Freemasonry in age of Technological Enlightenment

By Wor.Bro Clive Herron

Marine Lodge 627 I.C.

A paper delivered to St Finbar's Lodge 129 I.C.

Evil exists when good men do nothing

                                           -- Voltaire

In putting this paper together, I have attempted to approach the subject from three different perspectives.

 

1)     Where we have come from?

2)     Where we are now?

3)      (third) I leave for you to ponder and be the judge.

 

It began Europe during the 18th Century and was brought about largely by the industrial revolution. The invention of the steam engine created new opportunities for the expansion of industry but brought hardship and social problems for many.

The improvement in medical science, coupled with improved Public health measures reduced the death rate but added to the population base. In other words there was a population explosion. The result was unemployment.  New markets had to be sourced, leading to a rush to explore and settle the colonies of the new world.

For many, as learning and knowledge increased, so they took on more responsibility and expressed their views. With their new found skills they began to challenge the church questioning it’s authority, by applying geometry and the new found sciences. The commoner was no longer willing to sit back and accept all that was being dished up. The period saw the uprising of Oliver Cromwell (who incidentally was accused of being a Freemason), and his fight for a democratic parliament.

There were other incidents such as the French revolution, with it’s struggle for class equality. The emergence of the Huguenot groups and their challenge to the Church. So you can see there was quite a social upheaval of  progressive and revolutionary thought.

On the downside, crime and the consumption of alcohol had become a major problem. Heavy drinking of cheap gin, popular amongst ordinary people in Britain led to The British government imposing a tax, known as the Gin Tax, in order to control it’s use, but also to finance the war in America. Such were some of the problems of the new urban dweller.

It was during this period and under these conditions that Freemasonry became formalized. Thinking men, advocating rational and moral standards of conduct and judgment, found the time right to set out principles for progress and happiness and so it was that the English, Irish and Scottish constitutions became constituted. The growth of Freemasonry was rapid with expansion into the new world, spreading to America and the Colonies attracting leaders and men of goodwill from all walks accepting each other on the level.

 So where is all that leading us  -   the eighteenth century stage was decked out in very different costume to this millennium but many of the circumstances are very similar to what we  now face.

 

I have chosen to term this passage of time as the Age of Technological enlightenment. - Good or bad I will leave it to you to judge

 

Today most of the world’s population is enjoying living standards way in advance of our predecessors. We have the benefits of running water, proper sanitation, electricity at the flick of a switch, smart cars, fast air travel, television, and washing machines and so the list goes on

Advances modern medicine has again extended life expectancy for many. In years past even pregnancy could be viewed as risky, demanding several days stay in hospital. Today young parents know the sex of the child before it is born and even determine the birth date, birthing by cesarean sections and are out of the Clinic or Hospital the next day. So we have come a long way and with new technology we realize that there is more to come.

 

Is the world really a better place? With all of this we need to take a step back and ask ourselves:

 

 

 

Sure we have the gadgets but do we have the happiness.

 

The new generation seems to be oblivious to some of the difficulties experienced by their parents - they know nothing about the days before television, when families stayed at home and listened to Springbok radio, or when you had to go on a waiting list to get a post office telephone. Some of us were living at the height of the 2nd world war or soon thereafter. Many had no cars and (sometimes) waited in the rain for the next tram or trolley bus, and heaven forbid if you missed the last bus at night. We all have stories to tell about that

There were no supermarkets or fast food outlets. Mother did the shopping and the cooking, Dad went to work and earned the bread and we enjoyed the wholesome food.

We bought our music on gramophone records and dared not play them unless we had a sharp needle. Today they have Ipods (that fit into a shirt pocket) into which they can download up to 2500 songs and they can even view movies in the palm of their hand. If we were lucky enough to get pocket money we worked for it. Sadly today, pocket money is often given in lieu of love, time and attention, so parents do not ask too many questions about where it goes."

As youngsters we never walked around with sheets looking for donations or sponsors. Remember "BOB A JOB" we worked for it. Now, Children expect their parents to give pocket money without giving anything in return. They want designer clothes, (we had homemade clothes), motorbikes and motor cars and they get them. (We were lucky if we owned a bicycle) Some no longer take school lunches they are given money for a hot dog or pies from the tuck shop. Many modern parents simply give in to the children to get them out of their hair - there in lays the biggest problem.

They blame bad behaviour on to much tartrazine in their diet or MSG flavouring in foodstuff but where did the money come from and do they always know what it is being spent on.

 

Are these parents certain that the money is being spent on that for which it was intended?

 

"Most selling of and experimentation with drugs amongst young people happens on the school ground. It is not unusual for children as young as 10 or 11 to be experimenting with hard drugs," says Captain Niekie Coetser of the Narcotics Bureau of the South African Police Services.

"There is a tremendous amount of peer pressure among schoolchildren.

Children who have money to spend often use it to buy social acceptance, which in many cases means drugs”.

In years gone by, the class rebel smoked behind the bicycle shed and the class nerd bought friends by handing out chocolates or some other favour.

 

Not any more let us take a look at the world we are living in.

 

According to a recent survey published on the internet by a Drug Abuse Agency  1 in every 5 teenagers in South Africa experiment with drugs.

 

In the past few months (here in South Africa). Three young people have died from heroin overdoses. (Hard line drugs). These included a 14-year-old boy. As youngsters, surely their main concerns should have been skateboards, pimples and CDs? How does it happen that children barely out of primary school can overdose on mainline drugs without the parents knowledge?

 

"By the time a child leaves high school, every single one would have come into contact with drugs – whether they chose to use them or not. Between half and a third of all males in Cape Town will have experimented with illegal substances by the time they hit Grade 11." (A study by the drug rehabilitation centre in Cape Town).

A study on security in Durban schools found that “schools” are places where drugs, thugs, and weapons move as freely through the gates as do the pupils.

 

According to statistics provided by the Medical Research Council, there is a liquor outlet of some kind for every 191 people in South Africa, So there certainly is no shortage of alcohol in this country. It is estimated that 5,8% of the South Africa’s young population above the ages of 15 years an are alcohol dependent (put another way 3 out of 10 children binge drink at least once a month) and this can usually be traced back to homes with an abundance of alcohol. In some cases children as young as 12 years of age regularly consume alcohol.

 

Listen to these statistics released by the University of Natal School of Medicine. Suicide among children and adolescents in South Africa is on the increase, an average, 9% of deaths of  young people are due to suicide. For every one fatal suicide, there are 20 suicide attempts. One of the leading causes of suicide is psychological disorders, such as depression. The signs of depression in teens include feeling sad, anxious or empty; school performance that gets worse; loss of interest in social or sports activities; too little or too much sleep; changes in weight or appetite. Surely these are signs which should be recognized by a caring parent.

Behavioral shortcomings, even those manifesting in later life can usually be traced back to childhood, - a lack of love – neglect – bad example – some form of abuse, and to list goes on. Children need close knit affection throughout their developing years. They need to be talked to about the pitfalls of drugs, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy. How can a responsible parent or grandparent avoid this and miss the signs?

It’s all about having values.

 

Taken from the Natal Daily News 2/12/2005

Headed “Children to get contraceptives”

The report goes “Children’s rights activists yesterday welcomed the fact that MP’s had given the thumbs up for children as young as 12 to be allowed contraceptives without their parents consent. A child rights activist is quoted as saying “ It is important to delay the first sexual experience, but from all our research, the best way to deal with it is to provide choice”.

Surely this goes against the values we are attempting to implant in our children. And is yet another example where rights activists are in conflict with those trying to preserve family morals. Rights should be earned and not simply granted.

 

So is the world a better place?

 

Tragically, in spite of all this material comfort around us perhaps we have let things slip. There is an increase in the incidence of “gangsterism” and hooliganism amongst our younger generation

"When the pocket money runs out, some children resort to crime to support their bad habits, often starting off with stealing from their parents’.

   

That is where a life of crime starts.

 

We read of shootings at schools, brutal attacks, drugs drinking and sexual activities beyond their age amongst our young people. These activities are happening right here in Durban, South Africa but are sadly repeated the world over.

It is sad to say but today we are living in a society full to the brim with crime and exploitation from the highest levels in commerce and government right down to the grass roots and starting at a very young age.

Unfortunately our new culture teaches many “that it’s not illegal unless you get caught” even then you probably still won’t get into trouble.

   

SO WHY? in this time of technological enlightenment are so many turning away from what was known as "the straight and narrow"

 

·                    Are VALUES, ETHICS, MORALS just buzzwords.

·                    What do they mean?

·                    Why are they important?

·                    How do they affect our society?

 

These emerging problems cannot and will not go away by policing or restricting or banning the flow or supply or by locking up the child at home. The problem can only be dealt with by instilling a set of values that will enable the child to choose right from wrong, and those standards and values are set in the home. Godliness must be brought to life. Let us take some encouragement from the fact that if 1 in 5 are experimenting with drugs this means that 4 out of 5 possess the values to say NO and we cannot afford to let this slip.

   

What has changed in todays society AND WHERE DOES FREEMASONRY FIT IN?

 

As I see it, a fundamental crisis has been caused by humanity turning away from spiritual and moral values. In Masonic terms it can be said turning away From the True God, the bigoted will disagree.

On the other hand if I were to couch this in other terms and say it is a turning away from religion and the moral values that underlie religious institutions, (Such as non attendance at church) many more outsiders will agree.

We as Freemasons find merit in both of the answers - we acknowledge that Freemasonry alone cannot bring about the change needed to create a better world. We do however go a long way to assist. The world would be worse off without the principles, morals and ethics of some 5 million Freemasons.

Our young people need to be raised in that environment which sets moral and ethical standards, beginning with the family. Young people learn by example, but how can they learn if their peers behave the opposite.

   

We live according to the Legend of Hiram Abiff

 

It may be a mistake to accept this as history, but as a story and it’s meanings  should be the prize of all Master Masons. Hiram Abiff is the symbol of the human soul. The work he was engaged upon we do when we supervise, organize and direct our lives and that of our families from birth to death.

The enemies he met are symbols of lust and passion, (ethics and morals) which make war on our characters. The way in which he was raised from the dead level to the perpendicular is the way by which any person can rise from low esteem, poor values and self defeat to once again become moral. The temple in which Hiram was involved is a symbol of mans character and therefore, breaks and falls when the soul, it’s architect is helpless. Hiram was a moral man possessing a high standard of ethics. He laid down his life rather than betray the given word, which symbolizes not giving into immortality or participation in an anti social act.. The story may seem harsh and its allegory is often used as a source to attack us, but as masons we understand its deeper meaning and endeavour to emulate it meaning.

 

Defending morality and living ethically is not easy but is certainly rewarding.

 

Gone are the days when ~. deal could be done at the shake of a hand or a promise accepted by giving your word or a quotation done on the back of a cigarette box.

Fortunately however we have amongst Freemasons - "Men of Honour” who still believe in and subscribe to a moral code in their everyday lives.

Regrettably, (and for the time being) the numbers seem to be dwindling. We are not alone with this problem, even our churches are empty and all service organizations are struggling for membership but that does not deter us. We see the need for Freemasonry as being greater now than it has ever been in the past.

Youngsters are no longer encouraged to belong to Boy Scouts or Youth Brigades and yet these organizations served as the seed beds of future community activity. For some reason few in society today seem prepared to make any form of social commitment or take on community responsibilities and this is the example they are setting.

 

 Families and friends no longer visit.

 

In today’s world of instant this and instant that some parent even seek what can be viewed as an instant divorce. Single parent families are at times the cause of a dysfunctional environment for the children resulting in a social breakdown, and depression.

   

If this is the case then to whom should the finger be pointed?

 

Grandparents have role to play in grooming the next generation as they will also be looked up to. As seniors we need to be an example and we can set this by the way we live out our lives.

Social responsibility and moral upliftment are qualities that cannot be relaxed. Ethics unlike most laws, are observed only by ethical people, and honour is meaningless to individuals without a sense of honour. So we (especially as freemasons) have to work at being honest and ethical if we are to set that example.

FREEMASONRY provides us with moral lessons, and teaches us ethics which if applied to our everyday lives will assist us to live ethically and morally and in so doing set an example to those around us.

 

The VSL is the source of our instruction and an inspiration for better living.

 

It is NOT difficult to know right from wrong. Common sense and conscience is inherent in all people and they have the knowledge to know the difference. We have been given the right to choose and we will be judged according to our choice

   

As Freemasons we need to be at the forefront of the fight to stop the degeneration of man

REMEMBER YOUR OBLIGATION

 

You are to inculcate universal benevolence, and, by the propriety of your own behaviour, to afford the best example for the conduct of others......... let no motive therefore make you swerve from your voluntary obligations.

   

We are charged to be GOOD CITIZENS and to set AN EXAMPLE - it is the obligation we have vowed to uphold it.

 

I hope I have not bored you to much with statistics and shocking realities but we must become involved in programs of upliftment and social improvement,  just as our founders were. What is the use of living in a world of technological enlightenment if we allow the next generation to become chemical and social zombies because of our own neglect.

 

And now the third perpective –  Let me leave these final thoughts for you to ponder on before you reach your verdict on – The role of Freemasonry in this Age of enlightenment.

 

As man progressed through the Stone Age, The Iron Age, The Bronze Age and passed from the most primitive forms of the Feudal System, a Church ruled by fear, burning those who would not conform, later to Monarchies free of the Churches excessive demands onto as we have seen in Eastern Europe Monarchies and democracies being overthrown by Dictators and Tyrants.. Even today new Tyrants, new Dictators and Religious Fundamentalism are once again spreading - Yet we say that we are living in an Age of Enlightenment. Slavery still exists in the form of slaves to the habit of drugs and prostitution and vice. No law can eliminate these. A change can only be brought about by healthy and noble values. Surely this is the role Freemasonry has to play at this stage of the Age of Enlightenment. Freemasonry was strong at the start of the Age of Enlightenment – it must not be allowed to weaken now.