Freemasons… Ministers of Civility?
This is an election year, in case you didn’t notice! It seems to be all anyone is talking about, so I guess I will talk about it too! For must of us its harder and harder not to get caught up in the fervor of this election cycle in our ever increasingly media driven society. Whether its your television, computer, tablet or phone you are probably getting news alerts every few minutes to announce the newest political insult to one candidate or the other (in reality these insults are falling directly on our republic, more on that later). Members of both political extremes would have you believe the United State’s survival is hinged on a single issue, and if you don’t agree you are some kind of traitor. The only breaks seem to be when the news reports on celebrity scandals. Its no wonder ever one is on edge.
Its not news to say that fear is the best motivator of people. Our minds and bodies are wired in such a way that fear can easily override our rational mind and our compassionate heart. This makes sense from a survival point of view, when predators waited behind every tree to attack, but in the modern world it is sometimes misplaced, and can be used to manipulate us. It has long been known that base survival instincts manifest as emotions can be used as tools to control our thoughts, limit our freedom and of course sell us things.
Our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press because it’s the best way for the people to communicate with each other and their Government. When it works well it informs citizens of what they need to know to protect their personal interests, and to keep the Government accountable to the people. In principal this is a great and important part of our Republic. Unfortunately like many rights it can also lead to abuses. Much of today’s media has become a platform for retail marketing; this includes social media and with the pretense of reporting important news chooses to bombard you with constant and ever increasing vitriol. Its important to remember that you did not elect the members of the press, and while freedom of the press is crucial to our nation, it is largely a business intended to make money. If they can use fear to do that, well in my opinion, they will do that, its just good business. With twenty four hour a day, seven day a week news telling you to be afraid or angry you have to have come a long way in subduing your passions to resist. I feel I should add here that not all news media is run this way, and not all journalists are profit motivated. I wish I could say that responsible journalism was the norm but I can’t say that.
Because we live such short lives it’s easy to assume this is one of the worst election cycles ever, but that is not true. The election of 1800, between Adams and Jefferson was one of the worst. Through political surrogates they both attacked each other on the most personal issues, portrayed each other in the worst light. In those days our young republic was by no means a sure bet for survival, and everyone knew it. That said, today we remember BOTH Adams and Jefferson as great presidents and patriots and use them as examples of great Americans. This is an important point to remember as we engage in political discussion today. In two hundred years subsequent generations may well wonder what all the fuss was about.
So what has this got to do with Freemasonry? As I have shown in earlier blogs there are elements of our Craft handed down to us that are at least 600 years old. During those centuries we have survived many contentious times, and for the most part have emerged stronger. Operant Masonry survived the great wars over religion in England, as well as wars about the style of government. We survived the wars between England and Scotland, as well as England and France. Speculative Masonry survived the American and French revolutions, as well as the American Civil War. The lessons we learned during those periods of conflict continue to serve us today. A simple example is the prohibition against discussions of politics and religion in Lodge. How long would we have lasted as a guild and then a fraternity if open conflict over monarchy or parliament had erupted or debates between Catholic and Protestant religions? Not long I assure you. Our behavioral strategies go much further than simple prohibitions. A Masonic Lodge culture has evolved in which everyone gets to speak his mind on important decisions, and strong Masters prevent the discourse from becoming contentious and experienced Past Masters soothe ruffled feathers when the decision is made. We can do this because our core beliefs are based in four very important concepts. The first is to preserve the unity of the Craft, a brotherhood based in brotherly love. We can do this because we have as a foundation a belief in Faith, Hope and Charity. Faith in a good God, who will, if we listen, guide us to a better future and a faith in the fundamental good in all men’s hearts, Hope in a better world for ALL people, and Charity which calls all of us to extend a hand in friendship to all people in need, even in the darkest times. I don’t mean to leave you with the impression we are perfect, we are all of us imperfect ashlars seeking to improve ourselves.
I would call upon my brethren to remember these principals in the weeks to come, leading up to our next election. Within our Lodges we have maintained, for the most part, something becoming increasingly difficult to find in the outer world, civility. This is something we as Masons can bring to the larger world. In a time of so much passionate division, men who have learned to subdue their passions can be of crucial importance. We should counter unbridled passions in debate with reason and civility, remembering that like in Lodge when the decision is made we are still a Nation, and we must cherish that nation at least as much as our opinions. As Masons we should recognize that the United States was the first nation to adopt so many Masonic tenets and it remains the best example of the world we would create as any nation on earth. We should meet darkest despair with the light of a divine hope that permeates our Craft, and with Charity in our hearts gently remind our countrymen (and women) that each person has his or her own story that makes their beliefs valid to them. We could remind our friends and family of our shared humanity, that we all have hopes, and dreams as well a fears, no one thinks they are doing wrong.
Finally Brethren, lead through example. While you might leave the Lodge after the Volume of Sacred Law is closed, you carry your obligations in your heart. Lead by example. Become your best version of the embodiment of your obligation as an example of others. Respect the opinions of others as part of respecting their humanity. Remember that at the center of the black and white tiled floor sits the altar of Masonry. It is in balance we find our civility. It is my opinion that this is our opportunity to become ministers of civility to a world that has for now lost sight of the value of civil discourse.
God bless the United States of America, and all good Masons everywhere.