Have standards really been lowered?

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by LAMason, Jun 3, 2015.

  1. LAMason

    LAMason Premium Member

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    It is not uncommon to see comments similar to the following in Masonic forum discussions:

    First I want to relate my personal observations about my Mother Lodge. They may not be representative of other Lodges. It was chartered in 1893. I was able to read the minutes going back to 1902. Other than the large amount of degree work that went on post WWII, the meetings were very similar to recent meetings.

    So, I have a few questions:
    • How has Freemasonry been “dumbed down”?
    • When did this “dumbing down” begin?
    • How have we lowered standards?
      • How are candidates different now than in the past?
      • How do you define “quality” as it relates to a petitioner?
    I will agree that in terms of inflation adjusted dollars our dues are lower now than in the past. I am not willing to say that it is the result of an intentional strategy to mitigate the decline in membership as opposed to the membership opting to use “fund raisers” to generate operating revenue.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015
  2. Browncoat

    Browncoat Registered User

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    There is evidence all around you. How much discussion (both online and amongst Masons) does it take to realize that the problem is real? Individual lodges may vary of course, but the overriding sentiment is that:
    • Attendance, participation, retention, and recruitment are low
    • Dues are not adequate
    • Masons are not fulfilled by their experience
    This sums up the vast majority of the discussion of the Craft. Are there lodges that are going above and beyond? Certainly. There has been a mad scrambling in recent years to recruit, recruit, recruit in order to boost numbers. This leaves many Masons who are actually active to wonder who is guarding the West Gate?
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015
  3. pointwithinacircle2

    pointwithinacircle2 Rapscallion Premium Member

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    I think this is an excellent topic that definitely deserves it's own thread.
    First, let me say that I think the people who are using phrases like “dumbed down” are describing something real, something actually lost. I think that careful exploration of what is different today from years past can shed light on who we are, the situation we find ourselves in, and even on who we want to become.

    Fifty years ago my parents used to take me to dinners at the Lodge. All the women wore formal gowns and the men all wore suits. (There may have been tuxes, at that age I wouldn't have known the difference) There was a formal sit down dinner, and someone was busing the tables. This was in the mid 60''s. Today there are never any family social events at any of the Lodges where I am a member or attend regularly. This is a loss.

    Fifty years ago I can remember playing in the yard of someone I didn't know while my father was inside the house. Today I know that my father went there to learn the ritual. When I began asking Masons to help me learn the ritual I was told "it is all in the book, learn it on your own". In fact, I have been a Mason for fifteen years and I can still count on my fingers the number of times I have been invited inside another Masons home. This is a loss.

    We have tried to replace the loss of quality social interactions and cementing good friendships by simplifying the ritual, lowering the memory requirements, keeping dues artificially low, and holding One Day Classes. I think we are addressing the wrong problem. The value of a thing is determined by comparing the costs in terms of time, dollars, and commitment to the quality of what you receive. We have allowed the quality of Masonry to become unacceptably low, so we had to lower the cost in order to appeal to the average person. Are we going to allow ourselves to become the Wal-mart of fraternities? Only time will tell.
     
  4. Bob Reed

    Bob Reed Registered User

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    You win Brother! Standards are different from state to state so you can, and no doubt will, counter anything I say. I don't have the time, energy or inclination to continue. I would much rather converse in a friendly and brotherly manner with others about their thoughts, opinions and experiences in masonry without constantly being challenged. So please have the last word on this matter and refrain from commenting on my posts in the future. I will extend the same courtesy. OUT
     
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  5. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

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    Just hopping in to give my two cents on a few things:

    My old lodge isn't old by some standards but at over 150 years old, it's old relatively speaking. 150 years ago one of the big gripes the brethren had was lack of attendance and participation. Some things don't change (although attendance and participation at the time was likely much higher).

    What's wrong with low recruitment? High recruitment would imply that lots of people are petitioning and being accepted, which means that somewhere along the line we've dropped the ball and began lowering our standards for membership. Quality and quantity are inverse of one another.

    So long as I'm on this subject, I really don't think there's anything you could do that would really increase everything I've quoted above anyhow. I look at churches as an example of this: there are no standards for membership (anyone is welcome), no dues, no initiations, and they still have problems with attendance, recruitment, and so forth.

    Many of the answers you seek would depend on what jurisdiction you're under.

    As far as your question about candidates goes, I don't think people have changed, as least not fundamentally. Their expectations of Freemasonry, however, have changed quite a bit. They expect something marvelous and we, instead, provide them with a very mundane experience.
     
  6. Browncoat

    Browncoat Registered User

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    I don't think there's anything wrong with low recruitment as far as the numbers go, it should be low. However, the reasoning for low numbers seems to be the opposite of what it should be: it's not because lodges are being selective of candidates. It's because there aren't enough candidates interested in Freemasonry, and that's a problem. I know in my area, there has been a push to start DeMolay for many years, and never comes to be, because "reasons".

    Church is a great comparison. There are people who attend church simply because they're "supposed to", or it's more of a habit than anything else. If churches focused more on the experience versus ceremony and simply going through the motions, attendance there might improve also.

    I agree. Masons often point to the bloated numbers of heyday of Freemasonry as a benchmark, rather than a bubble. There are a lot of things pulling for a man's attention these days, and it's not enough to simply belong to a boy's club just for the sake of belonging. Today's man is expected to help with the baby, making dinner, carting the kids around, and being an active and integral part of the household. This is a stark contrast to yesterday when Monday night was lodge, Tuesday night was bowling, Wednesday night was for the Elks, etc. Communities have evolved to the point where we don't measure the worth of a man by how many clubs he belongs to anymore like in the 50's and 60's.
     
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  7. hanzosbm

    hanzosbm Premium Member

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    Brother LAMason, not an argument, but a point of clarification; you mentioned reading about meeting minutes going back to 1902. What type of information was contained in those minutes that would speak to the dumbing down (or not) over the years?
    I guess it might be better to first define what we are talking about when it comes to dumbing down. My experience has been that the proficiencies are quite short, most of the brothers don't have the full lectures memorized, and there isn't much in the way of reflection happening either in terms of young Masons learning their proficiencies or of the more senior brothers having Masonic discussions. With that being said, would meeting minutes discuss these aspects? I'm not asking this to be argumentative, but I agree with you that it is a worthwhile question to ask if things have truly been dumbed down over the years, but the only way to ascertain that is to understand what was being done in the past, and I'm not sure how we go about determining that.
     
  8. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

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    I think one of the issues is the advertised loss of the genuine secrets. In that context, with no GL moving to recover the genuine secrets, there is no hope of bringing more knowledge into Masonry, and the on-going prospect that the death of the oldest brethren effects a loss of knowledge.

    Thus the official status of Masonry (being without the genuine secrets) implies that at best Masonry can remain static in its knowledge and at worst will lose knowledge with every passing generation.

    If only Masonry were a science. Then like any science, knowledge would increase from the efforts of each generation.
     
  9. hanzosbm

    hanzosbm Premium Member

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    Can we say for certain that the GLs have in fact lost genuine secrets? To my mind, all we can reasonably say is that the GL is not teaching genuine secrets to the masses.
     
  10. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

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    I have met a few Grand Masters and they must have been very clever at hiding all signs of deep knowledge.
     
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  11. Companion Joe

    Companion Joe Premium Member

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    A couple of things:

    I don't know what kind of "genuine secrets" anyone is looking for, but if you are digging for some sort of lost ancient secret knowledge in Freemasonry, you have watched too much TV.

    As for the fraternity having lowered its standards, I think yes. I don't think it's unique to Freemasonry; I think society has lowered its standards.

    For example, my lodge's first WM went on to become a senator, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Our second WM was a senator. Our third WM was a Congressman. We have had four members go on to be Congressmen; none in the last 75 years. A U.S. President was a member of our lodge, and another U.S. President was a regular visitor. Governors have sat in my lodge. Again, none in recent memory. To my knowledge, none of our elected officials even on the local level belong to our lodge. If they are, in 21 years I've never sat in lodge with them. The last two local elected officials who were lodge members were forced to demit or face a trial for un-Masonic conduct.

    We don't have any judges, presidents of big companies, community movers and shakers.

    Our members aren't bad people or slouches. We just have more factory workers than factory owners. (For full discloser, I am a high school teacher/coach).

    At our stated meeting last night, we had 30 members present; we ranged in dress from suits to the Tiler wearing jeans and a Duck Dynasty t-shirt. While dress is not the defining character of a man, if you think as an officer wearing a Duck Dynasty t-shirt is OK, then yes, our standards have dipped.
     
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  12. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

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    There seem to me to be some secrets concealed in the ritual - although somewhat disfigured by the edits of those without the genuine secrets.

    For example what is the function of the different rhythms of the various knocks?
    Why do the deacons cross their wands?
    Why do the brethren enter at the NW?
     
  13. Companion Joe

    Companion Joe Premium Member

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    If you are seeking concealed secrets, you are probably in for a long search.
    There aren't various knocks; there a prescribed number. If you want rhythm, consult a music teacher.
    The deacons and stewards cross their staffs to represent the formation of the tabernacle.
    I have to admit I am not up to speed on why candidates enter exactly where they do.
     
  14. pointwithinacircle2

    pointwithinacircle2 Rapscallion Premium Member

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    Perhaps the secret knowledge never was in Freemasonry. Perhaps it was always in man and Freemasonry was just a path one could take to find it.
     
  15. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

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    That seems to me to take us to the work of the EA and part of the work of the FC.

    The work of the MM in lodge assembled rather seems to me, however, to extend from E to W and N to S and from the center of the Earth to the Heavens.
     
  16. Browncoat

    Browncoat Registered User

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    I've often wondered about this. I wonder if elected officials join lodges outside of their home district. Are there lodges near Washington, DC that are full of Congressmen? It would sort of make sense because politicians rarely spend time in their home district anymore. It's not common to see them rubbing elbows with their constituents like in years past.
     
  17. Companion Joe

    Companion Joe Premium Member

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    I don't know, but I have a feeling they do not. Harry Truman was the Grand Master of his home state of Missouri, but he was known to visit D.C. lodges even when he was President.
    We have had 14 U.S. Presidents who were Masons, but the last one was 40 years ago.
     
  18. Browncoat

    Browncoat Registered User

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    Sign o' the times. A lot of people just don't value the qualities that make a man a good Mason anymore.

    I vaguely remember some kind of stink being raised during the last Presidential election, with claims that Mitt Romney was a Freemason. I don't think that he is, but people were talking about it negatively.
     
  19. Companion Joe

    Companion Joe Premium Member

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    And that brings us around full circle to what we are talking about.
    In days gone by, Masons were the respected members of the community. Now, if someone has much more than heard of Freemasonry, they start spouting off some conspiracy nonsense they saw on TV.
     
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  20. LAMason

    LAMason Premium Member

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    I will begin by explaining why I asked the questions that I did. I have been a Mason since 1973 and can speak directly to changes since then. In addition to that I had the privilege and benefit of knowing and spending a lot of time with Masons who had been active in Lodge and conferring degrees for 30, 40 and even 50 years as well as having read the minutes going back to 1902. So, that is the reason I asked when this “dumbing down” began. Again, my perspective is based on Louisiana and specifically rural northeast Louisiana.

    I also asked how Freemasonry has been “dumbed down”, because I based my evaluation on the general format of the meetings, how petitions were processed, degrees conferred, proficiency requirements for advancement. My original post gave the impression that I was relying solely on the old minutes, but I should have said it also included my personal experience over 42 years and information passed on to me from men who had been active in Freemasonry for many years. From reading the old minutes I know that the way they conducted business as far as the routine matters like reading the minutes, reading correspondence, paying the bills, receiving petitions, voting on proficiency, conferring degrees, and the typical length of the meetings were similar to how it is done now. Of course they do not contain details about the ritual itself or details of the discussion during or after the meetings, but this is where I rely on my personal knowledge and what I was told by men who had been Masons since as far back as the 1920s and 1930s. Now, I will say there have been some changes such as cipher books for the ritual and catechisms, but a candidate still has to receive some mouth to ear instruction to be able to use them and pass an examination on the entire catechism. In terms of dress, I realize that attire is more casual now than it was in times past, but I do not place a value judgment on that.

    When it comes to “quality” as far as members, I asked how do you define “quality” and how are candidates different now from in the past. I should have probably just said Masons. I can say from my personal experience that even when I joined the Lodge there were more professionals (Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Educators) and for lack of a better description “high profile” members. That is not to say that they are nonexistent today. But there were also many without formal education including blue collar, farmers, oil field workers, and even, again for lack of a better description “common laborers”. My Father joined the lodge in 1922, only had a 3rd grade education and held only menial jobs.

    I know this post was long but hope it answered your question to some degree.
     
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