When people on the outside think about Freemasonry, they often imagine a situation that is far removed from the truth. As conspiracy theories about the fraternity abound in an age where everyone has an online platform to promote their own ideas and agendas; Freemasonry has been a victim in some respects of a plethora of inaccuracies.
In the state of the modern world, many people question the validity of Freemasonry and suggest that the fraternal values lack inclusivity and are outdated. This has given rise to suggestions that the fraternity is on the slide and is stagnating at best, dying at worst.
But what is the reality? Is Freemasonry really dying as many on the outside believe? Or is it still thriving and influential as it once was? This article will examine whether Freemasonry is dying or evolving and explain why there is still life in the centuries-old fraternity yet.
As always, this writing does not represent the views and opinions of Freemasons Community, but is merely the reflections of one Mason.
What do the numbers tell us?
It is approximated by the United Grand Lodge of Freemasonry that there are six million members of Freemasonry today. On the surface, it would seem that this reflects a thriving membership base and would suggest that Masonry remains popular today.
However, if we look at the numbers relating to Freemasonry in America, the picture is a little bleaker.
There has been a steady and worrying decline in Masonic membership since 1959 when there were just over four million Freemasons in America. That number slipped to just over one million in 2020. On average, according to the available data, this suggests that we lose on average 50,000 Masons a year.
Why such a decline in numbers?
There’s no getting away from these numbers, and they unequivocally suggest that Masonry is on the decline and many would say, dying. But there are many potential reasons for the figures being as they are.
In the past seventy years, the world has changed at an unprecedented speed. The very fabric of our societies has totally evolved, and the way in which communities support one another has changed dramatically.
In the past, people relied on membership of religious or community groups for many aspects of their lives. People would attend church at the weekend, for instance, and be involved professionally and socially with their congregation during the week.
The same was true for brothers within Freemasonry. They would attend meetings at the lodge, talk business with their fellow Masons, and arrange social appointments with them and their wives. Membership of community and religious groups was woven into the very fabric of our existence, and essentially dictated all critical areas of our lives.
But in the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st century, things started to change. Much less emphasis was placed upon the importance of civic duty and shared responsibility, as people began to focus on the pursuit of the capitalist dream and understood the importance of individuality.
Of course, in addition to this, with the 21st century came the Internet, which has totally reinvented how people connect with one another. People no longer need to become members of societies or organizations to develop meaningful relationships. They can simply utilize social media and be involved in online groups with people from different parts of the world.
Such changes have contributed to the decline in numbers within Freemasonry, but it is not an issue just for the Masonic community. If you look at church attendance and many other community groups across the world today, membership has significantly declined since the middle of the 20th century.
Instead of hiding from the numbers, it’s imperative to understand how Freemasonry can make a meaningful contribution in today’s world. Brothers believe that Freemasonry still performs an important civic duty in many communities across the globe, and we will take a look at the fraternity’s role in modern society now.
The role of Freemasonry in modern society
As we’ve seen, the numbers paint a rather worrying picture of the decline of Freemasonry. As we’ve explored, this is not necessarily a result of the fact that there has been a decline in value provided by the fraternity, more that the world has changed significantly in the past 100 years.
For the six million brothers that still regularly attend their lodges and live their lives by the age-old Masonic values, Freemasonry still has a vital role to play in modern society.
For an indication of just how significant Freemasonry is in the present day, we need only look at the contribution Masonic charities make every year. For example, in the UK in 2019 alone, the Masonic charity donated a remarkable £42million to some of the neediest charities in the country.
In addition to this, brothers donated more than 18 million hours of their time volunteering for causes within their communities. When we think about these numbers, it’s clear to see why brothers are so proud of their affiliation with Freemasonry. Very few civil society organizations have the scope and organizational capacity to raise such a staggering amount of money, which is one of the many assets of Freemasonry.
But it’s not just in charitable giving that Freemasonry plays a valuable role in the modern world. For the many brothers still attending their lodges, great emphasis is placed on the value of brotherly love and support.
Regardless of the widespread availability of the Internet today, it’s hard to replicate the strong bonds that can be developed within a Masonic lodge, and Masons cherish these relationships. Brothers still develop relationships that benefit them in professional and social environments, and bonds formed within lodges often last a lifetime.
What’s more, the Masonic fraternity comes together when there is a tragedy or a miscarriage of justice, and brothers can always rely on the support of their fellow Masons when times get tough.
Another reason why Freemasonry is so important today can be found in the teachings of the Masonic values. The four core Masonic values are:
Integrity: building good people.
Friendship: building together.
Respect: building unity.
Charity: building compassion.
As we know, these core values are central to everything good about Freemasonry. While many of the rituals and ceremonies performed within lodges across the world might seem outdated to some, they carry important life lessons for the Masons that experience them.
The allegorical lessons that Masons learn to help them become better men and consistently contribute to their communities with Masonic values. The teachings haven’t changed a great deal since the early 18th century, so preserving these teachings’ integrity and historical significance is of paramount importance.
In fact, much of the allure of Freemasonry to many brothers is the fact that they can learn the unique rituals and traditions and become part of something bigger than themselves. It’s for this reason that Freemasonry has endured for more than 300 years, even though we have seen a decline in numbers in recent times.
What does the future look like for Freemasonry?
While it’s impossible to predict the future, some of the trends that we’ve seen in the past fifty years or so are likely to endure. It would be surprising if membership numbers increased all of a sudden, but Freemasonry perhaps needs to do more to keep members within their lodges.
A big part of this is attracting younger members and further articulating the core messages of Freemasonry. As has been introduced already, people on the outside of the fraternity don’t fully understand the value of Freemasonry and often confuse its true purpose with many of the conspiracy theories circling online.
Although it isn’t a brother’s responsibility to refute allegations and explain Masonry’s precise nature, the organization as a whole perhaps has an obligation to do more to promote the fundamental objectives of the fraternity in an attempt to attract new members.
With social media and the Internet only expected to get more popular in years to come, Freemasonry must embrace this changing world and be a little more open than it has been in the past.
If we think back to the story of William Morgan, he was supposedly killed for threatening to reveal the secrets of Freemasonry in a book he was hoping to publish. We’ve come an awful long way from there, and you can find a wealth of information online and in print form about some of the fraternity’s innermost rituals.
While it’s important to retain some of the mythical allure and secret practices of some of the rituals and ceremonies, perhaps the key to a Masonic renaissance in years to come lies in the breaking down of stereotypes and conspiracy theories that abound about the organization.
Suppose more people become aware of the true value of Freemasonry and appreciate the incredible impact that brothers have on their communities all over the world. In that case, we may yet see a rise in numbers in the years to come.