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Subject: Freemasons in midst of popularity, membership boom
The secretive society gains a higher, hipper profile as younger men seek out a place for fraternal bonding.
By Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 18, 2008 LA Times
IN LOS FELIZ, across from a 7-Eleven on North Vermont Avenue, a few dozen men in their early 20s to late 80s share a dinner behind closed doors. Some wear full tuxedos with bow ties and jeweled cuff links, some have shoulder-length hair, and others wear open-collared shirts that reveal the slightest filigree of tattoo arching across their chests.
Over Italian food, retired lawyers and judges sit elbow-to-elbow with owners of scrap metal yards and vintage clothing boutiques. They hold forth on philosophy, the weather; they rib each other and joke about saving room for cannoli. As they reach for seconds, they reveal skull-cracking rings emblazoned with a compass and a square.
Meet the millennial Masons. As secret societies go, it is one of the oldest and most famous. Its enrollment roster includes Louis Armstrong and Gerald Ford, and it has been depicted in movies such as “The Da Vinci Code” and “National Treasure.” Once more than 4 million strong (back in the 1950s), it has been in something of a popularity free-fall ever since. Viewed with suspicion as a bastion of antiquated values and forced camaraderie, the Masons have seen membership rolls plummet more than 60% to just 1.5 million in 2006.
Only now the trend seems to be reversing itself, and nowhere more noticeably than in Southern California. The reasons seem clear. In another Masonic Hall, this one on La Cienega, a Sri Lankan-born banker, a sunglasses-wearing Russian immigrant and a continent-hopping Frenchman break bread, poke at their salads and chat about their health.
"For a time it looked as if Masonry was going into a sharp decline, if not the death throes," said UCLA history professor Margaret C. Jacob, who has written extensively about the fraternal order. "But it looks like it may be making a comeback."
That's because the Freemasons, whose tenets forbid soliciting or recruiting members, have enthusiastically embraced the Internet as a way to leverage curiosity about an organization with its roots in Europe's medieval stonemasons guilds. Freemasonry today sees itself as a thinking man's salon, a learned society with a philanthropic bent.
"We had a record number of new members last year," said Allan Casalou, grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of California. "We added 2,000 men, which is the most since 1998 and our seventh straight year of membership increases."
And, to paraphrase that Oldsmobile campaign, these definitely aren't your father's Freemasons. They are bar owners, male models and olive-oil brokers. They are men like Zulu, an L.A. tattoo artist with a swirling Maori-inspired design inked across his face and a panoply of metal piercing his ears, nose and face. They are men like Jonathan Kanarek, who runs a men's vintage clothing store on Hollywood Boulevard and whose retro chic wardrobe of polka-dot ascots, glen-plaid jackets and smartly pressed pocket squares earned him a spot on Esquire magazine's 2007 list of best-dressed real men in America. And they are men like Daemon Hillin, whose surfer-dude looks and blinding white smile can be found on Japanese TV, where he plays sidekick and comic foil to the Japanese version of the Hilton sisters.
They are also all men who want to be part of an all-for-one and one-for-all brotherhood built on shared ideals, philosophical pursuits and a penchant for rings, aprons and funny hats. As Zulu bluntly put it: "I joined because I was looking for people to hang with that were like-minded but also hip and cool, and a lot of tattoo artists tend to be drunks and druggies."
Hillin, who originally joined the Masons in Temecula, moved to L.A. and is interested in the Santa Monica-Palisades Lodge No. 307, one of the youngest and most diverse congregations in the state (the average age of active brothers is just 33). The lodge's senior deacon, Jim Warren, calls it " 'Star Trek' without the chicks." "We have every possible national origin, ethnicity and religious denomination you could imagine," he said.
Warren credits the Internet. "We were one the first lodges in the state to have a website up," he said. "That led to a huge spike in membership."
Other lodges followed suit, putting up their own sites and drawing a crowd. That's how prospective Mason Johnny Royal ended up at the door of Elysian Lodge No. 418 last month. Intrigued by the distinctive Masonic architecture that graces most halls, the 31-year-old publicist with sideburns to his chin and hair to his shoulders and a Renaissance lute player tattoo on his right forearm hit the Web.
What he read about the Masonic ideals -- wisdom, strength, beauty and the pursuit of knowledge -- made him decide to pursue membership. "My generation wants to be part of something beyond itself," Royal said. "I want to learn; I want to participate."
The Web generation
THE INTERNET hasn't only made it easier to learn about the Freemasons, Casalou says, it's changed the type of men coming forward. "There is so much information on the Internet that by the time someone comes to a lodge to seek membership, they already know a lot about Masonry," he said. "Which is a big departure from previous generations. And it means they are more likely to be active participants."
Zulu became curious about Freemasonry after tattooing Masonic symbology on several clients. He joined five years ago at age 39 and now serves as webmaster and senior warden of North Hollywood Lodge No. 542. He has also gone on to become both a Scottish Rite Mason and Shriner (Masonic membership is a prerequisite for both), and next year he will become the leader of his lodge. "I'll be the first black worshipful master in the lodge's history," he said, using the proper term of respect.
But he probably won't be the last. Because California's contingent of Freemasons is expected to grow, the average age of its members, once 71 and now 65, is expected to drop. By 2018, as Casalou predicts, the state will be awash in 55-year-old pre-retirement Masons giving each other secret handshakes, wearing ritual aprons and invoking the Grand Architect of the Universe.
The Internet continues to help. Zulu said that he gets at least four e-mails a week from prospective Masons around the globe who see his tattooed and pierced visage at the lodge website and want to be reassured such an alternative look isn't a barrier to membership.
"Yeah, I think it's going to become hip and chic to be a Mason," Zulu said. "And that could be a dangerous thing."
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A couple of things of note. First, is that, as pointed out in "Freemasonry for Dummies" the Crfat effectively skipped a generation as the youth of the sixties and seventies overwhelmingly rejected anything their parents or grandparents did. Until, that is, the last few years, as Boomers aged and "grew up" as it were. Our local Lodges are seeing many men in their 40's and 50's now approaching to East for the first time.
Also, as the article points out, today's younger men are less rejectionist of ancient and honorable institutions that have seemingly stood the test of time and have already done a lot of homework before making the decision to approach a Brother about the Craft.
Finally, I observe that Brethren are more open about discussing the fact they are Masons in front of non-Masons. While this is the source of vigorous controversy within the Craft, so long as the discussion is positive and projects the affirmative nature of Masonry, then it can not hurt us in this free society.
Frankly, we are faced with inevitable generational change. Men today are far more involved in active, participatory parenthood and there are many more things to compete with the time alloted to us for rest and recreation. The Craft swelled 60 years ago, but we are now returning to a size more historically proportional in nature. In order to prosper, it is my personal belief that we need to be more proactive in approaching those we feel would benefit from our labors to ascertain their interest. I know that is considered to be iconoclastic, if not worse, but it is a personal opinion nonetheless.
Br. Andrew, SW
there are other reasons as to why people stay away from Freemasonry. To elaborate would be seen as criticism which is not tolerated well and free speech is cannot stand on this board!
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Welcome back, Mr. Gary Sheldon: Let me correct you. First, free speech is allowed on this forum as long as it does not violate the Terms Of Service (TOS) and the General Guidelines since this is a "Private Forum." I suggest your read the general guidelines before you proceed with posting further on this particular topic thread.
We live in a free country that allows for freedom of choice to include religion. While the world is full of negative and hateful people, we Freemasons are often challenged by the terminally misinformed. Here is a lengthy note I posted on a forum that is anti-Masonic. As a result of the post, I was barred forever and even my entire IP was banned from posting. I would suggest that if anyone has anything negative to say about Freemasonry, then they should "Google," some anti-Masonic forum and there you will find new friends. However, in doing so, please do not bring negative comments to this forum. I wrote the following note to the anti-Masons and I was banned from ever posting on their website again. Here is my note I posted:
To Whom It May Concern:
The purpose of this letter is not an exhaustive defense of Freemasonry, because none is required. Rather, it is to explain the goals of the organization within the context of recent criticism. Indeed, the institution of Freemasonry is not above criticism simply because it is a human institution and like all such institutions, imperfect and open to improvement. Criticize us if you wish, but more importantly, continue your examination of our fraternity. We certainly have nothing to hide and are justifiably proud of our ancient heritage.
I would ask one favor, though. Please do not knowingly misrepresent our fraternity while claiming to do the work of God. This is not only a disservice to the fraternity, but to society as a whole and goes against the concept that religious beliefs can serve to elevate the cause of mankind. Freemasonry is a unique institution, generating a deep loyalty among its members and an equally great misunderstanding among non-members. We realize that it may be difficult for those with strong religious and moral convictions to believe that a group of men meeting behind closed doors could be doing anything good. And yet, that is precisely the work we are pursuing. Good work, based on the teachings of the Holy Bible, that takes good men and makes them better men, husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. Incredible, isn’t it---that there is still an organization dedicated to the encouragement of religious, family and civic values? And yet, this is exactly what we have been doing since the middle ages when we were a fraternity of operative stone workers with a heritage dating back to biblical times based on a solid foundation of a belief in the same God who created all of us. Unfortunately, zealous critics will go well beyond what a reasonable person might do by fabricating vicious lies about our gentle fraternity that are wholly untrue and unproven and based entirely on hearsay, rumor and innuendo. What a shame and what a waste this practice is because when we could be about doing good works in the world, we are instead being forced to defend the principles of our Masonic institution.
Tolerance is one of the major underlying principles of Freemasonry. The fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons teaches its followers tolerance even of its assailants. The standard Masonic response to detractors has historically been to ignore critics and turn the other cheek to those who speak ill of the craft, preferring to let them wallow in their own ignorance and stupidity. However, the level of maliciousness and deceitfulness has grown to the point where a response is overdue and demanded by the harsh attacks leveled at our fraternity by the terminally misinformed. We are astonished and perplexed at the level of hatred directed toward us supposedly in the name of God. This willful fraud does not serve God or man constructively, but instead reinforces the powers of evil; against which mankind must continually struggle.
Using the name of God as a justification for a so-called holy mission against the “evils” of Freemasonry is probably one of the best definitions of the word “blasphemy”. Each and every comment about the evils of Freemasonry works against God’s holy teachings, because all Masons hold God in the highest reverence and trust Him above all else. It profits us little to exchange scripture references supporting our mutual views much like lawyers would argue using legal case references. Yet believe us when we say to you, “Everything we do is done in the name of Him who said, I am the way, the truth and the life”. We have no other hidden agenda, no treasures, no idols and no pagan rituals. What goes on in our lodge rooms are only labors designed to improve the moral character and our lives nothing else.
Within our fraternity, no one person can speak for Freemasonry. Certainly our Grand Master can speak with authority on organizational matters within his jurisdiction, but no Mason can speak for another Mason or Masonry as a whole when it comes to the meaning of our religious teachings. This is because we lead each man as an individual to the Holy Scriptures, whatever his beliefs in a Supreme Being, and ask that he lead his life by the teachings he finds in those pages as he finds them there. We trust that he WILL find them and employ them through diligent prayer and application in his daily life.
Repeated attacks on Freemasonry by religious fundamentalists are a total waste of time. Individuals purportedly speaking for everyone else in society do nothing for the service of God and only serve to alienate those who truly DO serve Him. Perhaps we incur your wrath because of Masonry’s pluralistic nature, believing that man will chose to serve God in his own way as he understands God’s holy teachings, rather than adhere to a strict dogma promulgated by a single belief. Maybe it is because we do not allow prostylization in our lodge rooms, preferring instead to let each brother cleave to the faith of his choice and practice it to the best of his ability. But one thing we WILL NOT suffer is an agenda of hatred and intolerance imposed on us by religious hypocrites acting in the holy name of God. If that is a battle we must wage, then let it begin HERE.
It is important for you to know that Masonry does not teach Salvation by works. Rather, it teaches that it is important for each man to do good in the world because we have a duty to make the lives of others better. By so doing, we each ratify God’s choice to give us free will as free men by making right choices. If salvation comes along with the good works, that is fine, but even if it didn’t, these are the kinds of things we would be doing anyway because we love God unconditionally. Our critics say that Masonic teaching is incompatible with biblical teaching, but they confuse religious teaching with teaching about religions. Masonry does not offer information about the various different religions, but we do offer religious teachings of the highest moral caliber based on chapters found in the Old Testament. If a brother wishes to pursue the teachings of Christianity found in the New Testament, that is his choice to make unencumbered by the fraternity and we encourage his every effort at religious enlightenment according to the scriptures he embraces.
In closing, I believe the critics of Freemasonry need to take a closer look at the fraternity without any preconceptions or prejudices. If they do, they will see there is nothing to fear and little to criticize about what we believe. It is frighteningly true that the repeated attacks on the fraternity proves that it is being put on trial by the self-righteous extremists who hold little patience or tolerance for the moderate views of their fellow man and expect to spout scripture or change law until they can bully us into their way of thinking. And by so doing, they violate the very precepts in the scriptures they use to justify their attacks. So Mote It Be.
Fraternally and sincerely
Hot Topics ModeratorThis message has been edited. Last edited by: TerryTCT,
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