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  Cover Story May 13th, 2010     
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by lyle e davis

Top row, L-R, George Washington, First President of the US; Red Skelton, comedian, actor. Bottom row, L-R, John Wayne, actor; center, Will Rogers, Humorist; Harry Truman, 33rd President of the US; Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s National Poet - all whose photos
appear above, were Freemasons


George Washington, John Wayne, King William IV, Mark Twain, Harry Truman, Red Skelton, Joseph Smith, Peter Sellers, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelet, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, Paul Revere, Audie Murphy Roy Acuff, General Hap Arnold, Eddie Arnold, John Jacob Aster, John James Audobon, Gene Autry, Count Basie, Mel Blanc, Daniel Boone . . .Jim Bowie, General Omar Bradley, Robert Burns . . . .

What do all of these world reknown people have in common?

They are all, or were, members of Freemasonry, more commonly known as the Masons. There are thousands of folks who are part of Freemasonry. You can find them by doing a Google search and they will be alphabetized for you.

So, if you are part of the Free masons, are you a good guy or a bad guy? Or a bit of both?

Depends, I guess, upon whom you ask.

My dad was a Freemason for 50 years. I was a DeMolay as a youth (the youth group sponsored by the Masons, the ‘minor leagues,’ if you will, for Freemasonry.) The womenfolk have the Order of the Eastern Star, among others.

I chose not to become a Mason. Dad was a Mason all of his life.

I had a bad experience with Freemasonry which I shall detail at the end of this article.

The origin of Freemasonry is obscure and cloaked in mystery, and it is one of the most debatable subjects even amongst the Freemasons themselves. No one really knows who started it, how and when it got started.

Masons consider themselves the oldest fraternity in the world. According to a pamphlet by the Masonic Information Center, it states that most likely Freemasonry arose from the guilds of stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Possibly, they were influenced by the Knights Templar, a group of Christian Warrior Monks formed in 1118 to protect pilgrims making passages to the Holy Land.

A poem known as the "Regius Manuscript" has been dated to approximately 1390 and is the oldest known Masonic text. There is evidence to suggest that there were Masonic lodges in existence in Scotland as early as the late sixteenth century (for example the Lodge at Kilwinning, Scotland, has records that date to the late 1500s, and is mentioned in the Second Schaw Statutes (1599). There are clear references to the existence of lodges in England by the mid-seventeenth century.

According to Masonic tradition, medieval European stonemasons would meet, eat, and shelter outside working hours in a Lodge on the southern side of a building site, where the sun warms the stones during the day. Early Lodges often met in a tavern or any other convenient fixed place with a private room.

The fraternity is widely involved in charity and community service activities. In contemporary times, money is collected only from the membership, and is to be devoted to charitable purposes. Freemasonry worldwide disburses substantial charitable amounts to non-Masonic charities, locally, nationally and internationally. In earlier centuries, however, charitable funds were collected more on the basis of a Provident or Friendly Society, and there were elaborate regulations to determine a petitioner's eligibility for consideration for charity, according to strictly Masonic criteria.

Some examples of Masonic charities include:

• Homes that provide sheltered housing or nursing care.
• Education with both educational grants or schools such as the Royal Masonic School (UK) which are open to all and not limited to the families of Freemasons.
• Medical assistance.
• Masonic Child Identification Programs (CHIP).

In addition to these, there are thousands of philanthropic organizations around the world created by Freemasons. The Masonic Service Association, the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, and the Shriners Hospitals for Children are especially notable charitable endeavours that Masons have founded and continue to support both intellectually and monetarily.

Contrary to common misconception, joining Freemasonry is not by invitation only. In fact, in many jurisdictions, the brothers of the lodge are not allowed to ask potential candidates to join (in these jurisdictions, the brethren must wait for the potential candidate to inquire). Other jurisdictions allow for varying degrees of solicitation.

However the initial introduction is made, the official process of becoming a Mason begins when a candidate for Freemasonry formally petitions a lodge. The brethren will then investigate the candidate, to assure themselves of his good character, and hold a secret ballot election (often using an old fashioned ballot box). The number of adverse votes needed to reject a candidate varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (in some, one "black ball" is enough to reject, in others up to three are required).

General requirements

Generally, to be accepted for initiation as a regular Freemason, a candidate must:

• Be a man who comes of his own free will.
• Believe in a Supreme Being (the form of which is left to open interpretation by the candidate).
• Be at least the minimum age (from 18–25 years old depending on the jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions the son of a Mason may join at an earlier age than others).
• Be of good morals, and of good reputation.
• Be of sound mind and body
• Be free-born (or "born free", i.e., not born a slave or bondsman). This is entirely an historical holdover, and some jurisdictions have removed this requirement.
• Be capable of furnishing character references, as well as one or two references from current Masons, depending on jurisdiction.

Membership and religion

Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. "There is no separate Masonic God," nor a separate proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.

Candidates for regular Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a Supreme Being. However, the candidate is not asked to expand on, or explain, his interpretation of Supreme Being. The discussion of politics and religion is forbidden within a Masonic Lodge, in part so a Mason will not be placed in the situation of having to justify his personal interpretation. Thus, reference to the Supreme Being will mean the Christian Trinity to a Christian Mason, Allah to a Muslim Mason, Para Brahman to a Hindu Mason, etc.

The fraternity is administratively organized into Grand Lodges and Grand Orients which are independent and sovereign bodies that govern Masonry in a given country, state, or geographical area (termed a jurisdiction). There is no single governing body that presides over worldwide Freemasonry; connections between different jurisdictions depend solely on mutual recognition.

The three degrees of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry are those of:

1. Entered Apprentice – the degree of an Initiate, which makes one a Freemason;
2. Fellow Craft – an intermediate degree, involved with learning;
3. Master Mason – the "third degree," a necessity for participation in most aspects of Masonry.

The candidate agrees to the elements of ritual in which he swears to abide by the rules of the fraternity, to keep the "secrets of Freemasonry" (which are the various signs, tokens and words associated with recognition in each degree), and to act towards others in accordance with Masonic tradition and law. In regular jurisdictions these obligations are sworn on the Volume of the Sacred Law and in the witness of the Supreme Being and often with assurance that it is of the candidate's own free will.

The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England, was founded on 24 June 1717, when four existing London Lodges met for a joint dinner. This rapidly expanded into a regulatory body, which most English Lodges joined. However, a few lodges resented some of the modernizations that The Grand Lodge of England endorsed, such as the creation of the Third Degree, and formed a rival Grand Lodge on 17 July 1751, which they called the "Antient Grand Lodge of England." The two competing Grand Lodges vied for supremacy – the "Moderns" and the "Antients" (or "Ancients") – until they united on 25 November 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England.

The Grand Lodge of Ireland and The Grand Lodge of Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively.

Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s – with both the "Antients" and the "Moderns" (as well as the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland) chartering offspring, various Provincial Grand Lodges.

After the American Revolution, independent U.S. Grand Lodges formed themselves within each State. Some thought was briefly given to organizing an over-arching "Grand Lodge of the United States,",with George Washington (who was a member of a Virginian lodge) as the first Grand Master, but the idea was short-lived. The various State Grand Lodges did not wish to diminish their own authority by agreeing to such a body.

Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around five million, including just under two million in the United States and around 480,000 in England, Scotland and Ireland. The various forms all share moral and metaphysical ideals, which include, in most cases, a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.

A Lodge is the basic organizational unit of Freemasonry. Every new Lodge must have a Warrant or Charter issued by a Grand Lodge, authorizing it to meet and work.

A Lodge must hold regular meetings at a fixed place and published dates. It will elect, initiate and promote its members and officers; it will build up and manage its property and assets, including its minutes and records; and it may own, occupy or share its premises.

Most Lodges consist of Freemasons living or working within a given town or neighbourhood. Other Lodges are composed of Masons with a particular shared interest, profession or background. In many countries, Masonic Center or Hall has replaced the name Masonic Temple to avoid arousing prejudice and suspicion.

Masonic Lodge Officers

Every Masonic Lodge elects certain officers to execute the necessary functions of the lodge's work. The Worshipful Master (essentially the lodge President) is always an elected officer. Most jurisdictions will also elect the Senior and Junior Wardens (Vice Presidents), the Secretary and the Treasurer. All lodges will have a Tyler, or Tiler, (who guards the door to the lodge room while the lodge is in session), sometimes elected and sometimes appointed by the Master.

While Freemasonry has often been called a "secret society," Freemasons themselves argue that it is more correct to say that it is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects are private. The private aspects of modern Freemasonry are the modes of recognition amongst members and particular elements within the ritual. Despite the organization's great diversity, Freemasonry's central preoccupations remain charitable work within a local or wider community, moral uprightness (in most cases requiring a belief in a Supreme Being) as well as the development and maintenance of fraternal friendship.

Masons conduct their meetings using a ritualized format. There is no single Masonic ritual, and each Jurisdiction is free to set (or not set) its own ritual. However, there are similarities that exist among Jurisdictions. For example, all Masonic ritual makes use of the architectural symbolism of the tools of the medieval operative stonemason. Freemasons, as speculative masons (meaning philosophical building rather than actual building), use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth."

The Square and Compasses carved into stone

Two of the principal symbolic tools always found in a Lodge are the square and compasses. Some Lodges and rituals explain these tools as lessons in conduct: for example, that Masons should "square their actions by the square of virtue" and to learn to "circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind."

No one person "speaks" for the whole of Freemasonry.

The Supreme Being and the Volume of Sacred Law

In the ritual, the Supreme Being is referred to as the Great Architect of the Universe, which alludes to the use of architectural symbolism within Freemasonry.

A Volume of the Sacred Law is always displayed in an open Lodge in those jurisdictions which require a belief in the Supreme Being. In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation; there is no such thing as an exclusive "Masonic Bible." In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed.

Degrees (freemasonry)

There is no degree of Craft Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason. In the Scottish Rite Temple, they confer degrees numbered from 4° up to 33°. It is essential to be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degrees.

Officially,. regular Freemasonry remains exclusive to men. While women cannot join regular lodges, they have their own version, known as the Order of the Eastern Star, among others.

Opposition To and Criticism of Freemasonry

Anti-Masonry critics have included religious groups, political groups, and conspiracy theorists.

The denomination with the longest history of objection to Freemasonry is the Roman Catholic Church. A number of Papal pronouncements have been issued against Freemasonry, most recently by Pope Benedict. For its part, Freemasonry has never objected to Catholics joining their fraternity, stating "Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion."

In contrast to Catholic allegations of rationalism and naturalism, Protestant objections are more likely to be based on allegations of mysticism, occultism, and even Satanism.

Many Islamic anti-Masonic arguments are closely tied to both Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. Many countries with a significant Muslim population do not allow Masonic establishments within their jurisdictions.

Political Opposition

Regular Freemasonry has in its core ritual a formal obligation: to be quiet and peaceable citizens, true to the lawful government of the country in which they live, and not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion. Nevertheless, much of the political opposition to Freemasonry is based upon the idea that Masonry will foment (or sometimes prevent) rebellion.

During the Holocaust, Freemasons were also persecuted. While the number is not accurately known, it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons were killed under the Nazi regime. Masonic concentration camp inmates were graded as political prisoners and wore an inverted red triangle.

On balance, it appears that Freemasonry is comprised of good and distinguished people who accomplish great works of charity and benefit a great many people.

The list of its members down through the years is impressive. Major leaders in government, within the military, within the arts, entertainment, and in business and commerce.

I mentioned at the beginning of this feature that I had a bad experience with Freemasonry and that I would detail that bad experience at the close of this article.

I shall now do so.

When someone lies to me they not only incur my wrath but I disassociate myself from them.

Background: When my dad died at just one week shy of his 92nd birthday, I contacted the Masons in Fort Myers, Florida. I undertood dad, as all Masons are, was entitled to a Masonic Ritual at his funeral. I was assured this was true.

“The only thing is,” I said, “I don’t want a religious funeral. Dad was not a religious man, nor am I.”

“Oh, there’s no religious aspect to the Masonic Ritual,” I was assured.

He lied to me.

When it came time for the funeral, they cited Scripture left, right and center. Exactly what I did not want and what dad would not have wanted. We had discussed this prior to his passing.

It is a bit difficult to interrupt a funeral and raise a fuss after it has already begun. But I was tempted.

For the Grand Lodge of Free And Accepted Masons of Florida in Ft. Myers, Florida, to not be open and honest with me and tell me what I could expect from a funeral service, and to tell me that there was no religion involved, was just plain lying.

There’s no other word for it.

Aside from that painful experience, I reckon they’re pretty decent folks.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemasonry
Stevenson, David (November 1988). The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century 1590-1710. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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