The Masonic Society
by Wor. Bro. Frederic L. Milliken
Merriam –Webster describes epilogue as “a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work” or “the final scene of a play that comments on or summarizes the main action” . And after my first posting on The Masonic Society something is surely needed to clear the air.
Many missed the point of the first article on the Masonic Society. They wanted to know how with such an illustrious list of Founding Fellows and how since it hasn’t even printed a word yet, I could pass judgment on this new undertaking. I agree that some great Masonic minds have come together and that the future work looks promising.
But that wasn’t my concern. I never questioned the quality of what this Society was going to do or the Masonic credentials of its Founders. My concern was why it was formed, for what reason, its format and would The Masonic Society be its own Master.
To launch an endeavor of this magnitude it would only seem logical to think that those who undertook it are thinking that they can do it better or that they are filling a void. Since I see no lack of good American Research Lodges & Societies I have to ask better than whom?
Perhaps here it is my lack of knowledge as to what had previously occurred at The Philalethes Society that fueled my apprehension. It is said that Nelson King and Wallace McLeod resigned in jest and their resignations were too readily accepted, or they resigned in protest and were not allowed to return after they had thought it over or they were forced to resign. I have not the faintest idea of exactly what went on but I do know that Nelson King was missing from the Philalethes website for awhile and that some kind of shake up occurred. One name that is constantly mentioned in the Philalethes shakeup is Bro. Roger VanGorden who is also President of The Masonic Society. Perhaps he could shed some light on the situation.
But I had heard the whispers of Nelson King criticism permeating the Internet – He is bombastic, he always goes for the controversial, he talks too much about Prince Hall recognition. Personally I always thought the man was spot on. Perhaps the invitation to expelled Past Grand Master Frank Haas to speak at the last Philalethes annual feast was the last straw. This sort of thinking is expressed by Masonic Society Founding Fellow Robert Davis.
“The aim of TMS is to publish a respected journal of articles on Masonry and to offer a venue of Masonic light for seekers of light. This kind of venue cannot exist when the focus is on political discord. In the IPS, our experience has proven that when we have placed too much emphasis on political agendas, we have always failed. If TMS offers a debate, it will be a Socratic style of debate; one free from the abusive ramblings of Masons who disrespect other Masons.”
So at this point I have to ask if the purpose of the Masonic Society is to provide cutting edge enrichment of the Masonic scene or to replace expression which has been deemed too controversial? That’s what has been nagging my thoughts as I ask myself what was the impetus, the catalyst that launched The Masonic Society? Two questions keep popping up in my mind, WHY and WHY AT THIS TIME?
And why revolve your membership requirements around amity with The Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America? And why form a special relationship with those bodies that meet annually during Masonic Week? Does this not give Grand Lodges and Grand Masters an undue influence on The Society?
President Roger VanGorden says that since their inception Freemasons have gathered under the hegemony of a Grand Master as their “center of union.” He goes onto say:
“This permits a free flow of fellowship without concerns regarding the regularity and recognition of some of the membership becoming divisive. The Masonic Society is simply working within the well-established recognition parameters of the U.S. grand lodge system. Our membership requirements are based solely on the decisions of US and Canadian grand lodges concerning regularity. If they change, likewise, our policy changes automatically.”
What is happening here is sanction of whatever Grand Masters of the USA so rule and decide. Does that not increase the divisiveness not decrease it? If you included everyone in membership would you not be more accepting, more inclusive and therefore less divisive? So obviously Frank Haas cannot be a member. And neither can the Prince Hall Masons in West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida who are not in amity with the CGMMNA. Does this help to produce harmony?
When you are a part of something you lose your ability to be critical and your ability to be objective, unless you demand a total free hand as part of the arrangement. By their very nature Masonic Research and Study Societies should be independent. If your true aim is the investigation of knowledge and finding new ideas, then you are not going to let anybody tell you how to do it.
There are many Research Lodges and Societies in the USA but two prominent national ones stand out.
The Scottish Rite Research Society which publishes a hard bounded book called Heredom each year is open to everyone. Even though The Society is part of the Scottish Rite it insists that Masons, non Masons, Clandestine Masons and Women are all accepted as full members. The SRRS The Masonic Society founding fellow Jeff Naylor one described as the best research and information source in the USA. I hear of no problems because of its open door membership policy.
The Philalethes Society was formed in 1928 with membership limited to Masons following Anderson’s Constitutions. Even though the Philalethes Society has membership restrictions it never let’s anyone dictate its agenda. At its National Assembly, Feast & Forum its featured speaker could be a non Mason of either sex or an unrecognized Mason.
In “The Philalethes Society Seekers of Truth”, Allen E. Roberts wrote:
"Petty tyranny gave birth to The
Philalethes Society," I wrote in 1988. "Some Masonic leaders," I continued,
'dressed in a little brief authority,' had attempted to inhibit the spread of
truth. They had attacked, in many cases successfully, the publishing of the
written word. They had endeavored to warp the minds of the greatest intellects
Is this not a good argument to be independent, free from ties that could unduly influence a society dedicated to the truth no matter where it lies?
When I first came to Texas I befriended a Masonic author who happened to be the past President of the Dallas Chapter of The Philalethes Society. In time he told me the story of having asked a Prince Hall Mason to speak at his Chapter (recognition was not then approved). The Grand Master of Texas ordered him not to let the Prince Hall Mason speak. So the Philalethes Chapter President closed the meeting and all went home. Shortly thereafter the Philalethes Society was banned from the state of Texas and to this day it remains banned. But that did nothing to deter The Philalethes Society from inviting Frank Haas to be its featured speaker at its annual feast this year.
Do I think that The Masonic Society will show that kind of independence? No, I don’t and that’s one of my problems with their formation so closely tied to CGMMNA. Do I think that they would ever have a Frank Haas as their featured speaker? Not on your life and that’s the problem. What I foresee is The Masonic Society so tightly bonded to Grand Lodges that they become apologists for them. What Mainstream Masonry doesn’t need is continued support for racism in its ranks and Grand Masters who expel Grand Masters without a Masonic trial.
The restriction in membership is much stricter than the other two highly successful national Research Societies. What will be missing are contributions from some very knowledgeable people. Yes The Masonic Society has offered to publish papers from non Masons. But these outsiders can’t have a brandy and a cigar with them. I just wonder how many are going to want to contribute after such a snub. And the Grand Masters are certainly not going to allow papers from clandestine Masons.
If you would stop wagging your finger and yelling clandestine long enough you might find that unrecognized (by Mainstream Masonry) Masonry is doing work on an everyday basis that is far superior to Mainstream Masonry. Some jurisdictions operate a TO type Lodge in every location. It would only seem fruitful to me to set up a dialogue with these people and offer them an avenue of expression. Maybe we all could learn something.
In Europe they have all sorts of Masonic Conferences and gatherings large and small where papers are presented from a cross section of many different Obediences, some of whom cannot sit with each other in formal Fraternalization. But they can and do conference together and research and write together. The more popular include:
The European Grand Masters Conference
Canobury Masonic Research Centre Conferences “Visions of Utopia”, “Knowledge of the Heart”, “Seeking The Light”, “Freemasonry and Initiatic Traditions”, “Freemasonry & Religion: Many Faiths, One Brotherhood”, “Having An Impact On History”.
International Conference on the History of Freemasonry (ICHF)
Cornerstone Society Conferences “The Rays of Heaven”, “The Heart of Freemasonry”, “In The Middle Chamber”, “The Bright Morning Star”.
Life Study of Freemasonry of 2007 Over 70 speakers, sponsored by The Grand Lodge of Scotland, Edinburg
275 Years of Freemasonry in France 130,000 Freemasons – men and women – belonging to more than ten different rival jurisdictions.
Just consider some of the people that would be presenters at such conferences that you will probably never see at The Masonic Society. The first is Margaret Jacob who has written the widely acclaimed book “The Origins of Freemasonry: Fact & Fiction”. Consider her credentials:
Born in New York City, Margaret Jacob took her B.A. from St. Joseph's College in 1964. She then happily turned to secular education at Cornell where she earned her Ph.D. in 1968. In the course of writing her dissertation she lived in Britain and one of her first teaching positions was at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Caught in the job crisis in history during the early 1970s, she found herself lucky to be able to return to New York and the City University. There she experienced open admissions first hand, and managed to survive the city's bankruptcy crisis of 1975-76. She went on to become Dean of the College and a member of the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research. She was recruited to UCLA from the University of Pennsylvania. Her interests lie in the history of science, and in intellectual history more broadly, and she has worked in British, Dutch, French and Belgian history. Her archival research has taken her to London, Birmingham, Manchester, and to Amsterdam, The Hague, Brussels, Paris and various French provincial towns. In 2002 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Utrecht and made a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Hollandse Maatschappij der Wetenschappen. She has been visiting faculty at l'Ecole des hautes etudes and, recently, the University of Ulster. Currently she holds a grant from the NEH for Collaborative Research on scientific application and early industrialization in Britain.
Her overriding intellectual concern has been with the meaning and impact of the Newtonian synthesis on religion, political ideology, industrial development and cultural practices. She has worked extensively on Newton's immediate followers, on freethinkers, freemasons, Dutch and French Newtonians, and has recently published a book with Larry Stewart on the impact of Newton's science from the publication of the Principia in 1687 to the Great Exhibition in 1851. She also, along with Lynn Hunt, has an active interest in British radicals and romantics of the 1790s. She has commented on issues in the so-called "science wars" and has written on historical methods and practices. Along with Spencer Weart she edits a series aimed at making the history of science more accessible and it is published by Harvard University Press. When not researching she enjoys cooking. She also reviews for The Los Angeles Times and actually enjoys book reviews. She is also Principal Investigator for a NIMH project on chronic pain in children in collaboration with UCLA's Pediatric Pain Clinic. She has worked on the cultural resources at play in economic decision making and the role of science in industrial development. In 2004 she was University Research Lecturer.
Then there is Pierre Molier from the Grand Orient of France a renowned man of letters, former Grand Lodge librarian, and a member of the Academic Committee of the ICHF.
Roger Dachez who is President of The Masonic Institute of France who among other things wrote for Heredom in 1994 “The Degree of the Irish Monk’, penned with Rene Desaguilers.
Geraldine Beskin a female Mason and owner of Neptune Press.
Michael Buckley, Grand Master of the Martinist Order of Unknown Philosophers and The Hermetic Order of Martinists.
“The majority of scholars engaged in Masonic research today are non-masons.”
Toronto Society For Masonic Research, Peter Renzland
Instead of sticking to the realm of ideas The Masonic Society has entered into judgmentalism by ruling on who is worthy to think and who is not. They give us the following reasons. First we have already heard from President Roger VanGorden who has said that the restrictions on membership are necessary because “This permits a free flow of fellowship without concerns regarding the regularity and recognition of some of the membership becoming divisive.” Gee I wonder how European Masonry avoids all this divisiveness?
Then founding fellow Robert
Davis adds: “Please be assured the founders of
TMS are not the least bit concerned about the opinions and ramblings of those
who choose to incessantly bash American Masonry. One reason we have opted to
contain our membership only to mainstream Freemasons is to avoid the continuous
disruptive voice of ridicule of those from clandestine obediences. They do not
represent the aims and interests of their own obediences. They remind me of the
negative element within communities. They are against everything. They tear down
rather than build up. Perhaps it is the bane of disenfranchisement.”
We live in a nation that allows freedom. Now that freedom has certain consequences among which is that you are going to be surrounded by a lot of people who do not agree with you. You can shut them up or you can invite them in and listen to what they have to say. You can even allow them to speak or write that which you do not support. I think that you reduce the squabbling and the ill feeling by the inclusion of dissidents rather than sealing them off and ostracizing them.
When you dig the trenches and put up the barbed wire you are asking for war and war you shall get. Why not allow for a full dialogue, be accepting rather than exclusionary, and let all the ideas and thoughts be expressed? When you tender the olive branch you get the cooperation and meeting of minds that you are seeking by keeping those out with whom you don’t agree.
“You don’t build bridges of understanding by slamming doors in people’s faces” Fred Milliken
A good friend says I see a conspiracy here. I do not. But what I do see is a small group of know-it-alls who very openly want to strictly control the direction Masonic thought and research is going in by limiting the scope of who gets to participate. This course of action will only increase the bitterness and ill will among factions and is a good reason to steer clear of this society.
And that is sad because it is all totally unnecessary including all these words. The Masonic Society says it will be York Rite orientated. All they had to do was call themselves The York Rite Research Society (YRRS) and model themselves after the Scottish Rite Research Society (SRRS), admit everyone, print anyone, a model which has had zero problems. Instead they gathered a small group of agenda driven ideologues whose desire is to micro manage Masonic research thereby disenfranchising many legitimate contributors all in the cause of purifying Masonic thought.
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