Sunday, November 1, 2009

American Lodge of Research

The elected officers of American Lodge of Research for 2009.

It was another fine meeting of American Lodge of Research Thursday night, with brethren elected to membership, officers elected to their 2010 stations, and a very useful paper delivered. ALR meets three nights per year, in March, October, and December. It is the oldest lodge of Masonic research and education in the United States, receiving its warrant from the Grand Lodge of New York in 1931.

The secretary’s desk was a busy sight. It was announced that the new book of transactions, with research papers presented in 2007, was published recently, and that copies have been mailed to the members. The next book will cover both 2008 and 2009, and will be out next year.

In the new members department, two worthy brethren were elected to Active Membership, which is achieved by those who do the work of the lodge: writing and presenting papers. W. Bro. Philippe of Heritage Lodge No. 371, and W. Bro. Gilbert Ferrer, Master of Shakespeare Lodge No. 750 have been immortalized! And a good thing too, because Gil was to be the speaker for the evening.

Among those elected to Corresponding Membership was Bro. Luther from Cornerstone Lodge No. 37, who might actually learn about this good news by reading The Magpie Mason. Surprise!

And, as always, there were plenty of familiar and friendly faces. Aside from WM Bill Thomas and his officers, there were John Simon-Ash, Mark Koltko-Rivera, and John Mauk Hilliard, one of the deans of Masonic education in the United States, who dutifully took the vacant Senior Master of Ceremonies chair. And also Bro. Alessandro (with short hair!), and Bro. Frank, and about 35 others.

One cannot attend lodge at 23rd Street without being dazzled by the diversity of regalia on display. My unofficial Magpie Apron Award for the evening goes to the young Mason who was sporting a most elegant apron from a Scottish Constitution lodge he joined in Belgium while serving in the U.S. Army attached to NATO.

But on to the paper for the evening. W. Bro. Ferrer, an attorney by profession, employed his expertise in both logic and rhetoric to illustrate the illogic and incoherence of anti-Masons, particularly the fundamentalist Christian sort indigenous to the United States who appear on the John Ankerberg Show.

If you’re familiar with fundamentalist Christian anti-Masons, then you know how they operate:

They present themselves as the experts on Masonry; and since they all are in agreement on their opinions, then those opinions are facts; and therefore it is up to Masonry to defend itself. And of course there are numerous instances of jerking quotations out of context, and of citing obscure writings as popularly accepted texts for Masonic education purposes.

For example, the characters studied by Ferrer had mailed questionnaires to 50 grand lodges in the United States. Half replied to the questionnaire. Of those 25, a total of four stated that Albert Pike’s widely distributed (but frankly, rarely read) tome Morals and Dogma was a valid source of Masonic information. Therefore, they cite M&D as a kind of Masonic bible and, naturally, they use its index to find all kinds of scary ideas to misquote or otherwise abuse to alarm their legions of the dangers of Freemasonry.

Yes, these people still exist in 2009. In the United States.

Here is one quotation from M&D that especially frightens the antis:

Masonry, around whose altars the Christian, the Hebrew, the Moslem, the Brahmin, the followers of Confucius and Zoroaster, can assemble as brethren and unite in prayer to the one God who is above all the Baalim, must needs leave it to each of its initiates to look for the foundation of his faith and hope to the written scriptures of his own religion. For itself it finds those truths definite enough, which are written by the finger of God upon the heart of man and on the pages of the book of nature. Views of religion and duty, wrought out by the meditations of the studious, confirmed by the allegiance of the good and wise, stamped as sterling by the response they find in every uncorrupted mind, commend themselves to Masons of every creed, and may well be accepted by all.

In the Temple Room at the House of the Temple in Washington stands this massive altar of black and gold marble. (It’s bigger than my car.) Upon it rest copies of the volumes of sacred law of the world’s major religions.

W. Ferrer performed an expert job of demolishing not only the thoughtless opinions held by this particular strain of anti-Mason, but also the very methods it employs to form those opinions. These antis seize a similarity Masonry might share with, say, sun worship, to draw the conclusion that Masonry is sun worship. They rely on non-sequiturs to connect dots that otherwise never could be connected to claim that Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity. They cite the fate of William Morgan in 1826, an aberration in Masonic history, to paint Freemasonry as a secret society that threatens the very existence of America in 2009.

The paper sparked a lively discussion afterward, with the brethren sharing many ideas varying from suggested readings to articulate replies to this form of anti-Masonry. It was Bro. Alessandro of Mariners Lodge No. 67 who simply pointed out that the question is not “Is Freemasonry compatible with Christianity?” (it certainly is), but “Is this form of Christianity compatible with Freemasonry?” (it certainly is not).

WM Bill Thomas called on brethren around the room who had raised their hands waiting to speak, and the conversation shifted from how one benighted group views Freemasonry to how Freemasons view Freemasonry. It is a great debate within Freemasonry about its own identity: Is Masonry nothing more than a host of spaghetti dinner fundraisers or is it a private society of exceptional men exploring the great mysteries of human existence?

W. Bro. Sam from Mariners suggested that Masonry is not a “secret society” because a secret is learned but once, whereas a mystery is gradually explored through continuous search. Bro. Mark Koltko-Rivera, who appeared on television this afternoon on the Discovery Channel’s Hunting the Lost Symbol, asserted “we really do have secrets. Secrets are forbidden to be spoken; they are ineffable. We hold our rituals in confidentiality, and no one has the right – in the United States of America – to criticize us for it!”

The next Regular Communication of American Lodge of Research will be Monday, December 28 when the newly elected officers will be installed. The inaugural paper of the new Worshipful Master, Bro. P.F. De Ravel D’esclapon, is titled “The History of French Lodges in New York City, 1760 to 1800.”

(I’m looking forward to hearing this paper. The francophone side of the Grand Lodge of New York, such as L’Union Française Lodge No. 17 – are there others? – is of particular interest to The Magpie Mason. Somewhere in the back of my mind is the goal of introducing these lodges to La Maison Française at NYU. French House maintains a limitless schedule of literary readings, fine arts exhibits, symposia, and other cultural happenings in support of French culture, and I hope to bring the subject of Freemasonry to its attention. French Freemasonry’s past, present, and future offer a lot to talk about! The arts, politics, faith, and other subjects could be starting points toward innumerable discussions. I’m digressing myself a bit too much here.)

Brethren, make an evening of it. Before the meeting be sure to duck into the Limerick House next door for dinner. After the meeting, the brethren take their time saying good night, preferring to mingle in the lodge room and hallway to chat. The stalwarts head out for cocktails.

And there is more to ALR than its meetings. WM Thomas has taken the lodge “on the road” somewhat this year, hosting the sojourning Prestonian Lecturers and taking them to Albany. And he was a recent guest lecturer at Nutley Lodge No. 25 in New Jersey. And don’t forget the occasional social function at the Cigar Inn!

1 comment:

KSigMason said...

Anti-Masons are usually disturbingly amusing in their illogical and irrational arguments. In college I'm studying fascism and authoritarianism, and it's interesting to see the similarities between these ideologies and anti-Masonry.