Essay: Freemasons Contributions to Today's Society

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Freemasons Contributions to Today's Society

Depending on perspective, Freemasons have either been a widely misunderstood group of people who have made invaluable contributions to American society, or a group of people whose primary goal is to destroy Christianity, and, perhaps, bring about Armageddon. There is evidence to support the idea that Freemasons were an invaluable part of the beginning of America; after all, army leader and first President George Washington was a Freemason. In contrast, there is no evidence to support the idea that the Freemasons are a secret-society whose goal is to destroy Christianity. However, the fact that many of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons does not save the group from suspicion. One must recall that the Founding Fathers all came from the upper-class and that the majority of them benefited from a class-based system, which included slavery. Placed against such a background, it is no surprise that some of the criticisms levied at the Freemasons are that it is an elitist organization, whose secret operations are actually contrary to the modern American standard of fairness and equality. The problem with such an assertion is that it is impossible to prove; Freemasons' contributions in today's society are shrouded in mystery and conspiracy, making it impossible to determine their goals or their total impact on society.

History of the Freemasons

Because the freemasons are a secret society, it can be difficult to put together a history of the Freemasons. Much of the information available about their history is speculative, since there was no official beginning to the organization. Moreover, much of the information about their history contradicts itself. Therefore, any discussion of the history of the Freemasons must acknowledge that what is known about that history is speculative. According to the early 20th century Mason Fred Crowe, the Freemasons' history is undoubtedly a mix of trade guild and mysticism. On the one hand, Freemasons descended from the operative guilds of Rome and Medieval Europe (Crowe, 2003). However, there is an undeniably mystical bent to Freemasonry, which is not explained by simple membership in a trade guild. Crowe traces that mysticism back to "Rosicrucianism and kindred orders, which are in their turn descended from the 'mysteries' which formed the secret cults of all the older religions" (Crowe, 2003, p.7).

One of the more enduring legends about the origin of the Freemasons is linked to King Solomon:

According to some Masonic scholars, the Freemasons trace their roots to the building of King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem in 967 B.C., an event which was described in the biblical Book of Kings. In the story, the builders of the temple were the original stonemasons, and the forefathers of today's Freemasons. The legend centers on the master builder -- a man named Hiram Abiff -- who claimed to know the secret of the temple. One day, three men kidnapped Abiff and threatened to kill him if he didn't reveal that secret. When he refused to talk, Abiff was murdered. After learning of the killing, King Solomon ordered a group of Masons to search for Abiff's body and bring back the secret of the temple. The men were unsuccessful, so the King established a new Masonic secret. His secret is believed to be the word "Mahabone," meaning "the Grand Lodge door opened," which is now the password used to enter the third degree of Masonry (Watson, 2009).

To date, no one has been able to prove that the Freemasons were involved with King Solomon or had anything to do with the building of his temple. In fact, there is little documentation to prove that the modern Freemasons can be linked to any events of the 10th century. However, there is also no evidence to disprove the connection between Freemasons and King Solomon. After all, little contemporaneous documentation has survived from that time period, making it possible for the Masons to have been involved with the building of the temple without leaving any proof of such involvement.

Moreover, in addition to being linked to King Solomon, and, through him, to Judaism, the Freemasons are also anecdotally linked to Christianity. Though not all people agree on the connection, the Freemasons have repeatedly been linked to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar were an actual order of knights, composed of monks "who took up arms in 1118 a.D. In order to protect Christian pilgrims traveling from Jaffa (a port city in Israel) to Jerusalem" (Watson, 2009). According to legend, the Knights Templar discovered a secret treasure, and King Philip IV of France had them arrested and imprisoned. The theory is that, after being released, some of the Knights Templar may have formed a group that evolved into the Freemasons (Watson, 2009). An additional aspect of that theory is that the Freemasons continue to be the guardians of the treasure found by the Knights Templar, with much speculation surrounding the amount, and even the nature, of that treasure.

While the above origination accounts may be nothing more than legend, according to the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, "There are those who find evidences of Freemasonry dating back to the Roman Empire. Others mark its beginning in ancient Egypt" (How it began, 1998). While the more ancient origins of freemasonry are obscure, what is known is that:

The name Freemason appeared as early as 1212 in connection with the master builders who traveled about Europe erecting the wonderful churches and cathedrals, many of which still stand and which attest to the truly amazing building arts of the craftsmen in that early age. These builders were called Freemasons because they were a privileged class, not subject to servitude or taxes, and free to travel about when many were in bondage (How it began, 1998).

Therefore, because the Freemasons enjoyed special privileges, they desired to limit their ranks to a small number, so that it would be ensured that they would continue to have those privileges. However, they were equally desirous that their trade continue, and that the secrets of their craft, which had made it possible to build such beautiful and enduring buildings, be passed on through the generations. Therefore, the Freemasons:

Formed themselves into lodges in which their secrets might be taught and preserved. They were naturally most selective of those making application to join their lodges, determined that the secrets of their art should be handed down only to those morally and otherwise fit to receive and perpetuate them. To qualify, an applicant had to be of good reputation, he could have no physical impairment, he had to be recommended by members of the craft, and he could be neither too old nor too young to learn and perform the tasks he sought to undertake (How it began, 1998).

While many people sought to become Freemasons, relatively few were chosen, making the group elite. Furthermore, because the group initiated as a way to transmit trade secrets, from its inception, it was a group shrouded in mystery and secrecy. At some point in time, the group moved away from a way to transmit building secrets from generation to generation and into a more fraternal organization. This transition reflects a change in the labeling of the Masons, from operative to speculative members in the order. There are varying estimates about when the transition was complete, but it seems clear that by the 17th century, the transition was in full swing, if not already completed.

By the end of the 17th century, there were established lodges throughout Britain, and, it appears through much of Europe, although there is little documentary evidence of some of those lodges. What is clear is that "there is abundant proof of the existence of many English Lodges before a Grand Lodge was formed, and it is quite possible that some of these were of high antiquity" (Crowe, 2003, p.10). The Freemasons were also clearly in existence in Ireland and Scotland by the time of the late 17th century, with evidence that they were well-established fraternal orders by that point in time. In 1717, members of at least four Lodges in London "formed the first Grand Lodge, from which every other Grand Masonic Lodge in the world is directly or indirectly descended, and elected Mr. Anthony Sayer, Grand Master" (Crowe, 2003, p.11). By 1724, the original Grand Lodge was giving out permission to start other Grand Lodges at different places in England. For approximately 100 years there was some competition between Lodges, wherein the members were attempting to establish some type of superiority and/or seniority. Bu 1813, the United Grand Lodge was well-established as the primary Grand Lodge in Freemasonry (Crowe, 2003, p.14).

As the Freemasons transitioned from a trade guild into a fraternal organization, they came to be associated with a liberal philosophy. "They favored religious tolerance over the strict dictates of the Catholic Church, and they enjoyed intellectual discourse with their brothers" (Watson, 2009). It was during this time that the Freemasons became a man's club; while the group had previously admitted women, it began to exclude… [END OF PREVIEW]

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