Greetings, Brethren and guests. The month is July, home to patriotic celebrations across all 50 states (and any territories looking for an excuse to fire up the grill and set off some bottle rockets.) As such, one might expect an article with a more patriotic bent this month – something about our Masonic Presidents, the long history of Masons as leaders of world independence movements, or the like. And, of course, I would love to touch on those aspects of the Fraternity at a later date, perhaps next month, if we can avoid any newsworthy events affecting the Fraternity for a few weeks. However, as stated in my original M.O. for these articles, I would like to, as much as possible, keep them timely to current events affecting the Lodge and Fraternity.
With that in mind, I would like to discuss an issue I brought up at our monthly stated meeting: that being the bombing of the Georgia Guidestones. Now, unlike last month’s article, where I assumed most of you would be familiar with Bro. Oscar Wilde, while some of you would need a primer, I feel this is likely the opposite case – while certainly some of you are no doubt familiar with the Guidestones, I imagine they are a relatively esoteric topic to most.
The Guidestones were built in 1980, In Elberton County, Georgia. They were commissioned by a man known only by the pseudonym R.C. Christian, who claimed to be a representative for a group of like-minded individuals, all of whom had the best interests of humanity at heart. The Guidestones themselves consisted of four large granite slabs, on which were inscribed, in multiple languages, a series of commandments ranging from the benign, perhaps even laudable (“Be not a cancer on the Earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.”) to the, let’s say, rather more troubling (“Maintain humanity under 500,000,000, in perpetual balance with nature.”) It may be worth noting that those who commissioned the monument supposedly did so as a guide to rebuilding humanity after a global disaster, such as a nuclear war.
Knowing this, however, does not take the edge off of the fact that there was a large stone monument sitting out in a Georgia field, extolling the virtues of selective breeding and maintaining humanity’s population (as of writing, currently on the doorstep of 8 billion souls,) at under 500 million. Naturally, people have drawn conclusions, or, more accurately, speculations. Some would have you believe that R.C. Christian was none other than Herbert Hinie Kersten, a white supremacist and follower of KKK Grand Wizard and one-time Louisiana State Representative David Duke. In my own research, I have only been able to find this claim being made in the budget documentary Dark Clouds over Elberton, from born-again filmmaker Christian J. Pinto, known for other such documentaries as Megiddo II: The New Age (aka, “Were Edison, Darwin, and Hitler all influenced by the ‘New Age’ movement?”) and Secret Mysteries of America’s Beginning Volume 3: Eye of the Phoenix – Secrets of the Dollar Bill, an absolute mouthful of a title (you know it’s good journalism when you’ve got both a colon and an em dash,) all about the mysteries surrounding America’s pesky lil Masonic-Illuminati-what-have-you dollar bill. These claims were widely reported on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and have since seemed to gain a general widespread acceptance.
There is another camp, however, that believe the Guidestones lay out a Illuminati Satanic Globalist New-World-Order Genocide World-Domination plot. This camp has… slightly less in the way of citations for their beliefs, (read: 0, as opposed to 1,) but this did not stop at least one candidate for Georgia Governor running exclusively on a platform of dismantling the “Satanic” Guidestones (she received less than 3% of the vote, and promptly refused to concede the election, as is apparently the fashion these days.) This belief also appears to be what motivated the individual who, in the early morning hours of July 6th of this year, drove out to Elberton, Georgia, and blew up one of the Guidestones. Because clandestine pyrotechnic displays are apparently how we deal with ideas we find distasteful in this modern day and age. The rest were dismantled by the city shortly thereafter that same day, under the justification that they posed a public safety hazard.
Now that that whole sordid tale is complete, you may be asking – what in the name of the Great Architect does any of that have to do with Freemasonry?
The answer? Absolutely nothing.
So why am I writing about it, and why did I bring it up in Lodge?
Here’s the thing – the people who go around blowing up “Satanic Illuminati Globalist” monuments don’t know that. And, as evidenced by the destruction of the Guidestones, such individuals are becoming more emboldened, if not more numerous. Which brings me to my extremely late title card,
Masonry in a Time of Conspiracy
The Masonic Brotherhood has never been a stranger to conspiracy theories, and, unless we one day unlock the great panacea for global ignorance that has been the dream of every enlightened thinker from the time of Hammurabi, we never will be. Honestly, I’m going to go ahead and be a gadfly here, and possibly refute by own title by asking: is conspiratorial thought more present now than it has been in the past?
As hard as the numbers are to pin down concisely, I’m going to say no. After all, this nation’s first “third” political party was the Anti-Masonic Party, formed in the wake of what has become known as the “Morgan Affair.”
For those of you unfamiliar with that sordid little tidbit of Masonic History, the story is as follows: in 1826, Captain William Morgan was abducted from prison and allegedly murdered by zealous Freemasons, in response to the publication of Morgan’s controversial “Freemasonry Exposed.” I must note, I say “allegedly,” since there is a separate, disputed account that Morgan was simply paid $500 to leave the country. Regardless, the wave of Anti-Masonic sentiment that followed in its wake was to permeate throughout American society, and persist for some time.Anti-Masonry would again rear its ugly head in 20th century Europe, where Masonry would be outlawed by fascist regimes such as those present in Spain, Germany, and Italy, spurred on by the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – a book alleging Masonry to be part of a Jewish world-domination scheme. The Protocols are, as anyone who has seriously spent 5 minutes looking over them with a critical eye could tell you, a cheap forgery by the standards of cheap forgery, having been largely plagiarized from Maurice Joly’s “The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu.” Of course, fascists, conspiracy theorists, and especially fascist conspiracy theorists have never been ones to critically examine their sources – at least when said sources contradict the conclusions they had already wished to draw from the get-go.
Even today, Anti-Masonic sentiment exists on both a personal and governmental level, especially throughout the more theocratic nations of the world. Hence why California currently hosts our worthy Brothers in the Grand Lodge of Iran in Exile.
So I would say, no, we are not necessarily seeing any sort of historical uptick in the number of individuals ascribing to conspiratorial thought. What I will say is different is the speed at which communicating and spreading such ideas is possible. This is mainly due to the advent of the internet, which, I do not believe I am off the mark in saying, may well be the most influential single development for human history as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I love instant communication. I love the ability to wake up, check world events, communicate with friends and family across the face of the globe, and know the weather for the whole week, all before changing out of my worshipful lil jammies.
At the same time, the internet has created an atmosphere where anyone, no matter how misinformed (or deliberately ill-intentioned) can put forth and idea, and, through deliberate manipulation or pure random chance, see that idea proliferate throughout all stratum of society, repeated so frequently and with such a lack of incredulity that it soon comes to be accepted as fact. It then becomes the task of those acquainted with the truth to once again take upon themselves the uphill battle of refuting “common knowledge.” Just like that opening quote from Brother Twain.
Only Mark Twain never actually said that. It’s a variation on an old quote that has been attributed, in some form or another, to everyone from Bro. Winston Churchill to that ever-prolific author known only as “Ancient Chinese Proverb.”
Always check your sources, is what I’m saying. Particularly when it comes to quotations.
So, now that we have established that we certainly are living in different times, though not necessarily unprecedented ones (praise the Builder, precedented times again at last,) what, pray tell, does this mean for the Fraternity? Well, bearing in mind that these are merely my own thoughts on the matter (seriously, always consider your sources,) here are my reflections on how we can best steer the Fraternity through the choppy waters of the modern age, at least in this regard.
First off, a little conspiracy can be good actually.
Yes, you read that right. Masons can have a little conspiracy, as a treat.
So, for just a second, let us take a moment to calm down, take a breath, and shake of any alarm I may have caused it the first part of this article (perhaps more of an essay at this point, but regardless, alarm was never my intention.)
I myself am something of a conspiracy buff. A “conspiracy enthusiast,” if you will, who enjoys reading (and occasionally laughing) about the subject, rather than a “conspiracy theorist” – one who believes in the doctrines of conspiratorial thought, and who lives (and occasionally acts) accordingly.
Conspiracy theories are, quite frankly, one of two key factors that got me interested in the Masonic Fraternity in the first place. After all, as a young man, sitting on the living room floor, watching History Channel documentaries that asked such hard-hitting questions as “Was America Built by Freemasons?” “Do Freemasons rule the world?” and the like, my curiosity was more than a little piqued. Combined with my own family connection to Masonry, I just had to know. Is there a secret society behind world government? Was Grandpapa – a man whom I never got the opportunity to meet, but whom I had only ever heard mentioned with the highest praise – an Illuminatus? I figured I’d knock and find out. Best case, I get to be the guy who decides the elections of Presidents, Popes, and Superbowl winners. Worst case, I gain some knowledge and make some new friends. Not a bad wager.
These are the sort of men I believe the Fraternity should strive to attract. Mind you, I’m biased, since I’m describing myself here, but still. We are best served by attracting men possessed of intellectual curiosity. A man may be possessed of great knowledge of all things scientific, literary, and philosophical, but if he possesses no curiosity, if he lacks that continuing hunger for knowledge, then he will prove incapable of taking our teachings and philosophies to heart, and becoming a true Brother among us. An ignorant man with an open mind can learn and grown. A wise man with a closed mind cannot.
Mystery attracts such men. Masonry, it’s no secret, has its secrets, and such secrets are part of these appeal. Such little, benign “conspiracies,” (again, more mysteries than anything else) help to attract such men, men with the need to know. I believe the world at large needs such mysteries on the whole, just to keep that necessary little spirit of strangeness and wonder alive and well.
But there are, of course, times when this goes to far. There’s a rather distinct but thin line between “People think Freemasons rule the world, that’s funny,” and “I think Freemasons rule the world, I should go burn down their reptilian globalist meeting places”.
But now that we’ve established this line, the next question becomes,
How do we confront conspiracy in the wild
Well, the first thing to do, is don’t.
I know, for many people – myself included – this is the hardest step. After all, someone is attacking an organization you love, making libelous and unsubstantiated accusations against your Brothers of all people! That mustn’t stand! But remember, silence and circumspection are virtues. Take a moment, collect your thoughts, and proceed based on who you’re talking to.
Now, if this is someone you know, a friend or family member, especially if you’re talking face to face, you actually have some goodly room to engage. If they’re spouting conspiracy theories about Masonry, ask them why they believe someone such as yourself, with whose good character they should be well acquainted, would associate with such a supposedly sinister organization. Remind them of all the charitable work your Lodge has done, and how it has benefited the community (and if your Lodge hasn’t had any notable charitable engagements lately, well, maybe get on that.) If they go on to suggest that old chestnut about how you and perhaps even your Lodge is perfectly fine, but that Freemasonry is secretly controlled by a hidden inner circle (bonus points and a check on your Masonic bingo card if the 33rd Degree gets brought up at this point,) ask them why they think so little of your intellectual faculties that you could be so grossly deceived by such a plot, let alone one so transparent that every non-Mason apparently knows about it. Press them on their sources, utilize your own person and good character as a refutation, and ask them why it is, in the words of Grand Secretary and recently-retired CEO of the United Grand Lodge of England, Bro. David Staples, “that if you want a medical opinion, you go and ask a doctor. If you want to know about how to build a building, you go and ask an architect. But if you want to know about Freemasonry, you ask absolutely everybody but a Freemason.” Perhaps you won’t convince them right away, but you will have hopefully left them with a lot to think about.
Honestly, I could write an entire article debunking the whole “Masonry is controlled by a Secret Inner Circle,” idea. I won’t get into it right now, (it involves graphs! And charts! Everyone loves those, right? I’m a hit at parties,) but suffice it to say that anyone who believes that a small group can somehow control a diverse, world-wide organization at all, let alone for centuries in such secrecy that it would make the world’s collective intelligence agencies look like a stereotypical town knitting circle, obviously has zero experience with organizational management at any level whatsoever. Though I will freely admit that, as Worshipful Master of my Lodge, I occasionally wish I were getting secret missives from a shadowy inner circle telling me how to do my job. So far, if the Reptilian Overlords are out there, they’ve been quite content to let me fly by the seat of my pants.
But what if they person you’re dealing with isn’t someone you know personally? What if they’re not even in the room with you? Say they’re a stranger on the internet (it’s such a wonderful place, isn’t it?) First, consider where you are. Are you looking at a Reddit post, on a sub with maybe 200 followers? Don’t worry about it. That’s the internet equivalent of a man standing outside a gas station and yelling about aliens watching him through his clothes dryer. In some more immortal words falsely attributed to Bro. Mark Twain, “Never argue with an idiot. He’ll drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.”
Similarly, online, just like in real life, don’t go out looking for a fight. You’re not going to step into AboveTopSecret, r/Conspiracy, or the David Icke fan blog, and change anyone’s mind with your Masonic bona-fides. You’re only going to get dogpiled and run out on a proverbial rail. If anything, your attempts to dissuade such people are only going to be added to the pile (and boy howdy it is a pile) of proof that they’re actually right. “Why would one of those Freemasons come down here from their lofty perch atop the pyramid to dispute our claims, unless we were really really onto something?” If you try to open up an unhinged door, you’re just going to get smashed by a door. If you try to open up an unhinged mind, you’re just going to get smashed by absurdity.
Please understand: for such individuals, the embrace of conspiratorial thinking is not merely a mental error; it is a way of life. A conspiracy theory is, in many ways, an abdication of responsibility. After all, if there’s a secret, shadowy, undefeatable cabal in charge of every aspect of your life, there is no call to do anything to make your life better (except perhaps occasionally “spreading the truth” on carefully curated internet forums.) Could it be that there is some level of civic duty, activity, and responsibility we must all undertake if we wish to live in a functioning society? Nah, there’s no point in all that, the Freemasons control all world governments! Could it be that there are people in the world who are smarter than you in certain areas, whose advice you should listen to when it comes to their field of expertise? No! All supposed ‘experts’ are part of a Masonic conspiracy to conceal the real truth (which you somehow nevertheless discovered after a five second Google search). Could it be that your tendency to grab your coworkers tightly by the arm and explain, in depth, how Freemasonic Jews were actually the ones behind 9/11, is the reason you can’t hold down a job? Never! The Freemasons have just managed to infiltrate the worlds HR departments, as another lever in their insidious machine built to keep you down, man!
But what if you feel you are somehow in a situation where you must engage? I honestly can’t advise you thoroughly, as every such situation is going to unique, but there are some key points to keep in mind. First, you’re not arguing to convince the individual in question. Remember that – for the reasons mentioned above, you’re never going to logic someone out of a mindset that they never logic’d themselves into. What you are doing is presenting a counterargument for other’s to see – they are your audience. Second, come prepared, or don’t come at all. Know the facts, know your opponent’s “facts,” and everything else between. Familiarize yourself with logical and rhetorical fallacies and how to counter them (the Gish-gallop is a perennial favorite.) Familiarize yourself with strategies used in countering anti-Semitism and genocide denial (again, a list that could be an article all on its own.) You may be surprised, but in my experience – and, as you will recall, I’ve done the reading – virtually every conspiracy theory either starts couched in anti-Semitism, or finds its way around to it eventually. This goes double for Anti-Masonic conspiracy. If you can’t take the time to do all of this, then leave it to someone who can. You will do more damage going off half-cocked than you will by ignoring the situation entirely.
But now that we’ve established the ways of engaging with conspiracy theories out in the world, how then, might we deal with,
The conspirator within?
Ooh, spooky subheading.
But by within, I mean within ourselves. Given the broad scope of this article, I have tried to keep an eye to writing it in such a way that, I hope, speaks to individuals both within and without the Craft. Now, however, I must speak specifically to Masonic philosophy, and remind my brethren (as I myself often need to be reminded) how we are called to be guarded and circumspect not only in our words and deeds, but in our internal thoughts as well.
I must say it has saddened me, on more than one occasion, to hear Brethren engaging in unsubstantiated and downright conspiratorial thinking. Proof, unfortunately, that even we, as Masons, despite being what most people think of as the conspiracy, are not immune to the psychological pitfalls that draw people into conspiracy theories.
So what can we do, to guard ourselves against such thinking? As stated before, always consider the source of your information. When you receive new information – especially when it seems bizarre or shocking – ask yourself why you feel inclined to believe or disbelieve it. We all have our own internal biases, and studies have shown that, when confronted with new information, it is the unfortunate province of the human mind to retreat deeper into our preconceived notions. By recognizing these biases within ourselves, and actively working to overcome them, we tap in to that uniquely human ability to reject instinct and embrace truth. Sometimes, as much as we will always be loath to admit it, it is those with whom we disagree with who are actually presenting the truth on a given manner. Remember, if you keep in mind that you yourself may be wrong, it becomes that much harder for you to be deceived.
I would be especially remiss if I did not mention social media in particular. It is, statistically, where most of us get our news, and, while it’s fantastic for keeping up with Aunty Gertrude and her adorable new kitten, it is actively awful as a source of information. It is, first and foremost, a product (or, rather, you, with your views and clicks are the product,) and it generates revenue through engagement. What emotions have been proven to generate the greatest level of engagement? Anger and fear. Scared people click, and angry people comment (read: argue.) So that’s what the algorithm is going to put in front of your eyes. And that is, I hope I don’t have to say, a terrible basis for building one’s understanding of the world and current events. So don’t use it as such.
Just as we station a Tyler to guard the door of the Lodge, put a little Tyler on your newsfeed. Before you comment, before you post, and before you take anything from social media at face value, check in with the guy first. Not only will you be helping to stem the tide of misinformation, you’ll probably see your mood improve as well. Thanks, little Tyler!
Finally – and I really wish I didn’t have to spell this out plainly, but I’ve learned not to assume otherwise – do not support public figures who are open and avowed conspiracy theorists. Yes, we have to deal with nakedly conspiracy theorist politicians these days, though I take some small comfort in knowing that this isn’t entirely a new phenomenon. I won’t call these individuals out by name, for fear of appearing to commit that uniquely Masonic sin of appearing political, but I will say that they’re not hard to identify, by dent of never shutting up (strong words for a man who wrote an article this long, but I stand by them.) People who spout unhinged conspiracy theories have never been our friends, and they never will be. And once they realize that they’re never going find any pedophiles hiding under the Pizza Hut, and that blaming the Jews for all our nation’s problems is (still, thankfully,) quite out of fashion, guess who they’re going to come gunning for? Three guesses, first two don’t count.
As what I hope is a satisfactorily through examination of Masonry’s place in this conspiracy-addled time we inhabit (or perhaps have always inhabited) draws to a close, I’d like to leave you with both the most practical and grounded advice I can offer (especially for those of you who have skipped to the end.)
In terms of the purely physical, we should all spare a thought to our Lodge security. Do we have security cameras? Fire extinguishers? Is everything up to code? Thankfully, writing this from such a bureaucratically-minded state as California (never thought I’d pen that sentence) these are not so much concerns – the state keeps us honest in making sure our buildings aren’t going to be the one’s to start the annual biggest-wildfire-ever. But perhaps a Brother in, say Michigan or Pennsylvania will read this and realize that they haven’t changed out the fire alarm batteries in a hot minute. An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure. Also not a quote from Mar –
Speaking to modern concerns, what is the state of your cyber security? Where and how are your Lodge records stored? Do your Master, Treasurer, and Secretary have firewalls on those fancy (or, perhaps, let’s say, venerable and respected) computers that all of your Lodge’s sensitive information and communications pass through? How’s the cyber security over at your Grand Lodge, where all the membership records are held? Can’t hurt to ask.Again, I’m sure no hoodie-clad hacker is sitting in a dimly-lit server farm right now, going after your member records, but good security never hurt anyone.
We must also, as always, as we say, “Guard the West Gate.” Not everyone who wishes to partake in the mysteries of Freemasonry has the purest of intentions. This is not to say that there are black-clad infiltrators milling about out there, waiting to get admitted to the Lodge so that they can publish all of its secrets and then burn it down. Nonetheless, we should all remember to take time to get to know the men who would become members of our Lodge, not merely to ascertain their intentions and whether or not they’re a good fit for your Lodge in particular, but also in remembering that every man you induct into the Fraternity will be an example to the public world (and all our lives are increasingly public these days,) of both your Lodge and Masonry in general. See that they reflect honor, and not shame.
Indeed, we should all remember that the world of today is, by and large, utterly ignorant not only of what Masonry is, but also what we do. To most of the people in your life, you are their one and only example of Masonry. Every day, wherever we go, we ourselves are ambassadors of the Fraternity. If this is not to your liking, then make it so that your Lodge, as an organization, is in the public mind and sphere. Just make sure that, if you are going to be in the news, it’s for something good. Basically, don’t follow the examples of the Grand Lodges of Georgia and Tennessee, as I outlined in last month’s article, is what I’m saying.
Lastly, let me finish with a message of hope. Amid all the darkness we have endured as a Fraternity in the past few years alone – the destruction of the statue of Albert Pike in D.C., the defacement of the sphinxes of the House of the Temple just this month, and the deliberate destruction of several Lodges throughout the world – the Craft itself endures. Indeed, we have endured every horror, every injustice, and every attempt to snuff us out that I have outlined above. When you stop to consider it, we have so overcome our enemies that, for some of you reading this, this will be tour first time hearing of such events. Even speaking to the most recent wrongs leveled at the Fraternity, we may recall that Bro. Pike never even wanted a statue erected in his honor, preferring that his monument be erected in the hearts of his Brothers. Moreover, physical monuments, being of stone and metal and thus of this imperfect world, are doomed to decay at some point or other, though even putting this aside, our Fraternity, so dedicated as it is to the arts and sciences, surely has the resources and the know-how necessary to restore them in the interim. And lastly, remember that a Lodge is not a building, as sad as the loss of any historic edifice may make us – a Lodge is the brethren, and so the Lodge will endure wherever two or three of us gather together in the name of the Great Architect of the Universe.
So long as we take these principles to heart, so long as we work our hardest to show the world the light and honor of the Craft, and so long as we remember to be circumspect in our own thoughts, words, and deeds, we will not only endure, we will thrive. And we will ever remind the world that the unhinged ramblings and accusations of conspiracy leveled by are enemies are just that – laughable nonsense, to be comfortably discarded.
Yours in Illumination,
Dillon T. Ingram,
North Hollywood Lodge 542, Free and Accepted Masons of California.