Hello Readers, Livingstone here.
I have one phrase for you.
America…you’re doing it wrong.
I’m sure you’re getting a bit defensive now. At least as much as you can be defensive while reading this sideways on your iPad in bed. But I’m here to tell you that there is something that we Masons do, that the rest of America is now doing and it’s bad. I mean dangerous to our republic bad. And that is the “no talk of politics and religion” that is creeping into all sectors of American life. And I’ll explain why it’s a false ideology and what Masonry has to do with it.
What is the old saying?
or is it…
I thought it was…
or maybe it’s…
Sorry, it’s hard to keep up. There always seems to be a new place where you can’t discuss religion and politics. But I’m sure that out there, somewhere in the mountains, far away from human civilization, there is a 2×2 ft spot where it’s ok to talk.
And this mentality is something that is now becoming engrained in our American culture. Spending time with my non-Mason friends, the talk of politics and religion is almost non-existant. And this has become the norm no matter where I go or what group of friends I hang out with. Or the jobs I work in, people just don’t actively talk about the things in these realms. And when they do, it’s based on the pre-dominant ideology of the region and even light disagreement is avoided. Or people are trying to avoid a lawsuit. Or they just want you to shut up and get back to work. Modern America in its journey for harmony and an environment to do the best work has taken a Masonic principle, bastardized it and applied it to everything. And it’s hurting us.
No talk of politics and religion. The origins of this way of thinking aren’t easily found. But this rule is an ancient part of Masonic history and one of the most important foundations for Masonic culture. Politics and religion have torn apart humanity for centuries, so Masonic lodges try to create the most harmonious atmospheres possible by banning both. And it’s a rule that doesn’t get much thought but is rigorously followed by all Masons. Which is odd because in Masonry, brothers love to argue just about anything in Masonry. But this part of mainstream Masonry is largely left alone. And they feel they have a good reason. Most Masons attribute this rule to the foundation of the modern Masonic psychological structure. That the banning of the talk of politics and religion in lodge is what makes Masonry what it is. This censored discussion environment will get us that much closer to real human harmony.
Harmony at the cost of discussing religion and politics. Think about that for a second. For me, the more I think about it, it repulses me. Constricting my ability to talk of two of the foundational elements of my identity? Bullshit. Banning people from talking politics and religion are two of the things that I’ll firmly stand against. And if push came to shove, I’d take a bullet for it. Because by banning people from talking about something, all it serves to do is to create a false harmony. A false harmony that destroys the souls of the men entrapped in it.
Now I can’t always figure out how much of an impact Masonry has on mainstream culture, but I can confidentially say that the background of banning of politics and religion comes from Masonic culture. It’s too specific in how we as Masons say it and how non-Masons use the same saying. Which is funny because I earlier said I would take a bullet over the banning of politics and religion. Yet here I am part of an institution that perpetuates the banning of arguments regarding politics and religion! I’m a hypocrite! Or, there is a deeper reasoning to why Masonry does what it does, and what it can teach us about the world around us. Well I can say that after doing some research…we’re doing it wrong.
I’ll go into the history a bit. The Masonic history over the politics and religion rule is shrouded in heresy and conjecture. What we do know is that through Anderson’s Constitutions, the banning of talking about the particular opinions of religion was legally enshrined in Masonic culture. Here is a link to the 1734 edition of Anderson’s Constitutions.
Some speculation for the origins of this debate is over whether it is a pragmatic Masonic creation, or part of a deeper level of thinking. The pragmatic camp will say that is was created as a response to the heavy handed approach of the English kings toward Masonry. The pragmatic camp will say that this was done to appease those in power. By banning talk of politics and religion they were sending a message to the Catholic Church and the Monarchy that they weren’t undermining them in secret. By banning politics and religion early on, it allowed them to survive. And the pragmatics would say that this rule continues now, to keep Masonry in it’s traditional origins. Origins that helped it avoid the storms and seasons of the time and exist beyond them all.
Yet the camp that considers it a deeper level of thinking will argue that because this law persists even now, there must be a deeper reasoning for it. That by Anderson enshrining it, it must have been important enough of a mentality to be designed to exist into perpetuity. The deeper thinkers will say that by banning both, Masonry forces you to focus not on your differences with your brothers but how you’re the same. That instead of taking time to talk about politics and religion, you will talk about the lessons of the tools and the ritual more. That as Masons we’re working on our minds, and to create the best possible environment for this is to censor certain thoughts or ideas for a time. What the deeper meaning crowd surmises, is that politics and religion must be banned in the constant journey to achieve to true harmony or the best work.
And if you believe that last sentence, you’re full of shit. Firstly, because politics and religion extend to all facets of human life. Here is a few examples.
The above seems like the person talking about something that is an act of God. But it’s overtly political in itself, leading to people thinking about the government response to the drought. Or the social, humanitarian or civil implications.
A comment like the above invites a response that has no possible way of avoiding things of political nature. Religion is no different in this regard.
“We ended up getting married at St. Mary’s Church”
The line mentioned shows your religious opinions on a number of levels without you ever overtly discussing it. Politics and religion are extremely baked into our modern lives. To be truly adherent to a rule like this requires not talking about anything else at all except what was learned during the Masonic ritual. And we might be onto something here so put a pin in that thought. Another way to adhere to the no talk of politics and religion is to create a system that is arbitrary in nature and human controlled. Both which are fraught with issues. But yet, both are a pragmatic reality. There are times in life where there are unspoken boundaries and we have to enforce them the best we can. So maybe there is a lesson we can learn here. Let’s get into a few of those reasons.
Firstly, let’s think pragmatically again. When Masonry bans talk of politics and religion it has a low time impact because Masonic meetings only last a few hours each week. And for good reason because most Masons would lose their mind if they couldn’t talk about this stuff. Masons are some of the most politically and religiously engaged individuals in the world. When you have a fraternity that churns out George Washington, Winston Churchill, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Vivekananda and Robert Baylor…you’re society is hardwired into the talk of politics and religion of the time. So what happens is Masonry gives individuals an opportunity to escape talks of such. As a breather for people who spend all their time thinking about things like this. A timeout. Even God rested on the 7th day. Sometimes you just need a break.
Remember how I said you can’t escape talk of politics and religion? Another reason this is in place is that by banning talks of politics and religion, you turn politics and religion into a real human story. When a brother discusses a car accident his daughter got in with a drunk driver, a son who smokes too much pot, being unemployed, making a big deal…they are looking at their politics and religion at the base level. It’s not about labels anymore but about the core human moral problem. These issues stop becoming heady arguing talking points, and instead are real things about real people we know about. People we care about. And you can connect and learn in powerful ways like this.
The last major reason is that Masonry is an unlikely friendship generator. As it says in Anderson’s Constitutions, Masonry provides “the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance“. So by banning discussion of politics and religion, it allows men to find their commonalities. Whether you’re a pragmatic or a deeper meaning person, you know that by banning politics and religion, it creates a certain type of environment. Now the skeptics reading might be thinking of how dangerous of a mentality this could be. That any environment that suffocates issues that might bring contention for the sake of harmony is ripe to be abused for nefarious reasons. Don’t worry. I feel the same way. But Masonry addresses this so elegantly with the trowel of the Master Mason.
“The Trowel, made use of by operative masons to spread the cement which unites a building into a common mass, but utilized by the Free and Accepted Mason for the more noble purpose of spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection, that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of friends, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who can best work and best agree.”
Masonry itself says contention not only will exist, but it even explains the rules contention should exist in! While harmony is the goal, the reality is that there will always be contention. And that contention is the foundation of being able to achieve true harmony. Not a false harmony but a real one where everyone feels that the harmony is deserved.
Let me take it back to our current incorrect way of thinking about politics and religion. I argue we live in a false harmony right now. People push to be politically correct by avoiding certain topics. People don’t want to offend others. People don’t want to be incorrect with what they know. They don’t want the spotlight to be put on them. They don’t want to look ignorant. They don’t want to look stupid.They don’t want to get fired. Lose their friends. What began as a policy that people pushed onto each other is now additionally a self-censorship policy. And this leads to terrible unintended consequences. Here’s a few.
Firstly, where do we gain understanding from? Where are the sources of knowledge that help give us the light considering we won’t be getting it from the people around us? The answer…the people in power. The John Stewarts, Bill O’Reilly’s, Rachel Maddows, Rush Limbaughs, etc. We get what we’re supposed to think from them…and then it stays there. We listen to what they say and we don’t discuss what it means with others. By self-censoring, we’ve essentially eliminated the discussion of “the people” to figure out if what we’re being told is wrong. “The people” of their own choice and of not of their own choice, are being told what to think by talking media heads, news sites, Reddit, etc. And we’re banned to question it.
You might argue back with me and say that there is a lot of internet discussion about politic matters happening all the time on the internet. Except these have removed the most important part of the equation, the human element. People feel safe talking to someone miles away, behind a keyboard, with a fake name they don’t know much about…but we’re afraid to talk about these things to our closest friends? Or we don’t care?!? This is what keeps people boxed in. This is what keeps us from organizing to push back. People are isolated in their thinking, being told what to think by people who are thousands of miles away. Yet to make change in society, you need people in your immediate community to act. Because your immediate community has the ability to change the politician who runs the community or has the ability to organize physically against the issue at hand. Instead, we now have people feeling alone in how they view things, and when people are alone they keep their opinions to themselves. Or they think these things don’t matter and they disengage. And these are the people that are actively engaged digitally! We all know that most people don’t spend their time arguing public policy or the meaning of life online. But are instead watching the next Hollywood TV show, playing video games or getting high. (I had to have an old man Livingstone moment right there…and I’m in my 20s!). But when we’re not engaging in the uncomfortable, and instead we’re taking our moral or civil cue from drinking, pot smoking, video games and TV shows/movies alone, we create a society that is ignorant and docile. Perfect for those in power. Our civic engagement in this country is collapsing because people don’t want to engage in the things that cause contention! And without contention, the powerful few grow more powerful.
And yet we as Masons learn that the most noble thing, the pinnacle of our work, is to engage in contention to find out who is right and to ultimately find the truth. Society has taken our Masonic culture of no talk of politics and religion, hammered it onto each other to make people play nice and yet has ignored the part where it says we need to be in contention! Sure, we do our best work at our job’s when we’re not getting distracted by politics and religion. Sure you won’t talk about politics or religion to that cute girl or guy you’re talking to because you hope to get laid. Sure you want to keep your mouth shut on Facebook because you don’t want to be seen as unhireable. My response to all this = Go Fuck Yourself.
If you think dodging things that cut to our core regarding belief and how the world should work will create a more pleasing space, you’re part of the problem. If you feel strongly about something but you keep it to yourself because you don’t feel totally informed, engage anyways and seek to learn.
As William Bradshaw says in Politics and Religion Do Mix,
“No two subjects are more important for one’s total well-being than religion and politics. Politics is all about one’s well-being when living in this life, and religion is all about one’s well-being in the life to come. What could possibly be more important than these two subjects??”
The only way to be true to yourself, is to engage in the things that people need to think about. It’s not enough to think about yourself, but you must think about what God put us here for. You must think about humanity as a whole, and what your place is in it. And you can only find out, by discussing it.