    Im thankful you post about THE TRUTH of the organization. I really would want to be a mason, but this world is too evil and i honestly truly think everyone should put up their aprons and we make it into a hobbiest club that just meets and talks about things and theres no dues or bullshit performances of rituals which butcher them.

    Everything is infront and behind our eyes anyway.

    I cared too much about the cool things i read in Manly's books. Just read him if youre a young dude reading into Masonry and never join unless you find an actual esoteric lodge. Everything else is just a degree mill trying to stsy afloat as their members die off.....its not worth the pain.

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  8. This is honestly one if ny biggest worries in Eastern Canada where I live. Our Lodge apparently has over 50 members but you'd be lucky to get half at any given meeting. On top of this, at 25,I am the youngest member in our Lodge. I'll also the youngest Shriner in my city too. I'll never leave, but IllI be damned if I let other brothersb ignore their obligstiobs.

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  9. As a member of a visible minority and a Muslim I have had to endure three years of bullying by the grand lodge of Alberta. An accusation from a person that has had his identity hidden by the grand lodge has caused them to mobilize many individuals to confront me, accuse me, harass and intimidate. I have had a grand senior warden proudly state that "I put my hand in the hand of a brother and promised not to reveal his identity". This same protected brother has made accusations and claims that are untrue. Yet the pillar of truth is not applied by an entirely white membership of the grand lodge officer line. They continue to protect said accuser without any evidence that he actually exists. I have an email from another officer of the grand lodge warning me to not make accusations unless I am on solid ground while he actions his loyal membership to confront me regarding the previously mentioned accusation from an unnamed member. The hypocrisy is Trump level garbage yet the grand master here ignores every message I send him.

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  10. I have been a mason for over 20 years served in the chair as worshipful master and I'm seeing many come and go for different reasons. The biggest one is time. Masonry is time consuming if done well. It takes a significant amount of study, memorizing and dedication. It is an entity unto itself to support ones faith tradition NOT to become it's own faith. It can be a true brotherhood of men under the fatherhood of God.

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  11. I am an 18th, a long road in masonty. I left because of petty factionalism in the lodge from district members favouring dishonest brothers. Perhaps the lodge is there to eventually teach them morality, perhaps those who leave dont need that structure. Always a mason at heart, sadly lodgeless.

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  12. I quit due to no one caring about anything other than themselves. That was just my experience in my mother lodge, and in lodges I looked into joining before deciding to discontinue. I wanna say that was just "my experience" as is the common excuse but 5 states later... yeah nope.

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  13. Christopher Hodapp ( an above listed commentor) mentioned "...the rules of behavior..." Perhaps those rules should be published for all to know of.

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  14. Greetings Bro. Chris

    This is Salman Sheikh and I hope you are doing well and in good health my brother. I was listening to the Masonic Roundtable podcast on YouTube and they kept mentioning your blog and name every other episode so I decided to look you up. I was surprised to find my article posted on your blog. I was made a Mason first in my heart and through my daily actions in my life I do for my fellow man, not being an official lodge member will never take that away from me. You are right you have those that say maybe I did not succeed or it wasn't for me as you see on the comments here or if you go back to that article where this one guy called the Prophet of my faith a pedophile and you can see in which manner I responded to him and that was with respect and brotherly love because I did not forget my obligations. I have a Masonic update in the works I know you and Bro Fred will both appreciate posting up. If you can send me your contact info to SalmanSheikh911@gmail.com I would appreciate it. Also, if you are ever in the Philly area please contact me and I would love to sit down with you and have a coffee. For the record, RWGM Bro S Eugene Herritt pictured above with me is a great man and its his influence and love he showed me that I might consider returning. There were those in PA who believed I broke his trust by posting my article with our picture together but there is only one place where I mention and I praise him for his actions making changes in Pennsylvania. These are the same people who never had the courage to say anything to their friends who laughed at me when I resigned. I rest my case and I know you understand my brother. I look forward to hearing from you and providing you this Masonic Update within these following months I know you and everyone who truly loves this fraternity will appreciate it. May God bless you always and remove all your sorrows for this new year. Respectfully yours, Salman Sheikh

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