Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: For the Good of the Order: Examining the Shifting Paradigm Within Freemasonry

Over Christmas I was handed a book titled "For the Good of the Order: Examining the Shifting Paradigm within Freemasonry".  The author is John Bizzack, PhD, from Lexington Lodge #1 of Lexington, Kentucky.  This book attempts to look at Freemasonry in the context of shifting paradigms, and how looking at the current state and the future of Freemasonry through this lens, to provide the reader with better insight into what is happening, what is working and what is not.

Bro Bizzack belief (which I completely agree with) that Masonic education is not floorwork, ritual memorization or learning about Freemasonry by simply showing up, from his book he writes:

"The purpose of Masonic education is to create an environment conducive to learning, in which interests are maintained and fresh insights developed into the study of the Craft, its history and philosophy, the influence of historical figures, and certainly its symbolism and allegories - an environment that motivates, stimulates and encourages members to read and study and discuss Freemasonry."

Bro Bizzack uses many contemporary writers in this book, including Andrew Hammer, Robert Davis, and others to discuss the changing paradigms within Freemasonry.  Attacking not-so-sacred cows of "quantity, not quality" and other held beliefs of the old guard that are fading as each year passes.  Bro Bizzack also does an excellent job of applying the Broken Windows Theory to the state and decay of order, beyond our physical temples, really Chapter 6 is the best chapter in the book, by far.  The book for the most part is well written, and will appeal to the smart involved Freemasonry in giving him a better look at the state of the order, something that every man in the labors in the temple needs for the work in the quarries.

With that being written, there are some glaring issues that the author either ignored, or didn't know about.  Here are some of the things that are ignored in his book:

Traditional Observance Lodges:  While T.O. Lodges are self-reported as successful, and have energized a section of our fraternity, they are not without their own problems.  Additions to the Webb ritual (Chamber of Reflection, Unity Chain, etc) have caused a lot of angst in many jurisdictions.  Don't forget that T.O. Lodges are a very urban solution to Freemasonry.  In states like Texas, where 65% of the lodges are rural, perceptions can be that this is an attempt to "Urbanize them".  Bro Bizzack, doesn't discuss any of the downsides of T.O. Lodges (Limited members, difficulty in getting dispensation, Are you T.O. enough mentality, etc).  This goes beyond the simple belief that there is resistance because of high dues, formal dress, and strange lodge names.

Andrew Hammer:  Highly cited by Bro Bizzack is Andrew Hammer, what Bro Bizzack doesn't tell you is that Bro Hammer has in the past advocated the dismantling of our apendent bodies.  In essence throwing away rituals that have more of a historical documentation that the first three degrees within our craft.   This is simply an attempt to force men who want to be Masons back in the blue lodge, or quit.  Bro Hammer has subdued this message greatly, but was a major sticking point in his approach to Freemasonry.   Dates of when grand bodies or orders were solidified, doesn't necessarily date the antiquity of the degrees that order confers.  It is a reflection of hard research conducted by brethren wanting to bring further light to our fraternity, not dilute it.

Masonic Restoration Foundation:  Bro Bizzack ignores the past problems of the MRF, including that at one time was conducting inspections on lodges to give the certification of being a Traditional Observance Lodge.  This was making them in essence a "Shadow Grand Lodge" in some jurisdictions that had to conform to their Grand Lodge and the MRF.  They also have copyrighted rituals, which is bizarre, and seems contrary to spreading of Masonic light.  They had the ability for Master Masons to join at one time, which caused serious problems of  Masonic charges for joining a clandestine organization.  Now it is just made up of an executive board, that isn't publicly listed.  The MRF, while heading now in the right direction isn't the most altruistic organization and at times have used heavy handed tactics towards those that raise concerns.

Intolerance in Religious America:  Bro Bizzack does address the large charitable contributions of the craft, claiming this was a result of cross pollination between fraternal organizations.  This is indeed correct, but this was also because of growing resentment between certain Protestant church branches (Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, etc)  and the craft.  Large donations and active charity, gave the Craft a more of a civic club look, and not a nefarious esoteric/occult society.  This helped fade away some of the esoteric emphasis and education talked to at length in this book, and it also kept the jealous minister off the backs of brothers, for the most part.

Masonic Education - Administration:  An area that is skipped or not discussed is that Masonic education is also used as a term to explain to top three officers in the lodge, how a lodge should be run.  Including, administration, event planning, and suspending members.  Most Grand Lodges that have Masonic Education Committees, this is the thrust of their "Masonic Education", which is more of a testament of the men that we are electing in leadership positions, and the lack of appropriate mentoring by Past Masters.  Is it Masonic Education?  Sure, but again, it isn't fulfilling, unless you like to be a bureaucrat.

Prince Hall Freemasonry:  This completely baffles me, I cannot understand why this wasn't addressed.  In the last thirty years nothing had such a a paradigm shift on our fraternity as "Mainstream" Jurisdictions recognizing Prince Hall Grand Lodges as regular operating bodies.  Nothing was discussed on the impact on membership, nor the fact that seven grand lodges still do not recognize Prince Hall.  If you are going to talk about the concept of paradigm shifts within Freemasonry, you need to talk about Prince Hall.  This is a systemic issue with these books and their authors.  There are no frank discussions on the inclusion and recognition of Prince Hall, their impact on membership in or out of the African-American community, and diversity in our lodges.  Is the question too hard to ask?  Or are we too self-centered to care?

The organization of the book is decent, though I would have suggested that the chapter going over what a paradigm is and what it means to Freemasonry be in the beginning and not in the middle of the book.  The author has a tendency to use pictures that make little to no sense to the subject matter being discussed and was more visual fodder than actual visual aids.

Audience for the Book:  Like Cliff Porter, Andrew Hammer and others that write on this topic, would suggest to Master Masons in a lodge leadership position or have been in the craft as a Master Mason for at least a year or more.  This is not a book for men wanting to learn about Freemasonry, men who are going through the degrees or have been recently raised.  The nuances, language and subject matter would be somewhat alien, and could put off the potential candidate from joining.

If you are someone that speaks frequently, or is going to speak on the current state and the future of Freemasonry, than I recommend this book.  For others, this book does offer up some insights and collates contemporary writers, bloggers and what not various views on the Craft.  The author's stance that true and real Masonic education is needed in every lodge, beyond ritual learning, administration duties is to challenge every man in his aspects of life and strengthen his core principles.  I completely agree with, I just wish there wasn't so much glad handing, and gaps in the paradigm analysis provided by the Author.

-Bro Vick