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TOWARDS 2017 – THE FUTURE OF FREEMASONRY - October 05, 1971

 

PRESENTED TO: SHUNIAH LODGE A.F. & A.M. No. 287 BY CONNAUGHT LODGE A.F. & A.M. No. 511

THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO

 

In just twenty-nine years and slightly less than three months, we, or perhaps some of us here, will be celebrating another New Year eve.  It will be a rather special celebration, however, because it will mark an entry into not simply another year, but also into a new millennium, the twenty-first century.

 

The arbitrary division of time into years, centuries and millennia may not influence the tide of man’s affairs or mark precisely any very significant changes either historical , cultural or technological, but those divisions do provide convenient reference points from which we measure progress or change with respect to the present and from which some more daring souls, be they historians, philosophers, science-fiction writers or politicians, may extrapolate their visions of the glowing, or gloomy, future which may confront us.

 

Until about a quarter century ago, the aspiration of most men, when they paused to contemplate the future, extended beyond this earthly realm to a vision of a life eternal in the heavens.  This was the promise of their faith, and of their spiritual leaders, and it could be reckoned as just compensation for lives well spent on earth, whether in poverty and suffering or in affluence arising out of a zealous pursuit of material rewards for personal industry.

 

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, marked the beginning of the end of faith in things unseen, in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity, in long-held notions of “heaven” and “hell”, and in credos and rituals which had been, across the centuries accepted as the sine qua non for ultimate admission into paradise.

 

By his science and technology, it would seem man has become the master of the universe, the ruler of his own fate, capable of creating a paradise here on earth by his own genius.  And there have been not few religious leaders who have been prompted to recognize that a new view of religion, or faith, and of man’s place in the universe was needed.  Some have gone so far as to deny the existence of a Supreme Being, the ascension of Jesus, and other essential elements of faith in the Christian religion, but others have directed their efforts to a reconciliation of the apparent conflicts between the origins and history of man as seen through the Bible, and the revelations provided by science of these matters.  These leaders, in such works as “Honest to God”, by the Bishop of Woolwich and the “Secular City”, by Harvey Cox, have attempted to develop new concepts of faith and religion which dispense with the traditional notions of God, heaven and the earthly church, and which are concerned with new bases for moral living, without the ultimate promise of a heavenly mansion for a dwelling place.

 

From the aspect of religion, there seems to be a tacit acceptance that man will in fact be the arbiter of his own future, for better or for worse, even unto his own extinction, if the latter.

 

What kind of future can we anticipate for man and his institutions in the twenty-first century, under the influence and control of science and technology?

 

It is now much more difficult to predict the form of the distant future, because of the surging power of science to discover new knowledge, new means for unveiling the secrets of nature, new steps towards the control of all earthly processes.  This power has been growing at an exponential rate in the same period during which we have seen almost a parallel decline in traditional religiosity in the western world.

 

One hundred years ago, after his appointment as Governor-General, Lord Dufferin could express with confidence his vision of the future for Canada:

 

“May be doubted whether the inhabitants of the Dominion themselves are as yet fully awake to the magnificent destiny in store for them, or have altogether realized the promise of their young and hardy nationality.  Like a virgin goddess in a primeval world, Canada still walks in unconscious beauty among her golden woods and by the margin of her trackless streams, catching but broken glances of her radiant majesty as mirrored on their surface, and scarcely reeks as yet of the glories awaiting her in the Olympus of nations.”

 

It is doubtful that any responsible leader or statesman today would be quite as optimistic as was Lord Dufferin who undoubtedly possessed confidence in the inevitability of human progress.

 

Today, there are many thoughtful citizens who view with apprehension the kind of world which was envisioned by Huxley in his work, “Brave New World”, or by Orwell in his “1984”, and, indeed, there are not a few who are convinced that the “Big Brother Is Watching You” condition under which Orwell peoples lived their drugged, controlled lives, is now developing rapidly for all of us in many respects.

 

In spite of the tendency of most of us to look back with nostalgia upon the “Good Old days’; and to consider the future with trepidation, there are increasing numbers of scientists, writers, politicians and others, who, as the end of the present millennium draws near, are wont to speculate as to the nature of things in the twenty-first millennium.

 

Consider, for example, the comments by Jacques Ellul, the French sociologist, in his book, “The Technological Society”, in “a look at the year 2000” as taken by a number of scientists:

 

 “A Look at the Year 2000.”  In 1960 the weekly L’ Express of Paris published a series of extracts from texts by American and Russian scientists concerning society in the year 2000.  As long as such visions were purely a literary concern of science-fiction writers and sensational journalists, it was possible to smile at them.  Now we have like works from Nobel Prize winners, members of the Academy of Sciences of Moscow, and other scientific notables whose qualifications are beyond dispute.  The visions of these gentlemen put science fiction in the shade.  By the year 2000, voyages to the moon will be commonplace; so will inhabited artificial satellites.  All food will be completely synthetic.  The world’s population will have increased fourfold but will have been stabilized.

 

Sea water and ordinary rocks will yield all the necessary metals.  Disease, as well as famine, will have been eliminated; and there will be universal hygienic inspection and control.  The problems of energy production will have been completely resolved.  Serious scientists, it must be repeated, are the source of these predictions, which hitherto were found only in philosophic utopias.

 

The most remarkable predictions concern the transformation of educational methods and the problem of human reproduction.  Knowledge will be accumulated in “electronic banks” and transmitted directly to the human nervous system by means of coded messages.  There will no longer be any need of reading or learning mountains of useless information; everything will be received and registered according to the needs of the moment.  There will be no need of attention or effort.  What is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness.         

 

In the domain of genetics, natural reproduction will be forbidden.  A stable population will be necessary, and it will consist of the highest human types.  Artificial insemination will be employed. This, according to Muller, will “permit the introduction into a carrier uterus of an ovum fertilized in vitro, ovum and sperm…having been taken from persons representing the masculine ideal and the feminine ideal, respectively.  The reproductive cells in question will preferably be those of persons dead long enough that a true perspective of their lives and works, free of all personal prejudice, can be seen.  Such cells will be taken from cell banks and will represent the most precious genetic heritage of humanity . . . The method will have to be applied universally.  If the people of a single country were to apply it intelligently and intensively . . . they would quickly attain a practically invincible level of superiority . . .” 

 

Here is a future Huxley never dreamed of.

 

More recently, in the book, “Visions 2020”, fifty Canadians have ventured to express their notions of the future, and these few quotations may serve to illustrate the nature of the speculative exercises in which we can expect greater participation at all levels as we advance toward the future.

 

The writer, George Woodcock, advises:

What else do I see of the future as the image fades in the waters of fancy?  Of the three obsolete great powers, China -- victim of dogmatic aridity -- will have retreated into the kind of paralyzing narcissism that rotted the Manchu empire; the United States, having long withdrawn from the shores of Asia and left the China Seas to a resurgent Japan (master again of Formosa and overlord of the Philippines), will be recovering from the exhaustion of a quarter of a century of bitter internal strife; Russia, once the pupils of Stalin have died off, will loosen into a ramshackle empire where the subject peoples will have regained much of their independence, and for this reason it will show a kind of submerged vitality denied its two rivals.

 

As for Canada, we shall still be together, because the a1ternatives will always have seemed worse, and we shall have found our appropriate place in a world of loose-working confederations.  We shall have drawn power and independence from our trading alliances with Japan and India and from a cultural rapprochement with the new Europe (once again the centre of artistic innovation and intellectual activity).  But we shall still remember 1812, and the Americans will remain our dear enemies whose resurgence we shall welcome and fear.

 

The moon?  The planets?  A dusty sickness in the minds of great powers from which mankind will recover when megalomania has ceased to be politically viable!  Like Antaeus, we belong to the earth where evolution bred us.  It will be good enough and large enough for a long time to come.

 

The economist, Harry G. Johnson, sees a world in which the traditional male-female relationships in our society will be changed:

 

“Women will assume the dominant selecting role and the associated freedom of fickleness in sexual adventure; men who cannot stand the pace to get married in self-defence.  Women who wish to have babies will gradually learn that they do not require legal husbands for the purpose, providing they are affluent; that the role of the father in child rearing is both problematically useful and short lived in duration, given the specialization of participation in modern society on the one hand and expanding social responsibilities of the education system on the other; and that the male role in child rearing is probably better performed by a variety of males interested in a woman as a feminine personality rather than as a legal spouse.  Women who like running households, including the provision of any range of services that males may require, will probably come to appreciate that this career may be more successfully and profitably pursued as a purely commercia1 operation than as a career presumptively based on love for a single individual -- and carrying the obligation to bear and rear his children.”

 

Robert Fulford, journalist, in his contribution on “The Future of Death”, offers these remarks:

 

One imagines that this will happen within half a century.  One imagines a society in which death pills (quick and reliable) will be as available as, say, birth control pills are now.  One imagines people openly discussing their deaths, deciding reasonably and honestly the point at which their lives should finish.  In 1970 a willed death, at whatever advanced age, is still considered a confession of failure or madness; in 2020 it may well be considered an affirmation of success -- “I have succeeded in my life, I have pleased myself and others, I have decided on many thousands of days not to take my life; now I realize there is nothing ahead for me but boredom and sickness; I have had enough, I am satisfied, I am ready to go.”  One imagines a dignified leave taking, the individual putting his affairs in order, saying goodbye to his friends, gathering his children around him, finally taking his pill.  One imagines those close to him being left with an image not of screaming pain and squalid helplessness but of clear, clean finality: death finally controlled and finally robbed of much of its horror.

 

By the year 2020, possibly, it will not be unusual for one free individual to ask a “How do you want to die?  Where?  When?  With whom?”  In the next fifty years a transformation of the style of death may indeed be the most profound change in our way of life.

 

From the political realm come the opinions of Robert Stanfield:

 

There is a temptation to assume that our scientific and technological accomplishments will make government easier.  I wish that were so; I fear it is not.  In fact, the effect may be the opposite.   We can expect an expansion in the degree of information available to the individual citizen and in his desire to participate.  That might make government more representative, but it will also make it more complex.  On quite another level, the responsibility of government has been extended by scientific and technological advances to embrace economic management, exploration of space and other problems which literally were not contemplated earlier. So the agenda of government grows while the consensus on which government can draw becomes less firm.

 

None of this is meant to minimize scientific and technological accomplishment. I assume science and technology now have -- as certainly they have earned -- a momentum of their own.  With appropriate public support and direction, the march of discovery and technological improvement will continue. I have little doubt that by the year 2020 we will have developed the technological capacity to overcome such manageable disorders as poverty, ignorance, inequality and disease just as we now have the technological capacity to stop pollution or to produce enough food for most of the hungry.  The question remains whether we can organize ourselves to use that capacity.  At the least, our scientific and technological advance, awesome though it is, is no assurance of the millennium.  All science and technology can provide is the means and the opportunity to build a better world.  There is no guarantee that men will build it.

 

Ross Mendes, a Toronto painter, who was undoubtedly influenced by the problems of getting around in the city, freely predicted this kind of future:

 

Then came the exodus from city offices, as firms paid employees to have read-out and input units installed in their homes.  People no longer had to travel to work at all.  The head offices of businesses were in the hundred-storey computer centre, and old office blocks were converted into apartments.  All mail delivery had stopped some years before as all addresses were linked by television cable.  The initial protests died down when people could buy private scramblers for love letters and such.  (I am still late in sending birthday greetings, so not everything has changed.)

 

Not even the educationists can forego the urge to attempt to see into the future, and in a recent book “Towards 2000”, a committee of the Committee of Presidents of Universities of Ontario has submitted to the Ontario Commission on Post-Secondary Education an outline for the future of this level of education in this province.

 

In this vision of the future, there is seen for all citizens, lives in which education will be a continuing process, rather than an episode restricted to the first eight, or thirteen or seventeen years of life.  And that education will not be restricted to the teaching of subjects as we now know them, but will extend into every aspect o human life, including pursuits which we would regard as simply in the nature of recreation. .

 

On questions of the future, the Irish tend to be more practical, it seems, if the following anecdote fairly reflects the outlook of the race:

 

A favourite story of John Costello, former Taoiseach: Two Dublin men were discussing the state of the country. “The only hope for this country is for us to declare war on the United States.” said one.  “Why so?” asked the other.  “Because they would beat the tar out of them and then following their usual custom they would be so sorry about it that they would send over millions of dollars to reconstruct the country.  And then we’d be better off than we ever were before.”  The other fellow took a long draught from his glass and seemed deep in thought.  Then he asked:

 

“But where would we be if we won?”

 

Let us now adjust our perspective from visions of the world, our country, cities and men and women as they may be seen in the twenty-first millennium, by some of us, to a view of freemasonry as it is now, and as it may be in 2017, 300 years after it was formally constituted in the “Goose and Gridiron” Tavern in England.

- . . .. .

The questions which one thinks of if he is invited to speculate upon the possible condition of our order in slightly less than a half century hence are of this nature:

 

Will freemasonry exist at that time?  If it should be alive in 2017, will it be operating in the same manner as at present, or will it be radically different?

 

If we consider the current condition of the Order in general, we are confronted by what would seem to be evidence of a slow decline into ultimate oblivion.  Net annual losses in numbers of members, increases in suspensions for non-payment of dues, lack of interest amongst a majority of members in the meetings of their lodges, or in accepting the responsibilities of  office, and uninspiring leadership at all levels in the order all tend to suggest that Freemasonry has outlived its usefulness.

 

Locally, there would seem to be a statistical confirmation of the decline of Masonry in that but 136 Masons of a total of nearly 1,000 who visited during the past several months, saw fit to provide financial support of any kind for the construction of a new and urgently needed temple in the southern part of this city.

 

Is Masonry dying?  Is our Order rapidly becoming a curious anachronism in a world in w1uch notions of morality, the conventional kind on which so much of our work is based, at any rate, will be subjected to irreconcilable differences in the years ahead?

 

What have been the attractions of Freemasonry to the present time?  Can we assume that those attractions will serve equally as well in the future?

 

The lure of the Order for majority of its members, I suggest, can be attributed to two factors -- the aura of secrecy which has surrounded its activities, and the promise, unspoken but assumed, nevertheless, security for those who are admitted.

Concerning the former, we know each one of us that most humans aspire to possess or to be a part of anything which is not readily available to all people.  The mystery surrounding the nature of Masonry, its apparent exclusiveness and the comparatively high price of admission have drawn candidates many of whom would have saved their time and money had they known what went on behind the door of Lodges.

 

As for the latter, there has long been the notion amongst outsiders that once one became a Freemason he no longer had any worries as to security for himself and family from the vicissitudes of the world.

 

If we consider technical and social changes that have been apace for some time, and which will, continue, according to the now prophets, we must conclude that the future attractions of the Order cannot be made to depend upon the secrecy-security lures the past.

 

The secrecy surrounding our rituals has been entirely dispelled in recent years by the portrayal of the degrees before television cameras decidedly wide audiences in the United Kingdom.  Here, in Thunder Bay, anyone can borrow from our libraries books which reveal in fullest measure every aspect of the degrees for anyone who cares to look into the matter.

 

Trends in the political realm towards the development of guaranteed annual income-security, and for assured medical and old age care schemes are influences which tend to render unnecessary the seeking out of organizations which might offer at least some measure of these benefits.

 

What, then, has Masonry to offer in the technological society, cannot be found elsewhere?

 

If we bear in mind the fact that the continuing existence of the Order will depend upon the successful recruitment and retention of members on a sustained basis, and that those members will be drawn from the ranks of the youth of today, we must ask ourselves questions in respect of the compatibility of our beliefs and those of so many of our young people.

 

It is my impression that so many of those young people are strongly agnostic, if not atheistic, and that they are impatient of dogma, myth and ritual for the sake of ritual.  They are unwilling to be subjected to the boredom if not stupefaction of meetings or activities which offer nothing for the mind, and often assure nothing for the body but discomfort, in dreary old buildings which by their very appearance and condition confirm that Masonry is a decadent institution.

 

The pomp, the circumambu1ations, the titles, the medals, the elaborate finery which are so dear to many Masons are seen in the eyes of some discerning young men as, in some measure the compensations of frustrated or bored men for deficiencies elsewhere in their lives. This is, indeed, a harsh statement which is mitigated only in part by another observation by some observers that only peop1e with a surfeit of time on their hands will persist in indulging in activities which are essentially meaningless, within the confines of lodge rooms.  Masonry, they say, is irrelevant.  Who needs it?”

 

Freemasonry, we say, is a moral order dedicated to the principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.  The lofty sentiments expressed in our lectures and charges, if carried in even a modest measure into the daily lives and conduct of all who are privileged to denominate themselves Freemasons, would surely be convincing evidence of the beneficial influence of those sentiments.  Too often, however, it is apparent that those principles for many men are mere words.  In any case, does anyone seriously believe that a total of about 120 minutes of lectures will significantly influence the manner in which a man leads his life?

 

The evidence which appears before the new Mason, too frequently, is that our Order, rather than being distinguished from all other organizations by the exemplary conduct and lives of its members, has been willing, apparently, to accept all kinds and conditions of men, short of criminals and people with unsavoury records in the interest of expanding membership rolls.

 

If we look beyond the Lodges that venerable institution, Grand Lodge, through the eyes of a young Mason, we see, almost without exception, grand old men.  How many Masons with energy, enthusiasm, idealism, imagination and new ideas can be found in positions of authority in Grand Lodge who are less than 30 years old?  Less than 40 years old?

 

The constituent lodges in this province have been looking to Grand Lodge for leadership and inspiration during this past decade of decline, and have t little more than the tiresome repetition of old truisms and empty exhortations. From Mount Olympus, the view may be splendid, aside from a few clouds, but down at the base, the erosion and decay are apparent to those who are willing to see it.

 

At this point late in the twentieth century, the general impression left with one as he looks around him in typical lodge meetings across this province, is that of a declining institution of a few faithful, aging men taking shelter once each month in dreary, obsolete rooms from the technological world of liberated women.  There, surrounded in nostalgia and visions of past glories they keep alive the quaint customs of the order, and dream, perhaps, of the better times ahead.

 

As you may have inferred from these remarks, it is my opinion that the condition of the Order is poor.  Unlike the Irishman, however, I cannot suggest that a war with the United States would solve our problems.  What then, should we do to ensure that Freemasonry, in the twenty-first century, will be a vigorous institution, a significant influence in the society of that time for recognition of and adherence to the principles in which we believe?

 

It is not difficult for one to be critical, to identify problems, to deplore, and to urge more of the same nostrums which have been advocated from Masonic platforms for at least 10 years.  It may be sufficient for me to suggest that those nostrums are principally intended to relieve the symptoms of the malaise rather than to eliminate the causes.  I am not persuaded that the more ready accessibility of alcohol to our meetings, which some propose, would achieve the latter end. Would it not be a devastating commentary upon the Order if it did?

 

I am convinced that Freemasonry could offer much to enhance the moral qualities, the dignity, the sense of worth and achievement of men in the uncertain future.  I am convinced, equally, that a new look will needed in the Order if we wish to ensure the restoration and maintenance of its vigour and influence.  It is time to begin the steps towards that objective.  I suggest that there should be formed a commission on the condition of Freemasonry under the aegis of Grand Lodge. There should be an adequate representation of young Masons from across the province, which may not, in some cases hold office in either Grand Lodge or in any of the Constituent lodges.  The terms of reference of the commission should embrace the full range of issues which relate to Masonry, from the qualifications of candidates, to dues, fees, meetings frequency, ritual, and other matters.

 

The commission should be charged with the task of meeting with groups of young non-Masons, to discuss the Masonic “Image”, and to learn something of the ambitions,       beliefs and attitudes of these people with reference to Masonry and its principles.

 

Finally, I suggest that this commission should prepare for wide study and discussion a blueprint which will indicate the nature of the structure which should be developed for the furtherance of Freemasonry through the next ten to twenty years.

 

Will Masonry exist in 2017? Perhaps it will.  I conclude with some remarks which were made by John W. Dafoe to the Empire Club in Toronto, many years ago.  They seem appropriate for us at this time:

 

“It would be well to bear in mind that the present of today was the future of yesterday, and that it is what it is because of the human actions, the human decisions from yesterday. Therefore the future will be what we make it”.

 

Presented by W. Bro. Ken Hearnden