As I promised I would at the end of Part 1, today I will consider the root causes of the membership problems in the Blue Lodge. I see these as being three-fold:
- The general public simply does not know about Freemasonry anymore. This contributes to the low entry rates noted in Part 1.
- In many local lodges, the membership is left without understanding either the meaning or application of Masonic symbolism. This leaves some members of these lodges disappointed; some of these members may simply fall away from Masonry. This contributes to the high exit rates noted in Part 1.
- Anti-Masonry misdirects sincere seekers away from Freemasonry. Ultimately, this may contribute to both low entry rates and high exit rates.
I consider the first two of these issues below.
The Invisibility of Freemasonry
Freemasonry has made an appearance twice during the 20 seasons of The Simpsons (as I describe in another post), and has been mentioned, almost in passing, in Dan Brown's hugely popular novel, The Da Vinci Code. Of course, Freemasonry was mentioned extensively in the motion picture National Treasure (and briefly in its sequel). However, aside from these noteworthy exceptions, Freemasonry is all but invisible in popular culture and general society. As the Masonic Information Center (MIC) put it, the public's perception of Freemasonry can be summarized by three terms: confused (as in, 'is Freemasonry a religion?'), mistaken ('is it a devil-worshipping religion? Is it just for older gentlemen?'), and oblivious. Concerning this last point, as the MIC stated, "people are not even aware Masonry still exists" (It's About Time!, p. 9).
The Unfilled Hunger for the Meaning of Masonic SymbolismMany lodges do a very creditable job of instructing their brethren in the details of performing our initiatory rituals. However, all too many lodges need help to guide their brethren in investigating the meaning of Masonic symbolism, and in the application of that symbolism to their daily lives. (Consider, for example, the commemorative plate shown above, which displays several Masonic symbols. Has your lodge discussed the meaning and application of any of these, lately--outside of the degree work?) There is a great hunger, perhaps especially among newer brethren, for this kind of Masonic education; without it, brethren are more likely to slip away into inactivity, or even leave the Fraternity. Consider the following:
- We Initiate, Pass, and Raise brothers in ceremonies of high drama and mystery. Then, when these brethren finally are able to attend Stated Communications as Master Masons, in many local lodges they find that these are typically business meetings, with no discussion of the meaning of the complicated symbolism with which these brothers have been entrusted, and about which they thought they would learn more.
- At present, in many local lodges, the focus in Masonic Education is almost solely on the memorization and performance of the ritual, not on the investigation of the meaning or application of its symbolism. This must be unsatisfying to our new brethren. Certainly this much was suggested at the 2007 Grand Oration in Florida: "We must strive to stimulate the new Mason and instill in him a thirst for continued knowledge and quest for enlightenment. Without that stimulation many new members can easily become disenchanted and lose interest, resulting in demits and NPDs" (Hudson, 2007, p. 273).
The current mini-spike in Masonic membership, which many have noted anecdotally around the country, apparently is driven by new initiates seeking just the type of esoteric wisdom that Freemasonry has. As Brother G. Cliff Porter, a relatively new Mason in his mid-thirties, stated in the March-April 2007 issue of The Scottish Rite Journal:
The young man approaching the Craft today does so to supplement and add to what his church and family have already given him. A certain tugging at his soul speaks to him to seek a deeper meaning in life, in family, and in God. He researches and desires an initiation into the esoteric and ancient quest for Truth. He requests a petition with these hopes in mind. Why shouldn't he? The eloquent writings of Masonic scholars ... have hinted at the existence of such knowledge, and Masonic writings abound with hints of this very thing. ... We as Master Masons should return Masonry from a primarily social institution to one that studies ancient symbolism and the truths so revealed. (Emphasis added.)
In sum, there is a hunger among the brethren--now, largely going unfed--for a thoughtful consideration of the more esoteric aspects of Masonic symbolism. The more this hunger is left unfed, the more it inclines brethren interested in this material to drift away from Freemasonry.
In Part 3: The challenge of Anti-Masonry; and, an overall approach to meeting the membership challenge.
Hudson, Phillip A. (2007). Grand oration. In Proceedings of the One Hundred and Seventy-Eighth Annual Communication of the M:. W:. Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Florida, Held at Orlando, Florida, May 28, 29, and 30, 2007 (pp. 272-275). n.p.: The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida.
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