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


Saturday, November 28, 2020

NPR: 'Freemasons Say They're Needed Now More Than Ever.'

by Christopher Hodapp

NPR is running a story this weekend that I was lucky enough to be a part of: Freemasons Say They're Needed Now More Than Ever. So Why Are Their Ranks Dwindling? 

I spoke with reporter Christianna Silva several weeks ago, and she actually comes from a Masonic family - both her father and grandfather were Masons. Along with myself, Ms. Silva included interviews with Illus. S. Brent Morris, author and editor of the Scottish Rite Journal, along with historians Dr. Jessica Harland-Jacob (Builders of Empire) and John Dickie (The Craft). 

Freemasons argue that the reason to uphold the fraternity goes beyond maintaining historic traditions or belonging to something that once bore immense influence. It might not be a secret society full of presidents and powerful men pulling the strings of society from the shadows, but that's never been the point for these members. Instead, they joined to establish friendships outside of work, and vibe with a community that isn't divisive. At a time in which polarization and division in the U.S. is growing more intense, Freemasons say it's refreshing to spend time with people who aren't arguing.

"People are isolated," Hodapp said. "People are locked in their apartments, or locked in their parents' basement at the age of 35, and don't associate with each other, and social media has them screaming at the computer screen at 3:00 in the morning because somebody told them to get stuffed over something. Every Mason you talk to will stand there and say, 'Yeah, we're needed now more than we've ever been needed.'"

The challenge, he said, is finding a way to communicate that.

"How do you get the message of, yes, there is a place where you can go where people aren't at each other's throats, there's a place that deliberately stops the kind of arguments that are making your life miserable."

In response to the story this morning, I received a message from a gentleman in Washington, D.C. who turns out to be a man after my own heart. He's not a Mason himself, but mentions something I've felt quite strongly about for the last few years:

"I have a suggestion for rebuilding your membership: The most useful thing an organization like the Freemasons could do right now, to make themselves completely relevant and indispensable to the fabric of society, would be to become the ignition point for an American renaissance in civic duty, civic education, and an instrument for advancing the ideals of the enlightenment founded in reason and scientific inquiry, democracy, democratic institutions, the rights of all persons, equality before the law, and above all, the sanctity and liberty of the individual. Now more than ever, we need an institution which can polarize the American people toward decency, duty, and democracy. 
"In Washington-speak, they essentially need to become a think-tank like AES, Brookings, or Cato, but differ, with a powerful implementation arm that embeds civic education and reason into school curriculums, civic organizations, popular thinking, the media, and hold leaders and media accountable for upholding democracy, reason, and truth. If the Freemasons used their heritage, assets, and infrastructure to set about bring such a renaissance in thinking about, I might even join."

He's absolutely spot-on, and it's a mission I've proposed for Masons many times. 

When Masonry spread throughout the early years of the U.S., between about 1790 and 1826, it did so as part of an attempt by influential East Coast intellectuals to find a way to educate a rough, disparate, illiterate, and largely isolated pioneer population in the western territories about how to run this new democratic republic. The lodges forbade the discussion of both religion and politics in their meetings, the two subjects guaranteed to erupt into fights. And they taught their members how to hold elections, pass legislation, conduct trials, and lose arguments gracefully. In an age before widespread, organized schools, the lodge ritual introduced members to the concepts of the Enlightenment, of the liberal arts and sciences, of the importance of honor and duty, of the cardinal virtues, and more. It was a code of conduct for good citizenship during a period of expansion and chaos. Most of all, lodge taught cooperation among men who had almost nothing in common. The Masons were a finishing school for the 'civic religion' the Founders knew were vitally needed or the new nation would perish. Because first and foremost, when they adopted the Constitution, they recognized it would quickly fail without a population equipped with a basic code of conduct, truth and honor.

To coin an old marching song from WWII, we did it before. And we can do it again.


  1. Well said, W.B. Hodapp. Unfortunately efforts in this direction are so often met with derision, apathy, or outright hostility. We may have to get down to a very, very small core before we can rebuild. Properly understood our principles are now more important than ever. We are not an extension of any one religion - but too many of our members think we are such an extension - and they miss the point entirely. At our best we should teach and preach civic virtue, tolerance, equality, and constant mental improvement. What's not to like about that? But this is so often lost in meaningless titles and "honors," in insistence on a veneer of outward moral piety that hides moral depravity, racial and religious hatred, and other disfiguring characteristics. The very fact that several states still do not recognize Prince Hall masons is evidence of this. Our older brethren so often do not recognize that society has passed them by and that what was once acceptable is no longer. What business executive from a major corporation can belong to an organization that is illiberal? No wonder we have lost our influence and no wonder it is so hard to attract young men to our ranks. I pray wiser heads will turn things around.

  2. There are some immediate practical concerns about the decline. The virus makes a large number of our lodge buildings in need of horrendous renovations, with the vaccines not saving the day as the hesitation about enclosed spaces with poor ventilation being a concern that is going to be permanently with us. The relentless march of social forces makes our gender and racial incongruities an anchor of despair despite progress. A famous club to which I belong in Washington has had to cut its staff from 130 to 30, has had 400 resignations, and still is losing 150k a month -- thinking of turning guest bedrooms into offices but meanwhile office buildings are reeling from vacancies because of working at home. In other words, social groups are in deep trouble and the declining lodge membership is being accelerated by all the changes. What should but wont be done is to give the Shrine a new ritual based on its medical success, moor the capitular and cryptic degrees to blue lodges, offer the Eastern Star degree as a lodge adjunct, and drop the grand lodges that are still segregated. There will be no such bold moves and when some semblance of normal life returns, we will be absolutely destroyed.

    1. That is not the only thing that will destroy Freemasonry. Inactivity will hurt us too. When the state public health orders and Grand Lodge edicts first went out in March, my home lodge and my local lodge both ceased all activities and brought in minimal revenue for the charitable programs we do. Minimal building rental revenue for the building fund and zero fundraiser revenue for the charitable fund for seven months does not look good for the lodge budgets, and the traditional fundraisers have been oriented around food and mass gatherings that will not happen again for months. Based on the informal Zoom meetings for both lodges, this will simply continue until Grand Lodge rescinds the edicts that prevent activities. That will not happen in New Mexico until a vaccine is widely available and widely used. My local lodge is one of those small rural lodges that is already two separate lodges combined together, and I wonder if it will combine with another in the next five years regardless of the declining trend of Freemasonry. That lodge lost four brothers since March (two definitely to COVID-19, the other two I do not know), and two of the more active brothers left the state this year. Even without the pandemic, will that lodge survive?

      When we resume activity next year, what will the general public think of us and other fraternal organizations and civic clubs? I have not heard much from the Lions, Rotary, Elks, or Eagles since March. On the other hand, my Kiwanis club completely changed directions and started service projects related to helping children impacted by the pandemic, while finding alternatives to traditional fundraisers. That club is constantly adapting and overcoming the problems of 2020. I know how the public will view that Kiwanis club. But when people are hurting due to a pandemic and a recession caused by the pandemic, where was the lodge?

      Atheism is growing in the United States, or rather people are feeling more free to admit to their thoughts and beliefs and the lack thereof with less fear of reprisals from family and friends. Multiple acquaintances asked me about Freemasonry and were disappointed to learn that atheists are excluded. I know of instances where petitioners admitted to being atheists, and had their petitions revoked. Is it time for us to find a way to include them somehow?

    2. Have you recommended the sort of programs your Kiwanis club is doing to your lodge or to your grand lodge? I think an awful lot of Masons believe that grand lodges must be top-down organizations so that individual lodges can sit back and wait for brilliant programs to be sent down from On High. Grand lodges are only as talented and visionary as the Masons who actively take part. A hundred years ago when our membership had the very best entrepreneurs, corporate executives, politicians, artists, civic leaders and more, we had an incredible talent pool from which to draw. That's not so any more. You and I are the talent pool now.

      We used to say in advertising, "Where do good ideas come from? SOMEBODY ELSE!" Look around your own or other communities, find a truly innovative or at least successful program to emulate, spearhead its adoption in your lodge, prove it's practical, then convince one or two men in the advancing grand lodge officer's line to actively promote it statewide. Write an article about it in your GL magazine. You do it. Because if Masons do nothing but sit back and mope that 'Grand Lodge oughtta be doing this,' nothing will happen.

      As for admitting atheists, this argument has gone on for three centuries. A simple, non-specific acknowledgement of a higher power than ourselves is part and parcel of what makes up Freemasonry. Remove that basic requirement, and you remove one of the very foundation stones of the organization and its over-arching philosophy and lessons we teach. It is not the responsibility of Freemasonry to alter that expectation of its members in order to accommodate the growing world full of atheists. We have basic standards we adhere to. When Anderson wrote in the Constitutions that a Mason cannot be a 'stupid atheist,' he didn't mean to imply that 'intelligent atheists' would be just fine. Requiring the simplest acknowledgement of a supreme power isn't an enormous hurdle in the world of 'exclusive membership' organizations.

      The centerpiece of our rituals and structure is that, just as Solomon's Temple was erected as a temple to God and constructed by the work of many craftsmen cooperating together, so too does Freemasonry build temples in the hearts of men with the aid and support of our fellow Masons. An atheist going through our degrees and hearing our lessons and allegories is not likely to be receptive to our symbolic lessons if he thinks that it's all a bunch of fairy tale nonsense.

      Consider that when the Grand Orient de France eliminated the requirement of a belief in God while in the throes of France's anti-religious fervor in the late 1800s, the overwhelming majority of the world's grand lodges declared them to be clandestine and wholly irregular. That same reaction will happen today if any regular grand lodge tries to do the same thing.

    3. Unfortunately, my ideas tend to be greeted with calls of Tradition and Status Quo (when not with eyerolls because that guy is mentioning Kiwanis again), as I do not have the benefits of decades of experience as a Mason. The greatest treasure of Freemasonry, the centuries of existence and tradition, seem to be the greatest stumbling point as well. I do not think I will be able to overcome that roadblock for years. It is the same roadblock that causes small rural lodges to be combined with other lodges instead of finding new ways to survive and thrive. As a whole, we need to look to the future instead of the past, but that is difficult in a fraternity that places its greatest value on tradition.

      For atheists, they could still see and understand symbolic lessons even if they reject them as not being based in their worldview. After all, there are Masons who are Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional (pre-Columbian) Native American religions who likewise view European religions as "fairy tales" despite having their own Great Architect. How is a secular humanist recognizing the collective human will/spirit as a supreme power any different from European religions recognizing an abstract/non-corporeal deity as a supreme power?

    4. I suppose I was lucky to join a lodge that was on the rocks and verging on closing. When my best friend and I joined the lodge together, they lost five guys from the officers' line over the next ten months. So they were willing to let us try anything we proposed. Over the next three years, no one objected to any of our wild ideas and activities. We were also lucky enough that a PM of our lodge who was two years away from becoming Grand Master volunteered to serve as Master if I would be his SW and Nathan would be JW. They elected me the following year as Master two years after I joined. So I freely admit I've never had to be confronted by a stern sideline of naysayers. On the other hand, I came out of the advertising world, so maybe my delivery was smoother than others.

  3. As long as segregated Grand- lodges exist noble masonic talk sounds empty...

  4. Please point out at least one segregated Grand Lodge.

  5. So far I see only Dark in the reply's of what we don't have & haven't done, perhaps a bit of Light & Optimism is in order. My Grand Lodge in Colorado. has a Zoom Education once a month, My Lodge will do a Zoom Education once a month along with other Lodges in the Metro area. I have 2 Candidates who have read everything I have sent them & we talk on occasion to answer questions. Now if we had a non-Mason Candidate Intro education ZOOM (or other) that would answer questions and engage Prospects further in the Craft, momentum would be restored. Degree work could be done when the Covid Cloud is lifted, now that is light worth working for. Not only would this keep the candidates but should energize dedicated Brothers to become involved and active again with our new tools. The technology is out there it is up to us to make use of what we have. By pointing out what we don't have and can't do Masonry will never save a building or knock down barriers that need to be removed.
    Just a thought MR

  6. Brother Phil, how many African Americans belong for example to the grand lodges of Georgia or West Virginia?

  7. Thank you for sharing this writers comments. It’s New Year’s Day and I’m just now catching up on your blog and this post spoke to me.

    I’ve also looked around and have thought about how to incorporate civics back into our culture. It might be a long shot to do this on a national level, but is certainly doable on the local level. I would hope the gentleman who wrote to you would partner with a local lodge and attempt to have an impact on our youth.

    I have seen a very basic program that was called “MEN-tor” and my experience wasn’t geared towards civics; but it could be! In my experience, it wasn’t a lodge program but if it were, we have all the tools needed to educate our young. Have your lodge adopt a school, have brothers sign up to be MEN-tors, if your lodge is lucky enough to have Rainbow and DeMolay, then put them to work also.

    I realize that I may be rambling at this point because I haven’t worked up to an 80% solution yet, but one last point. It’s important to recognize that this letter is about more than Civics, it’s about recognizing the climate and challenges in your community and organizing ourselves to meet those head on. The same could be said for individual Men who are looking for more.

    Thank you again for sharing,
    Jeffrey Morris


Comments will not appear immediately, so be patient. I am forced to laboriously screen every post because I am constantly bombarded with spam. Anonymous postings on Masonic topics have the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers as far as I am concerned. If you post with an unknown or anonymous account, do not expect to see your comment appear.