Internet Masonry grew like the Internet, free, unregulated and unfettered by the constrictions of government (Grand Lodge) red tape and taxation. Its earlier pioneers after years of trial and error and adapting to ever changing technology gradually perfected Internet Masonic Sites to be multi use information and discussion and educational sharing centers of Masonic development. The 80s and 90s was its serious development time and by the turn of the century we could truly say that the Information Age had transformed Masonry. Websites in the 21st century became creations of art, chock full of information, a virtual library at the click of a mouse. Whole books were available on line. Discussion forums were added. Newsletters and Craft magazines abounded. DVDs, videos, flash videos were offered. All this was created by individual Masons working on their own using their own funds, their time and their talent.
Grand Lodges did almost nothing to advance Masonry into the Information Age. They sat on their hands and watched individual Masons take the ball and run with it. To understand why we must go back in history and once again repeat what has been noted previously.
The aftermath of almost every war in American history showed a marked increase in Masonic membership. But not after the Vietnam War. The feel good, drop out, drugs - sex - rock ‘N roll generation killed membership in a whole plethora of organizations –social, charitable, religious and fraternal. A whole generation literally dropped out and was missing from the roles of Masonry. Those in positions of Masonic leadership had to stay on and do a double shift. By the last two decades of the 20th century our Lodges and Grand Lodges were solely in the hands of men in their 70s and 80s, just at the time when Internet Masonry was taking off. These men didn’t grow up with computers, didn’t like computers, didn’t own computers and didn’t want to have anything to do with them. And they saw no need for Masonry to have anything to do with them. In many instances they actually prohibited Lodges from recording Masonic documents on computers or the sending of Masonic documents via the Internet. A Grand Lodge Website? Never! And when they did finally succumb to a Grand Lodge Website, instead of hiring a professional, they insisted it had to be done in house by a volunteer, usually of lesser expertise. Nobody on the outside was going to be privy to what went on, on the inside.
Meanwhile there grew up a whole crop of Internet Masons. A Brother in Indiana could easily talk and share with a Brother in California or Ontario or Virginia or anywhere in the world. Communication, sharing of ideas, recommendations to articles and books, ideas tried that worked and didn’t work facilitated not only cross jurisdictional understanding but was by far the best Masonic education offered anywhere, much better than anything Grand Lodges were doing. There was no greater demonstration of the universality of Masonry than the activity between Brothers on the Internet.
Generation X and Y who were curious about Masonry and wanted information about it first went to the Internet to obtain that knowledge. This was unheard of just a few decades previously. Only after making a thorough on line investigation would a man consider making an application to take the three degrees in Masonry.
Now all this did not set well with Grand Lodges. Although they did nothing to advance the cause of Internet Masonry they wanted to reap all the spoils from it. And who better, as we turned the century marker, than the new breed of take charge autocratic Grand Masters who kicked off the 21st century. Grand Masters were not in control of what was being disseminated in the name of Masonry. So some Grand Masters closed down all private Masonic Internet sites in their jurisdiction. Others thought it more prudent to simply take them over and run them themselves. And under pressure from the Shrine, they would also take over the traditional local job of initiating candidates through the three degrees in Masonry. They had to they said. Lodges were not doing their job. Octogenarians were not connecting with twenty-five year olds, they said. No they were in charge and they would lead the way. They would show everybody how it could be done by holding One Day Classes.
Now these take charge Grand Masters allowed no dissent. If you didn’t hand over your private Internet Masonic website that you had spent years developing, then you were expelled. If you didn’t like One Day Classes and you spoke a little too loudly, well you were expelled. If you criticized a Grand Master, well it was just possible you might not be a Mason anymore. Grand Masters wanted all Masonic information and discussion to come out of Grand Lodge. They didn’t want to allow it to be in the hands of amateurs.
Now what Grand Lodges can’t control is Masonic websites owned and operated by unrecognized or expelled Masons over whom they have no control. They are still out there publishing away and cannot be touched. The answer of course is to create your own Grand Lodge website. Only this time, to make it bigger and better and more effective a cooperative effort among all American Grand Lodges would be needed. The idea here is to gather together the biggest names in orthodox Masonry and create a Society that boasts that we are bigger and we can do it better. And in the process Masonic thought can also be filtered through approved sources that will always support Grand Lodges in whatever they do. Thus was born THE MASONIC SOCIETY.
The present secretary of The Masonic Society gives us an insight into Grand Lodge thinking in a thought published long before this new society was envisioned. Nathan Brindle is talking about the censorship of Florida Mason Tim Bryce:
“The freedom of speech and press argument in the Bryce case hinges on an apparent application of Florida's Masonic law that prohibits "circularizing". In other words, Masons in Florida appear to be prohibited from sending out manifestos and editorials to other Masons on Masonic subjects that are not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge. This is not an uncommon rule; Indiana had until only a few years ago a similar prohibition against circularization. Lodge publications (newsletters, for instance) are typically exempt from circularization rules, although some Grand Lodges may exercise some editorial control over their content, and may even "license" such publications. In the Bryce case, it appears that WBro. Bryce's content was such that his Grand Master had to take official notice -- particularly when some of the recipients complained to his office that WBro. Bryce was sending it out. The Grand Master responded by informing WBro. Bryce that he could no longer publish his content in Florida without approval. When WBro. Bryce continued to publish outside of Florida, and complaints apparently continued to be received by the Grand Lodge of Florida, the Grand Master once again clamped down.”
Here is where The Masonic Society restricts Masonic thought to only what Grand Lodges want to hear.
“Membership in the Society is open to regular Master Masons in good standing of regular, recognized grand lodges in good standing with the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America (CGMMNA), or a grand lodge in amity with a member grand lodge of CGMMNA.”
Now The Masonic Society didn’t have to set themselves up this way. They could have admitted anybody and everybody. But they chose to be restrictive and exclusive. There would be no violation of any Masonic obligation for everyone to participate in The Society. No Masonic secrets are going to be put on display. This was essentially designed to be a “Masonic Think Tank”. Indeed The Society goes on to say:
“Non-Masons, libraries, lodges, and members of other obediences may also subscribe to the Journal at the $39 annual rate.”
So you see everybody is allowed to read what has been printed but only certain people are allowed to decide what is going to be said. You don’t have to ask yourself why for very long before you have the answer.
On one of the Independent Masonic Boards, on its Forum, this comment was posted by Paris Fred:
“It's a good idea but already outdated by events as the Masonic Conference in Scotland where the speakers and the participants are there due to the quality of their work which give the opportunities to hear other point of view on freemasonry and new light on his(its) past and future with speakers as Margaret Jacobs, Pierre Molier or Roger Dachez.
The Royal society method was, after all just the scientific method.”
And another post by One Mind was even more direct:
“My first impression of this is that it seems to be a separate organization which continues the separation(outside of a recognized lodge) of brethren based on recognition. The journal being made available to non-recognized brethren simply shows that the membership separation is not based on the preservation of Masonic secrets.
While it seems to be an excellent scholarly endeavor with high profile members it is not a recognized organization, but bases its membership on voluntary and unnecessary exclusion (perhaps with more digging, reasons for exclusion would become obvious). It is not a society born in a time when separation was a societal norm. It is not an organization which offers masculine based initiation. It CAN be an exclusive organization based on the principles of the craft yet at the same time it could offer perspectives in articles written by non-UGLE member Masons. The `Secrets`of the craft do not appear to be threatened by inclusion. There is no need to participate in the initiation passing or raising of clandestine`Masons.
It will be up to history to determine if the efforts of this society are worthy.”
There are many good writers and Masonic thinkers outside the “recognized” Grand Lodges. Many have left after being expelled, suppressed and/or insulted. Others have grown up in an unrecognized Masonic culture. Still others are non Masonic historians and people of letters who in doing research in their field have come across Masonry in one form or another. All could be wonderful contributors to a truly all inclusive network of Masonic literature, art and speakers. One such website which immediately comes to mind is Phoenixmasonry (www.phoenixmasonry.org).
The owner of that site David Lettelier had this to say:
“I have worked over ten years of my own personal time to construct a Masonic Internet Site that proudly displays Freemasonry in all its aspects. It is free and open to anyone and everyone and that’s the way a discussion of Freemasonry and a learning experience should be. This “Johnny Come Lately” Masonic Society is a closed, restrictive Masonic experience which seeks to control Masonic thought and limit it to those operating within the UGLE standards of regularity. There is no compelling need to organize this way unless that exclusivity is the motivating agenda behind its formation. The Masonic Society is Wal*Mart coming into small town America, throwing independent businesses into bankruptcy”
Those who produce a product might enjoy being a monopoly, but competition is good for the consumer. It keeps each company honest and on its toes and offers choices to those who find one producer lacking. I wouldn’t want to see all cars in America only made by Ford. Not that I wouldn’t buy a Ford today, but if Ford was a monopoly there is probability that the quality of the product would suffer.
Masons should welcome competition. They should not be so willing to give Masonry a monopoly. There is no benefit in restriction and exclusion carried to its utmost degree. Yes many expressions of like things may have different company rules but that does not mean that they cannot come together for cooperation outside private meetings. Diversity is something that should be celebrated not denigrated. We all may not be able to sit together in Lodge but we can share knowledge and ideas, pray together and work for a better world together………………….unless we continue to set up Societies that won’t.