Few organizations in the world are as controversial as the Masonic Lodge. This can seem confusing at first to those familiar with what the Lodge actually does—charitable work such as Scottish Rite hospitals, brotherly fellowship for its members and the opportunity for self-improvement for those who learn its ways. A look at the history of the Lodge and the lies that have been spread about it can help to clear up this confusion.
The Lodge traces its roots back to the Middle Ages and stonemasons who built the great cathedrals in Europe. Most people were peasants tied to the land, and most artisans were required to belong to trade guilds that limited their movements and ability to earn a living. The only trade that could move freely were stonemasons, and when the modern world started to come about some of these began a fraternal order that used the work of masonry to symbolize spiritual truths and paths for self-advancement. This was the beginning of Freemasonry.
Masons have always believed in tolerance, the brotherhood of all men under a father God and the separation of Church and State. These ideas were highly controversial back then, as Masons stood for a world of men who rule themselves rather than being ruled by an absolute King or nobility. The ideas the Masons stood for won out over most of the Western world, but many believe them still to be some sort of revolutionary organization. The mainstream work of Masons around the world to serve their communities and stand for traditional values contradict these prejudices.
Conspiracy Theories Today
Still, many are convinced that the Lodge is secretly plotting to rule the world, to establish a one world government ruled by Masons. One notorious believer in this idea was Adolf Hitler, and more than 100,000 Masons were killed in the Holocaust. Part of this delusion comes from confusion over the nature of secrecy in the Lodge. Masons always say that we aren’t a secret society—we are a society with secrets. Membership in the Lodge is not expected to be kept a secret, and many Masons put their membership on their resume and proudly display symbols of the Lodge. Means of identifying other Masons such as handshakes (we call them “grips”) and passwords are kept secret in order to thwart those who would take advantage of our commitment to mutual aid, and certain rites and rituals are kept private in order to avoid confusing those who are still early in their studies.
And if Masons rule the world you would think we would have more recruits lately! The Lodge has waned in significance in recent decades for a variety of reasons. A big part of this was the advance of drug cultures and other anti-traditional movements of the 1960s and 70s that made the values of the Lodge and the standards of behavior expected of Masons unpopular. Recent years have seen a growth in membership, but the declining standards of decorum you can see just by turning on your television set or surfing the internet suggest that if we are ruling the world, somebody is asleep on the job.
The truth is that Masons want to rule nothing more than their own lives so that they might more honorably serve their families and communities. While we were a part of fighting for a more free world, we were hardly the only people involved in this effort. We are proud of our history and strive to build a better world, and the controversies surrounding the Lodge are little more than prejudice, conspiracy theory and confusion.