Life has a way of occassionaly throwing up experiences that lead you to a deep contemplation of things in your life. I had a number of such experiences this past weekend. Three things happened over the course of the weekend and they all had one thing in common. Freemasonry!
On Friday evening I was privileged to attend an informal gathering of freemasons in Poole. A group of men from across the South of England were brought together by the power of social media. We gathered to discuss how social media can be used to introduce more men, especially young men, to our fraternity. We had a couple of presentations and then around 80 men sat down together to share food and wine. It was a truly wonderful occasion. I knew some of the men in the room, but was soon happily chatting to a group of men I had never met before about a wide range of subjects including charity, social media and photography. I had only met one of the people at my table previously, but I shared a bond of brotherhood with all of the others.
On Saturday morning I was doing some research and reading blogs on wordpress when I came across a blog that was absolutely hideous. It claimed that freemasonry was anti christian and that freemasons worshipped goats at their meetings. The blog claimed that by welcoming men of any faith freemasons defied the word of god. The writer then went on to threaten freemasons in his town with violence and exposure should they fail to resign from their lodges. The blog contained a litany of a range of anti-masonic conspiracy theories and can only be described as the ravings of a seriously disturbed individual. I found it almost beyond belief that the writer claimed to be a ‘very strict christian’. It was very clear that the writer knew absolutely nothing about freemasonry and his brand of christianity preached nothing but hate and intolerance. Whilst I have no evidence at all to support this view I would not be at all surprised to find the writer to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan or some other white supremacist organisation.
On Saturday evening I had some friends over for dinner. I have known these friends for over 15 years and they have attended ladies festivals etc as a guest of mine in the past. After dinner we were talking about a range of subjects and asked my friend if he had any interest in becoming a freemason. He immediately said he would love to and explained that he felt that he had been blessed in his life and would love the opportunity to give something back. There was never a hint of ‘whats in it for me’ or any other self-serving motive. He was only interested in what he could give.
So, in one weekend I had three experiences, two positive and one negative, that caused me to think deeply and critically about my freemasonry. I was initiated into freemasonry in 1991 at the age of 30 but left for a number of years when the pressures of working away from home and bringing up a young family just became too much. I worked in public service and there was also something of a witch hunt in the late 1990’s against freemasons in public service. It would have been easy to dismiss the man above as an ill informed lunatic but I did wonder what on earth would lead someone to have such extreme views.
Lets put some things straight. Freemasonry is in no way anti-christian. It is true that men must have a belief in a ‘supreme being’ to be a freemason and that ‘supreme being’ can be whichever version that your particular religion subscribes to. We do take an obligation on a sacred book but that sacred book can be a bible, the Koran, the Torah or whatever holy book a prospective member holds sacred. This means that freemasonry is inclusive. Men of any faith are welcome. Far from being anti-christian I would suggest that this spirit of peace and goodwill to all men is inclusive and entirely in keeping with christian teaching. Some ‘masonic’ orders are specifically christian in their membership. To join Rose Croix, Red Cross of Constantine or Knights Templar prospective members must be christian.
In some quarters there seems to be a belief that freemasonry is only open to the well heeled, that it costs a small fortune to be a member and that freemasons only ever look after their own. All bunkum! Anyone from any social class can be a freemason. The cost is a fraction of what it costs to be a member of a golf club or gymnasium. For every lord there are probably 50 working class men. My own lodge has a close association with the Royal Marines, many of our members (including myself) served in the ranks of the UK armed services and we have everything from accountants to builders as members. Freemasonry encourages its members to be benevolent but only so far as their situation in life warrants. It is true that freemasons donate money to masonic charities and these provide relief to freemasons, often elderly and infirm who have fallen on hard times and need residential care. It should be borne in mind that the provision of this care prevents a financial burden from falling on the state in many cases. At the same time a huge proportion of the money raised for charities by freemasons goes to charities that have absolutely no connection to freemasonry. Freemasons are the 2nd biggest contributors to air ambulances in the UK. My own lodge in the past 12 months has made gifts to a local children’s hospice, a group that teaches blind people to shoot and a charity that provides transport to people who are infirm and would be housebound without help. The grand charities have contributed to medical research through the Royal College of Surgeons, to flood and disaster relief at home and abroad and a range of charities that are simply mind boggling.
So why am I a freemason? Hopefully the answer to that question is already self evident. Freemasonry is a force for good in society. It brings together like minded men who are community spirited, who want to widen their circle of friends, who want to support others and who want to give something back to their communities. I am sure that, as in any other walk of life, there are a few people who joined seeking some sort of advantage or for some other self serving reason. I am pleased to say that in 23 years as a freemason I have yet to meet one. The vast majority of freemasons are ordinary men who often do extraordinary things, not for themselves but for the good of others, and like my friend join because they want to give something back.
That dear reader is why I am extremely proud to call myself a mason.