Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Thank you to my dear friend and Brother Willy Gutman for the following essay:
Masonic Intolerance: The Enemy Within
W. E. Gutman
Freemasonry is the world's oldest and largest fraternal society. It encourages men to improve themselves by embracing ethical principles and working for the welfare of humanity. In its lodges, men of diverse backgrounds labor in harmony. Guided by universal principles, Freemasonry promotes democracy. It fosters civic responsibility. It teaches tolerance and respect for the dignity of man. Its optic is holistic. The eye through which it peers is all-encompassing.
Yet, from its earliest origins, Freemasonry has faced political and religious hostility. Often unrelenting and violent, antagonism toward the Craft has focused on its advocacy of progressive concepts -- Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, with Tolerance being the overarching Masonic virtue. Its fiercest enemies also contrived to thwart the spread of key objectives: free thought, erudition, rational discourse, the pursuit of truth and the separation of church and state.
Persecution of Freemasons has always been fiercest in times of social and religious turmoil and during those great upheavals that have led men to war, epochs marked by an absence of “Light,” by a marked decline in the civilizing effect of reason and by fits of collective madness.
The Inquisition, the Vatican, Hitler and Stalin, to name a few, were rabid foes of Freemasonry. Nazis and fascists regarded Freemasonry as a tool of socialism. Communists viewed it as an elitist agent of bourgeois values. The Craft had already been dealt a mortal blow during the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. Fearful that clandestine lodges might have survived in Russia, Stalin, a dangerous sociopath, banned affiliation under penalty of death. Freemasonry disappeared or lay dormant in post-war satellite nations until the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is still discouraged or banned under totalitarian and theocratic regimes.
An anti-Masonic crusade now blazes on in America on two fronts, both inspired by intolerance. Fire-and-brimstone preachers can be heard haranguing against Freemasonry on AM and short-wave radio stations and in houses of worship across the land. Some of the enormities they level against the Craft are so deranged as to inhibit coherent dialogue.
More insidious, is a subtle profanation of Tolerance that took decades to bear fruit when American Freemasonry veered away from its European roots, when it ceased to be an instrument of enlightenment and social reform, when it turned inwardly and changed from a coalition of open-minded, socially progressive men (think the Founding Fathers) into a bastion of religious and political conservatism out of tune with the Craft’s original values and objectives.
Worse, as religious fundamentalists continue to malign and defame Freemasonry from without, a “fifth column” of Freemasons -- all “states’ rights” absolutists who view even benign governance as malignant, now labor from within the Craft to turn Freemasonry into an agent of ultra-right-wing ideology.
Dogmatism and intolerance are inimical to the Masonic ideal. Both should be regarded as depravities apt to further disfigure The Craft.
Regrettably, tolerance, the guiding principle of Freemasonry, is endowed with a troubling flaw. Like democracy, which tolerates the existence of undemocratic ideas and institutions, tolerance too can be self-defeating if it extends to dogmas and attitudes that are inherently anti-egalitarian. Victor Hugo, humanist, agnostic, social activist and "Mason without an apron" understood both reality and idealism. But his concept of idealism was neither mystical nor abstract. His reading of the stirrings that carry men to lofty heights was tangible and goal-oriented. It called for -- as his monumental works, Notre Dame de Paris, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and, more notably, Les Misérables attest -- an unshakable commitment to tolerance and social justice, compassion for the poor, the voiceless, the disenfranchised, the persecuted, and he urged people to agitate against predatory economic policies, political hypocrisy, censorship and exploitation. What Hugo said is that Tolerance should not be a clearing house for intolerance – least of all in a lodge of Masons.
Entered, passed and raised at King Hiram #12 in Shelton, CT, W. E. Gutman is a widely published veteran journalist and author. From 1994 to 2006 he was on assignment in Central America where he covered politics, the military, human rights and other socio-economic issues. He lives in southern California’s High Desert. He is a former member of Lancaster Lodge 437 and Tehachapi Lodge 313.