The world of Freemasonry is a strange one. At least 9 people who signed the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons. Around 13 signers of the Constitution were. George Washington, John Hancock, James Monroe, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Ford….all Freemasons. As a matter of fact, a total of 14 presidents were – the last one being Ford. Abraham Lincoln applied for membership, but withdrew his application because he said people would think he did it to get votes. He gave assurances he would re-apply after his presidency was over. We know how that went…
At one time, Freemasonry was an organization that included virtually all the movers and shakers in society. Our lodge includes a member of the Birmingham City Council, a few businessmen and policemen, but nothing like it once was. The things we take most pride in are a Scottish Rite shoe drive to donate shoes to orphans and needy children as well as the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children. Of course, we could stop there. If your organization only has helping orphans, needy children and sick/disabled children to show for itself….well, it has a WHOLE lot. A child burned in a house fire doesn’t care what kind of events you have. He just wants the pain to stop… and we do everything we can to oblige.
But, the average person isn’t going to attend lodge every week because of something you do on the side. The health of the organization relies on much more than just helping children and doing good in the community. There are two things that Masonry has going against it. Number 1 is obviously the television. The television transformed family life. Instead of going out for entertainment, you just sat down and turned on the TV. There was a dual pronged attack that brought this about in the 1920s: the prohibition shuttered the taverns (where families gathered) and then TV started broadcasting in the late 20s. Of course, radio occupied that spot until TV became mature enough to take over.
The number 2 thing that Freemasonry has going against it is rapid growth after the world wars. People would sit around arguing philosophy in the lodge and that could have continued unabated, but there was such an influx of people that were not philosophically inclined already that it overwhelmed the system. The system where young men would come in and learn from older men, established in business and the community, experienced a hiccup. Instead of being focused on intellectual discourse, it was much easier for Freemasonry to become more of a meeting place for fraternity and entertainment – where it was in direct competition with the television.
Of course, Freemasonry is largely attempting to correct that. The next generation coming in wants to examine life and philosophy….why are we here? HOW can we be better men? WHAT is our place in the world? Freemasonry is once again becoming what it always was – not just a philanthropic organization…not just a place for potluck dinners… but a place where men can become better men… a place where you can explore the questions of life and spirituality within a brotherhood of men. This is not only what it must do, but it is also what it cannot afford not to do. Freemasonry must stand true to its roots. That is where the life is found.